Writing, Arts & Entertainment

How to Scare Your Readers

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 12:38 min

Learn to maximize "the scares" when writing for young audiences. Bob shares his method of tapping into your childhood fears, making ordinary locations scary, and using sensory details to set the scene.

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Topics include: Tap Into Your Childhood Fears • Make Normal Locations Scary • Building Suspense • Use Sensory Details to Set the Scene • Scary Scene Case Study: It Came From Beneath the Sink!


I was a really fearful kid. I was afraid of a lot. I think that's why I stayed in my room typing all the time, because I really was-- it was a terrible way to grow up. I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid-- we had this freezer down in the basement. It was sort of shaped like this desk. It was shaped-- sort of coffin-shaped, a white enamel freezer that-- My parents kept meat in it and frozen candy bars and things. And my dad would say, Bob, go down and bring up some lamb chops. And we had a creepy basement. And I was-- it was the stairs creaked. It was-- you know, it was typical. It was a scary basement. And then I would go up to this freezer, and here was this white enamel-- this freezer. And the lid came up like this. And I knew-- I was always afraid I was going to lift up the lid, and there would be some body frozen, some sprawled corpse sprawled on top-- I just-- I could imagine, I could picture it, and lifted up the lid to get the thing. And you know I had a lot of fears like that. I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood and come back at night. And I was always sure something was lurking in the garage. There was something in there waiting. And I would take my bike and heave it into the garage and go running into the house. I was really afraid of things. But how lucky was that? Because then here I am writing scary books, right? And I can-- now, I can remember that feeling of panic, that feeling of being a kid and being afraid. And I can bring it back, I can remember it and try to put it into my books. So it turned out it was something lucky. [MUSIC PLAYING] Any place can become scary. When I first started doing the "Goosebumps" books and was thinking no one had ever done a scary book series for 7- to 12-year-olds. It had never been done. And I had to try to figure out what will be scary and what will work. What will they be able to identify with? And what will they be able to see when we create these stories? And of course, the impulse with horror is to set it in some dark castle in the middle of a forest in middle Europe. Like the werewolf movies, they're deep in some European forest, and these strange people are-- and I thought, kids just can't-- they can't identify with that. That's not part of their lives. You have to make it a location part of their lives, something that they can really see and know. And that's how I made the decision that most "Goosebumps" books would take place in the backyard. They take place at school. They would be in a neighborhood, and not in somewhere in middle Europe or like, you know, a Dracula's castle. We don't do that at all. You take these normal places that kids know. And then you have to make them scary. A kid is in school, and the teacher says, would you go down to the basement, please, and ask the custodian to come up in there. And the kid goes down, and he gets lost down in the basement of the school. And he's in some area he's never seen before. ...

About the Instructor

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.

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R.L. Stine

The Goosebumps author teaches you how to generate ideas, outline a plot, and hook young readers from the first page.

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