Arts & Entertainment, Writing

The Key to Scary Writing: POV

R.L. Stine

Lesson time 9:57 min

When writing horror, Bob believes writing from the point of view of your main character will maximize fear. He explains the importance of focusing on what your characters are experiencing, rather than what they are feeling.

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Topics include: Balance Observations and Feelings • Challenges of Writing First Person • First Person Case Study: “The Ghostly Stare”


One of the decisions you have to make, when you're starting to write a book, is are you going to write it first person? Is it going to be from the point of view of your protagonist? Or are you going to write it third person, from the point of view of the author? If you're interested in writing horror, the secret to making it scary is close point of view with your main character. I almost write all my books-- almost all of them-- are first person, because it's so much scarier to be in the protagonist's head. Everything that happens in the book, you're-- the main character sees. It's everything she sees, everything she hears, every smell, everything. Everywhere she goes, it's-- you're right with her. It's such close-- such close point of view. That's all the secret of horror, I think, is being able to do this close point of view, because then when something terrible happens, your reader is the protagonist. Your reader is right with it. And the reader is experiencing this horror close up. The closer you get to the character, the better your scares will be, and the better your story will be. That's the whole secret to being scary. That's said in one sentence-- close point of view, close point of view with your main character. When you're writing first person, and it's a point of view of the teenage girl who's being terrified by something, you have to be very careful to keep the balance between what she's feeling, and what she's seeing, and what she's thinking. The one advantage of first person writing is that you can write the thoughts of your character. But you have to be real careful. You can't overdo that. If there's too much thinking in a book, it slows it down. It makes it tedious. If the girl is thinking, "Be braver, Julia. You've got to be braver. Go in there." Then "I'm-- I know I can do it." You don't want that kind of thing. You don't want that kind of thinking. You don't want to put in too much thinking. It's a real fine line. And it's a fine line between how scared she is, and what's scaring her. And that's-- that's-- it just takes experience, I think. And you have to be careful. You're going to really describe what the scare is, and what-- what danger she is in. But you don't want to spend a whole lot of time saying, "Oh, I'm so scared. Oh, I'm--" you should know that from what's going on. So you-- you've got to be very careful at balance between feelings and actions. Of course, there are limitations to writing for first person, in that at some point it's sometimes you want to skip from character to character. And this is why, you know, most authors do a lot of third person writing, because you can't go-- it's very hard if you're a first person with someone, and then you want to tell-- you want them not in the story-- you want to tell someone else's point of view, it's very hard to switch over. And if you're doing a whole book first person that can be confusing. You know, Robert Crais writes these police proce...

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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