Campfire Story Time – Tips and Tricks
“How to tell a scary campfire story”
A good campfire story is one of those traditional camping activities that kids love, and the better the story teller – the better the kid’s enjoyment. A good story teller doesn’t do 5-minute monotone recitations – they do real conversational narrations.
You can do that too – being a good story teller isn’t hard; anyone can do it, and these simple tips and tricks will help.
The obvious “How to tell a campfire story” tips:
- If it’s the first time you have told the story – read it and rehearse it to yourself first! Before trying it on the kids.
- Don’t just recite the story, tell it! Use a conversational tone, with emphasis where appropriate. (good story tellers – like actors, rehearse)
- Always have your audience sit in front of you – never sitting directly beside you.
- Do all you can to make sure there are no distractions; wait until most campsite activities and traffic have subsided. Try to pick an area where you won’t be disturbed by other campsites.
- Scary campfire stories are best told after dusk, over a low, flickering campfire. A blazing campfire will be a distraction.
- NO FLASHLIGHTS ALLOWED! The kids will end up playing with them during your story. A big no-no. If they are needed – have them put them in their pockets, or on the ground – out of immediate reach.
Important: Always make sure your story is age-appropriate!
Story telling tips and tricks:
Good story tellers are almost performers. They use everything at their disposal to enhance the story – and the experience of their audience. Including props, if appropriate.
Good story tellers also know to speak at the lowest volume possible. They make the audience concentrate and pay attention in order to hear them.
A great set-up for a sudden BOOMING exhortation.
Veteran story teller tips:
- Very important – make sure other campers, (non-participants), aren’t doing things, (like talking loudly or banging and clanging stuff), that will distract your audience’s attention.
- The best, and most effective scary stories are ones that are related to the area where the story is being told – so, if possible, try to adapt location references to your area.
original line; “they found the bodies lying on the road…”
modified line; “they found the bodies lying on a road that used to run right through this campsite…”
- Engage the audience with both body language and questions or references. And the questions don’t have to be ones where you wait for an answer. For example:
- “Have any of you ever heard of vampires? [without waiting for answers] Well let me tell you about…” Or you could wait for answers. It’s up to the story teller – either way it engages the audience
- Body language: whether sitting or standing, lean into your audience when you come to scary parts, and if something in the story is “about to get you,” lean back – away from your audience, as if you are trying to avoid it or get away..
Use gestures. For example; to illustrate something big or expansive – use your arms to show how big. Or, if there is a “kick” in the story, use your foot to make a “kicking” gesture.
- Where you tell the story, and how you seat the audience is very important. If possible have the woods, (or darkened part of the campsite), behind both the story teller and the audience. But in many cases the campsite set-up only allows it to be one or the other. In that case – always have the woods, or dark area behind the story teller. Your audience will be looking at you as the story is told – You don’t want them distracted by activities going on behind you. (unless it is something spooky in the woods)
Using props to enhance a campfire ghost story can be as simple as a stick to wave for emphases, or a tin can to knock over and rattle — to as complicated as hidden baling twine “snatch” lines and remote control cars. Below are a few examples that have been used by veteran scary story tellers.
Baling Twine – The “duct tape” of the camping world:
Baling twine has 101 uses around a campsite, and one of the better ones is as a hidden “snatch” line. The color of natural twine blends right in with the ground in most camping environments, especially if there is grass or foliage debris on the ground.
One veteran story-tellers describes this example:
I rigged two baling twine “snatch” lines, one to the woods behind me, and one right across the ground to the woods behind where my audience would be sitting, and tied them to bushes and dead wood where they wouldn’t be seen.
Then at the appropriate times in the story a secret pull on the lines created scary “clump” and “scraping” sounds in the dark woods.
It really enhanced the kid’s reaction, (and enjoyment), to the story.
That is just one example of what a little pre-story time preparation can do to enhance the experience for the kids.
And it wasn’t complicated – 10 minutes and done. But the effect will be talked about for a long time. Think about it… imagine how you can use this to enhance your scary campfire stories.
Camp Glow Sticks and Necklaces:
So inexpensive, and so much fun for the kids.
The obvious uses for these glow sticks would be to place a few at the edge of the woods in the story-telling area, or even give one to each kid in your audience. If you have Dollar stores in your area you can probably find 2-packs for $1.
Another example from a veteran camp story-teller:
Glow sticks are great story-time props. You can slip one in a shirt pocket, then at the right time, with a little audience distraction – a sly hand can squeeze the glow stick to activate it, and suddenly your audience sees you start to glow as you tell the story.
Another time I had a 3-foot stick I was waving to emphasize points in the story. The kids did not know that I had split the end of it and stuck a glow stick in it. At just the right time, one of my waves accidentally smacked a big piece of firewood (activating the glow stick) – and it was magic! My “stick” was glowing like a magic wand.
Another simple lighting trick is to drop an activated green glow stick into a 1/2 or 1-gallon jug of water. It will create an eerie green glow to enhance the atmosphere of the story-telling location.
Colored Campfire Flames
There are several ways to make the campfire flames change colors, from copper pennies to sugar, but none are as easy and safe, (and still inexpensive), as most of the commercial products that are available. Funky Flames, (at right), is a good cheap choice.
Since the kids, (your audience), will almost always be able to see you add this to the campfire to make the colorful flames – they serve more as a mood-enhancer and “wow” factor for younger campers, than as a shock or surprise prop like those mentioned above.
But they still work great for scary or magical-type camp stories.
Those are just a few examples. Once you develop the concept of using props with your story-telling you will find yourself thinking of all kinds of things to use as props to enhance story time. And not only will the kids love it – but your stature and fame will soon spread world-wide. (or least family-wide)
Think “out-of-the-box” to make your story better:
Remote-control cars… Saving the best for last, here is one story tellers creative way to “startle” his audience.
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 spooky “creatures in the woods” camping story that night, and as I was telling the story 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 – 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.
Here are some scary campfire stories you might enjoy. They are not quick little 2-minute stories, and they are written as a narration that can be embellished – or told as-is.
• The Broom Town Curse – A scary campfire story
Category: Mildly Scary Telling time: 15 – 20 minutes
A semi-scary story about a witches curse and ghostly spirits. The narration is adapted to make the story apply to the campsite and surrounding area you are in.
…To solve the fears of his men, Captain Bell told them that if they cut off the heads of the witches and buried them separate from the bodies, then the dead souls of the witches could never find them, – – so that is what they did, to every last one of them.
>>> Read this campfire story
• The Magoomba Wasp – A scary campfire story
Category: Mildly Scary Telling time: 15 – 20 minutes
A semi-scary story about a brain-eating Wasp from Brazil and a ship full of dead sailors. The narration is adapted to make the story apply to the campsite and surrounding area you are in.
… as they explored the rest of the ship, they keep stumbling across more bloody bodies. And just like on deck, they were all bloated and bloody. It was as if these dead sailors died trying to tear their face and ears off in agony.
>>> Read this campfire story
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Camping and Hiking Compass
For emergencies, and your peace of mind, – every kid in camp should have a camp whistle on a lanyard around their neck! It’s a handy way for them to summon help when they need it.
Camp Safety Whistles
Save the arguments, – every kid needs their own camp flashlight, instead of arguing who gets yours or who has had it the longest and who’s turn it is now.
(ps. this is a great camp light for kids, but you can just pick some up at the Dollar store if you want)
Kid’s Camping Flashlights
Pie Irons for Campfire Cooking
If you go camping with kids, you should have at least one Pie Iron, (preferably one for each kid), in your camping cookware. They are versatile – you can make anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to instant fruit pies. And they are so safe and easy to use that you can let your young campers make their own fun camping recipes for kids.
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