Storytelling Festival issues chilling challenge

a two-image montage, with an illustration of a frightened face, and a photograph of prefessional storyteller, Fiona Herbert

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival returns in October and with the festival ending on Hallowe'en, organisers want the public to create their own ghost stories and see the best of them performed.

The competition is inspired by the famous challenge issued one rainy evening by Lord Byron to his bored friends - create a ghost story. As a direct result, two of Gothic literatures most famous concepts were born. A young Mary Shelley crafted a tale which would eventually become Frankenstein, while Dr John Polidori wrote a story later published as The Vampyre, which introduced the idea of the blood sucking vampire.

Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival said:

That dark and stormy night when Frankenstein and the modern vampire were brought to life has had a huge impact on storytelling across the world
We are celebrating the 200th anniversary of this incredible bout of creativity by following Lord Byron and issuing a challenge to people today to come up with their own ghost story.

The six winning competition entries will be performed by professional storytellers as part of the Storytelling Festival (21-31 October), and Storyteller Fiona Herbert (pictured above) shares her top tips on writing a good ghost story:

"The stories that have terrified me all contain fear of the unknown. The best stories don’t show you the ghost, the murderer or the monster – they only hint at it. We get glimpses through sound, smell or shadow, making us have to imagine what is really there.

"The best stories know what not to tell, what to leave out so the reader or listener has to fill in the gaps themselves – and nothing is more frightening than what our own imagination comes up with when given that push. So the best stories don’t give long descriptions of how terrifying something looks.

"Don’t explain what the horror is: don’t tell us it’s a ghost or a vampire or what not, because if you do, we will know what to expect. It’s doubt, uncertainty that is genuinely unsettling.

"Make the setting believable - horror is more horrifying when it happens in a familiar setting, one the reader can easily imagine themselves in, and not in some fantasy world. Don’t start with a horrific scene; start with a safe one and slowly and, hint by hint, make the reader realise that something is not right, and keep building from there.

"Write in third or first person. In either case, flesh out your character with an inner life of their own. Avoid having a two dimensional character – if a character has more depth, they are easier to relate to, and therefore the horror that happens to them carries more weight.

"And the old favourite – show don’t tell. Don’t tell the reader "I/she was terrified"; show it by how their body reacts or by their actions"

To take part in the Festival's Ghost Story Competition, please visit www.tracscotland.org/ghoststory.  Deadline: Monday 5 September 2016, 5pm. Maximum Word Count: 1200 words.

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival takes place from Friday 21 to Monday 31 October. Find out more about the Festival, including programme and ticket booking details.

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