Why do we tell scary stories at all? Isn’t the world already dark enough? As a professional storyteller, I get this question often. Why do we tell scary stories?
💡 The links to books on this page are affiliate links to Amazon. Whenever you buy something after clicking on such a link, I get a little percentage. This costs you nothing but helps me make this website possible. Thanks!
💡 The links to books on this page are affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Whenever you buy something after clicking on such a link, I get a little percentage. This costs you nothing but helps me make this website possible. Thanks!
1. We tell scary stories because the world is a scary place
All of us are regularly scared of something. We harbor deep fears and insecurities. It is part of being human. So it is also part of the stories we share and tell each other.
In the past, it might have been a saber tooth tiger or a herd of mammoths trampling our camp. Nowadays, some of these fears are gone, but others have taken their place. Humanity was never scared before of robots, AI, the machines taking over!
We are still scared of pests, viruses, and being sick. Unfortunately, the recent pandemic has reminded us all too well what can happen when viruses mutate and spread worldwide.
Many of us live in parts of the world that suffer from war and oppression. People are scared of the pain and harm we inflict upon each other. And hunger kills millions of people worldwide every year.
However, even when you are fortunate enough to be well fed and to live in a peaceful place, there are some things all of us are scared of. Death, for example. To die ourselves and to see our loved ones die.
And while we understand more of the complexity of our world, there are still many things we can’t explain. The supernatural might be hard to prove, but it is as real as the natural world to many of us.
When so many things can scare us, it’s important to talk about them. Not telling scary stories is denying a part of the world around us, denying a part of your listeners, and denying a part of yourself as a storyteller.
➡ Here you can learn more about telling scary stories.
2. We tell scary stories to process our fears
When you listen to a scary story, you can allow yourself to be afraid in a safe environment. All these feelings that might be uncomfortable feeling alone at home, you can feel in a group of people, guided by a competent storyteller.
As the story progresses, you might find it gently suggests a way to deal with your fears.
However, even when the story has a horrible ending (for the characters), you will find that you are still alive at the end of the story. Together with the other listeners, you have gone through the dark and safely arrived in the light again. Relief floods through your body.
We tell scary stories to help people experience their fears and go through them. In this experience, they will either find a way to deal with their anxiety or realize that they are still alive. Fear is powerful, but it is still imaginative.
3. We tell scary stories to deal with (the fear of) death
Death is the one thing that will happen to all of us. It scares most of us. We don’t want to lose our lost ones. We don’t want to die ourselves.
Ghost stories or stories with Death as a character help us feel, think and talk about death.
They equally can help us in the period when a loved one has died. People often feel like a person is still around, like a ghost. Ghost stories can help us find out what ‘our ghost’ still wants to tell us.
💡 I cannot remember ever being afraid of death. That reminds me that our fears are also very personal and different. There are other things I am scared of, just not death.
4. We tell scary tories to help us talk about the future
Nobody knows what the future will bring. With stories, we like to explore possible variants of the future.
That’s true about the future of the world and humanity: Will aliens take over the earth? AI? A nuclear war? Zombies? Or will the world die from climate problems? An asteroid? Science fiction shows us many possible scenarios.
It’s equally true about our individual futures. That little bump under our skin, is that a spider bite? That man I fell in love with, will he turn out to be a psychopath? Could my children get lost in this oh-so-friendly-looking neighborhood?
Scary stories help us to face and explore our fears of the future.
“Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses… It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.”Author Neil Gaiman, Vancouver 2014
5. We tell scary stories because they make us feel alive
Just for the fun of it. 🙂
We tell scary stories just for the fun of it. Amid humdrum life, they make us feel alive.
Science tells us that our body produces an adrenaline rush when we feel afraid. We get high on adrenaline. Everything becomes more intense: our hearts, our breathing, our senses. Ready to respond to the danger. We feel alive.
And then, when the scary story has ended, the relief energizes us. We came out on the other side: a great experience, all in your own body.
More on ‘Why do storytellers tell scary stories?’
- Ragan, K. 2006. Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World
- Ellis, E. 2022. Prepare to Scare: A Guide to Telling Scary Stories
- Lindberg, E. 2018. Why do we like to be scared? USC experts explain the science of fright.
💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.