Halloween is creeping up on us and with it all manner of opportunity to practice the craft of storytelling. More than likely you’ll be practicing your oral storytelling capabilities in the form of ghost stories or campfire tales of spooks and specters, haints and boogers and such. So I’m going to try and impart some things I’ve picked up here and there.
Keep it simple. Don’t go overly large on a story you tell by a campfire, the real fear for those is the reality factor. The couple making out in a car, the babysitter receiving phone calls, the campers in the woods, all these are things that most people can relate to on some scale. Don’t make it crazy with an astronaut being terrorized on an alien planet. Familiarity breeds fear and it does so for one simple reason you are taking something that people know and are comfortable with and messing with it.
Keep it up to date. Instead of the girl getting menacing phone calls have her get texts or (even creepier) pictures sent to her phone of her. Technology has come a long way so do our madmen and monsters to remain somewhat relevant. If you tell your audience that your heroine went to the phone and the lines had been cut most people’s first reaction is going to be what phone line? Doesn’t she have a cell phone? Of course I think one of the few well tapped story ideas is the dead friend who’s still on one of the social websites. It’s a classic story set up but you’ve made it more personal to your audience by including something they have experience with.
Keep the audience in mind. Don’t tell lurid stories of promiscuous teens and axe wielding psychos if you are talking to your 5-year olds kindergarten class at a fall festival (word to the wise; the other parents will not be happy if their kids have nightmares). At the same time you don’t want to tell about the friendly ghost who’s helping a puppy get home to a group of teens. Adults can stand for some more hardcore stuff than the teen audience but that’s for the audience and you, the storyteller, to determine.
Keep ready. If you are going into a situation where a scary story is going to be told and you may be called on or no one will most likely be prepared, this is your time to shine. Prepare something before hand, even if it’s just the main plot. Unless you’re a quick thinker on your feet, you should have something in mind. I understand some people are shy about divulging their creative other side and others are uncomfortable with public speaking. However this is not your voice it’s the voice of creation and the voice of your characters they are merely flowing through you to provide entertainment as is their want. For those of you, fearful of exposing that part of your life let me say that I was once like you and found that you may be surprised by people and your own skill. But you won’t ever know if you don’t try, so prepare to stand tall and speak with a voice belonging to the denizens of your imagination.
Keep props handy and use your location. This is more of a gimmick and I’m okay with that, people like when you throw in a little personal note if you have a canvas bag with you, tell everyone who gave it to you and the story that came with it. (This is where being prepared comes in handy) An old pocket watch can be your centerpiece or use the location you have. I realize the forest is all played out (however a good storyteller can make it work for them) but if you are near a lake or an old mill or some other landmark make up a local legend about it. I am willing to bet that most people are not going to be local historians and if they are hopefully they are willing to not spoil your story until after you’ve finished. Either one though will keep it a little bit more realistic and familiar with your audience though.
Keep it simple or over the top, but you must keep it scary (again keep your audience in mind). You can build it slow or you can jump right into the terror, but whatever you do make sure you make it scary. Something that I’ve always enjoyed doing is working with someone in the audience to be the “grabber” (this is my term but when you tell a story most people are expecting you to do something to scare them but if you have an accomplice in the audience to help you the audience will not see it coming and they will get a good scare). My brother would do this with his friend for the boy scouts. My brother would wait in the woods while his friend would tell the ghost story and while all attention is focused on the storyteller the scare comes from somewhere else. Great scares are about misdirection, think about horror movies you’ve seen someone opens a closet and the cat jumps out at them and they jump then they close the door and there’s a monster and you scream. All your attention was focused on the closet but the scare came from somewhere else. Remember that no matter what stories you tell keep it creepy and scary even if you don’t have a jump out scare, it’s always fun to unnerve people so they look over their shoulders into the darkness.
These are the gems of wisdom that I have for oral storytelling. If you can implement some or all or only one you are on your way. Don’t forget though good stories have a way of out growing the storyteller so if you see your story on the internet or hear someone else telling it. Take it for what it is, a compliment. You obviously did a good job for people wanting to imitate your story. So good luck and remember to try not to scare yourself (I know I have). So tell of the dark forests, old cemeteries and haunted houses of escaped lunatics, babysitter stalkers and dark evil just out of reach of the campfire.