"The night was dark, and also stormy..."
September 24, 2007 5:45 AM   Subscribe

"Who's got a good ghost story?"

This question has come up more than once in my life, usually while sitting around with friends in the dark. How do you guys respond to it?

I'd love to have a killer ghost story that would scare the bejeezus out of proper adults to hand, but I don't, and my searches for one have been fruitless. A literary ghost story isn't any good, I need a tale that is intended to be relayed orally. If anyone can point me to a repository of such stories, give me the outlines of a few or just give me tips on how to tell such stories well in this situation, I'd be very grateful.

posted by greytape to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
MR James stories work well read aloud - he used to tell them to his friends at Christmas time.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:32 AM on September 24, 2007

Memorise "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe. Then learn to read it like Basil Rathbone did.

It will make you a better person.
posted by Jofus at 6:48 AM on September 24, 2007

If you live in/near NYC, this (self link) may help.
posted by grumblebee at 6:50 AM on September 24, 2007

I enjoy this collection of Southern ghost stories. They have text versions and audio versions.
posted by Evangeline at 7:24 AM on September 24, 2007

It helps to have a truly heart-wrenching incident at the core of the story, but the scare is mostly in the details, which you add as you go. There are some bare-bones classics here. The one about the dead woman coming to the store to get milk for her still-alive baby buried with her has potential. Slow it down, use repetition with more detail as the story builds (I'd have the woman run from the store more crazily each time, frantically looking back and screaming wide-mouthed as the clerk tries to find out more, and maybe have the clerk be the only one who can hear/see her), and most of all, use your face and voice to convey the fear you want your listeners to feel.
posted by mediareport at 7:25 AM on September 24, 2007

This one is really fun if your audience hasn't heard it before. The key is lulling them with repititions of all the teeny-tiny details, and then, when you've got them thinking you're just going to keep going, shouting the last two words.
posted by MsMolly at 7:45 AM on September 24, 2007

Building on MsMolly's point, any ghost story with a sudden shock at the end can be massively improved by telling it very quietly, then at the denoument, clanging a spoon in a saucepan, or whatever similar campfire implements might be to hand.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:39 AM on September 24, 2007

Oral stories with shocks at the ends are usually called jump stories (they make the audience jump, you see). An old American example is "The Golden Arm."
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:56 AM on September 24, 2007

I use The Monkey's Paw on my brother's kids a lot; they love it. It's easy to memorize the basic storyline and fill in the details on the fly. I think I've actually improved it by (spoiler!) having the kid make the final wish himself
posted by Camofrog at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2007

Stephen King has a lot of short stories that are pretty spooky, "Night Shift" is a good book in particular. It's got King's own version of the Boogeyman...my dad's a professional storyteller and he does his own twist on that one and it's scary as hell.

Of course, he's also from south Louisiana, full of haints and spooks and hoodoo. Just about all of the Marie Laveau stores are also pretty chilling.

I'm in Appalachia, and I still find that colloquial stories are pretty much head and shoulders above "the hook hand guy in the car door latch of the makeout couple" stories.
posted by TomMelee at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2007

Best answer: earlier AskMe thread (don't know if they're scary enough, but the first story tail is great)
posted by rob511 at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2007

My favorite ghost story isn't even a ghost story, it's just a halloween anecdote, until the last line.

I heard it on a Prairie Home Companion a few Octobers back, and I've retold it a few times to great effect. It starts 9:10 into segment 6 of the Halloween 2004 show
posted by Myself at 10:32 PM on September 24, 2007

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