Let me tell you a story.
I used to live in a part of town called The Island. It wasn’t great. It was run down, there was some drug activity. Not a bit of this stopped me and the other kids around there from playing outside, though. We often hung out next to the train tracks, in this long patch of dirty grass. It was actually pretty great. There were the tracks, then a creek on the other side. Not the cleanest of creeks, but any running water is going to attract kids.
I was playing there with my friend Emily one day when we were both around twelve. We were doing all the normal things. Balancing on the tracks, throwing rocks into the water. Basic broke kid shit.
We saw a guy walking towards us near the tracks. He was kind of between us and the row of houses, or we might have taken off right away.
The guy was getting closer. He was wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a windbreaker zipped all the way up to his chin. He wasn’t walking in a straight line. It was almost like he was drunk. As he moved closer I could start to smell him. He smelled awful like he hadn’t had a shower in years.
Emily was balancing on the tracks. She was giving the guy a worried look. I wasn’t thrilled about him either. But I figured he’d just walk past us without even noticing.
Instead, he stopped. “Isn’t it a little cold for you girls to be playing out here?” he asked.
“No,” Emily said. It was only about sixty, so this was a strange thing for him to suggest.
The guy seemed to lean a little closer to us. There was something wrong with his skin. It looked almost like it was hanging off him. Not just old people wrinkles, but like it might actually drip off any second.
When he spoke again, it didn’t sound like his words were coming from his mouth. More like it was from under his coat.
“Not a safe place for kids to be playing alone.”
He leaned closer to Emily. “Does your mom know you’re here?”
“Get away from me!” Emily said. She jumped away from the man but fell. I guess her shoelace must have gotten caught on the track. The man reached down and grabbed her jacket sleeve. She screamed. I shoved him away from her and almost screamed too.
It didn’t feel like touching a person. It was like under that windbreaker there were just pounds and pounds of cold hamburger.
The guy had to pull away. I helped Emily pull her shoe free from the tracks and we ran back to her house.
We ran inside and slammed the door shut behind us. Her dad was home that day. When we told him what happened, he grabbed his shotgun and went outside. Of course, the guy was long gone.
There was no reason to call the cops. Emily’s dad was sure the guy was just a homeless man and they wouldn’t be able to find him. I would have thought so too, except for one thing.
We never told her dad, because we didn’t think he would believe us. But on Emily’s jacket, where the man had grabbed her, there was a handprint. It looked like the skin from the guy’s hand had come off, and stuck itself to her sleeve.
The internet is awash with horror stories referred to as Creepypastas. Microfiction and flash fiction stories that almost seem like they could be real.
Kind of like the one I just told you.
They’re creepy, they’re upsetting. Some are incredibly gory and some are just uncomfortable. Some of them are mistaken for true stories. Some have become beloved characters, like Jeff the Killer or Slenderman. They are today’s modern urban legends, and we love them. I even wrote a Slenderman inspired story once.
You can find these sorts of stories all over. There are a few subreddits, including one called R/nosleep. Youtube is littered with videos titled like ‘3 scary Snapchat stories’ or ‘4 home alone stories to make you scream. I even just downloaded an app called Chilling that’s full of them.
Honestly, I cannot get enough of them. And some of them have freaked me out. I especially love Rap Rat.
If you’re interested in writing one of these Creepypasta stories, here’s the advice I have for you. These are tips not only from me as a writer, but from me as someone who has consumed far too many of these things to be healthy.
Keep it just this side of true
In case you haven’t already guessed, my story at the beginning wasn’t a true story. I was never attacked by a rotting man while playing outside as a child.
I was, however, a broke kid who lived in a bad part of town called the Island. I did play near the train tracks and in the creek with my friends. I did once get my shoelace caught in the tracks. Thankfully, there was no train coming. And once I was approached by a stranger who stood too close to me. Then, talked too long to a preteen girl outside by herself.
It’s this sort of thing that makes these stories so relatable. And relatability is something that you need if you want to scare the hell out of someone.
Good horror is honest, especially in Creepypastas. So much so that some people don’t quite get the joke. Stories on R/nosleep are often laughed at because they ‘can’t possibly be true. Well of course they aren’t true. No one ever said they were. They’re just written in such a way that they feel like they might be true.
And of course, there’s always a chance that some of them are. We don’t know, do we?
Grammar can fall away a bit
Many of these Creepypasta stories appear to be written by amateurs. The grammar is off.
Well, that might be on purpose. Generally, the best stories are written in the first person, like you’re telling someone a story. So, since you’re the whole story is narrated from your MC’s pov, you can get away with bad grammar the same way you do while writing dialog. I’m betting you don’t use perfect grammar while talking in the best of circumstances. Neither do I. So why would we when we’re telling someone about a creepy thing that happened one night?
A really scary thing. Something you don’t usually talk about.
Good storytelling cannot
While often the grammar in a Creepypasta isn’t the greatest, the writing mechanics are still there. Some great examples can be seen on the Youtube Show, Are You Scared?
All of the other parts of telling a good story are still in play. Foreshadowing, word usage, descriptions, dialog. None of these can be forgotten in any story. No matter how informal the type of story.
KISS (keep it short, sweetie.)
Finally, Creepypasta stories work best when they’re short. There are some exceptions, like the aforementioned Rap Rat. But most of these stories can be read in under fifteen minutes.
First off, this is nice because most of us don’t have time for a long story all the time. And while I do love an epic fantasy story, sometimes I need a bit of short-form entertainment during my break.
More than that, though, a short story doesn’t have as much time to show the zipper on the back of the monster. I wrote a post long ago about brevity being the soul of horror. I don’t want to rehash all of this. Suffice to say that shorter stories have more of a gut punch. And the best Creepypastas are the ones that keep it short.
Have you tried your hand at a Creepypasta? Let us know in the comments, or leave a link to your story.