James Patterson and Me, Part I

James_PattersonI’m taking the MasterClass, James Patterson Teaches Writing. It’s was a big decision for me.

I am firmly in the storyteller camp rather than the writer camp. Writing is a hobby for me. I have fun writing; it’s enjoyable. I simply start at the beginning and tell my story from day one to the end of the book.

I haven’t yet read books about writing, and to be honest, I don’t want to read books on craft. My eyes glaze over when I see articles on plot points, story arcs, and pacing. If I have to research writing, it will become work, and my hobby will cease to exist.

However … when I read about James Patterson giving twenty-two video lessons on writing, I thought that might be something from which I could learn. I wouldn’t have to read books; James could talk to me.

I thought I’d share a few of my notes and thoughts with you from the class.

The first forty seconds of chapter three were the most helpful to that point. Here is one item from James: “Write every chapter as if it were the first chapter in the book.”

I think that’s great advice. I flinch when I read that every word, every action, every thought should advance the story forward. I can’t do that. Sometimes my characters just want to sit down, take a breather, and have a piece of pie. I like that James says every chapter should propel your story forward. That makes much more sense to me.

Lesson five was Research. I like doing research – for my stories. I usually stop in the middle of what I’m writing to do my research right then. This goes against the usual advice to save research for when the book is finished, but I like to edit as I go, and research is easier for me when a topic is uppermost in my mind.

Along the same lines, James says in lessons six/seven (Outlines) that when you are writing, don’t think about the sentences (structure); think about the story. Write the story – get it down on paper. You can rewrite later.

I tried that once, and it resulted in a horrible mess of a book. It took months to clean it up, and the joy of writing evaporated. I’m not disagreeing with James; it’s simply a method that doesn’t work well for me.

I’m a daily editor. Before writing, I always read what I wrote the day before and make any changes or corrections I see at that time. Some days, I’ll read the entire chapter before – or even the entire book to that point, making corrections and changes as I read. The story is then fresh in my mind as I continue writing, and I feel my work is cleaner than when I left it the day before. When the book is finished, it’s much easier to edit, and there is very little, if any, rewriting.

James creates a detailed outline before writing. He presents outlines as crucial and an extremely important part of the writing process. Ack! I can’t do them. It would take me forever to think the book through to the end and put it in outline form. Once I began writing, my characters (my overactive mind) would then take the story in an entirely different direction from my outline, and I would have lost all that time spent outlining when I could have been writing.

However, I’m not completely rudderless as I write. I use a large sheet of paper from a Crayola floor pad, and I create a calendar. As my story progresses, I add notes to the top and bits of information to the calendar as to what will happen on each day. The days fill up as the story progresses. A notebook accompanies my writing, and I jot down additional thoughts and ideas.

Here is the page for my current work in progress, Murder Wins the Game. The book is fifty percent complete, and you can see I only have events through one week. The book won’t end until sometime the following week. I have no idea what will happen until I get closer to those days.

book_four_map1Some of you may tell me there are programs for this – like Scrivener, but I like having this scribbled paper open beside me as I write, and I can drag it with me wherever I go when I write by hand – as evidenced by the crinkles and numerous folds.

Lesson eight was about writer’s block. I don’t struggle with writer’s block. My biggest downfall is simply sitting down to write and sticking with it. I’m easily distracted. James stresses the importance of being focused. Write anywhere no matter what the distraction(s) and focus on your story. Practice this ability to concentrate if you must.

The next lesson covered creating characters. I had to chuckle when he said not to hurt the pets in your stories. “People get ridiculously attached to the pets.”

First lines were discussed in lesson ten. For the most part, I’m happy with my first lines. Here are the first lines from my last book and my current work in progress:

If that was Mama banging on my front door, I was going to kill her and take my inheritance early. –Murder Welcomes You to Buxley

In exactly one minute, I was going to become a millionaire and quit my job as a private investigator. -Murder Wins the Game

I was so tickled when a reviewer left this comment about Murder Under Construction: “It is well written, has a number of twists and turns and the last line was an absolute cracker.” I think the last line of MUC leaves the reader with a smile on their face, and although this reviewer wasn’t a fan of the cozy genre, the last line made an impact on him. It was a good feeling to know I got it right.

First lines draw a reader in. Last lines leave an impression.

Lesson Eleven was Writing Dialogue. I like writing dialogue, and although James doesn’t say it, the most important advice I ever received about dialogue was that people use contractions when they talk, and they don’t always talk in complete sentences. It seems so simple, yet when we are writing, it’s amazing how many times contractions are overlooked and dialogue becomes stilted. The same thing happens when an unnatural complete sentence is foisted upon a character.

I’m to the halfway point of the lessons now, and I wrote a resounding HA! in my notes when I copied this final thought from James as he concluded his lesson on dialogue:

“Everything you write should be moving the story forward and moving the sense of that character forward. … If it isn’t, cross it out.”

Sigh. I’m stubborn. My characters are still going to eat pie.

cherry_pieSee you after the next eleven lessons!