We're headed into the spooky season and since ghost stories are my bag, I've been asked to share what goes into telling the perfect mix of horror and humor. In my book, the Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide, I've broken it down so you'll be ready before the screaming starts.
The moon was high overhead with light trickling through the bare branches that played around the tents that dotted the forest floor. Circling a small fire sat seven children, each only a breath away from the darkness that lay outside the warmth of the fire pit. One girl, the oldest, spoke softly. Her hands fluttered wildly, soundless participants to back up her words of the horror she told her small audience. As their eyes grew wide, the children huddled closer together to catch her last breathy sentence before she suddenly threw back her head and yelled to the stars, “GOTCHA!” The last thing we knew, those children were still running…
Anytime is a great time for a ghost story. Between campouts in the backyard and waking up with marshmallows stuck to your head, learn the secrets of telling the perfect ghost story. These easy tips will create a lasting impression for any sleepover!
Know your audience
A story crafted for preschoolers will be different than one for teenagers. For younger children, stay with safe themes and a silly ending such as a dog making a spooky noise. For tweens, it’s fine to add in more drama but keep the focus on a less-gory ending than you would for older kids. This age loves to hear about aliens taking over familiar situations such as classrooms or hiding under the bed. Add something about smelly feet and you’ve got ghost story gold.
Prepare your story characters
Television has made it difficult to create something new and scary. How can you compete with the blank-eyed stare of a chainsaw mass murderer? To create a character new and slightly horrifying, choose someone from everyday life - pizza delivery person, teacher at school, the creepy neighbor with the suspicious holes in his backyard – and exaggerate their mannerisms. Everyone should be able to identify the villain and will make the story more realistic.
Create the perfect setting
Ghost stories don’t have to be at night nor in a secluded location. Some of the best hauntings happen in everyday houses in large cities. To make the setting real to your listeners, add in familiar locations so they can become part of the story themselves. Weather also can play a part in a great story: storms, earthquakes or a sudden cold snap that awakens the dead can enhance the ambience.
Having a partner
A secret partner helps sets the mood. Make sure they are seated farthest away during the story so all eyes are on you. Have them ask a question if the story strays that will bring your listeners back to attention. When the time is right, have your partner grab the person next to them for effect.
Get creative; they don’t want to hear about scratching at the windows one more time. The more real the plot is to them, the more effect you will have. Take what is familiar and comfortable and make it sinister. What exactly DID their mother put in the casserole last night; there was a distinct taste of toes…
Telling the story
Speak softly so the audience will need to lean in to hear you, this also demands their concentration so the focus will not be on your partner. Use hand gestures to tell the story, the more animated you become the more they will be involved themselves. Pace yourself so the telling doesn’t come out in a rush and the zombies are in the cheese dip before the marshmallows are ready to eat.
Wrapping it up
Every good story needs a satisfactory ending, with a ghost story you’re looking for the physical reaction to what you’ve told them – a scream, jump or quickly dialing their parents on the cell phone. The last bit should drag out slowly; create the suspense by speaking softly and intently. Your partner will be prepared to grab the person NOT holding a flaming marshmallow on a stick for safety reasons and at the climax of your story, end with a bang not a shrug and watch them dig for bugs with their shoe.
Crafting the perfect ghost story takes imagination, preparation and a great sense of humor. Relax, have fun and don’t let the zombies eat all the marshmallows!
Visit the Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide's website!