Writing Lessons From Reading R.L.Stine

January 13, 2010 at 5:33 am (writing lessons) (, , , , , , , , , )


I know I said that my next writing lessons would have to come from a non-fantasy author but then I moved house and the people who packed the boxes didn’t really get the organisational structure of my collection.  As I unpacked my house in a matter of two days, at the moment the books are on the shelf in whatever order they were put into the boxes and that means there is really no order at all.  Finding a book, or group of books, from any one author is next to impossible and I like to have the books with me when I write these posts to refer to.

Technically R.L. Stine writes children’s horror rather than fantasy so it is a slight change of pace.  He was my first favourite author and I read all through the Goosebumps and then Fear Street series as a kid.  I couldn’t get enough of the books.  I’ve read and reread my entire collection of these books so many times.  The fact that I can read one of these books in under an hour also helps as I tend to use them to de-stress.

What lessons did I learn about writing from reading R. L. Stine?

  1. Just because a book is a part of a series does not mean the story has to continue.  Sometimes I wish all series were like this.  You can pick up any Goosebumps book and get a perfect understanding of the story.  Or you can read them in order and you get a slightly bigger picture of the whole but for the most part it doesn’t matter.  The Fear Street books were a little more connected at times and reading them in order helped you understand some of the references, but the stories made sense regardless.
  2. Simple writing does not have to mean simple story telling.  The Goosebump books are fairly formulaic but the Fear Street ones really open up to a variety plot twists and intrigue even though the writing itself remains fairly basic.
  3. An off-sider is an incredibly useful device.  Reading the Goosebumps and Fear Street stories, every protagonist has someone that they talk to and the few that don’t tend to keep journals and the like.  The reason for this is the stories are written in third person but the author wanted us to know what was going on in the protagonist’s head.  It is very much the same in Doctor Who.  Without someone tagging along for the ride, why would the Doctor ever bother to explain anything.  By having the off-sdier the protagonist can get away with explaining things to the reader.  Though, R. L. Stine did like to vary his off-sider . He had brothers, sisters, best friends, worst enemies, dogs, neighbours and pretty much anyone who would serve the purpose filling this role.
  4. You don’t have to save everyone.  Even as a young reader I really appreciated that R. L. Stine would at times kill his characters.  This was very different from other books that were recommended for young readers and I really liked the fact that tragedy could happen.  In other books for kids you don’t get a real sense of tension because you know that everyone is going to be all right.  When reading R. L. Stine there is a good chance they won’t be and so you tend to care more about the characters and are more intrigued by the situation as a whole.
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9 Comments

  1. catwoods said,

    Cassandra,

    I love RL too. I read the books along with my little sister (15 years younger) and then my daughter. Great stuff.

    I like the off-sider tip. It’s one I never considered when reading his stuff. Now I’ll have to pull out a book or two and settle in to absorb your lesson!

  2. Carol Kilgore said,

    I prefer series, too, where one book doesn’t totally hinge on the previous ones. While I prefer reading series in order, sometimes I pick up one in the middle without realizing it’s a series. If I like it, I’ll go back and read from #1 forward.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      That is the other problem, books that belong in series really should come with a label.

  3. J.C said,

    Oh, it’s been so long since I even thought about R.L Stine, but I loved all those books when I was younger! I devoured them. Great lessons to be taken away as well – I’m a big fan of the side-kick/friend character, they are a great way to add to a story without info dumping.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It is amazing how many people have read these books. There is definitely something appealing about them. And I’m a fan of anything that helps eliminate the info-dump.

  4. Jemi Fraser said,

    A lot of students I’ve taught have loved Stine! I had one girl who said she “couldn’t read”. I introduced her to Stine and she read a couple of his books that year. I had her again the next year (split grades) and she read 17 of his books. 17!!! He turned her into a reader. Awesome 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It is always good when you finally find something that clicks with a reluctant reader. Mostly people don’t read because they just haven’t found the book that works for them.

  5. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Stine has a huge following among kids and his method is perfect for hooking readers in for a quick read. Great writing lessons here! I love that he writes each book as a stand-alone so that you don’t have to read them in order.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think it is great also that he manages to tell reasonably complex stories fairly quickly. The thin nature of the book makes them seem less intimidating.

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