Writing, Arts & Entertainment

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.

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Topics include: Start With the Ending • End Happy, But With a Surprise • Use Cliffhangers to Keep Readers Turning the Page • Cliffhanger Case Study: The Haunted Mask


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...

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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