The Idea Store

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 9:41 min

Bob reveals how to stay alert for ideas and shares three great places to find them: experience, memory, and imagination. These are departments in what he calls "the idea store."

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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Every author-- their most asked question is, where do you get your ideas. Everyone asks it. Adults ask it, kids ask it, reporters ask it. Where do you get your ideas. I'd say maybe 2/3 of my fan mail starts out like this. Dear RL Stine, our teacher is forcing us to write to an author. I chose you, where do you get your ideas? And I have to say, in all honesty, I can't tell you how to get ideas. I can't. Other authors I know-- people will say, well why don't you start by asking yourself the question, what if. What if this happens. But that doesn't-- that's not an idea. You have to have an idea to answer the question. And I can't-- I can't tell you how to get ideas. But I can tell you how to go about getting ideas. I can tell you how to stay alert for ideas. And it's just a matter of thinking in the right ways and staying alert and keeping yourself open and watching for ideas. For a long time, I used to go to schools and I would say, well you can go to the idea store. That's where I get my ideas. I get my ideas at the idea store. And there are three different departments in the idea store. There's experience, memory, and imagination. And those are the three departments you can go to find ideas. And, actually-- I mean I made up idea store, it's ridiculous. But those three things are the way to lead you to ideas. Being alert is so important. I was taking a walk in my neighborhood. I was walking up West End Avenue in New York. And it was after school time and a boy walked by with his mother. And just as I passed, the boy said to his mother, "I'm the only boy in my class who can color inside the lines." And I thought, wow, I haven't thought about that in so long. The whole idea of having the color inside the lines. And I thought about that. Heard the voice, what the boy said. And I went home and I wrote a story. It actually became like a little radio play on my website called "How to Color a Monster." and it was about some kids who started coloring a monster coloring book. And if they go outside the lines, the monster will come to life. But I am telling this just as an example of how you can get an idea just from anything, from any brief moment. You just have to be alert to it. But one day I was in the airport in Los Angeles. And I was watching a family say goodbye to their kid-- their son. He was nine or 10 years old and he was flying by himself for the first time. And the parents were really nervous. They were hugging him and kissing him and saying, you'll be OK, you'll be fine. He was-- kid was fine. He was perfectly OK. But they were very nervous. And finally, he turned to go to the gate to get on the plane. And as he did that, his father handed him a white envelope. And he walked off and went onto the plane. And I'm watching this whole thing and suddenly I'm thinking what if he gets on the plane, he sits down, he opens the envelope, he takes out a note, and it says, "we are not your parents." How-- that just...

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.


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Wesley B.

I've always thought that creativity is the totality of our experiences (including fictional experiences), memories, and thoughts, but rearranged in different ways—kind of like pulling a puzzle apart and putting it back together in a new form. That's why it's so important for writers to remain open to new experiences, which makes for new memories, which makes for new sorts of thoughts and inspirations. Great lesson!

scott F.

I love the concept of "The Idea Store". I now have 3 sheets of paper in a notebook. One labeled Experience, the other labeled memory, and the third is Imagination. I won't focus 24/7 to fill the lines, but when I'm at my desk, I can job something on the proper page. I'm using a bit of all 3 in writing a novella for my nieces and nephews as a Christmas Present.


OMG! The "Idea Store" concept is far from ridiculous; It's absolutely genius in its simplicity. The hardest thing for me is coming up with ideas (or at least ideas that I believe are original). I usually just sit down and say to myself "Ok. Let's come up with ideas" This can go on for hours before I can think of even a half ass one. Now I know I can just go to the idea stores. Genius!

A fellow student

It's definitely reassuring to hear him talk about writing from--essentially--anything that comes to mind. I would always create stories from the smallest interactions or experiences in my life, and this was exactly what I needed to hear.

A fellow student

His story about making a baloney sandwich made me laugh so hard. I'm only on my second video and I'm already loving it. I put a bunch of writing prompts in a jar on my desk, but they're more like a security blanket when I can't think. I got a prompt the other day and I wrote a page based on it, and that page gave me an idea, and I rewrote everything again. So now my story that I started really has nothing to do with the prompt I pulled out, but using the prompt helped me develop the idea. I think paying attention is what I need to work on the most, watching people and getting real-life characters and conversations to put into stories.

Donna S.

I like the idea of going to an "Idea store." I usually come up with ideas okay, but I need to work on turning the ideas into a story and keeping it going from start to finish.

Phil A.

He mentions Say Cheese and Die and having no clue where the idea came from. There's actually a Twilight Zone episode called A Most Unusual Camera that's a little similar, where people find a camera that can take pictures of the future. I only mention this not that Stein "stole" the idea, because he developed it (no pun intended) in a very different way, but because in the next lesson, he openly mentions being a huge fan of Rod Serling.

Margaret M.

No shortage of ideas here. Turning an idea spark into a full plot is harder for me--all those decisions! (Just like Karen, below.)

Meg N.

I love the idea store! ... and I also now realize why I've tended toward writing non-fiction and doing translation: the lack of a sense that I could have a world that I could control. My world is one where we "just deal with it"..to the best of our ability. Hm.. yes, we are natural story tellers. And yes, it must might be fun to create worlds and stories where I was in control, not so intently focused on accurately reporting information that might be useful... Very glad that I signed on for this.

Karen E.

Ideas aren't something I have trouble coming up with. I love to people watch and come up with stories of what is happening. Fully forming them with a complete plot is where I get hung up.