Scary campfire stories; why you love and need them!

by Elske

Do you remember times of storytelling around the campfire during school trips when you were young? We sure do and we loved them! It’s probably no surprise we still like to watch Are you afraid of the dark to recall these childhood memories. If you’ve seen campfires as a kid, you probably shared some scary stories at some point too! Because campfires and (scary) storytelling go hand in hand. Curiously though, we do not remember it to actually frighten us. Campfire stories are fun, and there are lots of interesting reasons why we should keep on telling them.


What do the pros say about creepy storytelling?

Although some stories can keep you awake in your sleeping bag for hours, most scary tales fill you with a feeling of relief once they are over. After the adrenaline rush, you feel alive and relieved: you’re happy to know it was only a story and that you are actually safe. Young adult author Todd Mitchell explains that kids get creative when it comes to exploring their emotions. They seek out the thrill of being scared, and learn to put this feeling in perspective afterwards. In a protected environment amongst friends, the feeling of anguish evaporates quickly to make place for excitement.

This has everything to do with distance. Catherine Johnson is an executive director at Spellbinders, an American storytelling organization that sends storytellers into classrooms, and she says fear turning into fun happens when we realise that the story took place somewhere far away, in another time. But what actually makes a good campfire story?

Different kinds of (educational) campfire stories.

Johnson divides stories into 2 types: ‘First there are those that send chills down your back and make you jump and scream and clutch the person next to you.’ You can imagine being in a dangerous situation, even though you are in a safe

Different kinds of campfire stories

place. Oftentimes,  these kinds of stories can form an experience that brings a group together. The second type of story is like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Johnson says. Although these stories were originally quite violent, they have been loved for centuries due to their symbolically instructional qualities.

Whether they’re about bad character qualities or bad intentions we all sometimes have, or about the demons and problems kids might have to face in their own lives, Johnson states that ‘scary fairy tales have important roles in showing kids that good can conquer evil.’ Todd Mitchell agrees that this is the premises of almost every good story: after some setback, the hero always overcomes the antagonist.

Mitchell continues: ‘For kids, the scary factor in campfire stories is usually external. It’s something you can escape.’ This is different from the stories for adults, that are often about horrors that you can’t get away from. This is what you want to avoid, as you want the fear in your tale to be constructive. A typical ghost story teaches us a lesson: when you don’t let yourself be carried away by fear, you will overcome any danger.

How to tell a good campfire story?

Now ‘telling a story’ is different from ‘reading one’, as it is more actively done and you have to step up your acting game to let it come to life for your public. Suspense is not only created by the words, but by body posture, hand gestures, eye contact and speeding up or slowing down your voice. You have your whole body to work with.

Campfire stories hooded stranger

1: Picture it.

Big tip: picture the story in your head before telling it, like a silent movie. What do you see when remembering the tale? It’s all about details, so don’t be shy and get wordy! Details draw out tension, so emphasize them. Johnson illustrates: ‘The colour of the witch’s hair, the blood running down the lips. What colour is that blood? Those are the details that will make the story pop.’

2: Be aware of how your public responds.

Finally, there will always be those – kids and grown-ups alike – that don’t enjoy the thrill of a scary campfire story. So before you start, check how mature and sensitive your audience is. While telling your tale, stay aware of their reactions, maybe change the narrative accordingly (if you can). ‘And end with a life-affirming story, something funny,’ Johnson advises. ‘Particularly if the kids seem nervous, always end on a note of laughter.’

Conclusion: the scarier the merrier, but keep it fun for everyone.

Get started with our free campfire stories.

For those who are in need of a little creepy inspiration, we are here to serve you! We wrote 2 super scary campfire stories to get you warmed up a bit. Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter and get the download links straight in your mailbox for free! (You can unsubscribe at any time, but remember, we know where to find you MWUAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA).

Source: Kate Jonuska (13 February 2015). ‘Why we love campfire stories, and how to tell a good one’, in: The Denver Post. Digital First Media, Denver.

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