Masterclass Notes: James Patterson – Part 4 – Drafting

Lesson 5: Research

  • Male readers usually prefer realism. Women are more likely to suspend disbelief. So depending on your target audience, it’s important to get the details right. If it’s incorrect, it can bring the discerning reader out of the story.
  • Try experiencing the settings yourself. Taking it in with all your senses may trigger more ideas. Similarly, try getting in touch with people you will be writing about. If you’re going to be writing a murder mystery, try talking to detectives. You’ll hear real life stories that you never would’ve through movies or even documentaries.

Lesson 8: Writer’s Block

  • “Just crash through, freight-train through that first draft. Get that story down… Raymond Chandler had that process. I have that process. A lot of writers have that process. Get it down”

Lesson 9: Creating Characters

  • What makes up you? What makes up someone else? What are the components?
  • Think of anyone you’ve met that you’ve found interesting. Why were they interesting to you?
  • “Are you a religious person? If not, are you a spiritual person? How does that affect how you conduct your life.” How does your personality affect your actions?
  • When you see a character be one way and then suddenly show another side to them, that can be endearing.

Lesson 10: First Line

  • Your first line is your chance to hook the reader and reel them into the story. If you can’t do this from the first line, chances are you’ve lost them.
  • One starting scene, the kids are running, there’s adults and dogs chasing them and they come up to a cliff and you think, oh they’re going to jump into the water and escape, except there is no water. But they jump. And it seems like it’ll be a mass suicide but then, the wings come out and they fly. A good example of how Patterson constantly zigzags, and does plot twists. Book name maximum Ride?
  • Don’t be afraid to rewrite the first chapter as many times as you need to get it right. Patterson has rewritten some of his first chapters five times. Rowling rewrote her first chapter for Harry Potter 15 times.

Lesson 11: Writing Dialogue

  • Don’t go for real dialogue, because real dialogue tends to be boring. Go for the interesting stuff. The stuff that moves your story ahead
  • Compress time. “10 minutes passed and Larry…” Etc. Keep dialogue quick. Keep the story at a good, quicker pace without sacrificing the storyline. Keep things interesting at all times. Everything you write should be moving the story forward. Including dialogue. And you should be learning more about the character. “And if it isn’t, cross it out,” Patterson states.

Lesson 12: Building a Chapter

  • Choose a viewpoint. “I tend most of the time to write in the first person and third person limited. Now some people go, ‘well that’s cheating’. Well, I don’t give a shit. I’m allowed to. It’s my creation. I can do whatever I want to do. There are no rules…You can do whatever you want to do if it works.
  • Patterson encourages use of whatever viewpoint will make the chapter more interesting. If you have a main character, but switching to a secondary character might make a certain scene seem more mysterious (or whatever effect you are shooting for), then use the secondary character. I would personally try to keep viewpoint with one character and force myself to find a way to produce the same result within that constraint. As a reader, I tend to get attached to the main character and if the story breaks from that, it’s hard for me to refocus. I find it more engaging and creative if the story can produce different feelings using the same character perspective. Most readers, however, don’t seem to experience issues with switching viewpoints, so this would just be a personal preference.

Lesson 13: Writing Suspense

  • “It starts big, and gets even bigger.”
  • It’s important to know what’s written…and then not write anything close to it. Ask yourself what’s a new twist to usual plotlines.
  • Don’t give things away too easily or too soon. Play with the reader a bit, it’s a cat and mouse game. You have a big overarching question, give a little bit at a time. Throw in your challenges, go down the wrong road, up the stakes, serve up a few victories…but keep your final answer till the end.

Lesson 14: Ending the Book

  • This is the last impression you leave your readers with. Just as the beginning is important to reel a reader in, the middle is important to keep the reader going, the end is important because that’s the last taste you leave in your reader’s mouth before they go back to reality. It’s important to tie up everything in a surprising and satisfying way that lingers in your reader’s minds long after they’ve stopped reading.
  • This is a good note for the outline phase, mentioned in relation to the ending: Patterson’s ending in the outline is never the same as his ending in the story. As he insightfully states: The outlining process is more logical. The drafting is more emotional. You’re in the characters in the story while drafting. Which is why it may be a good idea to outline to ensure story is sound, draft the story, then reverse outline the draft during the first phase of editing.
  • Ensure the things that happen in the book are set up throughout the book. Set up your events in a way that doesn’t immediately give things away, allows for the ending to be a surprise but also thinking back on the story, a logical conclusion. This point will be repeated for the editing phase, where you ensure the logic is sound on your draft.
  • Readers want to play that cat and mouse game, don’t disappoint by giving away things too easily.
  • Analyze endings of books and movies you’ve liked. Not to copy it (remember – always try for a new twist), but to take note of what you liked and why you liked it, why did that particular ending work for/on you?
  • Create alternate endings. “Write down everything that could possibly happen. Absolutely everything, I don’t care how ridiculous it is…then pick the most outrageous one of them that makes sense.”

Posts in Series:

  1. MasterClass Notes: James Patterson – Part 1 – Passion & Habit
  2. MasterClass Notes: James Patterson – Part 2 – Ideation
  3. Masterclass Notes: James Patterson – Part 3 – Plotting
  4. Masterclass Notes: James Patterson – Part 4 – Drafting
  5. Next Installment: Editing

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