A New Study on Creepypasta Demonstrates How to Make Your Internet Fiction Go Viral

A Venngage infographic and essay explores why the most popular 'net scary stories make waves.

“Horror aside, the elements of good storytelling present in the best creepypastas can be applied to any kind of writing.” After an analysis of the content 72 beloved viral “Creepypasta” stories across the four biggest creepypasta aggregator sites, Sara McGuire of infographic site Venngage speculated about what elements — content and form-wise — make a scary story, essentially, share-worthy.

Her study, “The Secret Recipe For a Viral Horror Story,” ultimately uses the data to draw larger points about what makes for successful fiction/writing in general. The post’s images and analysis pinpoint the secrets to getting your haunting microfictional short story to get “shares”: combining between 2-6 commonly used plot tropes, and most important, employing a this-is-a-true-story air.

The study essentially illustrates how essential “archetypes” are to good storytelling and writing — the ability to turn them around in a creative way. In Creepypasta, McGuire identifies the main tropes as first person narrative, murder, cliffhanger endings, monster/supernatural being, unexplained phenomenon, creepy image, and (to a lesser extent) creepy video. A selection of these, combined effectively, has created the most popular creepypasta, with “The Russian Sleep Experiment” and “Jeff the Killer” at the top of the heap.

The top Creepypastas


McGuire’s study does get at a couple of interesting elements. The first-person narrative is the most popular element of the story, specifically putting the reader in the moment of the action, or in the case of stories like “Candle Cove” (now being adapted for TV) recalling it distantly. The unreliable narrator element, and the verisimilitude, usually provide the scares in Creepypasta stories, which is a contrast to the aura of “Once upon a time,” legend-like storytelling mode of the traditional campfire short story.

One of Creepypasta's many creepy photos

In an era where found footage films, or at least surveillance camera/iPhone footage, pervade horror films, it makes sense that the first-person perspective and “unexplained phenomena” are the most popular structural points of creepypasta stories.

Modern “lore” is not based on a telephone chain of retelling; it’s a comments section anecdote (“Candle Cove”), or a stray photo uploaded without explanation (“Jeff the Killer,” “Russian Sleep Experiment,” “Slenderman,” so on) and speculated about on social media or message boards. Creepypasta are often multimedia-based; as McGuire elucidates — paraphrasing theorist Marshall McLuhan — the “medium is often the “message” in the best stories.

Creepypasta is also really silly, a lot of the time

McGuire’s study makes the very broad and perhaps instinctive point that conventions in art are conventions for a reason — because they work. But more interestingly, it points to what still scares us in the modern, ever-more-cynical age, when any rumor can be debunked by Googling hard enough.

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