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!


52 thoughts on “James Patterson and Me, Part I

  1. As long as you get some good nuggets that you can use, it’s money well spent! Like you, I can’t outline, it takes all the fun out of writing. In fact, you and me, we are writing twins, my friend! I do a lot of the same things you do! Or don’t do. ha! ❤

    • I swear, we are rebels! 🙂 If I were to outline a book, it would be like already writing the book, and it would be such a chore to go back and write it again with all the details. I love sitting down to write without knowing (other than the bare-bones basics) what’s going to happen in my story, so I can be surprised when I start writing each day. It’s like watching a movie unfold before me. We’re getting there, Jackie. It might not be the “right” way, but we’re getting there. 🙂

  2. I find it impressive you haven’t read books on the craft, because your pacing and storytelling are so good. Shows what a natural talent you have! I’m like you in that I prefer focusing on storytelling more than perfect prose, though of course I want my sentences to read smoothly.

    This sounds like a great series. Though I’m with Patterson in that I like everything to advance the story. 😉 (And I think in your books, everything does. Your funny side trips add to characterization.)

  3. I’m also a daily editor, Maddie. And I’m a complete pantser so trying to follow someones instructions would really throw me. Like you, I’ve never studied writing or read a how to write book. I actually don’t know how a story is going to end or even where it’s going until I start writing it (like this comment) lol 😉

    Thanks for sharing JP’s insights with us, I love the part about the animals. Please don’t hurt the animals – this is why I stop watching movies if an animal is injured or killed (no matter how many tough guys are blowing each other away!) I’m looking forward to hearing about the rest of the lessons.

    • I love being a pantser. When I once mentioned I should read books on craft, a fellow blogger cautioned me that by trying to follow “the rules,” I might lose my style and voice. I decided he was right, and I’ve never looked back. I do like to read writing blogs and message boards, so I’ve picked up a lot of tips that way, but it’s been fun writing by the seat of my pants. I’m thrilled to read an award winner like you does it the same way. 🙂

      Rich follows a couple of rescue shelters on Facebook. He makes me crazy by showing me all the dogs that have been abused or hurt in some way. It kills my heart, and I can’t go get them all (we once had four dogs in the house at one time). I try to avoid reading about or seeing hurt animals unless I can do something about them.

  4. We’re of somewhat a like mind . . . I very much like how I write (meaning I like reading what I write) and changing it to fit some rule or other goes against my nature.

    That said; one takes what is useful, and leaves the rest in a pile by the road.

    • I was disheartened at first when I realized there were “rules” to writing – don’t use adverbs, no passive voice, eliminate the word was, etc. I made an editor crazy, because I write in past progressive, but I hated her manic action approach, so I stuck to my guns and kept it the way I wanted. I finally figured out what worked for me, and yes, left the rest in a pile by the road. Good analogy.

  5. I tend to clean up as I go as well. Any horror or horror-related story, short or long I’ve written this way. There are rare times though where I will just go all the way through without editing until the end. Every story is different. This was a neat read. Kept me from going nuts as I prepared for Monday. 😀

  6. All you authors amaze me with your fertile imaginations and your stickibilty to get through to the end of what must be a very lonely task. I think the way you write Maddie is like a slice of life, after all in real life things can take unexpected turns that change the whole outcome. So to plan a book from beginning to end and lock it in can, possibly, make it difficult to follow a change of heart when you think of a new twist.
    Thanks for sharing some of the gems from James Patterson.

    • You are quite the author yourself, Pauline. Your blog posts are entertaining and always very well written. I miss when I’m away from blogs and can’t get around to see what you and Jack are up to.

      • Thanks Maddie, I enjoy doing posts but don’t think I would have the perseverance to do a novel (or the imagination…. ). Always good to see your happy gravatar when you have the time to visit 🙂

  7. To each her own on how she writes. 🙂 lol.
    I tried the outline, couldn’t do it. I edit as I go too. I love reading the chapter I did and then editing. Then I go on and when I finish a big part, I go back and edit again. I’m stumped and have been stumped for about six months. I get writer’s block a lot at least on the book I am writing. I like writing my blog. I watch too much TV. I think I need a job to get me back in the groove. LOL. I finally read a book of Patterson’s and loved it. I have another that I own and will be reading sometime soon. Good luck on that new novel! 🙂 I find classes fun. I have read writing books or rather skimmed through them. I read a lot of blogs that are on writing. Maybe if I stopped I would feel like writing. LOL. Great blog once again. 🙂

    • You have a full life, and if you aren’t finding the time to write as much as you want now, you will later. Do you get inspired in your new creative cave? I do find that writing upstairs in the pink nook makes is much easier to write than down here at my desk where there are so many distractions.

      I’ve never read a James Patterson book. I don’t think I own one. I must not have encountered any in my travels to library book sales. Glad to hear you think they are good. 🙂

      • I haven’t been inspired yet because I am still organizing it. Maybe I should have been an organizer. 🙂 I enjoy it. I do think it will once everything is in its place. I am kind of one of those people that have to be alone to concentrate so with the kids home I’m finding it difficult. I am enjoying the summer with them. Lots of baseball games. 🙂 I am a creature of habit too, so once I make myself get into the habit I think I will be good to go! 🙂 Have a good weekend!

  8. . Roger Zelazny (science fiction writer) was once asked why his characters smoked so much,. He said that every time he got to a fork in the road, he and his character would stop for a smoke. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in that.
    Do you have to have read James Patterson to want to hear what he has to say about the topic of writing?
    You’ve been like a runaway train the past three years, Maddie. Glad that you are slowing down for a bit to look around you. Smell the flowers and see what you can add to your own writing skills.

    • That’s humorous about Zelazny. It’s a good thing I didn’t share my M&M’s with my characters. The books would have been peppered with them. 🙂

      There’s no requirement to read a James Patterson book to take his class. I’ve actually never read one of his books. I’m sure I will one of these days.

      I’ve have slowed down quite a bit this year. I’m taking my time with the current book and may even put it on hold entirely while our granddaughter is here for five weeks. I pick her up in less than two weeks. We’re excited!

  9. Generally speaking, no matter the class or workshop, there’s always tips that one can find that are useful for them. In these case, you seem to be getting more than a few. 🙂

    • Frank, I keep sliding off the face of the blogosphere. I’m trying to write two books at one time and juggle the menfolk, the dog, and the household as well. You did another musical act, and I missed participating!! Keep up the good work, and I’ll catch the next one.

      And yes, I’m picking up some good tips from James. He’s on my list of things to do for today – I hope. 🙂

  10. Yes, moving forward, I see that. But there are still some corners and other paths to take – just like life. Well, it seems I don’t follow writing rules … 🙂

    • Hi Cecilia! Nothing like coming back to respond to a comment three months later. 🙂 We are kindred spirits in that we don’t follow writing rules. I rather like being a rebel. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

  11. I am with you – I can’t plan what I’m going to write. I just throw all the words at the page and see which ones stick – then when I reread it I edit it.

    Never heard of his masterclass though. Curious now!

    • I’ve tried in the past month to do a little more outlining for the first book of a new series. It isn’t so much an outline as a road map to what I think will happen. That way, if I take a detour, it won’t feel like a problem.

      I like the editing process. To some extent, I enjoy it more than the actual writing. It feels good to make words and sentence structure better (I hope better).

  12. Hello, Fellow (or former) “classmate”. I just recently started the Master Class with James Patterson myself (just finished “outlines”) and manages to stumble upon your blog while looking for a Patterson picture for my own. 😀

    I have to say that we have a lot in common (and a bit not in common). I too am a “daily” editor, as you stated. I am always editing as I go. Even in school I rarely had a second draft of anything I submitted. It annoyed me when I HAD to hand in multiple drafts and I would get points taken off due to the drafts being so similar to each other. *sigh* I also like to “channel” my characters and let them tell me their story instead of dictating it to them. In doing so, I rarely have actual outlines; more vague overviews of what my story plot should be. However, I do have at least one story that is heavy in outlines, and that works for me too. Guess it just depends on the project.

    The biggest thing that made me chuckle was that I also research as I go; which usually ends in disaster. However, much like you, I can’t research after the fact and change things up in the second draft. Not only does it bug me that I don’t know something for certain, but what if I’m horribly off (I have been in the past), and the reality ends up drastically changing something which massively changes my story? I also can’t research ahead of time because most times I won’t know what I need to research until I hit that sentence and go “Oh wait!” Downside is that I tend to get so enthralled by the research that it’s about four hours later before I get back to the sentence I was writing when I realized I needed to research in the first place. *sigh*

    Anyway, I am glad that you enjoyed the classes, even if you didn’t agree with all of the teaching (I CANNOT block out distractions; four years of failed “practice” has proven that). It gives me hope that I can take a lot away from it too.

    • Hi Dana! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’ve been missing in action, but I have a good excuse. I let my mind convince me to start a new series, and I’ve been racing the clock trying to finish the fourth book in my existing series, while at the same time writing the first few chapters of the new series. Phew! Why do we do this to ourselves? 🙂 But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      I used to think I was a bit of an odd duck, but then I started finding there are more and more people who do some of the same things I do – like you! I had to laugh when you mentioned going off on tangents while doing research. I was once looking for a pretty sundress, so I could describe the dress as one my main character was wearing. That dress took me all the way to Italy and looking into homes for rent in Tuscany!! So much time lost writing, but it was fun.

      Have you finished the classes now? I’m setting aside some time today to finish them. I’ve really enjoyed James’ easy-going style in sharing his information.

  13. Excellent post! I give it 5 pieces of pie. I would have given it 6, but I ate one of them… : )

    My dear Maddie! Really enjoyed this peek into your writing process. James Patterson? Phooey!– he should be taking lessons from you!! : )

    One of life’s great lessons is that what works for one artist will not necessarily work for another. But lessons and tutorials are essential because they expose us to new ideas and techniques which we can adapt as needed.

    I’m absolutely staggered by the amount of research that goes into some modern thrillers. How the authors do it, I can’t begin to guess. My illustration assignments almost always involve research, but it’s usually concentrated in a single area or two– which is a lucky thing, since it maxes out my feeble brain… : (

    I agree: let the characters eat pie!! It’s called character development, I believe, which we all know is an essential part of good writing. Cheers from your biggest fan!! : )

    • Ah, yes, character development via pie. 🙂 And that research! How in the world did people research before the internet? They must have spent half their lives in the library.

      How are you, my dear friend? I’m in the throes of trying to write two (more like three) books at one time. If you can create more than one wonderful illustration at one time, I can write multiple stories at one time. It makes me a little crazy and keeps me away from blogging, but I’m having fun!

  14. Hey Maddie,

    Love this post!! And I particularly liked this part:

    “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 chaptershould propel your story forward. That makes much more sense to me.”

    I typically writer thrillers and I’ve learned that I’m not good at haivng the characters sit down very often, and thus my books can be a bit more fatiguing than they should be. (Or, we could say I struggle with pacing, and need to have them just sit down from time-to-time!)

    Anyway, I loved how you termed it and I copy and pasted that straight into a “writing tips” file I keep! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Stan. You are having no problems with pacing in your new serial. I thought it moved it along great without making me weary. For an opening that has to introduce characters and world build, you brought a lot into it and kept my interest. During the day, I found myself wanting to pick the book up and read more. I’ve never read a serial before, and I’m not used to waiting on the next installment.

      Now all that said, if your pace is usually much faster, you’re in good company. James Patterson talks about the fact that he keeps his action moving. His collaborators have to be able to keep the action going as well. He’s known for writing page turners. Russell Blake is another who crams a lot of non-stop action into his writing.

      My characters simply eat too much pie. 🙂

    • You should see the calendar I have now. I used our granddaughter’s crayons to color my drawings at the top. I drew one of Jo falling out of a tree. 🙂

      I saw your cutie pies go by in my reader the other day. They are adorable. I’m hoping to hang out here more this year, and hopefully, I’ll see more of you – at your blog! Thanks for stopping by!

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