How to Write a Scary Story

What You Need:

  • Index cards in two different colors
  • Pencils or pens
  • Thirty-second timer
  • 2 or more story creators (this could be you and your child, or a few kids together)
  • A little spooky imagination
  • Video camera (optional)

What You Do:

  1. Explain to your child the purpose and meaning of descriptive vocabulary and foreshadowing. Here's a cheat sheet:
    • Foreshadowing: when an author hints at something that will happen later on in the story.
    • Descriptive language: descriptive language is all about the use of rich adjectives which employ the use of the senses:
      • sight: including colors, sizes and shapes, such as round, green, large
      • sound: including types and volume, such as quiet, grating, and banging
      • smell: including scents and strengths, such as flowery, foul, strong
      • taste: including flavors and strengths, such as tart, spicy, weak
      • touch: including textures and temperatures, such as silky, damp, hot
  2. Using some of that juicy figurative language, have your child brainstorm ten different sights, sounds, smells and objects that we associate with Halloween. Encourage your child to use specific, concrete words and plenty of adjectives. Have your child write each image on one color of index card. Some examples might be: "gooey eyeballs," or "flowing, groaning ghost," or even "cheerful candlelit pumpkin head." Now have your child brainstorm ten creepy names that a person or animal might have, and write each name on a card of a different color.
  3. Now it's time for some story starters to get those creative juices flowing. You can write your own, or try our printable choices, such as:
    • “One dark, stormy night, I walked down the street and I saw.....”
    • “One Halloween I night I was trick-or-treating with my brother. We knocked on Old Mr. Payne’s door and...”
    • “I was riding my skateboard home from school when I took a short cut through the cemetery.”
    • "Just as the moon was coming up, I went around the dark corner by the school. There in the shadows I saw..."
    • In the daytime, Mrs. Scratch's basement didn't look like anything much. But that night, something happened..."
  4. Place your two piles of spooky index cards—one of images, one of character names—face down in the middle of a table, or somewhere else that everyone can easily reach.
  5. Now it's time for some spooky hilarious fun! Try turning the lights low, and maybe putting flashlights or candles around. Set up a video camera if you want to remember the story later!
  6. Pick one story starter, which gives you a setting. Then pick one character or one object from the pile—you choose—and start rolling. As a first person narrator, you will start a story in which each person "runs into" the characters and objects in the pile. You might say, for example, "One dark, stormy night, I walked down the street and I saw Mrs. Dowd. At first she looked perfectly ordinary, just as usual when she's the librarian at school. But then, she smiled at me, and pointed, and I saw that something incredibly weird had happened to her face. It was still Mrs. Dowd... but she was not the lady I knew from Library Time! Give yourself thirty seconds (or, if you've got big talkers, give yourselves up to two minutes), and then pass the story line along to the next player. What's next? Have the following player pull a card and use it to keep the story going.

This game can go on and on, usually it just gets more and more hilarious and wild. Especially once you've gotten some practice, kids love to videotape themselves and watch later. But even if you just play this game spontaneously, it's a great tool for fourth grade fiction writing. At this age, kids need to identify and use important tools like setting, character, and description. There's no better way to start building comfort than to play around with people you like, and see what words can do when you put them together creatively. And hey, it's fabulous, sugarless, Halloween fun!

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