It's dark, and the flames from the campfire are causing shadows to bounce off the trees. An owl hoots. A twig snaps. Someone leans in and whispers, "Have you heard the story about the Pontianak who lives in the nearby village?"
Halloween isn't the only time people tell scary stories. Camping and campfires invite storytelling any time of year.
"People have been sitting around campfires and telling stories for hundreds of thousands of years," says renowned storyteller and author from Singapore, Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman. "It's one of the oldest acts that humans do."
Dr Elmi, who practices the art of performative mythology, storytelling, emceeing and tutoring, explains that in folklore, fire is the carrier of all the stories. So, it makes sense that we are inclined to tell stories while sitting around the one that carries them.
themselves are designed to bring their listeners into another place and time—one where people let go of structure and even rational thought. Campfires help us get to that mythical place. They invite us into another realm and help set the stage for a good story.
Dr Elmi - the storyteller continues: "His name was Adrian Lim – The Killer Healer. He was a confident trickster who convinced numerous women that he possessed supernatural powers. His victims paid him with money, valuables and sex."
Are you sitting on the edge of your seat yet, looking into the dark woods for strange forms among the trees? The truth is you've probably heard some version of this story before. So, what makes it scary this time around?
The best part of a good story is not just the storyline; the magic lies in how well the story is told. A good storyteller will use his surroundings and his audience to his benefit. Here are five storytelling tips that will help your ghost stories come alive.
Commit to your audience. When Dr Elmi Zulkarnain tells a story, he faces his audience square on and opens himself up completely to the space. This helps him gauge the audience's reactions, play off their energy, and adjust the story to the crowd.
"The heart of the listener, the heart of the storyteller and the heart of the story are all informing each other," Dr Elmi says. That's what creates the magic.
Put your body into it. If you're talking about a Hantu Penanggal who's "stalked these Asian villages for the past 50 years," slump down as if you're hiding from him. If you're describing the ghost who terrorises loud campers, you'd better talk in a whisper.
Get your audience to care about your story. Is it something that could happen to them? Is it a story that could have taken place "in these very forests?" Use your environment. Is there a graveyard in your story? Mention that the graveyard used to sit right on top of the very campground you're in.
Don't memorise it. Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman says that it's important to know the "bones" of your story. These are the key characters and moments that keep the story moving forward. But when it comes to the details, he wants you to get creative. This allows you to be flexible in your storytelling. If an owl hoots or a twig snaps in the middle of your story, go with it.
More: Get ready to have your spirits raised with this great book about ghosts, mostly of the scary kind. Prepare to sleep with the lights on!
Give them a good ending. "The ending of a ghost story is the release of an intense emotion," says Dr Elmi. There's nothing worse than building up the intensity only to have it fall flat at the end. The release can be anything from an exhale to a scream.
Dr Elmi’s voice lowers as he launches into another story: "There's one about a The White Lady of Balete Drive. We didn't like the idea of tying Taufiq to the bed, but Tay Nacio said it as the only way to make sure he would not harm himself ... or us if ever. Tay Nacio then lit some dried grass in a bowl on fire. The smell was putrid, but he said it was to cleanse the air around us. He then started chanting over Taufiq's restrained body. As the chanting went on, Hady and I noticed the smoke in the air was now forming a shape. It slowly gathered in a corner and I don't know if I was probably seeing things, but the smoke started to take the shape of a woman with long hair. With a firm tone, Tay Nacio then said, "Leave this boy and pardon him! Accept this as his token of repentance" He held out a tray of assorted small fruits. The screaming slowly faded and the room stopped shaking. Taufiq slowly exhaled and then something began to move in his mouth. Taufiq spat something small and black out of his mouth. We looked at it. It was a dead black chick. Carlito quickly scooped it up and set it on fire."
Dr Elmi’s horror ghost stories such as The Exorcism of Sarah Sullivan and A Family of Three - The Fiendish Union with an Incubus both have shocking and horrifying finales, and Night of the Living Pocong is peppered with witty dialogue and unsettling moments.
Maybe you can read out Dr Elmi’s ghost stories from his best selling anthology of horror ghost stories next time you're sitting around a campfire.
To learn more about Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman, or to hear him tell a story, visit https://www.elemantraconsultancy.com/ .