How To Tell a Campfire Story
There are all sorts of fun to be had out on camping trips. You can go on long walks, enjoy fantastic views and have fun of trying to put together your tents and get a campfire going. It’s a great way to spend a few days with friends or family. But enough about the days, what about the nights? When the darkness draws in and the moon is high? More importantly, how can you stop that one guy who brought his acoustic guitar, even though he doesn’t really know how to play it, from launching into yet another subpar rendition of “Wonder Wall”?
For times like this there are drinking games, and jokes, but really, as you sit around the fire, huddled in your outdoor gear and blankets,wondering what those noises from the trees are, there’s really only one respectable activity. So get your torch out and light your face from beneath. It’s time for some campfire ghost stories.
The trouble is the art of the campfire ghost story has been greatly diminished over the years, there’s nowhere near as much oral storytelling as there was, and few people know what the crucial elements are to get your fellow campers too scared to poke their heads out of their sleeping bags.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. To tell a proper, campfire ghost story you need:
A “True” Story
One of the beauties of being around a campfire, and hopefully some distance from any decent wi-fi, is that your friends can’t immediately check your facts on Wikipedia. So the first rule of telling a ghost story is that your story is definitely true. You can add all sorts of details to “prove” its veracity. Make sure the story takes place not too far from where you’re camping, if you can, work in a couple of landmarks and place names you’ve already seen. Keep an eye out when you’re working during the day, if you pay attention you’ll find plenty of place names that clearly have creepy stories behind them, along the lines of “Dead Man’s Cove” and “Lover’s Leap”.
Of course, if you claim to have witnessed the events in your story yourself then your friends will immediately accuse your pants of being on fire, but maybe there was a friend, or a relative who came camping here a few years ago?
Know Your Ghost Stories
Here is where you need to do a bit of reading. Edgar Allen Poe is a great place to begin, with stories such as the Tell Tale Heart. Stephen King’s short stories are also great examples of how to ratchet up the tension before delivering the final blow.
The plot elements that turn up in ghost stories often repeat themselves, and that’s because they work. Elements you might want to use could include The Mysterious Hitchhiker, or joins a loan traveller for a terrifying journey. This hitcher could be a ghost, or an escaped madman, or just a mysterious figure who we never learn the nature of. There’s plenty you can do with this idea.
The twin of the Mysterious Hitchhiker is of course the Ghost Train, although this could just as easily be the Ghost Car, passing by the site of a gruesome crash at the witching hour every night.
The tale of revenge or poetic justice also makes for a good gruesome tale. Introduce an unlikable character who does terrible things, and then, through some paranormal twist of fate, have them suffer some form of horrendously ironic punishment.
The Devil’s In The Details
“A guy woke up in the middle of the night and then he want to see what the noise was and it turned out that it was a ghost.”
That is a terrible ghost story, and not in the right sense of the word “terrible”. When you tell your story you want to make sure that your listeners are right there with your characters. Use every one of your character’s senses- have them hear ever crack of a twig or creak of a floorboard, have them not-quite-see sudden movements out of the corners of their eyes, and feel prickling chills rush across their skin. Even smell can be a particularly powerful aid. You don’t think of ghosts as having a smell, but think how much a displaced smell can freak you out- the smell of burning when there’s nothing in the oven, or a rotting smell that tells you something’s died, but you don’t know where.
Remember What It Is You’re Scared Of
Let’s be honest here. By telling this story your prime goal is to make sure your friends don’t get a wink of sleep, instead lying wide awake and jumping everything a twig snaps or there’s a particularly harsh gust of wind. To do that, you have to work out exactly what it is that’s going to scare your friends, and working out what is going to scare you is the best way to start.
So let’s face it, ghosts themselves aren’t all that scare. That someone looks pale and floats is unusual, but not terrifying in and of itself, especially since most of us are a good 60% sure they don’t exist. So think about what’s actually scary here. There’s the fact that your miles away from civilisation with only each other your camping equipment for company, so if something goes wrong help isn’t immediately to hand. There’s the fact that it’s dark, and you can’t really see what’s happening more than a few feet away. There’s the fear when you meet a stranger for the first time, and don’t know if they’re friendly, or secretly some sort of knife-wielding psychopath.
Think about it for a while, and when you hit upon something that makes your heart skip a beat and your breath halt in your mouth, that’s a good place to start.