To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Arts & Entertainment


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.
Get Started


[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.

Really solid information and insight into publishing.

I feel that this class helped validate where I am as a writer. A lot of Mr. Baldacci's process is the same as mine. It's nice to know that I'm on the right path. Hopefully, if I keep persevering as Mr. Baldacci suggests, I'll get there.

This was a subject I really wanted to explore and it was nice seeing that there was someone out there who had some of the same passions, some of the same doubts and some of the same ambitions that I do. I really appreciate this class and am glad that David was able to share his passion with me.

I loved this class. I learned about how to find the next idea, about characterization, how to hone dialogue, and learned from seeing David Baldacci's process. The lectures helped me to figure out why I'm stuck on my current WIP and gave me hope that if I keep writing, good things could happen.



You are the best speaker that I have ever heard in my life, any subject. You are quick and thoughts flowing convey powerful core information. You don't pander in the least. WOW thank you

Robin F.

It's reassuring to hear how much his story changes. It relieves some of the internal pressure to get serious and "get it together." I'm serious but now I don't have to be as together as I thought. Excellent lesson.

Liz L.

I really like this approach to outlining a story. It makes the most sense and explains why I haven't been able to write and finish my novel.

Tiana R.

Usually I don't outline, I just jump right in. I procrastinate enough as it is. Although sometimes I'll write a vague summary and then make up the rest as I go.


This is so incredibly helpful. I keep kicking myself because I can't make the round pegged outline fit the square hole of the story, and I think therefore I must be doing something wrong or be a really, really bad writer. I know it is such an obvious thing, but when you are sweating blood and tears down in the writing mud, you forget to have creative fun. That is one of my biggest stumbling blocks I think, to realise that the outline is just that: an outline. It is not set in concrete, but for me it takes courage and confidence to allow myself that 'freedom'. Thank you for this lesson! Looking forward to learning more!

Dale U.

I try to do my outline in bits and pieces, my current manuscript is all over the place and I'm just starting to connect the dots. Oh yes, I am what is known as a "pantser."


I mostly write short, and then I barely use outlines, but when I started attempting longer works, I became overwhelmed. Outlines saved me. There's a really good video by Jenna Moreci about outlining your novel.


I used to wing a lot of my writing and just let my mind flow, but I had a hard time keeping my ideas organized, so I started making outlines. I don't start the outline until after I've written some scenes and chapters and whatnot, though. Then I just switch between them.


This is my favorite lesson so far in one of my favorite master classes. My analytical side loves outlining my books, but the compulsive writer in me can't put off writing a scene until after I've completed a fully fleshed-out outline. The organic method - going back and forth between the two, making adjustments as the story and writing force changes to the plot and outlining and vice versa - works much better for me. The best quote from the lesson is what he said about a great book being made of great scenes (or something like that - I'm too lazy to rewind but you get the gist). The story is in the dialogue, thoughts, and behaviors of the characters and that's makes for a great read - not the outline.

Tara Jade B.

"People don't read the book all at once. They read chapter by chapter." So true! And this is how we (writers) should write it, chapter by chapter, without panicking about the whole 500 pages mountain. "Bird by bird", as Anne Lamott said :)