What I Learned about Storytelling from a Cheesy Ghost Tour in Ireland



Who knew that a somewhat corny night full of screaming at ghosts could teach me something about blogging? You can’t walk very far in downtown Dublin without seeing some reference to their ghost bus tours. I signed up to have a little scare-yourself fun. I walked away with some important blogging tips about storytelling. The tour itself was a mixed bag. I know some people who loved it, and I know some people who didn’t. But the storytelling made the experience well worth my time.

It was a dark and stormy night
It was a dark and stormy night

In the United States, most of the “ghost tours” I’ve been on have been all about the fright factor. Around every corner, there’s someone waiting to jump out at you. You can’t walk two steps down a haunted trail attraction without shrieking. A town in Pennsylvania even tried to host “Shocktoberfest,” where you are naked the entire time you go through their haunted house (yes, really…though it’s since been cancelled).

The ghost tour here in Ireland was completely different. It was all about telling ghost stories, and building up the suspense. It was about history and folklore, not about cheap jump scares. Well, it was a little about cheap jump scares. It was a ghost tour after all.

But I digress. What I really want to tell you about is the techniques our guide used to make his stories extremely effective, and how you can use these same storytelling techniques on your travel blog to captivate readers. It seems rather fitting that I learned so much about storytelling while in Dublin, as this really is the City of Storytellers.

A Story doesn’t have to be Loud to be Exciting

The charismatic social butterfly making people laugh at a party tends to be loud, not just in voice volume, but also in storytelling technique.

But sometimes, the quiet moments matter too. Our guide was a bit corny, it’s true, but he was an expert at knowing when to lower his voice, making everyone lean in  to listen closely. Some of the most emotional parts of his stories really hit home because he wasn’t shouting; he was almost whispering.

If you have a podcast, this is definitely a technique you can employ…but what if you’re a blogger. How can you “whisper” when story telling via text? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Allow a captivating image to stand alone, without comment.
  • Keep the tone of the story subdued.
  • Tell the story at a slower pace.
  • Avoid distractions, like links, during the meat of the story.

Of course, this “quiet” storytelling technique doesn’t work for every single post you write, but it can help your “loud” moments stand out in comparison. On our ghost tour, this translated to jump scares, but on your blog, this can translate to calling attention to specific details.

Repeat Yourself

Repetition can also be a very effective way to bring attention to a specific detail. On our tour, I remember standing in the graveyard and our guide mentioning, in a somber voice, how many people had died during a specific time period in Dublin – and how many people’s bodies were never claimed. He repeated the number several times for effect.

It brought chills to my spine.

At another point in our tour, he told the story of a Catholic priest caught having mass during a time period in Dublin where this was not allowed. His punishment was execution (and a particularly gristly one that I won’t repeat here in case any of you have just eaten). He repeated the gory details several times to let it really sink in.

Usually, we’re taught to edit ourselves when storytelling, but editing doesn’t mean that you can’t use repetition. Use it sparingly, or you’ll start to sound like a broken record, but don’t shy away from it completely. If you can give your readers those same chills I had, they’ll keep coming back for me.

Set the Stage

Before every story, our tour guide gave us a scene to imagine. At one point, he even had us close our eyes to imagine it. The drizzle of the rain. The whip of the wind howling in the night. The distant crying of a mother who is burying her dead child. The shuffling of feet through the puddles.

These details were not important to understand the story he was going to tell, but by setting the scene, he brought the tale to life. We felt like we were there. We could see and feel what he was describing.

The small details matter. You can report the facts or you can tell the story. Storytelling is an art as much as it as a skill. So paint that picture with your words. Make your readers feel as though were there, standing beside you, having the same experiences you had.

If you get a chance to go on one of the Ghost Bus tours while in Dublin, do so, even if spooky stuff isn’t really your thing. Go for the storytelling experience, and examine what the guide does to bring you into the tales he or she is telling. Take those lessons back to your own blog, so you can use your unique perspective to keep readers hungry for your travel stories.

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Eilish Rafferty
Eilish Rafferty
November 14, 2013 6:03 am

Thanks Allison for translating how to tell a good story into writing a good blog. I have to agree with you. I went on that tour a good number of years ago and enjoyed it mainly because of the skilled way in which the guide painted the pictures. The dark, dank, Dublin night did the rest!

December 9, 2013 8:44 pm

Yeah on this Salem ghost tour told this cheezy line. We walked pass this old distillery and he said ” This building might not be haunted, but it has always been filled with spirits!”

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