Did you ever hear a scary story that made you jump up and scream? In this article professional storyteller Rudolf Roos tells you how to do a jump scare when telling a scary story yourself.
What is a jump scare?
A jump scare in storytelling is a technique used to scare the listeners by the contrast of scary, soft, slow and dark storytelling with a loud, big, high volume action. The result is that the listeners jump up in their seats.
Step 1: Set the atmosphere
Scary stories are best told in the dark. In the silent dark.
Around a campfire. Crackling wood. The sounds of nature.
Jump scares work best with teenagers.
Younger children can easily get so frightened they pee their pants. Adults might see the jump scare coming from miles away.
For a scary story to work you need attention of your listeners.
A place without a lot of sound that can interfere with the story, without a lot of activity that can draw the attention away.
Be slow to start telling the story.
And when you start, feel the fear inside yourself.
Step 2: Choose a scary story which builds up tension
You need the right story.
A scary story that builds up the tension.
It’s great when there is a little line that is repeated throughout the story, like hammer hammering a nail deeper and deeper.
7 Great Scary Stories which end in a Jump Scare
- Creak!: It all starts with a small sound: ‘Creak’. Followed by Crack, Whoosh, Thump, Thump, Thump… A short jump scare based on the scary sounds we can hear in the dark.
- The Golden Arm: A man buries his wife who has a golden arm. He takes her golden arm from the grave, but the ghost of his wife comes to visit him in the night. Builds the scare on a repeated phrase.
- The Big Toe: A boy digs up what turns out to be a big toe. In the night the owner comes in search of his toe. Builds the scare on a repeated phrase.
- I found an open WiFi connection: At a campside in the middle of the woods friends find an open WiFi network. They decide to find out where the signal is coming from. Could end in a jump scare.
- 10: Story number 5 on this page is more a short anecdote. A man passes a mental hospital where the patiënts are calling out numbers. At some point he looks through a hole in the fence. Could end in a jump scare.
- Magic Castle: A woman gets into a magic castle. She ignores all warnings and ends up in room with a coffin. Inside the coffin? Smarties (M&M’s)! A story with a funny jump scare.
- The Nightmare House: The father of a family spends the night in a new house. Strange sounds fill the house. The next morning his wife finds him dead, hairs white, face in horror. This tale can have two jump scares.
Step 3: Slow down your telling
The more you are approaching the jump scare, the more you slow down.
Stay in connection with your listeners.
When you slow down in your telling, and take longer pauses, they will slow down inside.
Step 4: Lower and lower your voice
As you lower your voice, your listeners will lean forward.
Sitting on the edge of their chairs or benches.
Wanting to hear every word.
Lowering your voice naturally draws them in and sets them up for an explosion.
Step 5: Make yourself smaller and smaller
As you are closing in on the jump scare moment, you bow forward.
You stretch your body towards your listeners, you lean your head forwards, closing the space.
No big arm movements. Nothing sudden.
You make yourself small, whether you are telling sitting or standing.
Step 6: Go all in for a convincing Jump Scare
The scare comes because of the contrast. The contrast between small and big, quiet and loud, slow movements and sudden movements.
When you do a jump scare, go all in.
Step forward, make yourself big and scream or shout your last sentence.
The bigger the contrast, the bigger the jump scare.
Your listeners will experience what is called a ‘startle response’. An unconscious defensive response to a sudden threat (more about the startle response at Wikipedia).
Some may jump up, some may scream, some may freeze and some will just sit there, quietly shuddering.
Step 7: Wait until the ruckus ends
After the jump scare there will be loud reactions.
Some laughter, some funny comments about how each one reacted.
Somebody might say that ‘they really were not scared’, or ‘they could see it coming’.
As a storyteller this is the moment to simply stand there, smile and enjoy your successful jump scare. Take it all in. Don’t go on until the ruckus has ended.
Would you like to learn more about telling your stories? Check out ‘How to Tell a Fairy Tale‘.