Love them or hate them, scary stories are part of the human experience. In the United States, we celebrate Halloween today, but every other country has version of their own spooky traditions. And part of the experience is the sharing of stories.
So, what elements have made those stories last so long? And what can marketers learn from them? Here are five main reasons that the stories have stayed with us—and ideas for how we, too, can create long-lasting content.
1. Write with rich detail.
It’s not just a horseman. It’s the Headless Horseman. It’s not just a Snowman, it’s the Abominable Snowman. The details and the emotion-inspiring words, harrowing, spine-tingling, dripping, thumping, screeching, blood-red, raven-black, etc. make the story come to life for us.
What you can do: Writing content rich in details does not mean writing a tome. It means using words carefully—like a poet—with each word meaning something. Think of the writing greats like Ernest Hemingway who said much with little. Use your words well.
2. Use a character that inspires strong emotion.
Whether you find him intriguing or vain, Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t leave readers feeling indifferently towards him. Something draws us to him and his fiendish creation. So, whether readers are entranced by Count Dracula or cheering on vampire hunter Van Helsing, the important fact is that the reader is reacting.
What you can do: If you’re writing a case study, make sure the reader can identify with the company or the person you are writing about. Make the reader care. If you are sharing a customer success story, make sure the reader believes this is really a person, not a flimsy cardboard cut-out representation of a person.
3. Sentences do something.
The raven quoth, the telltale heart is thumping. Witches fly in the sky. Werewolves howl at the moon. Sentences in spooky stories are active. They don’t passively describe what is happening, but movement is described.
What you can do: Use active sentences in your content. Passive sentences have their place, of course, but active ones should rule the day.
4. Wordplay underlines the story.
One of the most famous scenes from “Macbeth” features the three witches over a cauldron, murmuring, “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” It’s the rhyme and rhythm that stays in our mind long after the play is done. The same with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” It’s the repetitive word “nevermore” that begins to drive the reader a little nutty just as the raven is doing the same to the narrator.
What you can do: Know your literary terms, such as personification, alliteration, metaphors, and analogies. By becoming familiar with these terms, your writing can employ these when necessary. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. You don’t need to write a classic poem or story, but use these writing tools to add texture to your content.
5. The story takes you somewhere.
A good writer carries you along a journey. You follow down the corridors in search for the cask of Amontillado in one Poe short story. In another, you can hear the narrator fall into madness as he hears the tell-tale heart beating ever louder.
What you can do: Take your reader on a journey. In Nancy Duarte’s Take 10, she discusses the highlights in carrying your audience, as the hero, through a journey from what was to what can be. Your destination isn’t the same as one in a spooky story, but the important part is to have a destination for your visitor.
BONUS: A lesson is learned.
In a film class I took, the instructor told us that lessons can be learned even in horror movies: Don’t separate yourself from a group when camping. Don’t go smooching when you need to be helping out. Don’t go into the basement when the light bulb isn’t working. Don’t leave your tent without a flashlight. And don’t ever, ever pick on someone because they’ll come back and get you.
What you can do: Whether a big lesson or small lesson, leave the reader with something new to ponder.
If you want to learn more about crafting content that captures the story, join us for MarketingProfs University Content Marketing Crash Course, with instructors Nancy Duarte, Jason Falls, Joe Pulizzi, Jay Baer, Joe Chernov, Marcus Sheridan, Mack Collier, Ardath Albee, Erika Napolitano, MarketingProfs’s own Ann Handley, and more. Seats are going fast; register here!
And on this Halloween day, we’re leaving you this treat to savor: James Earl Jones reading “The Raven.” The power of Edgar Allan Poe’s words and the timbre of Jones’s voice will send chills up your spine. Enjoy!