The Horror Honeys: The Insanity of a Writer: R.L. Stine's Words Come to Life On Screen

The Insanity of a Writer: R.L. Stine's Words Come to Life On Screen

A Monster Honey Nightmarish Review by Jennica

Goosebumps (2015)


Being a kid in the 90s was a truly magical time. It was perhaps the last decade in which it was not only considered cool to read, but when books were celebrated. Every kid's most anticipated school function was the Scholastic Book Fair during which all the most popular children's books (yes, I just used "popular" and "books" in the same sentence) were made available for purchase right there on school grounds. 

The fair had everything a kid could want. Looking for fantasy or science fiction? Animorphs, at your service! You want #buttstuff? Captain Underpants, coming at you! Despite my fixation with #buttstuff, however, I always gravitated toward the shelves of horror novels. The creepier, the better. I was about nine years old when I first discovered R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series, my first book being Goosebumps #1: Welcome to Dead House. In all my life-- at least up to that point-- I don't believe that I had ever flipped through the pages of any book so quickly. I was already well-accustomed to horror movies by that age, but horror novels were still somewhat new territory. And R.L. Stine made each tale as witty as it was... well... bizarre. 

I'd like to see The Babysitters Club tackle these monsters!


As my love of the children's horror series grew, I began a sort of book exchange system with a neighbor girl who was just a little older than I was. We each had dozens of Goosebumps books but grew tired of begging our parents for new ones each week. So, we would have these pint-sized business meetings at my house or hers and negotiate which books we were willing to temporarily trade. We were bonafide Goosebumps junkies. We always had a new Goosebumps book in our hands, watched the weekly television series, and the feature-length movies based on some of the best-selling books. This was our Monster Squad.

With age and maturity, we eventually grew distant and it's been at least a decade since we have seen or heard from each other. But I would like to imagine that she was just as thrilled as I was upon hearing the news of a Goosebumps movie centered around R.L. Stine. 

When I entered the movie theater and took my seat, it was impossible not to take notice of the audience demographic. There were a cluster of adults and a few teenagers, but they seemed to be outnumbered by small children who weren't even alive during the first run of the Goosebumps book series. I don't think I have seen that many children in attendance for a horror-themed movie since I was a child myself. On the surface, the Goosebumps movie was a wild yet family-friendly ride for the kiddies filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes. But the story itself was the most clever beast. Aside from being a fun creature feature with a commentary on the basic human need for companionship, Goosebumps was designed to be an allegory for the creative process, the insanity of a great writer. 

Writers, beware. You're in for a scare...
The Plot: When Zach (Dylan Minette) and his mother (Amy Ryan) move to Madison, Delaware, Zach is reluctant to give the town a chance until he meets his new neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush)... and then her grumpy overprotective dad. One night, after hearing screams coming from Hannah's house, Zach and his unintentional new best friend Champ (Ryan Lee) sneak inside to investigate. They find a room full of Goosebumps manuscripts that are locked shut and never to be... oops. Led by Night of the Living Dummy villain Slappy, the monsters climb out of the pages to wreak havoc on the town. Of course, a problem of such great proportions is too much for three teenagers to resolve. Luckily, Hannah's dad happens to be R.L. Stine (Jack Black), who proves that the typewriter is mightier than the sword. 

As Stine explains in the film, there are three main parts to every great piece of writing: the beginning, the middle, and the twist. And Goosebumps depicts the three different levels of a writer's insanity that go along with each part. In the beginning, the first sign of a seasoned writer are the minor quirks or specific conditions under which they are most inspired to write. Personally, I need to begin writing early in the afternoon or late in the evening, I prefer my iPad over my laptop, and I've developed a sort of dependency on writing in a cafe while listening to music that matches the focus of my piece. Sometimes even what I order at the cafe is somehow tied to my writing topic. For R.L. Stine, the one thing that he requires to make his story come to life is his trusty old typewriter. No other device will do the trick.

Writers can be so dramatic.
Once Stine's small request is met and he settles down at a desk to write his final Goosebumps novel, the other factors of the beginning writing stage rear their ugly heads. It is nearly impossible in this stage not to become a little overwhelmed by the big picture and the struggle to tie together everything needing to be said-- or in Stine's case, to include every monster he has ever conceived-- into one story. Especially when a deadline is in place, the pressure is on like Donkey Kong (do the kids still say this?). Along with the pressure comes the writer's frantic obsession with finding the right words to begin their story. A major cause of a writer's insanity is knowing that there are hundreds of ways to express the same idea and Goosebumps made me want to sleep with my thesaurus under my arm like a teddy bear.

Many writers might disagree, but I've always found the beginning portion of the process to be the easiest. I'll live and die for a damned good introduction. It's the middle of a story that causes me the most distress and Goosebumps shows Stine experiencing my struggle on the silver screen. The middle, the bridge between the beginning and the twist ending, is all about finding order in chaos and finding discipline when plagued by distractions. 

Sometimes you just need to walk away for a moment. Or run.
Once I reach this point in the writing process, I sometimes get distracted by a giant monster called "life." I leave my keyboard for a while to focus on boring adult things such as grocery shopping and housekeeping... or returning phone calls. Not only is Stine stuck creating continuity while incorporating all of his creations into one monstrous war story, he is also faced with distractions from the creatures themselves. It is not uncommon for writers to feel consumed by the beings born of their own imagination and struggle to move their story forward. Goosebumps takes that feeling to a very literal level.

Finally! You're two-thirds of the way finished with what you believe to be your next masterpiece! You've been at it for several hours or maybe several months and you are ready to get as far away from it as possible before it swallows you whole. But how do you lay it to rest? Once Stine has all his creations right where he wants them, he still has to find a way to stop them and put an end to the madness. He can't just conclude that they magically disappear or drop dead, at least not without angering his young readers. A strong story usually has a plot twist or voices a new opinion on a subject, and R.L. Stine is notorious for his twists and turns. The search for the perfect ending can be just as agonizing as the search for the perfect beginning, but you will know when you have found it... or when it finds you.

Tell me when it's over.
Goosebumps is more than just an entertaining movie for avid young readers and monster movie lovers, and nostalgic adults, it is an insightful journey for creative minds. As kids observe a wide array of creatures being taken down by Madison's weirdest, any artists-- especially writers-- in the audience will likely be watching a monster of another color being slain: the critical mind of a storyteller. 

Jennica's Rating: 5 Unfriendly Lawn Gnomes out of 5

If you didn't see enough monsters during the Halloween weekend, it's not too late to head to your local movie theater and give yourself Goosebumps.

Have you already experienced Goosebumps
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