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How to Tell Scary Campfire Stories for Kids (3 Tips From a Pro)

Gus has been an avid camper for 50+ years, and a Boy Scout leader for 8. During those years he was a frequently requested storyteller

A Storyteller is a Performer

The art of storytelling is more than just reciting a story - it is performing. And telling a scary story to kids around a campfire takes emphasis and involvement. It takes more than just a low voice followed by a booming voice.

A good story teller uses hand motions and body language - along with his voice, to illustrate and emphasize the points of the story.

It will take practice of course, but with these story telling tips, and a little practice, you too can be a storyteller that everyone will remember.

Storytelling Around The Campfire

Storytelling Around The Campfire

Good Scary Campfire Stories Are Priceless - When Told Well

Telling stories around a campfire is a tradition for many campers. Especially when there are kids involved. For them, a good scary campfire story will be something they remember every time they think of the trip, but when it is told well, by a master storyteller, it will be a priceless memory the kids will talk about all their life.

Even adult campers appreciate a good, well told story, they are just a little more demanding when it comes to impressing them. But a good storyteller can have even the grown-ups hanging on every word.

Pick the Right Scary Story

Even more important than your story telling ability, is your ability to pick the right story - for the occasion, and the audience.

  • Your story must be age-appropriate.

Don't pick a gory bloody chainsaw murder tale when your audience is young Cub Scouts, and don't pick a spooky "Elmo's Haunted Mansion" piece for teenage kids.

Ghost stories for kids are usually a safe choice. The "scariness" can be ramped up, or down, to fit your audience.

  • Your story must be the right length for your audience

The are several factors that should determine the right length. One would be the age and attention span of your listeners; shorter scary stories are almost always best for younger kids, whereas teenagers might enjoy a longer one with multiple "gotcha!" moments.

The day's agenda and time of the scheduled telling might also matter. Do you have time for a longer story?

  • Time, Location, and Occasion

Good story tellers know to match their stories, as much as possible, to all three; where it is being told, (campsite or lodge), locality, (town or geographical region), occasion, (holiday, full moon, weather).

Dark Nights for Scary Stories

Dark Nights for Scary Stories

How to Customize for Time, Location, and Occasion

Consider this; You are sitting around a campfire, under a full moon with wilderness woods surrounding you. Which story would be more scary; one about ghosts in a small town somewhere, or one about ghostly spirits in woods just like those you are sitting in, and summoned by the full moon ?

Here is an example of a bit of simple customization:

"You know, there is a lot of history and old legends that say there was some Civil War fighting in and around a little settlement hidden back in the deep woods ... Of course back then -- we’re talking over a hundred and fifty years ago -- that area would have been deep woods..."

That is just a generic start to to a scary story, and what follows it might even be a good scary story, but, consider how much more impact that generic start might have - with just a little personalization:

"You know, there is a lot of history surrounding this campsite. Even some old legends.They say there was some Civil War fighting just a few miles down the road.

And there are some old rumors that there used to be a little settlement hidden back in the deep woods - just on the other side of this camp. Of course back then -- we’re talking over a hundred and fifty years go. That area would have been deep woods, not just the backside of a campground like it is now."

Now this story is about the area and campsite right where the listeners are sitting!

Other changes could be to associate it with the time of year, such as the season, or holiday; like adding a Christmas or Halloween setting.

The night setting can also be changed, such as; it was a starry night - just like tonight, or it was a full moon night, or a dark night - just like tonight.

That is the point of customizing, to make it seem more real to your audience. There are usually chances to optimize throughout most stories.


Practice, Practice, Practice

If you want to get good at it, then you have to practice. This tip is covered in more detail at, How to Become a Great StoryTeller, but these are the basics:

  • Never try to tell a scary story, (or any story), that you aren't familiar with. Ideally you should have it memorized. Know it by heart. And the best way to do this is to write it down.
Practice your scary story

Practice your scary story

Writing it down not only helps you memorize it, but also helps you see spots that you can change, or localize to fit the situation where you will be telling it.

  • Write out your story if it's not already on paper
  • Read it to yourself - until you are comfortable with the flow
  • Tell the story in front of a mirror - watch yourself as you do. You will see where you need to emphasize a portion, and, where you are over-emphasizing and it looks like you are over-acting

Never try to tell a one you don't know - unless you are already a master storyteller - you will fail to impress

After just a few of these practice sessions you will find yourself much more comfortable doing it, and, you will also find yourself critiquing and improving your presentation until you feel it is your best effort.

Set Your Stage

Take advantage of the location where you will be telling your campfire story.

  • Is it in a primitive wooded area, or an open area?
  • Does the set-up allow you to be in front, or facing your audience?
  • Are there distractions; a bathroom facility, other on-going activities, a traffic path, etc.? (you don't want distractions)

Location is important, and a primitive wooded location at night is best.

Take advantage of props, just like stage actors do. Your props will be things like sisal twine tied to bushes or deadwood. Campfire colorizers that turn the flames different colors. Glow sticks, and even toy remote control cars. (that needs an explanation doesn't it?)

Gus tells this story about using those toy remote control cars in one of his storytelling outings,

“I found these cheap remote-control cars at a local Dollar store. They were only $5 each (batteries included), and since they only went forward or backward, the controller was a small push-button type. About half the size of a cigarette pack.

Perfect for hiding in a shirt pocket, or in this case, an empty glove. I bought two.

Well before story time, I hid them in the leaves about 10 feet behind where the kids would be sitting, and about 10 feet apart. Then I put the controllers in a pair of Jersey camp gloves.

I was telling a scary “creatures in the woods” story that night, and as I was telling it I was nonchalantly holding those camp gloves.

By the time the spooky parts came, the kids had forgotten all about the gloves in my hands, and it was easy to secretly push a controller button to activate one or the other cars.

Of course those cheap little cars couldn’t zoom around in all the leaves and stuff, but those sudden bursts of rustling leaves and scuffling sounds in the dark, right behind the kids, was the perfect prop for that scary story.

The kids were holding on to each other before the story was finished, and wouldn’t walk back into camp without a buddy.”

Props Are Easy to Use

Another easy prop to rig, (before story time), is sisal twine. It is a natural color that will be almost invisible on the ground of a primitive campfire site at nighttime.

In another "Gus" story, he tells of tying a piece of dead wood to one twine, and a leafy ground bush to another, (both were behind where his listeners would be sitting). He trailed both twines along the ground to right behind where he would be sitting. He then tied both trailing ends to the log he would be sitting on.

This allowed him to casually "snag" either of those lines with a booted foot, which would then cause that bush or dead wood to make a rustling sound in the woods, behind his young listeners. Worked like a charm. They were sure they heard the monster walking towards them!

The point of those examples is that with just a little forethought you can take your storytelling abilities to a level most never think of.

  • Set you stage - Use props - Avoid distractions

This Scary Story is Localized, Animated, and Uses Props

The video below is a good example covering most of the points discussed so far.

It is a clip of a campfire scene in the movie 'Meatballs', and it is told by a real actor - Bill Murray, but even so look, at what Mr. Murray does to the story.

  • He localizes it by setting the scene as the area they are currently in
  • He animates the story with is voice and body motions
  • And at the end he uses a prop - the hook! .

Storytelling Done Right

Telling Scary Stories for Kids Questions

Gus would be glad to answer any questions, or discuss suggestions, you might have about the art of campfire storytelling. Just use the comments section below.

© 2018 ga anderson