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Telling a Scary Story This Halloween

Published by Justin Ewert

Halloween party can be a fun time for scaring people safely. That anticipation of fear is part of the fun, and making it happen is very satisfying for a good storyteller.

What makes a story good? Suspense, the unexpected, a great plot. Of course these are essentials. But even the best scary tale can be ruined by a bad delivery. Here are ten tips to make sure you tell your story well.

First, make sure you really do have a good story. It doesn’t necessarily have to be original, although giving a nod to the author when you’re finished is always the right thing to do. It does need to have twists and turns. It needs to be creepy.

Most of all, it needs to lend itself to a verbal telling. Some stories just don’t translate well from the page to the spoken word. If you are struggling to say it, you need to pick something different.

This brings us to tip two. Practice. If you don’t practice, people will know. It will distract from the story. It will make you stand out, not your words. The story will take a back seat while you try to remember just what you wanted to say. The more you practice, the more your words will smoothly flow.

Tip three is along the same lines. Memorize if you can. It’s okay to have a little crib note on your hand for an emergency, but you are the storyteller, not the story reader.

Tip four is set the mood before you begin. Gather people into a circle. Let them know you intend to scare them, it sets them up to want that fear and makes them more willing to believe in it. Dim the lights. Candles or a fireplace are good. Even the old flashlight under the chin can work. Wait for the room to quiet. Make sure you have all the attention. Then make them wait a moment longer in eerie silence. Not too long, or you’ll lose them. Just long enough to begin building tension.

Tip five involves control. Control your voice, its speed and fluctuation. A quiet calm voice can lull your audience into false security. Use that to inflict fear with a sudden loud burst of speed. Then bring things down again. Take everyone on a verbal roller coaster ride.

Tip six is maintain eye contact with your audience. Studies show that people who won’t look you in the eye are probably not being honest with you. Keep your eyes smoothly flowing around the circle. Psychologically, if they see your eyes, they will trust you. They will believe you.

Tip seven is keep thinking. Don’t congratulate yourself for scaring your friends just now with that sudden twist in the story. Look ahead to what you are going to say next, and how you intend to say it. If you are losing some listeners, think of what you were saying and doing while you still had them. Then bring them back in. Pause when you need to for effect.

Tip eight involves breathing. If you are nervous, or you believe your audience is getting away from you, you could start speaking faster. Remembering to breathe gives you time to compose yourself. It slows down your speech. It calms your nerves and shows everyone else that you are, indeed, still in control of the situation. The only time you should let your breathing become erratic is when it benefits the telling of the story. If you can control this behavior to the point of drawing your audience in to match your panicked breathing pattern, you are manipulating their emotions with their own natural body responses, and they won’t even know it.

Tip nine is keep the suspense building as long as you can, but realize when to bring it all to a conclusion. As long as your audience is riding along with the twists and turns of the story, by all means keep going. But when the ride you’ve taken them on is ending, let it end on a high note, not with a whimper from running out of steam. The object is to leave them with the big scare. Once you’ve done that, don’t become anticlimactic by trying to go on. The finale is what they will remember, what they will talk about around the water cooler the next day. Go out with power.

Finally, tip ten may seem a little like cheating. But a good storyteller reserves the right to pull out all the stops. If the story warrants it, enlist the secret help of a trusted friend. Whether this friend is a part of the circle, a plant in the audience whose unexpected actions will scare everyone else, or he or she is outside the circle making unexplainable sounds or causing the power to go out during the telling, your friend can be an integral part of creating a little controlled chaos and a lot of fear. Just make sure this friend is a part of that all important tip number two. Practice with him or her until the act is perfect. And discuss your contingency plan if something goes wrong.

Follow these ten tips and you will be a success at your next Halloween party. The oral story is a tradition passed down for thousands of years to communicate history and to entertain. Remember, it is an art form, and you can master it if you take the time. Then the scary story you tell will become a favorite part of everyone’s Halloween.

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