Scare Their Socks Off

The art of campfire ghost tales.

Words and photos by Lexi Dowdall

The beauty of unplugging in nature is that it forces you to employ forms of entertainment that do not rely on battery power. That being said, the traditions of storytelling stretch far back to the dawn of humanity, and a crackling campfire just so happens to provide the perfect setting to indulge in this age-old ritual with your chosen tribe. Spinning a good old-fashioned ghost story is a great way to foster deeper connections between your fellow campers—all while scaring their socks off!

Using only your voice, you have the ability to curdle blood and so much more. However, it will surely take some practice before you’re a Spooky Storytelling Master. To truly ace the art, you must control your environment, story content, telling of the tale, and your audience. But, if you’re unsure where to start, we’re happy to give you a few pointers.

Do Your Research

It is only the master storyteller who can invent a gripping tale on the spot. So, before your trip, take some time to conduct research to find a tale that will truly frighten your fellow trailmates. We recommend heading to your local library or searching online for three to four excellent tales. That being said, the more believable or recent the story, the better. BEWARE: Use caution when digging up urban legends. Chances are one of your pals has already heard it and this can be a real buzzkill. Or, on the other hand, feel free to take a scary experience from your past and hone in on why you felt such terror. Just make sure it’s grounded in reality to really frighten your audience. Anything utterly outlandish may fail to inspire fear in your listeners. Nightmares can also be great inspiration for a good story.

Use a Little Creative License

When you finalize your story selections, employ a little creative license and alter the particulars to ground the tale in a more localized or regional setting. Again, use your imagination and change minor details to represent local lore, landmarks, or known haunts. It’s been said that if you can ground the story in a setting or location nearby, the creep factor is greatly enhanced.

Rehearse Your Story

After picking your favorite story, run through it a few times—as silly as this may feel. Taking on this extra effort will ensure that your tale feels natural and is a clear reflection of something you or a close friend experienced. Though, take care not to deliver your story in an overly-dramatic fashion. If you’re truly dedicated to providing an excellent performance, you can even practice in front of the mirror. We’d recommend keeping your tone low and even—you could even cultivate a slight feeling of discomfort or squeamishness as you spin your tale. But again: don’t overdo it!

Breed Terror in Your Compatriots

At some point (preferably before night falls, maybe during the day before or in the early morning), find a way to casually mention a detail or two about your story. Don’t try too hard, but if you can bring the story up as a relevant topic, it’s great to build anticipation among your audience. Keep your eyes open and look for anything unusual or potentially spooky that could put your friends on edge. Sometimes a large animal track, strange scratches on a tree, or a scrap of clothing can present you with the perfect opportunity to plant the seeds of terror.

Timing is Everything

You want a distraction-free environment to properly captivate the attention of your audience. Wait until well after dinner: when dusk has faded to black. It’s also best if the campfire has burned down, since a blazing fire may keep your friends feeling more courageous, allowing them to keep an eye on their surroundings. However, ensure that you can make eye contact with all listeners and lean forward when you narrate the super-frightening bits.

Believe in Your Story

In order to master your story, the most important suggestion we have is to believe in your tale. Even if your story is a complete fabrication, it is the emotion that will most poignantly impact your audience. Describe the feelings or emotions experienced during your story because (ultimately) you are attempting to strike an emotional chord within your listener. If you can tap into their emotions, you’ve set yourself up for the ultimate scare.

So, go on, give it a try and let us know how it goes!