Outlining: Surprise Endings and Cliffhangers

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 10:45 min

Surprise endings and cliffhangers are tried and true methods to get kids to read—and keep them reading. Learn the value of figuring out your ending first and how to write a compelling cliffhanger.

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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Once I have the scenes in my head and I'm ready to start my outline, I try to figure out the ending. I always try to get the ending first, if I can. Sometimes you can't do it, but this is just a trick. If you have the ending, I know but the big surprise at the end, the big finish, I know what's going to happen. Then when I go back and start writing my outline, I can make sure that I keep the reader from guessing the ending. I know what the ending is, and I can keep them away from it. I can deliberately move them in a different direction, move them in this direction, then move them in that direction, and so that the ending is of huge surprise. And it's just easier to write it if I know what the ending is, then it's easier to go back from the very beginning and fool them. It's just-- it's a trick. That's all it is. [MUSIC PLAYING] Kids will not accept an unhappy ending to these kinds of horror novels. I once, just for fun, I wrote a "Fear Street" book, and I had a-- I put an unhappy ending on it. And in the very end, the good girl is taken away as a murderer. And the girl who committed the murder gets off scot-free, and she's fine. I just did it for fun. I just-- I have never done it before-- to see what happened. The kids turned on me immediately. It was a huge mistake. And I started getting letters right away-- "Dear R.L. Stine, you moron." "Dear R.L. Stine, how could you do that? You idiot." "Are you going to write a sequel to finish the story?" They could not accept an unhappy ending. And I would go to schools-- I visit schools-- and every time, someone would raise their hand and say, are you going to finish that book? Why did you write that? Why did you do that? Everywhere I went, it haunted me. And I actually had to write a sequel to put a happy ending on it. The readers of "Fear Street" and "Goosebumps" like a happy ending, because they've been through all this trouble. They've been through all these monsters and horrible things, and they've been chased and they've had all these creepy, terrible adventures and they want relief from it. They want to-- and, you know, my books are-- they're like a roller coaster ride, really. And kids who like coasters, they like these books because they know, like a roller coaster, kids know what to expect when they read a "Goosebumps" book. They know they're going to get on, it's going to be a very fast ride. There's going to be a lot of turns, a lot of twists, a lot of turning around, and a lot of screaming. And then it's going to let them off OK. And I think, like a roller coaster, that's what they want in these books. What I try to do is I give it a good happy ending-- every book has to have a happy ending. And then I throw in, like, a little twist at the end, just something that's a little odd. The one that comes to mind right now is from "Say Out of the Basement", the very second "Goosebumps" book. And it's a book about these two kids ar...

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.

Where's the drama and suffering of a writer's life? What's all this talk about outlines and fun? Blasphemy! He even gives you ideas! He ruined all my excuses for not having actually written anything yet.

The class has helped clarify my ideas about writing and has presented me with many excellent ideas to improve as a writer. R.L. Stine's MasterClass is one of the best writing classes I've ever taken and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a class not only on how to write middle grade to YA horror, but also for those who are searching for a class on how to write fantastic fiction.

RL Stine is an unassuming genius. I love his relaxed style of working and his generous attitude. He lays it all out in comprehensive detail for his students.

This class had some great tips and ideas that have me excited to start writing again.


Sani H.

Some great ideas for the story, but I wonder if some tips in structuring the outline are still to come...


I decided to try this approach and so far it's helping with character developments. :)

Megan K.

R.L. Stine is so fun to listen to, you can tell he has such a good sense of humor and I can't wait to use his advice!

Breck S.

I think Don Bluth said it best "Children can handle anything, as long as there is a happy ending" and this lesson seems to teach that

A fellow student

I love the way this guy talks about his methods. Very down to earth and he give great examples and excellent reasoning for his choices.

Hadi P.

Mr. Stine taught me that sometimes people were interested in stories with happy ending than a sad ending

Jacob R.

I fondly remember the cliffhanger endings in all of the Goosebumps books I read. I tried to replicate that a lot in my early childhood writing. the problem I found was that I knew what I wanted the "cliffhanger" to be when I got there, so I would often rush to get to that point. I had a much harder time coming up with "meat" for the story, and often wound up writing a bunch of back-to-back 2-page chapters, which I felt was disappointing. Curious if anyone else ever had that problem, and if you did, how did you resolve it?

Jerry R.

I have more of a problem with Surprise Endings than with Cliffhangers. You can always pause in the middle of the scene and go to the next chapter. But endings are endings, even if there might be a sequal.

Eryn B.

I've always struggled with outlines, as most of my ideas come when I'm actually writing but something he said finally resonated with me, even after studying writing in a 4 year degree and that is 'having an outline means you can relax and write, you've already done all the thinking.'


I like how he talks about cliffhangers and then uses his book to illustrate an example. The chapter end doesn't have to be a profound point in the book, it just has to get the reader to want to turn to the next page.