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Spooky Stories 101: How to Tell Them, Spot a Fake, and Not to Be ‘That’ Person

Well, Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means: discounted candy! And what better way to enjoy your discounted candy than to engage in some light terror by reading true spooky stories from the site of your choice?

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As someone who exclusively uses Reddit for creepy threads about real-life spooky encounters (I prefer the rare encounter with a vampire over your run-of-the-mill haunting, but I take what I get) I’m here to provide you some not-so-gentle guidelines on how to tell your own spooky story, and/or engage with someone else’s.

You may wonder what my qualifications are, and well, I’m a Scorpio (the spookiest of signs), I grew up in a haunted house, and I really do spend an inordinate amount of time reading this kind of stuff. (Here’s an excellent thread on creepy past life experiences from children on Reddit to show my authority on the subject.)

How to Tell a Spooky Story

Keep descriptions to a minimum

First and foremost, you need to keep your description of a room, house, tent, or whatever layout to an absolute minimum. I guarantee you no one cares about the detailed floorplan, and it has no impact on getting your point across.

Yes, I know you think it’s imperative to note that the fireplace you saw someone’s decapitated head poke through and then disappear without a trace is on the southwest corner of your grandma’s split-level home and that the sectional blocks the view of the large picture window, so there’s no way it could have been someone’s reflection. I also promise you no one cares but you. It does nothing but bore the reader and no one can picture the layout and they’re most likely just picturing their own grandma’s living room, tent, van, whatever, instead. Detailed room descriptions are a waste of everyone’s time and do nothing to help you get your point across.

I know someone out there is insisting that to appreciate you saw a house gnome, I must first sit through multiple paragraphs of a detailed description of the home layout to appreciate that it was, in fact, a house gnome. And friend? You’re telling a spooky story, presumably in a place that wants to hear it. I assure you, you already have the sale.

Don’t vague-bait

As in, don’t respond to someone’s call for spooky stories with “I have a lot; I’ll post if someone cares.” This means that 1) all of your stories are not interesting because if they were, you would just go ahead and share and 2) you’re making people work for the goods. Don’t do it! Either tell your story or don’t.

I guarantee you that if you see someone do this, when you see the story (or stories) get posted, it will be paragraphs and paragraphs of nothing. You can usually scroll down to the TL/DR and it’s essentially, “my roommate came in drunk one night, and we all woke up to the front door open. Ghost? You tell me.”

The more you try to convince people you’re sensitive to spookiness, the worse your story will be

Don’t lead with “I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal” or “I’ve had many experiences throughout my life.” Whenever someone leads with that, it’s another guarantee you’re about to be served with paragraphs and paragraphs of purple prose and no purple people-eating monsters. These stories are very close to the adage: If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Which means that if you’re always out there looking for ghosts, you’re going to tell a story about being up at 3 am and your dog barked at nothing but then you got really cold, therefore, ghost.

Give me stories from people who are out biking, and step into another time via a beautiful meadow they’ve never seen on the trail again since. Those are the people I want to hear from. Which leads me to my last point:

The less polished your story is, the better it will be

Don’t be afraid only to share three sentences because it’s all you remember and writing isn’t your bag. We’re here to get creeped out, not discover the next R.L. Stine, baby! The more polished the story is, the more likely it’s fake. (Hold that thought.) I’m telling you, the best true spooky stories end with a shrug, not a bang. That’s because this stuff happens and you will naturally second guess yourself as to whether you really did just get pelted with a mystery quarter that felt like it was thrown across the room when you’re alone in your 10th-floor apartment.

How to Spot a Fake

If it ends with a stinger or comes with a title, it’s fake

So the worst thing about fun spooky threads of people’s true stories is that invariably, some frustrated writer will come in with what is an obviously fake story and then get the attention they’re seeking because people are very trusting on these threads/sites. The first simple way to spot a fake is whether someone gives it a title or headline when they’re sharing, as in “The Thing That Wasn’t There” and then they share the story. Remember, fiction comes with titles, the time you ran into your dead great-great grandpa in the hall does not.

The other obvious way to spot a fake is if it ends with a stinger, which is a snappy way to end the story. An example would be: “I woke up with scratches, but I’ll never know. Was it me, or was that what it wanted me to believe?”

As someone who has had a ghostly encounter or two (and no I won’t make you ask me what happened), one that’s sticking out in my mind is that my friend ran a vintage shop and had a beautiful hand-painted silk dress on a hanger. One day I saw the hanger slowly turn to face my friend, and sway as if someone was in the dress, breathing. My friend had worn the dress in her shop the day before and had looked amazing and more than a little sexy in the dress, and we knew that the dress had come from a prim and proper lady’s estate, so we just assumed the woman was wearing her dress again, and giving my friend a warning she looked too trampy in her favorite dress. So she got slutshamed by a ghost, I guess.

Real spooky encounters are vague. You second guess what you saw. You trail off because you shared what you remember and now you don’t know how to end the topic. You’re not totally sure what happened, so you use words that hedge your bets. People who are just making s*** up are extremely confident and know how to wrap things up neatly.

Hyper-specific details? It’s fake!

This goes hand in hand with the above. If someone is providing hyper-specific details (as in, “I was wearing a blue and gold checked shirt, and it was 4 pm on a Tuesday. The red-dappled sky cast a golden hue on the basement the fae folk were rumored to inhabit”), you’ve got a fake on your hands, friend. I absolutely do not recall anything about the slutshaming ghost encounter, other than that dress was brown silk, and how weird it was that the hanger turned on the rack, because I had never seen something move so slowly and deliberately like that before. It was weird! I wasn’t stopping to take note of what everything else looked like in the room, or the weather outside.

You know who does take note of that? People making stuff up, because they have all the time in the world to craft their fake spooky story!

How Not to Be That Person

Don’t be a Scully

There’s nothing more annoying in a spooky story share-a-thon than when someone shares a story about an encounter with waking up to the Bowler Hat Shadow Man and some smug Sammy-Know-It-All wades in just to say “sleep paralysis.” Like, yes, at this point, anyone on a spooky thread is aware of sleep paralysis, Agent Scully. You’re not sharing anything relevant here, and also, no one knows what causes sleep paralysis, so it very well could be the Bowler Hat Shadow Man, ok?

Just keep your thoughts and put them in your pocket where they belong. You’re ruining the fun, here! You don’t know everything! The answer isn’t always science; sometimes, it very well could be a glitch in the matrix. Let us have this!

Don’t steal other people’s stories for your social media channel

I can’t believe I have to say this, but spooky stories are not there for you to create content. They’re there for you to enjoy, maybe cry yourself to sleep under the covers, and definitely lose sleep over.

Don’t post glib things

Look, maybe the first person who responded with “Donald Trump became President” in a call for spooky stories might have been funny to a select amount of people. By now, it’s just annoying and played out. This is all to say, don’t come to a spooky story-sharing session and post something off-topic and glib. You have the entire internet to go make fart jokes at, don’t waste anyone’s precious time wanting to read about entering into a fairy circle and having to encounter your non-funny, off-topic comment. Don’t do it!

Look, this list is by no means comprehensive, but if it can make the spooky story-sharing community run a little smoother, I’m all for it. So go out there and enjoy all the creepy crawly stories the internet has to offer, and remember if it involves encounters with real-life vampires, please come find me and tell me. Those are my favorites.

(Featured Image: 20th Television)


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Author
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.