The Anatomy of a Creepypasta: Common Elements of Viral Horror Stories

Woman covering her mouth and scared

Innumerable horror stories have been passed on ever since the early days of the internet, but not all of them became viral enough to be a creepypasta. Creepypastas are creepy stories that are copied and pasted across different platforms in the Internet, such as emails, forums, and comment threads. When you read these stories, you may notice several common elements, such as these.

First-person point of view

Many viral horror stories were presented as anecdotes, perhaps due to their effectivity in the genre. Even horror classics like Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ were written this way. For creepypasta writers, this viewpoint might be easier to write, and readers may find it more intimate.

The story could also gain some credence when told as an anecdote. Since it places the reader in the narrator’s shoes, it can be easier for them to relate to the narrative and believe it. The fright factor might also have more impact when read in this viewpoint. A lot of popular creepypastas have to do with diary entries and online messaging (like Ted the Caver and Funnymouth), which are most effective in the first-person point of view.

Unexplained phenomena

Sometimes, the things that scare us most are the ones that we will never know or understand, and creepypasta authors take advantage of this. Whether it is an unknown creature, a strange event, or a mysterious disappearance, the mere not-knowing can be utterly unsettling. It does not have to be unfamiliar either, some creepypasta writers make commonplace things an unexplained phenomenon.

The stories posted by Reddit user searchandrescuewoods, for example, make stairs in the woods creepy by offering no explanation for them. These are not stairs built into the environment, but ones that seem like they were taken from a building and placed in the middle of the forest. Perhaps, even a stair specialist would have trouble explaining why a metal spiral staircase in prime condition is among an expanse of shrubs and trees. And this unsettling, unexplained phenomenon became one of the most memorable motifs in these stories.

A creepy photo

Abandoned haunted house

“Pics of it didn’t happen” is a common phrase used in the Internet in response to stories that are difficult to believe. So, creepypasta writers incorporate images or photos in their stories. Aside from providing proof, this is also a very effective device because our brains tend to process images faster than words.

“Pics of it didn’t happen” is a common phrase used in the Internet in response to stories that are difficult to believe. So, creepypasta writers incorporate images or photos in their stories. Aside from providing proof, this is also a very effective device because our brains tend to process images faster than words.

Most of the creepypastas that are accompanied with pictures have become synonymous with their images. Some popular examples include the image of the emaciated, grinning creature in the Russian Sleep Experiment story, and that of the patient with mannequin-like features in The Expressionless.

Cliffhanger ending

Most creepypastas tend to include death or murder, while some of them only imply it in the end. Making a reader want more from the story can be good in making it memorable. However, cliffhangers should be done well enough so they would not seem too much of a cop-out. The ideal cliffhanger ending leaves the reader with a chill, and are best for stories where the reader is made to wonder if the same thing could happen to them. The Persuaded story is a great example of a cliffhanger creepypasta.

These are just a few common creepypasta narratives, and do not include some of the obvious ones like death, monsters, and the supernatural. If you are looking to write your own creepypasta, these elements can help you craft an effective narrative. However, it should not keep you from exploring outside the cliches.

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