Telling Scary Stories

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Do you like to be afraid? Spotlight tells scary stories and looks at why people like to hear these frightening tales.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Do you like to be afraid? Many people around the world enjoy feeling fear. They love telling and listening to frightening stories. Many cultures tell different kinds of scary stories. Some involve creatures beyond what we can see and feel. Others are about dangerous monsters, like evil spirits. Today’s Spotlight is on scary stories and why people tell them.

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The feeling of fear is a strong one. Being frightened creates extreme feelings in the body. When a person is scared, her heart beats faster. Her senses like touch and hearing might become stronger for a short amount of time. Some people tell scary stories to experience these extreme feelings.

But telling scary stories can also have a more complex purpose. Scary stories are often fantasy – they are not real. They only happen in a person’s imagination. Telling frightening stories is safe. But it lets people think about what they fear in real life.

For example, scary stories can be about frightening places. These places are real, but there are stories about them. One of these places is in Mexico. In English it is called “The Island of the Dolls.” Dolls are toys shaped like human children. Sometimes they can make a person feel strange and afraid. On this island, there are thousands of dolls. They hang from trees everywhere. They are missing body parts and they are dirty. Adam Navis tells the story of the Island of the Dolls.

Adam Navis 

Don Julian Santana Barrera lived alone on a small island. One day something horrible happened. Don Julian found a little girl floating in the water. The little girl had drowned! A little while later he saw her doll floating down the river.

Don Julian felt very bad about the little girl. So he hung her doll from a tree, to remember her. He believed the girl became a ghost, and visited Don Julian. He believed he heard strange whispers and sad sounds in the darkness. The girl’s ghost wanted him to find more dolls. So Don Julian continued to hang more and more dolls from the trees.

I see dead dolls …” (CC BY 2.0) by Esparta

When he died, his nephew found Don Julian’s body in the river. It was the same place where he had found the girl. Today, there are still dolls everywhere on the island.

Voice 1  

This story may make a person feel strange and afraid. It just seems wrong. But scary stories can also have a particular purpose. They can teach a lesson. Fear can influence behaviour. This is the case in a story from Japan. Bruce Gulland tells the story of the Jikininki.

Bruce Gulland

It is late at night in a small village in Japan. A man named Muso is sleeping. He has travelled all day. Finally, he has found a room to stay for the night. But in the middle of the night, a boy wakes Muso. “We need to leave,” he says. “Why?” Muso asks sleepily. The boy answers: “There has been a death.” The boy is shaking with fear. He continues: “You are a stranger here, and do not know. Frightening things happen in this village after a death. So we must leave.

But Muso does not leave. He is a priest. It is his duty to say prayers over the dead. Later that night, Muso sees a spirit. As Muso watches, the spirit does something very horrible. It eats the dead body. Muso watches, too frightened to move. He has seen a Jikininki – a kind of evil spirit.

By Brigham Young University –, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Later in the story, Muso finds the Jikininki. He discovers it is the spirit of a greedy priest. The priest stole money from dead bodies when he was alive. As punishment for his evil acts, he became a Jikininki. At the end of the story Muso frees him. But the greedy priest suffered as a Jikininki for 100 years.

Voice 1 

The story of the Jikininki teaches a simple lesson about greed. But some writers also like to tell scary stories about more complex ideas. A very famous example is by an English writer named Mary Shelley. There are no spirits, or magic in this story. It is about a normal person – a scientist. Christy VanArragon tells the story of Frankenstein:

Christy VanArragon 

Victor Frankenstein was a very intelligent scientist. But he wanted to do impossible things. In his experiments he learned how to give life to non-living things. Using this knowledge, he created a creature from old, dead, body parts. And then he gave it life! The creature was intelligent. It could speak, read and write. But the creature was also very ugly. So Victor told it to leave.

The creature only wanted a friend. But everywhere it went, people were frightened of it. They thought the creature was evil. It began to hate Victor Frankenstein for giving it life. So it hurt Victor. It even killed his wife. At the end of the book, Victor dies. The creature cries over Victor’s body. Victor only wanted to bring good things to the world. But by creating the creature, he destroyed both it and himself. The creature runs away and is lost forever.

By Diego Torres Silvestre from Sao Paulo, Brazil – Frankenstein, CC BY 2.0
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The story of Frankenstein is not as frightening as other scary stories. Instead, it questions the things people fear. The creature looks very frightening. So people believe it is evil. But it does not want to be a monster.

So, why do scary stories continue to be popular around the world? Neil Gaimon is a British writer of scary stories. In a 2014 TED talk he explained another reason why he thinks scary stories can be good for people. He said:

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“Fear is a wonderful thing in small amounts. You begin the scary story knowing you will come out after a time in safety. It is always good to know that you are still here, still safe. You know that nothing strange has happened, not really. It is good to be a child again, for a little while. It is good not to fear real scary things like governments or relationship or money problems or distant wars. But instead we can fear things that do not exist.”

Voice 1  

Do you like to be frightened? What kind of scary stories have you heard? Tell us what you think! You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at And find us on Facebook at

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “Telling Scary Stories”.

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Do you like scary stories? If yes, which one is your favorite? If no, why not?

Join the discussion

  • No, I don’t because scary stories are always weirder for me. I am afraid of the ghost too much. I always imagine the ghost can appear whenever at night. It’s hard to make me fall asleep easily. I know scary stories just a story but I can not stop thinking about the ghost and feeling not safe.

  • actually, I don’t like frightened things.Because, The researchers told” the scary things maybe be harmful to your body and you feelings”

  • We are in Saudi Arabia believe abut the (Jenny) so maybe I listened the story about singer she’s going to sing in wedding and when she’s started to sing she felt something isn’t normal so she felt fired But her kept singing.when her finished it’s out quickly in the wedding and she run away finally she meets someone in around she’s told him about the wedding and show him the place but the surprise no thing in there

  • I don’t like very scary stories, maybe a little, but I get scared quickly, I believe some stories with the truth, maybe because of this, I fear quickly

  • Yes, I really like hearing scary stories but not on my own because I am afraid of hearing scary stories when I am alone and I imagine that there are evil spirits around me and you will hurt me when I am alone at the house.

  • Yes,sometimes I listening to scary stories
    But my favorite novel fantasy he talking about an Magic and Witches he’s name (arabistan orchards)it not scary but really is best novel i reading in my life

  • I am not like scary stories.

    I not love the stories .

    I like love stories . and history stories.

  • Scary stories are extremely fascinating, such as the movie ” The Conjuring” – which is based on a true story and is both frightening and fascinating to watch at the same time, as I have seen in some of these films. As well as this, it conveys a meaningful message pertaining to family, love and education

  • Ok , firstly i love the scary stories but i scared quickly
    But , i hate the scary films , because when you are watching the films and what really happen , you feel very afired

  • yes , u know in my country , there are a lot of paranormal things and i am interested in it. it makes me reduce more stressful.

  • No, I don’t like scary story because after watching it, I always feel as a evil spirit is around me. This feeling make me not fall asleep easily. Maybe it’s just my imagination but I really frightened at night

  • No, i didn’t, becuse i’m after listening or watching to scary stories or films my brain makes a lot of fictional scenarios wherever i go, it’s annoying especially when i take a shower or before i sleep, so i prefer any story makes me happy

  • I don’t like scary stories because it’s make me hard to sleep well and often imagine ghosts. Scary stories are not true in real life but I can’t stop thinking. My friend likes watching horror films, he enjoy feeling fear. Sometimes, he listens Nguyen Ngoc Ngan telling ghost stories. It’s really person imagination.

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