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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Middle Grade Characters

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 06:27 min

Learn how Bob develops relatable middle-grade characters that help middle-grade readers enter the world of the story and make his books even scarier.

R.L. Stine
Teaches Writing for Young Audiences
The Goosebumps author teaches you how to generate ideas, outline a plot, and hook young readers from the first page.


When I write a Goosebumps book, and I figure out the characters, I don't do very much. In fact, I'm criticized a lot for not having much characterization in my book. But the idea in a Goosebumps book is that you want the reader to identify with the main character. You want the reader to become part of the book. The reader is seeing what the protagonist is seeing, is experiencing all of these horrible things. So you want the reader to be able to closely identify with your main character. So I do very-- I don't characterize the main character much. I give them a little description, but I leave it open so that the reader can become the protagonist. My longtime Goosebumps editor, Susan Laurie-- we've done over 100 Goosebumps books together-- she says that I am fabulous at creating full-blown cardboard characters, and that's really what I do. And I do get criticized a lot for this. They say, oh, he doesn't do any characterization. He doesn't-- but it's deliberate. It's totally deliberate because it brings the reader closer. It brings the reader into the book by not having a really strong-- not really developing the character. We have these ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances solving this problem, trying to get out of danger, saving their own lives on their own with their own smarts, and their own imagination. The kids in Goosebumps are always-- well, they're always 12 because the readers are a little bit younger, and they like to read about kids who are older. They're always normal kids. They're not especially smart, they're not talented, almost always they have no talent. Sometimes maybe they play an instrument, or something. They're not special in any way, and that's because-- this is all so more readers can identify with them, and when you have some average kids, they're more vulnerable, I think, and they can get into more trouble because they're just regular kids, and it makes it more scary. [MUSIC PLAYING] When you start to write, you want to create a likable character. You want to create a character people are going to want to root for, or read about through a whole book, but you have to be careful as an author. You have to remember that you are not the protagonist's friend, and I'm mainly talking about writing horror, writing thrillers, writing mysteries. You have to remember that you are actually the enemy of the protagonist, and this is a very important thing, I think, because you have to take your protagonist, and put them in trouble, and then you have to cause more trouble. You have to cause more difficulty for them. You have to cause all kinds of problems all through the book for them. You're not their-- you're not their hero. You're not their friend. The idea is to get the protagonist in as much trouble as possible, and then finally get them out at the end. Because remember, the more trouble you get your protagonist in, the tighter the net you wrap around them, the more fun the book will be, and the mo...

Take the fear out of writing

Award-winning novelist R.L. Stine wrote jokes and funny stories for 20 years before he switched gears and became a horror-writing legend. Since then, the author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series has sold more than 400 million copies. In his first-ever online writing class, Bob takes the fear out of crafting fiction. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll learn new ways to conquer writer’s block, develop plots, and build nail-biting suspense that will thrill young readers.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Wow. Love his way of teaching. Extremely interesting while actually learning process of writing. This was extremely helpful and enjoyable.

I subscribed to MasterClass mostly because of R.L. Stine, and now I see I made an excellent decision. Truly amazing!

Very practical. Interesting to see how an expert writes. Stine has a lovely teaching style

He keeps it simple and easy to understand. Great tips on how to work with your audience.


Jacob R.

The useless parents are an important factor, even if the readers don't see it. Looking back, I loved the fact that the kids had to do everything themselves. Parents are boring.

Val C.

I especially liked his statement that we are not the protagonist's friend, that we want to get them in as much trouble as possible. I haven't looked at it that way before. Stating it in that way adds a certain freedom to writing, I think. This is what I love about Mr. Stein's classes - he's an excellent teacher and makes me think, opens new doors. Regarding characters, his intentional lack of characterization works well for his books. It would probably be different if he carried the same character through a series, where there would have to be more development. A good example of this (for me) is that I never read romance novels because the protagonist is usually a petite, blonde, green eyed girl and as a tall, brown haired, brown eyed female I can't relate and even find it annoying. : )

Eryn B.

The more I listen, the more I grow to respect Stein and the formula for success he's created. There are so many things he's said that have resonated. Some of them I can't wait to share with my students who struggle with writing.

Jayne F.

a sensitive question: is the descriptor/ name "crazy" allowable ? I have a scary neighbor character who the children think is deranged, and call " Crazy Eddie" … and I cannot come up with a good alternative that does the job... and sounds like a kid had come up with it... will that be allowed and acceptable?? ( the character is a cranky old recluse)

Tina K.

This makes complete sense. If your writing for this age group, they are not fully developed themselves. I have seen from spending time with children in this age group that they are very literal and often take events and remarks at face value. My youngest daughter reads books that she doesn't identify with the character and enjoys watching their story unfold from a distance. But, she views the world differently than most. I think Mr. Stine's approach is spot on and allows the reader to go on an adventure.

Clara S.

I don't generalize the idea of writing cardboard characters for my stories. I use my own judgment when and how to characterize my protagonist depending on the story. I do see Bob’s point in leaving a character open for younger readers to see themselves in the story but in my experience talking to 10-12-year-old kids I hear they want to immerse themselves in the adventure, but they are sophisticated enough to understand they are not the main protagonist.


I'm really enjoying this course. Thanks, R.L. You make it all so accessible.

Nichole S.

I think characterization is dependent on how the writer feel, you know a sort of style choice. Unfortunately, I can't really make kind of blank slates with bodies for people to step inside of them, I need to know what their favorite food is, what their hobbies are, or how they dress in order for me to be in their shoes, but experience what they see and feel and think through the first person POV. That way it feels like I'm in a safe place but at the same time in another place that experiences excitement and frights.

Janet B.

Perhaps it works well for the physical description to be "cardboard" so the reader can put themselves in that character's shoes, but I believe their personality has to be fully developed. OR maybe not? A couple of childhood characters come to mind. Harry Potter-who J.K. Rowling describes very throughly- both in physical looks and his personality.. And then there is Anne Shirley of Green Gables her physical traits and the teasing she recieves because of them are the source of her imaginative personality. Hmm, so two of my favorite character's looks are extremely well-described. How's that for talking around in a circle?

Jason M.

Consider the Goosebumps book titled You Can't Scare Me! The main character has no talent and neither does his friend. However, there's a know-it-all girl in his class. I consider the ending to be very funny, but it has a double twist that makes it half-funny and half-scary. Very good example text of what Stine says in this video. These Goosebump books only take about an hour-and-a-half to read, so I still prefer them to watching movies, because it actually takes me less time to get through the book and it has a more interesting and surprising plot. However, it's no surprise to me that the Goosebumps movie had the most revenue for the year it was released. Everyone I've met loved that one.