David Baldacci

Lesson time 16:33 min

David shows you how he writes outlines, emphasizing that it is an ever-evolving process.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - I get asked this question a lot. Do you outline the whole thing from A to Z? Do you outline a little bit as you go along? And the answer is yes to all of those. Every writer that I know does it a little bit differently. I have some really well-known writer friends who outline everything in the book from A to Z. They cannot start writing the novel until I know the ending, exactly how they're going to get there, because they feel like I'm wasting time. I'm floundering, otherwise. I know some writers don't outline long. They just sit down and just wing it and let it grow organically. I'm kind of in the middle. I've never outlined the book from A to Z. I never know the ending of the novel before I sit down. What I tend to do is, I will do two sets of a documentation-- I'll call it that-- where I've got a little binder, where I've got some blank pages. And I do, like, broad movements-- broad sweeps of what I would like to accomplish during the course of that story. And it's very rudimentary. It's just kind of a first stab at it. But I have these big movements, smug movements in a musical score. These are the big things are going to be happening in this novel. And then my job is to fill in all the other stuff that actually makes them work and make sense. And then I have another notebook where I sort of go chapter by chapter. So today, I got up this morning early in-- I was working on chapter 24. And I have my chapter 24. And I have bullet points that I would like to accomplish in that chapter-- could be if someone is meeting somebody-- a certain bit of information is exchanged that maybe will have impact on chapter 25 or maybe chapter 35 down the way. So it's kind of like this intricate puzzle you're having to put together. The great thing for all of you is the writer. You can do it any way that you want. And there's another added benefit-- the longer you write-- guess what-- you can change the process that you do. You may go from outlining everything to just sitting down and just winging it every day and to see how it feels. Or you could go back to out. But it evolves. Don't sort of hamstring yourself into thinking, I can only do it this way. I have changed the way that I plot my books out over the course of time. I've changed my writing style over the course of time. I think that's a good thing. Writer's can evolve too just like other people in other occupations. So for me, it's important to have sort of a broad scope of what I want to get involved. I want to know what the first few chapters I'm trying to accomplish. It's really important for me, because as a writer-- and you may feel the same way-- I'm itching to get to writing a story. I want to get past sort of thinking about it in the outline stage. I always get to the point where book I've outlined a few broad movements, outlined a couple of bullet points for the chapter. I'm like, screw it. I push it aside-- boom. The hands go to the keys, or th...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I love meeting a writer who presents as a workman, who allows me to see the human being with everyday concerns pursuing a craft. That sort of accessibility fuels my confidence that I'm doing what I need to do.

I really liked David Baldacci's instructional style. He made it interesting and informative. I got so much out of his class!

David Baldacci's Master Class offers inspiration, motivation, and validation to writers and aspiring writers of all genres and abilities. I must confess that I have not read any of his books, but I have know a lot of readers who thirst for his words. However, having watched this course, his advice resonates with valid points across all aspects of the writing process. Excellent! Thank you.

I was getting a taster. I want to listen to it again. And do the lessons.


Janet R.

I am midway through this master class and am so impressed with David Baldacci's generosity as a teacher. I am learning so much, and am inspired to write more than I was before. Thank you.


I believe this is what has been a major reason I am yet to write a line. I had been thinking that I needed to figure everything out in the book, because I know if you're just winging it, at some point, you will hit a wall. And the story will probably tank. So, advice to myself, is definitely start with an outline (very detailed one), for the entire book. And with Mr Brown's advice of being aware that you can, with the foundation of the outline, write in a more fluid manner. Knowing that you're not just going into it willy nilly. Especially for SERIOUS first time writers. Chunking things down, is a very good idea.

Dan U.

He is laying the ground work for constructing the novel. I hope he addresses creative synthesis, poetic prose, how in God’s name do these people or characters feel....what makes them tick? How does it feel to be the victim of a violent crime? Forced to emigrate because your government discriminates against you. Your relative was murdered by a gang of idiots or you were betrayed by someone you considered a family member. Or joys. Stay tuned.

Liesl S.

Thank you Mr Baldacci! I absolutely believe in outlining. I use post-it notes and re-arrange them into sequence and then bullet point each one. I believe Mr Patterson when he says your outline should be so good that you can sell it. BUT. It really speaks to my analysis-paralysis tendencies and often keeps me from progress. I tend to have an insatiable need to ‘update’ the outline when something changed as if it’s a ‘project’! Just bought ‘Outlining your Novel’ (K.M Weiland) and I’m about to feed the procrastination monster by studying this book as another exersise in ‘creative diversion’! Loved the lesson. This is turning out to be my favourite masterclass!


Thank you, thank you, thank you for your comments on using an outline! This is where I have been stuck for a while - the outline that I've been trying to make work because it is, actually a decent framework, but it's not making my job easier like I hoped. I really needed that shift in perspective. It seems so simple in retrospect. I guess I just needed to hear it!

Kake H.

I recently took two writing workshops that argued for free writing (without outlines). My issue when I write fiction is that my characters keep revolting -- they often don't want to do what I need them to do by the end. (One reason, besides my laziness, that I've never finished most of the novels I've started).

Maxximillian D.

I love the tip about how much to show of the building blocks. As the writer, I know Why certain circumstances came to be that my charter is in and it’s sometimes a challenge to decide how much of that backstory is important. I am not a writer who relies heavily on flashbacks. I like to keep my audience in the now, mostly, but I LOVE addressing the pretenses with short scenes that nutshell the Why if the unusual circumstances the character is in.

A fellow student

Thanks for reminding me the little vignettes and small scenes which sometimes seem the inspired part of what I'm writing are the framework for what will make the novel worth reading. That it's the little pictures that make the big picture worthwhile.

Vivian Z.

Excellent advice. Is it just me or were there meant to be to rough outlines to download as well?


"Page by page, scene by scene, chapter by chapter...small scenes make great novels." Pretty much the way I write so I'm feeling validated. :-)