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How to Tell a Ghost Story

It was a dark and stormy night, and you wanted to scare the crap out of your campfire friends…


  • Step 1: Find a good setting Your story won't work if you're shouting over street noise or basking in a bright, sunny day. If you want maximum scare impact, find a spot that's dark, quiet, and secluded, and pick a time when you won't be interrupted.
  • Step 2: Understand the basic structure Whether it's about a vengeful spirit or a stalking serial killer, ghost story structure is simple. We meet the hero, who has a problem. The hero's attempts to solve the problem unwittingly upset the bogeyman, who takes a lengthy ironic revenge. The story ends with the bogeyman still out there somewhere, possibly very nearby…
  • TIP: When you know this basic structure cold, play with it a little to find out what works for you.
  • Step 3: Make it personal Make it personal. Say the story happened to the friend of someone you know, or fill in the specifics with places and names familiar to your audience. In other words, if you're in the woods, your story should be set there, too -- and the characters should be a lot like your listeners.
  • TIP: Make your specifics sound familiar and believable, so the listeners can easily imagine the story happening to them.
  • Step 4: Build suspense Start your story with a quiet, casual attitude. As you work towards the scary climax, ratchet up the suspense by increasing — or decreasing — your speed and volume.
  • Step 5: Be presentational If you've got a flare for the dramatic, now's the time to break it out. Give each character a different voice and mannerism, and don't be afraid to use your body.
  • TIP: Work props into your performance, like shining a flashlight under your chin or flashing a hook hand at just the right moment.
  • Step 6: Make contact Target someone a little jittery. When your performance hits its scariest peak, make quick physical contact with that person. Watch your audience jump a foot in the air.
  • FACT: One of the most popular and widespread ghost story themes involves phantom or disappearing hitchhikers.

You Will Need

  • The right setting
  • Practice
  • An active imagination

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