There’s something exciting and wonderful about camping in the great outdoors. Part of it is that you have to do much of the work yourself. You have to set up camp, pitch a tent, prepare the fire and cook you own meal. Also as it gets darker, you may feel somewhat vulnerable. That’s the perfect environment to tell ghost stories. Here’s how to tell a great ghost story that can scare all the listeners.

1.  Wait until it’s good and dark outside before you start telling your ghost stories. It may be a little harder with younger children around, but for your ghost story to be effective, wait until the last vestiges of the sun have gone down and darkness has overtaken the area.

2.  Build a strong campfire. This is your storytelling area. When you have a campfire, this is the central location that all of the campers will gather around. It is both reassuring to have a campfire and can also help build a mysterious atmosphere.

3.  Make sure all your chores at the camp are done. You need to be completely on your own time. You don’t want to start telling or listening to ghost stories when you have clean-up details to attend to or other jobs that you should have done earlier. If you are thinking about what responsibility you have next, your ghost story will suffer.
Gather everyone in the camp around the campfire. Make sure they have a clear view of you. Your listeners should be sitting on logs or blankets.

4.  Make sure everyone is comfortable before you start. Roast your marshmallows, take care of nature’s necessities ahead of time and have your listeners settle in. There can be no disturbances once you begin.
Start telling your story at a measured pace. You know the story and there may be many details as you go along, but your job as the story teller is to draw your listener in. Start with the most interesting and compelling fact and you will have a chance to gain everybody’s attention.

5.  Slowly build the pace of your story. You will know if your listeners are really paying attention by their eyes. If they are on you the whole time, you’ve got them. If people are looking everywhere but at you, you need to refine your technique.

6.  Many ghost stories will have a familiar “hook” that allows the listener to understand what is coming next. A phrase like “the bend in the road” or “the nail in the door” or the “heavy chain around his neck” may sound mysterious to the listener and increase the intensity.

7.  Build to a strong climax. Your voice may start off low and moderate. Build up to loud and authoritative as you come to the climax of the story.

8.  End the story with a blood-curdling scream or a mysterious laugh to punctuate the dramatic aspect of your story.

Check out American or Ghosts and and memorize a few good ones before your next trip!

-Steve Silverman