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.

Mr. Stine's class was an absolute pleasure to watch! His lighthearted and unpretentious approach makes the writing process seem a lot less scary, and after taking this course, I feel way more prepared to write my novel. Thanks Bob!!

This class was it great! The class confirmed some things that I had already thought about. The teacher was pleasant to be with for 28 units. He made a lot of sense and was very positive, which is required when you are starting out, as I am. I loved the part about how to make objects scary, how to work out plot details, and all the other tips and hints given. Wonderful!

This has been without a doubt the best Masterclass I've undertaken. Bob is a wealth of knowledge, has an easy style, and is so creative. His output and success​ speaks for itself. Dear Bob, - I've given it 5 stars, as it was easy to open and read. ;-) P.S. You'll get the humour in the line above if you do the course.

As an author its nice to hear how other authors ideas on how to create more inspiration for me to write. This Masterclass was fantastic, and I look forward to learning from other authors, and writers on here.


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.

Pina B.

I took another class on writing your dream book. That course taught the students how to publish your own book with out having to go to a publishing house. I have been writing on and off for a 1 year. I feel like I am wandering in the dark, until now. I like that RL Stine talks about getting the ending first, the outlining process , and cliff hangers on every chapter. I am enjoying the class, its easy to follow him and its very informative.

Dennis R.

I love that Mr. Stine used one of his books to showcase and explain how he composes a YA cliffhanger. Being someone who's life seems to be a never ending cliffhanger, I completely agree cliffhangers at the end of every chapter are a brilliant way to keep kids turning the page. These lessons are wonderful and Mr. Stine's delivery is warm, lighthearted, and it keeps me wanting to learn more. Five stars!

Noah P.

The more I go through the lessons and the more I work on the lesson activities, the more I realize this is something I can really accomplish. I've written adult cozy and paranormal mysteries the past two and a half years or longer, using the Goosebumps cliffhanger method as the main element for many of the chapters. My main desire has always been to write children's or YA horror, and taking this class gives me great confidence--and tools--to finally do so!

Eva H.

I work in marketing (in Sweden) and I wanted to get a wider knowledge on how to write well. I had never thought of writing a book until now actually. Mr Stein explains everything in such a warm and engaging way that perhaps I will give it a go. I really enjoy these lessons - thank you!