Urban legends are a part of the collective consciousness of geographical spaces, and are charged by virality. These folktales are tough to trace to their origin, but spread like wildfire, seeping into the cracks and crevices of people’s memories. With each retelling, they shift and change in bits and pieces – forming a body of stories with the same essence but small variations. Ultimately, they offer valuable lessons in storytelling. This is because they are primal stories that haunt cultural spaces for a long, long time. Here we have mentioned 5 lessons from urban legends about storytelling.

Get straight to the point

As with all folktales, these are not elaborate stories with a lot of sensory detail. They don’t beat around the bush, tracing generations or exploring time and space. Rather, they are concise, precise stories that tell exactly what they want to. Take for instance the folktale of Bloody Mary. Legend has it that saying Bloody Mary thrice at midnight conjures the spirit of Mary Worth. But how does she look, where does she live, who is her family – there are no definitive answers. This not only keeps the story easy to understand and remember, but also creates an aura of mystery and intrigue.

5 Lessons From Urban Legends About Storytelling
5 Lessons From Urban Legends About Storytelling

Flesh out your characters

To keep a story restrictive to only essentials does not mean you need to compromise on your characters. No one is invested a story which does not give a redemptive backstory to the villain or exposes some flaw in the hero. Even in the most to the point urban legends, some form of character arc exists. In the Donkey Lady legend of San Antonio, for instance, the gruesome murder of the Donkey Lady and her children by her husband, explains her desire for vengeance.

Don’t overcomplicate the plot

The reason folktales are so pervasive throughout cultures is that they can be understood by people of all age groups and sections of society. No matter if you’re literate or not, an adult or not, a member of a culture or not, these stories are accessible to everyone. This is because their plots are sometimes staggeringly simple. The Spider Bite story, for example, is the story of a man bitten by a spider who discovers that spiders now grow under his skin. This might be a deceptively simple plot which one can summarize in a sentence, but it still makes people shiver with terror.

Create suspense and intrigue

Urban legends are usually horror stories that travel by word of mouth, so oral storytelling has a lot of emphasis. Stories in any form, when told with suspense, become more engaging and tantalizing. In fact, BBC notes that psychologists have explored this in depth and found reasons for this. Supernatural suspense, according to them, contains the correct, ideal amount of familiarity and magic, and hence are ‘minimally counterintuitive’. So the same Slender Man as before, can be explained using psychological motives. But he is also a violation of physics and biology since he can appear out of thin air and extend his tentacles.

5 Lessons From Urban Legends About Storytelling
5 Lessons From Urban Legends About Storytelling

Create atmosphere and stir emotions

Any urban legend you can think of, whether it’s Bloody Mary or Slender man, have a certain mystical, mysterious, terrible aura around them. It instantly transports you into a world full to the brim with darkness, exorcism, horror, and disgust. Psychologists say that any story that creates intense emotions pulls readers and listeners in, And urban legends use that to their advantage. Basically, the emotions of fear and disgust in these stories are so powerful that they play on your mind for a long time. This cements the story in your memory, thereby stimulating associations between the story and the emotion in your mind. You can use this in your writing with any emotion – happiness, fear, sadness, surprise, love or anything else. But create the right kind of atmosphere that accentuates the mood and heightens emotions.

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