Thursday, October 8, 2015

Scary Stories Anyone?: Hauntingly Good Stuff

Well, it is that time again.  Time to break out the spooky tales!

 Therefore it must be time for me to break out the annual spooky story post.

Last year I wrote about what you might want to consider telling to kids.

Just In Time For Halloween: Telling Spooky Tales 2.0

I love a good scary story.  In fact, it is my favorite kind of tale.  Edgar Allen Poe was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid.  I find scary stories delicious when told well.  I like a good jump, and I like to have a good shiver.

Now, let's be clear about this...I don't like scary movies all that much.  Most of the movies that are supposed to be scary are disgusting, and about sensationalism and less about story.

Road Train movie

I also love tales that I don't see coming.  I love sitting in an audience and watching something uncomfortable and creepy unfold through language.  

Carry Sue Ayvar told the chilling tale of Fellipa to a car full of rapt tellers on our way back to our lodgings from the Haunting in the Hills Festival.  The way she had the Bruja Madre  (bruja is witch, and you pronounce it brew-ha) say 'Fellipa' made my spine tingle.  It was very cool.

It was even cooler to realize that the base of this story she knew from Mexico had a core from a Baba Yaga tale from Russia.

Tried to put a source in for this one, but the
site where this picture is cached has a huge
alert on it!  Just had my computer diagnosed!
Enjoy the picture, but don't head to the site.


Baba Yaga lives in a house which walks around on chicken legs, her gate is decorated with skulls, and she is sometimes depicted with iron teeth.  I absolutely love witch stories.  If you have a chance to hear Carrie Sue tell Fellipa....take it!

One of my new favorite stories to tell is the Boo Hag.


I've known this story for some time, but only began telling it last year.  I tell it to sixth grade and older.  At the very end of the tale, the Boo Hag is caught without her skin, and she flies out over the swamp in a vain effort to find some place to hide.  Unfortunately, the early morning light strikes her true form and she explodes in mid-air.  The sixth graders often break into spontaneous applause when the Boo Hag is destroyed.

I love witches.  They are my favorite type of scary thing.  When I was a kid I always wanted to be one because they are so powerful.  I wanted magic at my fingertips, and the will to use that power.  I was always a little annoyed that they used their power for evil since I could see so much potential to do amazing things.  Still, every performer knows that it is always way more fun to play the evil character than the good one

Every Halloween

It goes without saying that I have gotten into trouble on numerous occasions with ghosty type stories.  Yes, I've had unhappy phone calls, and parents who demanded to know why I told this or that story.  Luckily, all of this is in my young, impetuous far.  It is October, so there is still time for me to get some of these grumpy calls.

I told Mr. Fox to a group of students almost a decade ago, and the staff and kids loved it, but one of the parents who got the kid version of the tale lost her mind.  Sigh, what are you going to do?

That has not deterred me.  Kids love these tales.  These stories are part of our fascination with the darkness, the unknown, and the things that go bump in the night.  We tell them in a place where kids can go into the darkness, and then come out safe on the other side.  Scary stories are a rite of passage at sleep overs and campfires.  What I find is that there are ways to present them so that they are the fun, spine tingling events they are supposed to be.   In the face of being one phone call away from a ticked off adult, I persevere!

So, I tell spooky tales, witch stories, and a zombie story or two.  Here are the rules of thumb I follow for telling spooky stories to school aged audiences.

1.  Always ask if it is all right.   I'm talking about the administration, not the students.   Just because the students are in eighth grade, does not mean that the community into which you've come is going to think that their precious children can handle something scary.

2.  I always tell the students that the story is kind of scary, medium scary, or very scary.  I have this same rule for hot sauce.  It allows the listener to decide how much they want to participate in the telling, or if they just want to sit there with their fingers in their ears and their eyes shut.

3.  I make sure there is some levity in the tale to cut the fear factor.  I do this so that the kids can release the pressure.  If you give them a place where they can laugh, it lets them decide just how much tension they want to hold in their bodies.  If they are really intense, and they murmur, then you just keep going, if they pierce the bubble and laugh uproariously, then, you know they needed a break.

4.  I try to always make sure that the story is only as scary as the most terrified person in the audience.  I haven't always done this, and it makes for a terrible experience for some kids.  If I see that there are lots of group clusters clutching ,or someone who looks like they need a break, I ease off the scary.  Luckily, lots of scary stuff is just technique, and you can decide how you turn the phrase, how much drippy, squishy, growly bits you want to add, or adjust the tone of your voice, or the rapidity at which you are speaking.

5.  I often let kids vote about what kind of story they want.  Some kids do not want scary tales.  If they tell you they don't want one...listen!  For a group of kids who don't want a scary tale, then even the least scary thing is uncomfortable to them.

Here is the rub for all of it....

6.  Just because the kids and administrators have a good time with the stories, doesn't mean some parent isn't going to call and freak out about the version the kid tells when they get home!

"But, Donna," you might ask, "Why would you continue with this when it could potentially get you in trouble?"

Last week I was at a school in Apex, NC.  I told the 6th grade Morgan and the Pot of Brains, and the Boo Hag.  Between my second and third set of the day, I had a break, so I went into the library.  One of the women passing through the room stopped and stared at me, and then she walked over to where I was sitting.

"Are you the storyteller?"  She had a clipboard and a broad smile.
"I just want to tell you, I am the speech therapist.  I had a kid right after your set for the sixth grade.  He stutters, and he was so excited when he came to me, he couldn't talk.  He was stuttering like crazy.  Then, I got him to calm down and use his techniques.  Do you know, he told me both of your stories with so much detail and so much passion, and he didn't stutter hardly at all.  Normally he just gives me bare bones descriptions because he doesn't like to talk.  I want to thank you for making him love language so much today that he didn't want to stop talking."

So, get out there and have fun with the spine tinglers, the jump tales, the suspenseful stories, and most especially, those lovely, powerful witches!

Happy Spooking!


  1. Thanks for this, Donna! I love your closing story. The impact of a good story is a marvel and it makes my soul smile.

    1. Thank you, Sherry, and thanks again for the lovely time I had at the Heart of NC Festival!