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Just as the hazy orange orb was descending from the night sky like a glazed glass eye keeping watch over the world, I saw something out of the corner of my eye... something that would change my life forever. I can't even describe this spectacle; it still sends chills up my spine and makes my blood run cold. With my heart beating deep in my chest and pounding in my ears, I moved my right foot six inches forward, dragging my heel into the ground, eyes fixated on it. That moment, a single breath of bitter air, constricting my lungs, I...
There's a reason "it was a dark and stormy night" is a cliche.
For centuries, "urban myths" and ghost stories have been orally passed down to generations of curious listeners, eager for the sensation of being scared. These stories, always on the brink of suspicion and truth, test our limits as humans, and give us the sensation that there is something out there, something we don't know. It's intriguing, and we crave teetering on the edge of fiction and reality.
Telling the perfect ghost story takes practice, but with the right ingredients, this pastime can be completely compelling. Follow the recipe below to conjure a ghost story with a dash of suspense and a hint of terror.
The right setting can make all the difference.
The basic ingredients for an effective ghost story are simple. However, pay attention carefully as you need just the right amount of each element to whip up a delectable yarn, good enough to convince even the most skeptical of your audience members.
Prepare your environment with candles or low-lighting to create a smooth consistency and ambiance. Add in a small audience and channel their focus so that all eyes are on you. Mix in your organic ghost story with some dramatic effect and include varying inflections and tones together to create a solid substance. Build the suspense for about 20 minutes, leaving your audience completely transfixed and terrified.
Begin your story by setting the scene. Some of the best stories are told with some personalization and truth; something familiar that the audience can relate to and grasp as you weave your tale.
For example, maybe someone from your hometown was wrongly accused of being the town's serial killer, and he comes back to haunt the lawyer who tried against him... You can insert your hometown and use the local court house's name to make the story more concrete. Having the story rooted in common locations, places and even including familiar people, will have your audience questioning whether your story is a work of fact or fiction.
Simple additions to the story from your own life experiences can help build the suspense and raise suspicion to your listeners. Keep them on their toes and make them challenge the validity of your story. Believe it or not, keeping the story grounded will make it more realistic to your audience. Often times, the more probable the story becomes, the more scared one can get. You'll have your audience asking, "Could that happen to me?"
Erase the blood, guts and gore from your story. These concrete descriptions take away from the art of storytelling and building suspense. Use figurative language and sensory images to describe the events without revealing too much. Stick to the "show, don't tell" philosophy. Your audience will be forced to make inferences about what is actually happening. This will keep your listeners hanging on to every word.
Vagueness (and darkness!) are essential ghost story elements.
Like a good magician, great storytellers should never reveal their secrets. To tell the perfect ghost story, keep your story open-ended so the audience is left with a haunting feeling. They make walk away asking questions, adding up clues and ultimately uneasy with their surroundings. After all, ghosts are fleeting creatures; their stories should be a "reflection" of them. A good cliff-hanger will have your listeners begging for more.
Ironically enough, keep your ghost story positive. That doesn't mean telling an uplifting story with a happy ending. Keep it optimistic in the sense that you want your audience to feel frightened, but not scarred for life. Give your listeners a small sense of security or courage, like a phrase to repeat or ritual to practice to ward off the spirit that haunts in your tale. If only temporary, give them a remedy to leave an impression of the story in their minds.
Your voice is what drives the story. Be dramatic and vary your tone, speed and volume to make your moments come alive. Your goal is to keep the focus on you at all times, so incorporate facial expressions to really paint a picture of your story on their minds.
Let the silence work for you. Give a couple of seconds pause between important details. Not only will it build suspense and "reel in" your audience, but it will also refocus your listeners and help you take a moment to plan your next attack.
Convince your audience that the story is true by believing in your story as well. Adding passion and confidence into your storytelling will magnify its significance and have your audience trusting your every word.
Now you have the perfect recipe for conjuring the ultimate ghost story. When in doubt, use some classic stories that already exist. There are some great books out there that include ghost stories from your hometown or city. Often times, they are based on facts about famous locations and common places. Take your storytelling a step further and visit sit these haunts for a truly up close and personal encounter.