Lesson 4: Plot
- Story is about revealing character and causality (i.e., when one event leads to the next, which leads to the next and so on and so forth until the inevitable end).
- “Try to write every chapter as if it’s the first chapter of the book – try to write every chapter as if it’s that important.”
- “Write a story, not…pretty sentences. Write a story.”
- “Don’t write a single chapter that isn’t going to advance the story. ”
- “Try to write for a single reader who’s sitting across from you and you don’t want them to get up until you’re finished.” ← BOOM. Key. That’s why your stories might end up better when you’re telling them versus when you’re writing them. You’re focused on keeping the other person interested. Writing is solitary. When you’re writing, write for yourself. Write what keeps you interested. I find the only time I start heading down the wrong path is when I start thinking about what others would think of the story. When I start trying to satisfy everyone, I end up muddying up the story. When I write for myself, it all makes sense. It’s fluid and pristine.
- Condense your plot. Have one main string, one question that runs through your entire novel and compels your reader to keep reading until the end to find out what happens.
- Even if readers can figure out the kind of ending you’re heading towards, plot twists cans make your readers keep reading. Even if the reader can predict the ending, good plot twists will make the story about how you will get to the end.
- Continue raising stakes. Build in surprises. Keep readers engaged.
- Less is more – stick to the basics of the story. Keep in mind the core of your story. Figure out how to tell the story in 15 minutes. That will be the core of your story. Of course you will flesh it out, but you should be able to tell the core of your story in 15 minutes or less.
Lesson 6 & 7: Outlines: Part 1 & 2
- “The most common mistake that writers make, especially young writers, is they don’t do an outline. They just wing it. They just start…[Outlining] takes a certain amount of discipline. But I guarantee you…it’s a discipline that will pay off. You’re going to do a better book. It’s going to take less time.”
- To the point above, I feel that everyone is different and some might not find joy in writing an outline. Some bestselling authors (e.g., Margaret Atwood) actually do discovery drafts. George R. R. Martin is a pantser. Outlining seems more like a personal choice. Prescribing it as the best method seemed restrictive to me, but then Patterson elaborated, “When you write an outline, you’re not even thinking about sentences. You’re thinking about laying the story. And that, by the way, is another tip, when you’re writing a story, don’t think about the sentences. Think about the story. Write the story down.” Which sounds a more akin to discovery drafts, except with bullet points. Essentially, a condensed form of your story so you can ensure it’s logically sound before it’s fleshed out.
- “Write the story down. Just keep going. Don’t stop. Even if you have to in some chapters just go TBD. Move on. You’re stuck, get it the next time around. I like to write several drafts. I’ll write 5-6 drafts. The greater the challenge, the more impossible it seems, the better chance is that it’s really going to be something fresh.”
- So rise to the occasion. If something seems hard, do it. Chances are nobody else is going to be willing to. And that’s how you’ll get ahead. When you’re tired and you don’t want to keep going, think that others are going to feel the same way and give up. But if you keep going, just by putting one foot in front of the other, you can you get there when everyone else has given up just because you were willing and able to do what others couldn’t follow through on. The way you can do that is by: having a vision/dream/a reason for why you’re doing what you’re setting out to do, anticipating (i.e., thinking up) and preparing for setbacks, and setting and following through on action steps. How can you follow through on action steps? Make sure the step is easy enough to complete on a daily basis without resistance. How do you ensure it’s an easy step? Make it small, lower the bar and get rid of expectations for results. For example, write 50 words a day. Don’t think about how how slow it might be or that with such a small daily step, you’ll never reach your goal. You will, because somedays you might write more than 50 words. This is just so your head is still in the game everyday, making those larger word days easier to come by. But know that you will need to come back the next day and write 50 more words. That’s something that you will have to do until you reach the end of your book.
How do you write your novels? Do you plot beforehand with outlines, charts or discovery drafts? Or do you like to wing it? Have you tried both ways? If so, what did you learn?
Posts in Series:
- MasterClass Notes: James Patterson – Part 1 – Passion & Habit
- MasterClass Notes: James Patterson – Part 2 – Ideation
- Masterclass Notes: James Patterson – Part 3 – Plotting
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