Getting From Idea to Plot Outline

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 8:53 min

Once you have an idea you love, Bob believes you should map out your plot using his preferred method: the outline.

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.
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Let's talk a little bit about how you get to the point of developing your outline, how you go from idea to outline. I did a "Goosebumps" book that people don't mention that much, but it's actually one of my favorites. It's called "Attack of the Mutant". And it's about a boy who is a comic book fan, and there's a superhero that he really likes named "The Masked Mutant". And one day he's reading the comic book and he finds that he's in it, he's a character in the comic book. And he can't believe what's going on here. Why is he a character in the comic book? And he goes-- the comic book is printed, is made in his hometown. And so he works up his courage, and he takes the bus to the comic book company. And when he walks in, he walks through this light beam that's red, blue, and yellow, and it zaps him. And he's in the comic book, he's in a comic book world, and he's suddenly the sidekick to this hero that he's read about. And now here he is, trapped in another world, which is really exciting to him, but horrifying, and he's in horrible danger. How could this happen to him? And this story just started-- I love comic books, especially when I was a kid-- and I was just thinking about comic books. I hadn't done a "Goosebumps" about comic books. And I had the title, "Attack of the Mutant". And I just-- the very first thing I thought was, what if you're reading something and you find that you're in it? That was the start, so I write that down. And then I had some scenes of what the superhero would be like, what his powers would be, or what he would look like. And so I wrote that down. That was next. And then I had to figure out a villain. Who was the arch enemy? Who was the villain here? And I wrote that down, and I'm just thinking, thinking. No story yet, no story at all. Just trying to get these basic ideas, figuring out what's the conflict here? And then I had to figure, before I even started to outline, how do I get the boy out of the jam? What's the ending here? And so I had like a couple of pages written, just a couple of pages of ideas. And then I go to the outline, and then I start to write. I have basic scenes. I have a basic idea of the story. And I have what the characters are basically. And then I can really start to plot it. The outline is usually 15 to 20 pages long, and it's very complete because I know the more complete I make the outline, the easier it will be when I start to write the book. And so I spend at least a week on the outline making sure the story makes sense, making sure that I track the characters all the way through, making sure I have good chapter endings, making sure the surprises are there, that there's a good middle, the middle of the book doesn't sag. I go over and over the outline. The hardest thing, when you sit down to write a book, is the plot, is making it hang together, is make it interesting all the way through. And an outline allows you to see what you have and to know where you're...

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.

Such great information and advice! (My one complaint is he talks a bit slow for me, so I listened on 1.5 speed- perfect!)

It was entertaining all the way through. R. L Stine is brilliant, with all the years of experience he has. I have learned more than I could expect from this course.

The only thing i didn't like about this class was that it ended.

Every writer is different. Each has their own idiosyncrasies and methods for writing. Ideas come from everywhere, life, death, getting coffee, watching kids play at the park. While I don't know where I will go with my writing, I feel that I am now armed with the tools to make that journey easier. I especially enjoyed the workbook.


Tania K.

Homework. We were sitting with my friend in my kitchen. Post-soviet time. Black tea in the big cups - the blue one with a gold rim, and the white one. With a red circles on it. Felling ourselves adult, 14 year old, almost 15. No parents at home. We remembered the moments when we were both scared… The dangerous times, 90-s. We laughed, echoing ourselves. “Being brave doesn’t mean you are not scared.” my friend Anna said. In a few years her boyfriend will die. Heroine overdose. One of us, can’t remember who, proposed a game - “imagine to be scared, imagine that there is “something” in the room.“ That “something” was on the floor. We took our legs up on the chairs. Reality started to transform. Anna hunched her shoulders like she was braced against a hard wind. I could feel eyes on us, eyes and things that were not eyes. “Something” was growing bigger… I couldn’t speak any-more. The fear, the horror swallowed us, chewed, and spat back into the kitchen. Hands, glued to the table, legs far from the linoleum on the floor, covered with a poison. If you touch it, you’ll never come back We knew that the light can help, but how to switch it on without touching the floor? We started to panic. Now it was its game, and its room. I tried to remember the magic word, that one, that opens the door to our normality. I whispered “Fear is the rejection of uncertainty. If we accept this uncertainty, it may become an adventure”. Anna, if you can hear me now. From my kitchen in Noho. With a green tea In a small white cup. With a golden rim… Anna, I don't know the other way, still “Being brave doesn’t mean you are not scared” You scared, but you do the right things”

Stephanie W.

I have always found plotting to be difficult. Thinking that there is so much more to it than there is. Just to have it broken down into simple ways of thinking about it helps a lot. I just have to remember to not get caught up in what questions to ask and work on answering them.

Vanessa M.

I use to be a hard core panster, however, now I'm more of a plantser. I try to start with kind of a general outline of the story, but I've never been able to do a super fleshed out, detailed outline like he describes here. I've tried to before, but it just doesn't work for me, and I think that's because I don't really know who my characters are or how they would react in situations until I start writing them. I have to start writing the story for me to really figure out who my characters are. There are times when I've written an outline of a certain scene/chapter, and then I go to write it, but what I thought the characters would do is completely different from what they actually do in the story. I get that we're the ones that create and write the characters, so I kind of understand why he doesn't buy it when writers say "I like to let my characters surprise me," but as a discovery writer, I find this statement true. I don't know what my characters are going to do (even when I think I do) until I write it, and if I try to force myself to stick to an outline of what my characters are supposed to do, I don't think it would come out feeling authentic or any good.

Gabe S.

Mr. Stine, did you ever get your briefcase fixed? Is it still leaking papers everywhere?

James B.

I find this lesson very helpful because outlining, in my opinion, is very important.

Margaret M.

It was interesting to hear that Bob finds outlining hard, "not fun." It's clear that it really pays off in his books! I recall reading an interview with Nora Roberts (another super-productive author). She doesn't outline, just writes straight through. I guess I haven't yet found the method that works for me.

Noah P.

Wow, I never realized just how long he spent on an outline. I only spend a day on an outline when doing mystery novellas. Now I will have to try it his way and do a really fleshed out storyline. Thanks!

A fellow student

OMFG!!! A Dear Friend purchased the All Access for me to improve at Poker but I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM LEARNING FROM R.L. Stein 😍😍😍😍😮😮😮

Marcela M.

Like this lesson, the process of where ideas are found, where to recognize

Vickie K.

Outlining is my nemesis. Yes, it gives me a sense of direction and yet it also take from me the random discoveries and paths that lead to untold riches. Maybe, just maybe, I've been doing it wrong. I'm going to give this extended, in-depth outlining a whirl and see where the ride takes me.