“There are three different departments in the idea store. There’s experience, memory, and imagination.”

Robert Lawrence Stine, better known as R.L. Stine, is one of the most recognized authors of children’s horror novels alive today. He’s been called “the Stephen King of children’s literature,” has penned more than 300 books for kids aged 7 to 15 years old. 

Originally from a small suburb of Columbus, Ohio, Bob discovered the art of suspenseful storytelling through old radio programs and classic films like It Came From Beneath the Sea and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1965, he moved to New York City to be a humorist. It was only through a chance turn of events that he began writing horror. 

Since then, he has mastered the craft of simultaneously frightening and entertaining young readers. His prolific catalogue includes the popular Fear Street and Goosebumps series, and is widely appreciated by kids, parents, and teachers across the globe.

Over 400 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, and they have been translated into 35 languages—making him one of the best-selling authors of all time. His Goosebumps TV show was the most popular children’s program in America for three consecutive years, and the Goosebumps movie (2015), starring Jack Black, became the #1 movie in the U.S. upon its release. A Goosebumps movie sequel is in the works.

Bob lives in New York City with his wife and business partner, Jane Stine, and continues to write the Fear Street series and the Goosebumps series, now in its 26th year.

Here are my favourite takeaways from viewing R.L.Stine’s Masterclass Session on Writing for Young Audiences:

The Idea Store

  • Pull ideas from experience by paying attention to the world around you. Listen to what kids say to their parents on the street. 
  • Reach back to your memories of childhood and recall things that used to scare you. 
  • Use your imagination. Bob remembers a time he was walking in New York City’s Riverside Park and out of nowhere, the words “say cheese and die” flash into his head. From there, he imagined a camera that took pictures, but only of bad things that happen in the future. This idea became his novel, Say Cheese and Die!

You don’t need five ideas. Or you don’t need a whole book of ideas. You only need one idea. You just need one story.

  • You don’t you need to have multiple ideas ready to go at moment’s notice. All you need is one solid concept. Just focus on writing one story at a time. When an idea comes to you, sit down, flesh it out, plan it, and go for it. It’s a great way to keep things fresh. 

Develop Ideas from a Catchy Title

  • Though most writers start with an idea for a story and figure out the title later on, Bob often starts with the title, and goes from there. Titles are great ways to produce a “germ of an idea” that can be grown into an entire story. 
  • A good title grabs the reader’s attention, but doesn’t give anything away. It should establish some basics about the book and not much more. Give Me a K-I-L-L lets you know that the story is about cheerleaders and that someone is going to die. That’s it. 

Cliffhangers

  • A “cliffhanger” is a device that compels readers to find out what happens next in a story. Writing great cliffhangers is key to making your book a page-turner and it’s one of the easiest ways to make your writing more suspenseful. 

“Every book has a beginning, a middle, and a twist.”

  • Include at least two or three twists in your story. These help keep readers engaged, especially in the middle of your book when your plot might otherwise start to drag. Carrying readers through the middle of a story is challenging, and there needs to be enough excitement to keep them reading to the end. A great twist will surprise the reader and turn their whole understanding of the story on its head. 
  • Trick your readers by planting “false leads.” Also known as “red herrings,” these are details added to purposefully mislead people and prevent them from predicting an outcome. 

Point of View

  • When writing horror, it’s best to tell the story from the point of view of the main character because the closeness to the character’s experience will make his or her fear all the more real. You want readers to identify with the protagonist, experiencing the horror as their own. 
  • An advantage to writing from your main character’s point of view is your ability to express his or her thoughts and feelings in the first person. But don’t overdo it. You need to maintain the balance between what your character is observing, feeling, and physically doing. 

If there’s too much thinking in a book, it slows it down 

Borrow your Influences

  • Most writers like to read, and reading is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your writing. For Bob, ideas are sometimes generated through a process of “osmosis” as he absorbs story concepts from other authors he enjoys reading. 

Writing as a Career

“Don’t try to do something that won’t fit in somewhere. Don’t try to write something that’ll be its own category, because that almost never works.”

  • Make sure you find a day job that will allow you the time and energy to write for yourself when you are off the clock and, lastly, be sure to remain open to unexpected professional opportunities as they present themselves. 
  • The best way to combat writer’s block is to be well-prepared when you start writing. Fully develop your character cheat sheet and your outline, which give a solid road map of the beginning, middle, and end of your story. If you get stuck at a certain point, move on to another scene and come back to it. Writing is easier when you divide things up in this way, and it makes writing the actual manuscript more fun.

Recommended:

Further Reading

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R.L. Stine Teaches Writing for Young Audiences

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