Life advice, via Are You Afraid of the Dark (index) (random)

Dear Frank,

One of the things I really love about the Midnight Society’s tales is that they tend to work with a sort of nightmare logic rather than conforming to any actual logic.  For instance, nothing in your story “The Tale of the Phantom Cab” made much sense, but it certainly made sense that it impressed the Midnight Society enough to let you in.  Do you have any advice about how I, too, could compose a tale strong enough to get me into the Society?


Aspiring Horror King

* * *

Dear Aspiring,

Thanks!  I spent several hours crafting “The Tale of the Phantom Cab” and have plenty of advice for how to create a similarly successful Midnight Society story.

The first thing you’ll need, of course, are two characters who are constantly butting heads.  One will be the sympathetic protagonist, and the other will be a jerk with a lesson to learn.  Don’t skimp on the jerk!  The jerk will generally be quite a bit more memorable than the sympathetic one.  Usually the two characters will be related in some way, but if you’re really into love, you can make these characters potential love interests rather than relatives—and in this scenario, nobody has to be a jerk.  But that’s boring.

Next, you’ll probably want a ghost.  And if there’s a ghost, you’ll have to create a ghostly backstory.  Don’t go crazy with this, though.  A simple, “they died, and now they’re doomed to repeat their deaths forever” will do for most stories.  For instance, my “phantom cab driver” crashed his cab and is now doomed to crash again every time he picks up new passengers.  That’s all you need.

As an alternative (or in addition) to a ghost, it doesn’t hurt to include an eccentric adult with mysterious motivations.  Hence, Dr. Vink.  Keep in mind, though, that you are dealing with child protagonists, and so this character will always come off a little molester’y.

As far as the storytelling itself goes, here are some great go-to’s for keeping the Society entertained:

  • In order to generate tension, you might want some sort of sequence in which characters are rushing around, trying to prevent something horrible from happening.  In my tale, we have the characters rushing to solve a riddle before their ghost cab crashes—what could be more suspenseful than the workings of the human mind?
  • If you have the budget (“imagination”), try to include a shocking image or two.  Maybe a hand in a jar, or a head turning all the way around.  Sam included a rotting horse head in her initiation story.  Be forewarned, though, that if the actress is Jewel Staite, she will likely be underwhelmed:

  • And consider incorporating a kind of “What would you do?” element to the story.  For “The Tale of the Phantom Cab,” I included a difficult riddle and encouraged members of the Midnight Society to try to solve it.  This can be more closely integrated into the story as well: you can have the characters do something to outwit a demon or solve a mystery, or you can make your characters do something especially brave or risky.  The best stories, though, may not need this (e.g. in “The Tale of the Super Specs,” the main characters aren’t called upon to do much out of the ordinary—instead, we are simply invited to watch as doom overtakes them).

That said, keep in mind that, as with any application process, connections and timing will get you further than actual talent.  Entry into the Midnight Society has less to do with the quality of your story than simply knowing someone related to the society.  Gary’s brother Tucker, for example, got in with “The Tale of the Midnight Ride,” which obviously had nothing to do with the tale but, rather, with the fact that he’s Gary’s brother.

Oh!  Also: be you.  Don’t predicate your self-worth on your ability to conform to the above criteria.  If you get rejected, you can always try submitting your story to the late 90’s reboot.

Stay scary,


  • 17 October 2012
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