Anonymous said: Any tips on how to create a good and convincing urban legend?
First off, what is an urban legend?
urban legend (n): a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller.
Urban legends, also known as urban myths or urban tales, are a kind of contemporary legend and are classified as folklore by sociologists and folklorists. They often combine elements of the fantastical with those of the mundane to create something vaguely believable.
Urban legends do not have to take place in urban areas; in fact, there are no hard and fast rules for urban legends at all. The only requisite for the designation of “urban legend” seems to be a memorable short story worth telling your friends to creep them out or make them laugh.
How do these stories reach their audiences? Word of mouth, of course, or something very close to it.
"Urban legends are sometimes repeated in news stories and, in recent years, distributed by e-mail or social media. People frequently allege that such tales happened to a "friend of a friend" (FOAF); the phrase has become a commonly used term when recounting this type of story." (from Wikipedia: Urban Legends)
One urban legend can be passed down through generations with only minor changes to the overall narrative, and similar urban legends can be found thousands of miles apart in vastly disparate cultures.
Contemporary (“urban”) legends are one of the most pervasive forms of folklore in active circulation, but they are far from a modern phenomenon. The same processes of using narrative to communicate and negotiate anomalous experiences can be traced back thousands of years. Contemporary legends are contemporary to the teller and audience, not solely to the scholar. And what had been thought of as purely local narratives were found to exist in multiple manifestations throughout the world. (from the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research website, ContemporaryLegend.org)
I’d recommend starting by reading a lot of urban legends. Here are a few links:
Once you’ve bulked up your urban legends knowledge, the next step is making sure that your legend is convincing. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Baby steps. If you’re trying to get the hang of writing your own urban legend, you could start by reimagining one that already exists. Take an urban legend like Bloody Mary and add your own details or create a new twist. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can move on to creating an entirely new urban legend.
- FOAF. “Friend of a friend,” or FOAF, is a key factor in the creation of urban legends. The events of the story should never have happened to you personally—or even to anyone you know well. The more indistinct the connection the better. A friend of your aunt. A buddy from back in Wisconsin’s dad. Anyone twice removed is generally preferable, but you’d ideally want those two connections to be friends or family members. You’d want them to be credible-sounding people. “A guy at a truck stop told me his drug dealer once…” isn’t really the best place to start (although it is intriguing).
- Location, location, location. One thing that can really boost an urban legend’s plausibility is a good setting. Local history is a great place to mine for the foundations of an urban legend. Local landmarks as well as famous people and popular historical figures from the area can be great springboards for the story. From the next town over to somewhere in Germany to your own guest bathroom, location can vary widely as long as the right details are included.
- Scare factor. Most urban legends have a creepy element to them. Sometimes this element exists to scare the listener into behaving a certain way (like going to bed on time or brushing your teeth), and sometimes it exists purely for the chills of a good scare. Some urban legends reach dare-level proportions, as with Bloody Mary, and there is a call to action included in the storytelling process. Consider including something like this in your urban legend.
- Tell it. Once you’ve got the basics of your story down, tell it. Out loud. Don’t memorize a script; really good urban legends come across more as half-remembrance, half-cautionary tale than as witness testimony. You want a spontaneous feel to the storytelling process, so actually speak your story out loud to other people and gauge their reactions. You could even ask them to tell the story to another person, then ask that person to tell it to you. That way, you’ve got just the boiled-down details and key phrases of the story from a third party to work with as well. Of course, you can do this more than once to get even more feedback. (This would probably work better if your guinea pigs didn’t know the story was a complete fabrication. Maybe tell them you heard it from a friend of a friend!)
- Record yourself telling the story. Instead of relying on your memory of how you and/or others told the story out loud, record yourself and whoever else telling the story. Maybe record multiple tellings, transcribe them, then stitch together the best parts of each retelling into a Frankenstein’s Monster of an awesome urban legend.
Need more help? Check out these links for creating your own urban legend!
Thank you for your question, and good luck with creating your own urban legends!
P.S. If any of our fellow writers have tips for the anon here, I’d love to include them, so send us a message or reblog with your comments!