I’ve been a member and active participant of the NoSleep reddit for quite some time now. I dare say that the majority of people visiting this website first heard of me there! Today I’d like to talk about a few things that I believe can help you write a better, more successful NoSleep story. As the mission statement on the website states, “NoSleep is a place for authors to share their original horror stories. Suspension of disbelief is key here. Everything is true here, even if it’s not.” You can’t just post any old horror here, it has to be ‘true,’ so here are a few specific tips to help you out.
1. Post timing
That’s right, my first tip doesn’t have anything to do with your story itself, but the time you post it. NoSleep is a huge reddit, with close to 12 million followers. At any given moment there are usually around 2000 people there, reading your stories. That makes it terribly easy for your story to get pushed under the rug and lost amongst the rabble. You might have written the most amazing story in the world, but if no-one ever sees it, how can they read it? Now, this is something you can play around with yourself, but quite a few authors recommend posting it early in the morning, for example, around 7 am UTC -5. For some reason, stories tend to have a lot more luck when posted at this time; it’s even worked for me!
2. A good, explanatory title
This may seem obvious, but if you visit a website and you’re presented with 100s of new stories a day, you probably only have the time (and inclination) to read a few. How do you pick which ones to read? The title, of course. NoSleep stories tend to have titles you would never see for actual stories, and this is fine. Preferable, even. A quick glance at the front page shows a lot of the same trends in titling. “If you see/hear/do this…” “I went to this place and saw/heard/did this…” “I (verbed) and then this happened” etc.
Clickbait titles are expressly forbidden. Taken directly from the rules, that means things like:
- I’m a (profession), and (something happened/these are my stories/etc).
- I live on a farm, there’s something horrible in the barn.
- The lights went out and a terrible thing happened.
- There’s something in the basement that does terrible things.
Honestly, a lot of titles still edge this line very closely, but be careful, because the moderators will delete something if they deem it too clickbaity. If you’re going to use something like the above, be specific. Instead of “a terrible thing happened” actually explain what the terrible thing was. “The lights went out and I saw a woman looking at me from the corner.” “There’s something in the basement and it’s been eating neighbourhood children.”
Keep in mind that your title doesn’t have to be along these lines, however. My most popular story on the reddit to date was simply titled, “The dark mansion: a text-based video game.” It still explains what the reader is getting themselves in for, and that’s what you want to aim for.
3. Perfect grammar is unnecessary…
… but you should still at least try. Part of the NoSleep experience is that these are real stories, by real people. Not everyone is an English major. Not everyone finished school. Not everyone speaks English as their first language. Not everyone is aiming to become a worldwide superstar professional author. As such, stories with less than perfect grammar and spelling can still be very successful. Readers are far less picky about that sort of stuff here. That’s not to say you should throw caution to the wind and post any old crap. If your story is difficult to read, people will quickly give up. But a missed comma here and there or a typo or two will be quickly forgiven, if even noticed at all.
4. Throwaway accounts can lend credibility
That is, if you’re not trying to build your brand as an author. This depends on what your aims for posting are. If you just want people to read your story, a throwaway account can lend your story credibility. Even though readers know these stories are fake, there’s always the odd chance that perhaps one of them is real. If you constantly post from the same author account, readers instantly know you’re posting a (fake) story. This can be both good and bad. If you’re trying to build yourself as an author, by all means, keep posting under the same account. You can slowly build fans, and when those fans see your name they’ll click your story regardless.
If, however, you’re not concerned with building a brand or even just want to try something different, start a new account just for that story and name it something related. If you’re posting a story about a police officer’s strange cases, you could name the account something along the lines of “Officer53” or whatever. This can be helpful in the suspension of disbelief.
5. Use the rules to be even more creative
Because NoSleep stories are ‘real,’ there are certain limitations on what you can and can’t do. “Stories must be believable within reason.” That means your protagonist can’t die at the end, otherwise, how are they posting the story on the internet? Several authors have found ways to circumvent this rule, and you can too. It just requires a little creativity. Be careful, however; “My friend sent me this email, this is what he said” and “I found a journal, these are its contents” have been done over and over again. They’re certainly a way to get around the protagonist’s death, but they’ve also been seen countless times at this point.
“If a reader could look outside and disprove your story, it’s not going to work for NoSleep.” That means Cthulhu didn’t rise and eat New York last night because we would have seen that on the news. But who’s to say he didn’t destroy some little backwater town in the middle of nowhere and now suddenly it’s gone missing from the maps? Be creative, and you can find ways to make it work.
So, how about you guys? Any other tips for making your NoSleep story as successful as it can be? Let me know what worked for you in the comments below!