I’ve always had a certain propensity towards the things that go bump in the night. Maybe it was because of the countless summers I spent at sleep-away camp, swapping ghost stories around a dying fire; or maybe it was my father’s immense collection of HP Lovecraft that I was forbidden to read as a child (and, of course, read every chance I got). Whatever the reason, in the years since, my love for the horror genre has only grown. And recently, it led me to the virtual world of “Creepypasta.”
Image displayed on the homepage of Ted’s blog.
Creepypasta, an unquantifiable forum in which both amateur and professional authors create and share scary stories, has deep roots in folklore and urban legends, and seems to hold Lovecraft to the highest possible esteem, has provided a complete overhaul of the methods in which we seek fear, and seek to fear others. With the advent of the technologic age, and the rise of digital communication media, word of mouth has given way to word of user, or website: “These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors” (Wiles).
The most successful creepypastas, in both ratings and eliciting fear, are the lengthier ones, as they rely on time-tested and true rhetorical strategies that promote user engagement. Drawing from Lovecraft’s 1927 definition of “weird” fiction, the authors of these long works know that, in order to keep the reader engaged, “A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain” (Wiles).
Two of the oldest and most respected long-form Creepypastas, “Ted the Caver,” and “BEN Drowned” keep the reader engaged, and guarantee that they will see the work through to the end, both utilize the same rhetorical strategies: a format that breaks from the traditional narrative and fabricated multimedia evidence.
The tale of “Ted The Caver,” in which two amateur spelunkers excavate a virgin cave, and unwittingly wake a beast of unfathomable evil, is presented as a genuine blog, with the narrator (presumably, Ted himself) chronicling the events of the story in real-time posts. “BEN Drowned,” the story of a young college student who unknowingly purchases a “Majora’s Mask” cartridge that is haunted by the malevolent spirit of a boy named Ben, is also written as blog post entries, each stamped in real time.
This format—a blog maintained by a clueless narrator—demands the continued interest and attention of the reader. With unnervingly realistic narrative voices and characters, the reader is constantly engaged, wondering if what they are reading is fact or fiction, pushing forward to see how the plot unravels.
In addition to format, both Creepypastas guarantee their readers’ attention throughout the duration of the piece by offering them some form of evidence, which acts as a validation for the readers’ continued commitment to the piece, a method for ensuring that they will continue reading, and a deeper level of meaning and context for the story itself. In “Ted The Caver,” Ted shares photos of the cave, and their progress in excavating it. “BEN Drowned” offers videos of the supposedly haunted section of the video game, complete with music and graphics that break from canon of the original game while still maintaining its integrity and validity. These offerings are fascinating, lend credibility to the content, and help to keep the reader engaged.
A video embedded in the original “BEN Drowned” post.
Owing to the evolution of communication as a digital medium, keeping a reader engaged until the end of a long piece can prove difficult. But by adapting to the changing rhetorical situation, such as the authors of “Ted the Caver,” and “BEN Drowned” have done with their nontraditional formats and multimedia integrations, it is not an impossible task.
Jadusable. “BEN Drowned.” Creepypasta Wiki. 7 Sept. 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
Wiles, Will. “Creepypasta: With a flood of dark memes and viral horror stories, the internet is mapping the contours of modern fear.” Aeon. 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
Welcome to the Page of Ted. Angelfire. 19 May 2001. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
2 thoughts on “Delivering Chills and Engaging Readers”
I totally agree – keeping the audience engaged with a longer work is difficult, but definitely impossible. I think what makes “BEN Drowned” (and some other Creepypastas) so remarkable is that it was initially posted in real time on 4chan. Even while reading it in archived form, knowing that it’s fake, it somehow still feels real. I think a pretty important skill (which is utilized in “BEN Drowned”) is knowing when content is filler versus necessary details. Just enough detail is given in the story to make it feel authentic. If any extra were provided, it might seem that the narrator knows too much. The videos definitely help – I really like that the author went the distance to create videos from the assets of Majora’s Mask. That’s a big reason the story’s always stood out to me. In such a casual medium, I think it’s difficult to compete with this due to the sheer amount of effort put into creating it. When I first read it, I wanted to see the gameplay – and then, there it was. The author definitely knows how to please their audience (by building anticipation, then satisfying the reader’s wants). Simply put, it’s Grade A storytelling.
I agree completely. When I read it for the first time, even though I knew it was fake, I kept searching (or maybe hoping is a more appropriate term) for some indication otherwise. It was so artfully crafted, so engaging and three-dimensional that you almost feel as though it has to be real, because, like you said, the sheer amount of effort that went into creating it. Have you read the other Creepypasta that I mentioned, “Ted The Caver?” Because it has that remarkable, life-like quality to it. If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it.