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Arts & Entertainment

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.

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.


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...

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.

I enjoyed all his tips and tricks and of course the humorous with which he presented the material.

Loved the class and everything R.L Stine taught and shared. So much education and inspiration. Thank you so much.

This class had excellent pacing and the homework which prompted questions about stories was exactly what I needed to improve and become excited about writing.

I have great new ideas and am looking forward to putting R.L. Stein's advice into practice.


Keven P.

Out of curiosity I checked my collection of Goosebumps books (currently 51 on hand more in storage). And out of the 51 books I have on hand eight of them are in 3rd person & 43 in 1st person. I've also noticed that some books he wrote such as "Night of the Living Dummy" and "Say Cheese and Die" are in 3rd person, but their sequels are in 1st person.

Elizabeth P.

What do others thing about the POV of past tense first person? I've heard it explained that they don't feel afraid because being in past tense means that the person made it out alright.

James R.

The explanation on writing first person to third person was very accurate and informative. I recently read Stanger Things: Darkness on the edge of Town by Adam Christopher. One of the best novels I have read. It switches from first person to third person as one of the characters is telling another the story of some of his past. I think it’s a great way to switch scenes with a brief interlude when you need to.

Bastien G.

Good advice. But the other thing you cannot do with first person writing is using dramatic irony. I think it's really interesting in horror story to know more than the character. "The killer is hidden in the garage and the protagonist is hesitating between using his car or walk and maybe changing his mind... This creates suspense.

JC .

I came to the same conclusion about writing almost exclusively in first person for YA. And now I need to go search up a copy of "The Ghostly Stare", because I MUST FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO LAUREN.


Thank you! Thank you for this lesson! This was the part where I was always stuck : writing from the POV of the protagonist or from the third person. Thanks for the insights.

Jarvis O.

"Oh. Right. They must be on the ground," I muttered. I stepped around the grave, my eyes searched the brown melted snow. The wind sighed again. The trees groaned and shuddered. I heard a low yowl in the distance. I think it was a cat. Bending low I circled the grave. "Where are they?" "Maybe they blew down the hill," Mark teased. He pulled the wooly hood tighter over his face. Then he walked nonchalantly down the hill, sweeping the light from side to side over the ground. "Where are they? Where are they?" I almost bumped into the undead girl. Long dark hair and a black veil hid her ghoulish tattered rotted face, hiding it from view. She wore only a ghastly dress, with long sleeves and a long pleated skirt.

Jacob R.

In my early writing, I tried to replicate the style of K A Applegate, where every book was in first person, but each book in the series rotated between a few main characters. I liked Goosebumps a lot more, though, because the characters were almost always different, and the setting was always different. I wasn't locked in to a specific universe; I could start fresh every time. The latter is what I want to get back into.

Noah P.

Just finished the writing exercise. I definitley felt more tense writing the spooky graveyard scene in 1st person than 3rd person, so I can only image how a young reader might feel.

Dennis R.

Another excellent lesson. Mr. Stine continues to do a wonderful job at explaining why he writes the way he does. My next book will definitely be in the first person after listening to this lesson.