Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tips for Telling Funny-Scary Campfire Stories

Night has fallen. The campfire flickers and pops, coals glow, listeners creep closer to the fire and the storyteller. It’s time for scary stories. But wait…some of the listeners are too small for the stories of la llorona or hookman. It’s time for a funny-scary campfire story, just enough for shivers, not enough for nightmares. As many of you know, I’m best known for telling The Ghost With the One Black Eye, and many other classic funny-scary campfire stories. Here are a few tips for effective campfire storytelling for the youngest listeners.

1. Notice the body language of the listeners as you introduce the story. Suggest that the smallest children sit with an older sibling or adult. Some small children like very scary stories, but it’s kinder to the adults who have to be with the child later on to tell gentler stories to young children.

2. Let the listeners know right away that this will be a funny-scary story, not a scary-scary story.

3. Choose a story with a joke ending. You can find a few of these in Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series, in Simon Bronner’s American Children’s Folklore, or ask a ten-year-old who has been to camp.

4. Err on the side of goofy characters, not scary, for young listeners. Build in a hand movement or repetitive phrase so the audience can join in.

5. Sometimes even a funny story can scare a small child. Reassure the individual child that it will all be fine in the end.

6. For a little shiver, pause just before the punchline. This builds suspense and creates an even bigger laugh at the funny ending.

7. Don’t be surprised if children say “That wasn’t scary!” at the end. This is most likely not a true critique, just an observation--and sometimes a way a slightly scared child has of finding courage.

Once the little ones have gone off to bed, and you’re sure that those who are still around the fire can handle it, if you have time and inclination, then tell the truly scary stories.


Deb said...

About 4 years ago I gave a friend a copy of The Ghost With One Black Eye CD for his young daughter. It took a couple of years for her to be ready for it, but at the age of 6 she's an old hand at it; she listens to it and loves it. Yesterday my friend told me that he, his daughter, and his twin 3-year old sons had spent a chunk of time the day hanging out and listening to the CD. He said "For a long time, that CD was too scary for Luca (one of the 3-year olds), but now he gets it and he loves it." Good tips on scary stories for tinies; I wish I'd thought to tell him to tell Luca it was a funny-scary story....

Flo said...

I guess we need to think "Caspar the Friendly Ghost" not "Friday the 13th Part III in 3D".

Why are there so many "Fairy Tales" that are just terrifying - Jack & The Beanstalk, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White, even L'il Red Riding Hood?


Excellen tips. Thanks for the article. Ellouise

PriscillaHowe said...

Good question about the truly terrifying stories, Scott. I think we tell those so that we can feel scared in a safer place. Practice at being scared, maybe.

Soon I'll write about how to tell those.

Sean said...

Wondeful, to-the-point article. Glad to have added it to , too.

Granny Sue said...

Good post, Priscilla. Reading the body language and eye-speak is most important for these stories. Kids say they want them, but do they really?

As for the traditional fairytales that are frightening, most come out all right in the end (unless you're using the original Brothers Grimm of course--they were a bit less predictable). So the tales provided a model for children to see children overcoming great adversity.

I love to tell the Ghost with One Black Eye too. It's hugely popular as a not-scary ghost story--but it can be made scarier by the addition of the teller's use of voice and body language.

Another thing that I beleive can reduce the scary factor is audience participation. When they have a part in the telling, it offers the listeners some control over the story and reduces their fear.

PriscillaHowe said...

Thanks for carrying the ideas further, Granny Sue--very true!