Internet campfire stories
Creepypastas are short horror stories that are shared online in a variety of formats, some are audio files, others text, some are illustrations and some have been animated or performed via live-action.
The exact origins of the creepypasta story are unknown. It is difficult to pinpoint the start of the genre as early creepypastas were usually written anonymously and regularly re-posted.
The term “creepypasta” comes from the internet slang term “copypasta” which means copy and pasted text, due to the way they were first created and circulated. Originally, the stories were text-based only and copy-pasted across the internet, in the manner of creepy chain letters. However, over time the definition of creepypasta has expanded now to include almost any kind of horror story written on the Internet. The anonymous nature of the stories has also changed over time, with authors now putting their names to stories.
The versatility of the internet has lent itself well to the expanding medium of these chilling little tales and has allowed them to spread/go viral to such an extent that they are have created their genre of urban legend style stories. Even well-known writers, producers etc, like Clive Barker, are helping to adapt creepypastas to the small screen showing just how mainstream this genre is becoming.
But what is it about Creepypastas that makes them so effective? Why do we find ourselves cowering back from our monitors or phone screens?
Style and Versatility
The style and versatility of creepypastas is one of its most distinctive tools. The fact that these story’s use text, audio, image etc allows them to be impactful in a way that they would not have been if they had remained solely in a text-based format.
Brains process images faster than words, we can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds. Think about that for a moment, less than a second and your brain has had an image seared into it. This is, in part, why effective images are linked to some of the more famous creepypastas. If I say Slenderman, I am confident you will be able to picture him in your mind. Slenderman was an image before he was a story. Jeff the Killer and Smile Dog are stories that are also synonymous with their images.
This is due to the fact that the images do not merely break up the text, they are carefully considered to enhance the narrative. That coupled with how quickly our brains process images usually means you have a tone in your mind for a story before you’ve even read it.
Moving on from images and considering text. Versatility plays a key role here as well, text does not have to be a typical narrative. Stories such as Candle Cove are text-based but present themselves as a forum conversation.
Other text-based stories have been picked up by narrators such as Mrcreepypasta and CreepsMcPasta and turned into chilling audio stories, mixed with music, sound effects and superb voice work.
All in all the ability of creepypasta stories to use various mediums on the online stage allows them to be extremely effective.
They are told in the 1st Person
If a story is presented as a personal account, such as a diary entry, or a blog post etc then there is always the possibility that it could be true.
Creepypastas are presented for entertainment purposes but some of them are so well presented that there’s always the slight possibility that it could, just maybe, be true. This kind of writing makes the stories interesting and more engaging, even when we know they can’t be real, there’s always that tiny element of doubt that festers in the back of the mind.
The earliest creepypastas had to be somewhat believable and realistic to be successful and get re-posted. So, this was very deliberate on their part and is something that has, to an extent suck with creepypasta as a whole.
To achieve this, a lot of creepypasta stories are told in the 1st person, from the point of view of someone giving an account of an event. Some are almost like police interviews, someone sitting down and retelling an event that they witnessed. Others, like Candle Cove, are presented as someone telling an account via a forum.
The 1st person perspective is a very effective tool in horror, as it immerses the reader in the story. The perspective sucks them in and lets them feel the confusion, fear, and horror of the protagonist. It hides information that might be available to a 3rd person perceptive that could provide reassurance or relief from the tension.
I remember listening to an audio reading of The Rake and feeling my skin crawl, the reader’s way of telling the story was marvellously done, it sucked me right in and let me feel his fear of this creature. I felt how powerless he was against such a thing. The story would not have been as effective if it had used a third-person narrative in my opinion, it was only because of the 1st person perspective that I was so affected.
A lot of the stories do not identify the protagonist/storyteller.
Keeping your protagonist hidden or secret by not naming them helps provide weight to the idea that these stories are true accounts of events. It allows the reader to become even more immersed in the telling.
The effectiveness of ‘self-insert’ type stories is one of the reasons some video games use silent protagonists, so as to allow the player to project their own personality onto the game. By keeping your protagonist/storyteller nameless subconsciously we can imagine this happening to ourselves all the easier. It can increase empathy.
The anonymity of the author also helps lend itself to the urban legend style, as said above these stories are usually people telling stories of events they have experienced.
Creepypastas have evolved to take advantage of the versatility of the internet, from starting as text-based, copy-paste stories where the truth of the matter was sometimes ambiguous to now spanning across various mediums and becoming more mainstream by the day.
I’m interested in seeing how they continue to evolve over the next 20 years.