Thursday, 18 August 2016



Technology has utterly revolutionised the way in which we communicate. And not just for business purposes — this whole series of features has followed the web’s version of campfire ghost stories.
I’ve mentioned the opportunities that the Internet affords storytellers for enhancing their tales, be it images, videos or even audio clips.
But one way in which a clever storyteller can scare his tech savvy audience, is by effectively echoing the use of technology to spin his yarn.
Few creepypastas have done this as effectively as Annie96 Is Typing.

The story first appeared at on 20 March 2014.
Submitted by Pascal Chatterjee, it effectively plays out as a transcript of a Whatsapp conversation between two users that Chatterjee discovered. It describes an evening in which a young woman, the titular Annie96 discovers a strange presence outside her home in the early hours of the morning and the conversation she has with her friend, Mcdavey, as a dire situation develops into something even worse.
But that isn't the cleverest thing about the story — it’s that the reader has to click through the story to uncover the next message, meaning that the story seems to unfold in realtime. And that’s not all Chatterjee’s story does to screw with its readers.

This storytelling method takes an already fine tale and ramps it up to an unbearably tense read.
There’s no skipping ahead to find out what happens, the story is told in it’s own time, while the familiarity of the format to the legions of Whatsapp users around the world really does succeed in making the whole story far more immersive than your usual creepypastas.
Of course, part of the reason it resonates so strongly with the audience is that it addresses a couple of key needs.
First, it teases the very human trait of curiosity — the part of us all that wants to snoop when we really know we shouldn’t. As demonstrated very early on in the conversation between Annie96 and Mcdavey, this is definitely a private conversation. By reading it we feel as if we’re peeking into something we shouldn't (just imagine if your entire message history were to be made available to somebody you’ve never even met… it’s a sobering thought). The fact that we instantly recognise that we are reading something we shouldn't heightens the realism — we feel this is not meant for our eyes because it is genuine… which of course means that the events must be true too.
And with this it touches on the second, and most important role, it fulfils — embodying our very real fears. 

There can be no denying that while technology has opened up our horizons when it comes to communication — without the internet these features wouldn't find an audience, let alone one as far flung as the United States, mainland Europe or Asia — yet at the same time it has removed that personal touch, stripping the humanity from the process. By doing this, we lose the ability to really check who it is that we are speaking with. 
There have been a number of web safety awareness campaigns warning children and teens (the primary consumers of Creepypasta) that they can never be truly sure exactly who they are communicating with online. (This is just one of scores of sites offering sound and important advice to youngsters online:
Annie96 Is Typing takes the very real concern and spins it off into something even more horrifying.
That it has struck a chord with readers cannot be denied, the story quickly went viral, with the hashtag #WhoIsAnnie96? trending on Twitter during May 2014.
There have been online debates and discussions about exactly what happened at the conclusion of the story and even some thematic follow-ups over at, such as the very cool Joralemon by Dave Grilli.
It’s a real testament to Chatterjee’s story that today, more than two years on, people are still writing about it online.
Annie96 Is Typing is a triumph on many levels, from a technical standpoint it impresses as an exquisitely programmed medium, to authenticity (the writing style utterly suits a pair of high school age teens) to the wonderfully worked twist ending.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak to the author of Annie96 Is Typing, Pascal Chatterjee about the creation of one of the internet’s most widespread viral horror stories.

UK Horror Scene: Hi Pascal, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with UKHS.
I’ll start with the most obvious question — what served as your inspiration for the story?
Pascal Chatterjee: My inspiration was actually the real-life survivor accounts you find on Reddit, from people who've lived through things like school shootings or terrorist attacks.
I remember the horror I felt when reading a teenager's account of hiding from Anders Breivik during his rampage, in a closet, trying not to be heard while using their phone to send what might be their last message to their family. It was that image I started with, and I worked backwards from there, making the person in the closet with her phone Annie and then inventing a reason for her being there.

UKHS: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of?
PC: Stephen King and George R. R. Martin, because I’d say they’re storytellers first and writers second.  They can both make you care from their first few words, not through fancy prose but through the way they tell their stories.
I think they, like the best storytellers, know intuitively what the reader is thinking, so like a magician performing a trick, they can make their audience look to the right while they go left.
I feel that George R. R. Martin especially is good at realism, even in fantastical settings — he doesn’t let his affection for his characters get in the way of the internal logic of his universe, making his stories feel a lot more authentic than a lot of Hollywood movies.

UKHS: The story uses a very interesting structure — a series of instant messages that the reader is actively encouraged to click through to drive the plot forward. What made you choose this structure and what challenges did it cause?
PC: When I wrote the first draft, the text looked just like a normal script: Annie says something, David responds, and so on. The only difference was that it wasn’t spoken dialogue I had, but written dialogue in the style people write instant messages online.
That gave me the idea that the text should be presented like real instant messages, one by one, triggered by user input. And then, when I realised how tense this would make the reader, I added code to only show a new message at most once every second or so, even if the reader spam-clicks the next message button, and I threw in a couple of “annie96 is typing” popups to slow down the reading process at the tensest moments.

UKHS: How does it feel to know that people are still posting questions to the web wondering if the events of Annie96 Is Typing are real? Do you feel proud that your work was so well written that it's often mistaken for fact?
PC: Coming back to what I said about George R. R. Martin — I think there’s a huge lack of realism in storytelling today.
Movies, especially blockbusters, rely far too heavily on special effects and unchallenged power fantasies, and most TV shows suffer from having to hit the reset button after every episode so that the show can hit the same reliable beats next time around.
This means that movie and television plots don’t seem like they’re set in the world we all live in, where not everything happens for a reason and the “guy” certainly doesn’t always get “the girl”. So when a fictional world actually features somewhat realistic cause and effect, like the worlds of say, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos, it feels like a breath of fresh air.
I’m happy that the small world I created was realistic enough to be mistaken for fact, but I think that’s the minimum every storyteller should be aiming for.

UKHS: I've seen plenty of theories online about the theme and message behind the story, especially a lack of humanity in modern communication. Was this a theme you wanted to explore? Or was Annie96 purely intended to frighten?
PC: I think the theme of missing humanity in Annie96 is what made it a genuine creepypasta.
The first creepypasta chill happens when Annie realises it’s not David in her garden; it’s not even a person but *something* that looks like him. That theme of emptiness in a human shell, emphasised in Annie96 by the contrast between how the thing looks and how it behaves, is I think at the core of a lot of creepypasta.
The sting in the tail of the story, when David unknowingly talks to the thing, is effective for this reason too — the thing writes in a far less human way than Annie did, and the fact that David and the reader realise this at roughly the same time is what makes the ending work.

UKHS: Finally what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead? The somewhat open ending to Annie96 Is Typing suggests there could be more to come. Would you ever consider returning to the story?
PC: I won’t return to Annie96 because I think that story has reached its full potential. And I don’t plan to return to the instant messaging form of storytelling until I have another story that fits the format as well as Annie96 does.
Instead, I’ve been playing with the idea of making an interactive graphic novel, in mobile app form, which would keep the dialogue-heavy storytelling and the reader-triggered progression from Annie96 (this time swiping comic panels instead of clicking for new messages), and also add illustrations into the mix.
But I need to write the right script first, and seeing as I can’t draw I’ll need to find the right illustrator too. Here’s hoping it works out!

With technology at the core of the spread of Creepypasta, it comes as no surprise that authors should adapt technology as a key theme of the genre. Yes, it helps us to spread the words we want the world to hear — but what else does it spread?
Next time I’ll be looking at another such story, one based in the online world of Internet chatrooms from a name that will be familiar to longtime readers of these features…

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