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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.

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.


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. ...

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.

Loved this Masterclass. R.L. Stine is a classic. His style is warm and encouraging and he offers good advice, exercises and prompts to promote daily writing. He has motivated me to 'get moving', set a routine and complete my children's book!

You inspired us to write scary stories and now we're not afraid anymore because it's just fairy tales (from my children). Thanks!

I'm a 70-year-old aspiring screenwriter and wasn't expecting a "kids" horror writer to be "that" profound. However, this turned out to be one of the best ever, really, bravo Mr. Stine!

Very simplified compared to Dan Brown and James Patterson. I enjoyed it.



He's very successful portraying scary situations. I just finished reading The Haunted Mask and it terrified me. And I'm 63! This book would have given me nightmares as a kid--and might give me nightmares still! Guess I didn't outgrow the fearful stuff yet. He's certainly successful shaking up the reader.

Ashe W.

Great examples and details in this class of how to write slowly and create suspense. I'm loving reading the Goosebumps examples because they are basic examples - 5th grader vocab - but can be applied as templates for writing suspense everywhere. R.L. Stine is the perfect choice for this type of class. I'm gobbling it all up like a librarian monster crunching her turtles;)

A fellow student

Don’t tell me what the character is feeling. Show me what they see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. That is Show - Don’t Tell in a nutshell.

Connor P.

you just described my basement freezer! it's the same! now when my parents ask me to get ground beef or ice cream I'll think there's a dead body lying in it. thanks a lot, R.L.Stine

Donna S.

Funny, now, hearing him talk about being afraid to go down to the basement. I remember being afraid to go into my grandma's basement. It didn't have creepy noises or anything, but still, I didn't like it. I also like how he talks about being scared as he rode his bike around the neighborhood. There were some streets in our neighborhood that we heard were haunted and as a little kid, I was afraid to go down those streets by myself.

Dennis R.

Listening to Mr. Stine's lessons is like like I'm sitting in my living room with a best friend just talking about life. I thoroughly enjoyed this lesson and will dig deep into my past to look at things that put my on edge or scared the pants off of me. (My sisters)

Pamela E.

I am thoroughly enjoying this class but I have not been able to find a basic guide for grade specific vocabulary. Mr. Stine mentions he worked for Scholastic and there were lists of vocabulary for various grades but are "Common Core" vocabulary lists for each grade the same thing? I am a journalist/wordsmith who has always had a large, varied vocabulary so I sometimes find myself using words and terms that not everyone knows.

Rachel M.

Problem is not every kid grows up in American suburbia. I actually grew up in Middle Europe. Maybe not in the creepy Dracula castle (though I've seen it), but I grew up with that kind of setting. Third-culture kids or kids with multiple ethnic backgrounds are hardly ever written about, which is why I like to incorporate that sort of thing whenever I can.

Ananth P.

Feels like this lectures goes back on what he said in the first one about writing from your heart. Well, it is true that you shouldn't write 'He panicked', but show it somehow. That's simple 'show, don't tell'. And it cannot just come from the heart. It just cannot. A writer can feel what his characters feel, but to put that feeling in words, he has to think, not just feel. Writing from the brain as well as from the heart, are important to do. I do not agree with the first opening lecture. RL Stine has disproved his own opening lecture in quite a few of the lessons after the first one.

Angelina D.

I love the specific examples Mr. Stine gives in his lessons. They give me clear direction and guidance. I feel ready to go back to my MS and make changes; including changing POV to the first person to see how it reads.