SLAP HAPPY LARRY
Lesson plan: write your own urban legend.
AIM: Students will create an original story as an homage to a classic urban legend.
Teenage girls really enjoy this one. Make sure you pick the right group of kids to do this with. (And the right school.)
Note: It is tempting for students to rewrite the same old legend. You may find it works better for students to write a short excerpt only, as practice using language rather than practice structuring plot. Or you may specify that the ending must be different. Even better, the more creative students will come up with their own, original legends. That’s ideal. The others, at least, have somewhere to start and can’t moan about not having any ideas.
2 HOURS + HOMEWORK TIME or 3 HOURS IN CLASS
MATERIALS : A class set of urban legends. (About 10 different legends for a class of 30.)
A short urban legend of the horror genre. These are readily available on the web. See Snopes.com for some great examples. These are American, and may need to be picked more judiciously outside America, as some are more popular internationally than others. I like:
- The Vanishing Hitchhiker
- The Babysitting Urban Myth
- Phonecall From The Grave
Like any good writing teacher (!), I have done this exercise myself. I wrote a short story based on The Vanishing Hitchhiker . It was published in Eclecticism ezine, Issue #11, and is available for free here . During the rewrite, I took out the supernatural elements. I also rewrote The Babysitter urban legend with an Aotearoa-New Zealand setting .
You might also use Jeffrey Archer’s “Never Stop On The Motorway”. I’m not sure if he wrote that story based on the Killer In The Backseat urban legend, or if the urban legend came about because of Archer’s short story.
A short excerpt from the horror story
Creepy background music. I like Creepy Music Box , Creepy Dolls , Creepy Organ Music , Behold the Darkness , A bizarre jingle bells remake , O Willow Waly , the sound of rain and thunder , Sounds of Horror . (I’m sure you’ll find your own favourites on YouTube.)
Teacher reads a short horror story.
Class brainstorms what sort of things scare them.
Individuals may share any experiences they have had where they felt scared. (Teacher start by talking about own experiences). Talk in pairs. Share the best ones as a class.
Show on an interactive whiteboard an excerpt from Horror Story. Teacher leads a discussion of the language (short sentences at point of climax, emotive language, structure of an urban legend).
Near the end of the first period, teacher distributes Urban Legends to individuals. Individuals read in silence without talking to next door neighbour. They are given guidelines about how to write a short story based on the legend:
- You can rely on as little or as much material in the urban legend given to you as you like.
- You can change any detail and add any detail to make it a better story.
- You can choose to make the ending positive or funny but it must aim to make the readers scared.
- You may like to include experiences you have had yourself.
- You may like to make the setting your own part of the world – not America or elsewhere.
- Include at least one scary character.
- Decide before you begin whether you are going to write in first, second or third person.
While listening to atmospheric music (or not) students write their own story.
For indepth discussions of all things supernatural, you might try listening to the Mysterious Universe podcast , produced by two guys in Sydney who are on the zeitgeist of urban legend creation. Bear in mind that their podcast is completely unscientific and made for entertainment. (Many of us continue to find ghost stories entertaining even though we don’t actually believe in ghosts… an interesting phenomenon in its own right.)
The creators Benjamin Grundy and Aaron Wright get so caught up with their research at times that they freely admit to half-believing their own spin. Anyway, there is more than enough material out there upon which to base a modern urban legend, and Mysterious Universe is a collection of the most bizarre in any given week here on Earth.
My favourite podcast of theirs is the one about the ‘Greys’: aliens who are actually robots programmed long, long ago by a highly evolved species in a distant universe… Anyway, have a listen to that if you’d like an hour of mind boggling entertainment. Their expert, Nigel Kerner, is the most eccentric interviewee I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to.
And then, after this is all done, you might want to listen to the Skeptic Check series of podcasts produced by SETI as part of the Are We Alone? series . These podcasts include a healthy dose of skepticism, and revel in scientific geekiness.
This lesson would lead very nicely to a unit in Advertising, I always think. And much discussion about skepticism and hype and spin and email hoaxes and refusing to believe everything you hear. As part of this discussion you might actually go back to the Mysterious Universe podcast, for a very interesting (and scientific) discussion with Professor Christopher Bader and Professor Joseph Baker, authors of Paranormal America , about why humans continue to believe in paranormal stories, even today.
I hope you have as much fun with this as I did.
CONTEMPORARY FICTION SET IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND (2023)
On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.
Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:
1. Get a pet dog
2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.
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Wednesday, February 8
14 tips on how to create your own urban legend.
The Ingredients of an Urban Legend:
1. fear of strangers. the bad guy is a foreigner, an outsider, a stranger., 2. importance of ritual and rule-following., 3. the author is anonymous., 4. vague. no specific examples are given, nothing that can be definitely traced., 5. electronics don’t work., 6. the protagonist is alone., 7. it is said to be a true story., 8. event is said to have happened locally., 9. event is said to have happened recently., 10. the event happened to someone the teller knows. or a friend of a friend., 11. the event is macabre, horrific, sensational., 12. give it a moral., 13. i say this tongue-in-cheek: it helps if a blurry photograph is involved, 4 comments:.
Thank you for this. I really enjoyed this :)
there is only 13 tips
lol That's right! I deleted one at the last minute during editing and forgot to change the title. Well spotted. Though ... now, I think I'm going to leave it as is. I like the tension.
Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.
- Literary Terms
- When & How to Write an Urban Legend
- Definition & Examples
How to Write an Urban Legend
The most basic way that people create urban legends is essentially by starting elaborate rumors. They can begin with a small tale, and as they are passed on by word of mouth, the internet, and other outlets, they usually pick up more details that work to make them seem true and believable. Likewise, those same methods may help to disprove them, but the legends can still continue to reach new audiences.
If you’re trying to create your own urban legend, remember these key things:
- It should be based on real life events, people, or circumstances. Without any foundation in reality, and urban legend won’t have any real power or support.
- People only want to believe things that could be real, so if you just make up stories completely, it usually won’t be as popular as one “based on real events.”
- Usually, a believable but unusual tale will get passed on, and like a game of telephone, the information will warp and change as it is passed from person to person.
When and Where to Share an Urban Legend
Traditionally, legends were passed on through oral tradition and storytelling, and sometimes took years to spread or become widely known. Nowadays, however, it’s easy for these tall tales to spread via the internet—social media platforms, blogging, and even news sites can quickly get a story and share it online with thousands (or millions) of people. So, social media and popular blogs are the best place to release your story nowadays, as they have the furthest reach and the greatest potential to spread.
Since they can spread so quickly via the internet and other resources, stories may be quickly believed, or quickly dismissed. For instance, some urban legends may start as rumors that are easily disproved (like the death of a celebrity who hasn’t actually died), while others last for generations (like the idea that it takes 7 years to digest a piece of swallowed gum), while others may continue to grow and gain details for years. So when you’re going to share an urban legend, make sure it is somewhat believable, and has the potential to last.
If shared at the right time, urban legends can gain a permanent place in modern folklore. So, you should generally share your urban legend when it is relevant (when people care about it). For example, a time when vampire literature and culture is popular is a great time to share an urban legend about a vampire. The more interested people are in a particular subject, the more receptive they’ll be of stories or rumors concerning it.
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Urban Legends Creative Writing Unit KS3/4
Age range: 11-14
Resource type: Lesson (complete)
15 September 2022
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This relatively short unit of work is designed to inspire pupils how to write their own urban legend. There are 2 PowerPoints which together takes the pupils through basic creative writing conventions: Characterisation, Setting and Plot structure, with a number of tasks to do along the way. I have also attached a compilation of some popular (but brief) urban legends for consideration - this correlates with a task within the PP, as well as a copy of the short story “Baby by the Roadside”. There is also a short RUAE passage with questions based on the topic of… you guessed it: Urban Legends. It’s a nice change from Halloween writing and the kids really buy into it! ( planning sheet included)
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Urban Legends For Writers
In this post, we look at urban legends (and their use in fiction).
Have you heard the one about the medical student, who was pranked with a human arm in their bed? The story says that they were found the next morning, laughing hysterically, chewing on the arm.
How about the legend about the video game, the one that drove its programmers to madness? You must have heard about it.
Legends like these are viral. We all know one or two. These are called urban legends.
Here’s what urban legends are (and how to use them).
1. What Are Urban Legends?
According to Britannica , an urban legend is ‘a story about an unusual or humorous event that many people believe to be true but that is not true.’
Urban legends are stories that are told from one person to another, and they’re usually untrue. Classic urban legends can be scary, disgusting, horrific, funny, or rooted in conspiracy theories.
While they aren’t true, these legends spark emotion (and the urge to repeat them).
The internet has made old tales popular again, but also created new ones.
Slenderman and ‘creepypasta’ stories are examples. ‘Cursed video tape’ stories like Koji Suzuki’s The Ring are another.
2. How Urban Legends Spread
Why do urban legends go viral?
Emotion is what ties these stories together. They work because they can trigger thoughts and feelings, whether or not they are true.
These stories also evolve as they are told again (and again).
An urban legend has a core element (the storyline), and might have many versions. The ‘medical student’ tale is told at many medical universities, from Canada to Southern Africa.
The acronym ‘FOAF’ or ‘friend-of-a-friend’ identifies likely legends. Stories, with research, will never bring you first-hand accounts – but always vague, faraway retellings.
It always happened ‘to someone else’ or ‘this guy’. Urban legends are fun to tell, but scary to believe.
They make news, but that does not make them more true. It just means that a writer decided to write it down – and either failed in their research, or reported about what someone had heard for the paper’s interest.
A legend can also become true with time. Originally, the story of ‘needles in Halloween candy’ was a myth. When copycats did real-life harm, this legend turned into truth – and yes, this happens too often.
3. A Legend’s Classic Elements
There’s always a hook or thrill to legends, which feel sensational from the start.
When you feel that jolt that stories are too strange, too weird, too crazy, investigate that feeling (and it could be a legend).
A legend can also have a lesson, like a cautionary story. Don’t go out to the woods, don’t feed sharks at midnight, there are hundreds (but they all feel the same). Stories like these have elements that unsettle, like Slappy the Doll from the Goosebumps universe . Creepy dolls? We’ve heard about one somewhere.
Legends can be funny too. For a while, there was a story about chicken restaurants and tube-fed, lab-grown mutant chickens. It was absolute hogwash. That didn’t stop its spread.
If you have read hundreds, you will learn to see one. The Rabbit In The Thorn Tree by Arthur Goldstuck is a favourite collection.
4. How To Use It (& Not Steal It)
Fiction can borrow this ‘core’ story from urban legends, and rewrite the finer points. However, fiction cannot steal anything. There’s a difference between ‘inspiration’ and ‘you stole my story’.
Clive Barker’s ‘ The Forbidden ‘ is a great example. It takes from the story of Bloody Mary, the name you don’t repeat in a mirror, but changes most of the legend’s elements. Still, without doubt, the legend is there in the story.
Can you see what he did there? Adapt the elements, but keep the core.
Vampire stories also do the same: while some things are kept, each story that says ‘vampire’ is more different than the last.
5. Using Twists & Turns
Urban legends are great as pop culture references, but can be like writing prompts . The key is that the core can be recognized, but the rest of the story is not (and never!) taken from someone else’s.
Urban legends in fiction only work when they’re a writer’s own.
Twists, turns, and these fun legend-based ‘elements’ are your playground. Remember that other writing rules, including the need for proper characters will still apply.
The Last Word
In this post, we looked at urban legends and their use in fiction. We hope that you’ve learned more about their use.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com .
If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:
- 8 Common Phrases We Actually Got From Shakespeare
- Here Be Dragons – In Fiction
- Bad Business: 9 Words & Phrases To Avoid
- Dissecting Zombies in Fiction Writing
- Dirty Journalism: How Journalists Can Keep Research Legal
- How Writers Can Research Settings Remotely
- The Use Of Real People As Characters In Fiction
- 8 Proofreading Tricks (That Save Valuable Time)
- 7 Techniques Of The Faustian Story
- Famous Rejection Letters & Their Lessons For Other Writers
Top Tip : Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop .
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How to Write a Legend
Quick ideas for legends as creative writing topics.
Know how to write a legend? Capture your students' imaginations with legendary heroes, mythical beasts, and daring exploits as creative writing topics! Myths and legends are often grouped together, but there are enough differences between the two, that I felt it necessary to dedicate a lesson page to each. Visit this page for more information on how to write a myth. So what makes a legend different from a myth? your students (and you!) may ask. Outline these following points with your classes. Myths :
Myths are more closely related to pourquoi tales , whereas legends are often linked to fantasy. In both myth and legend, stories have "stock" characters; repeated themes, plots, and settings; and an aura of fantastical impossibility. These elements hold natural appeal for young writers!
How to Write a Legend: Step-by-Step
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Assignment #2: Urban Legends of Community College of Philadelphia
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