Creating Characters

James Patterson

Lesson time 14:09 min

From Alex Cross to Michael Bennett, James has mastered the art of creating complex and memorable characters. Hero to villain, learn how to make your character stay with your reader well beyond the last page.

James Patterson
Teaches Writing
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.
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If you write something mediocre chances are it's not going to get published. Now how does it not become mediocre? It becomes not mediocre because, a, you have just this tremendous idea. And we talked about ideas and how some of them really rise above the pack. Or you've created these characters, or a character, who's just so fresh and involving and just the way they look at the world-- that's really what it is. It's the way they see the world. And you really want your readers to have strong feelings about your characters. You want them to love that character. Or you want them to want that character to somehow pull themselves up somehow. Or you want to hate that character. But you're not going to do it unless you create characters that really make an impression on them, make them feel. What goes into creating a character? What goes into a human being? What goes into me? What goes into you? What are the parts? One of things that's useful, I think, is just think of anybody you've met, anybody in your life, that you find interesting. Why is that? Are you a religious person? If you're not, what are you? Are you a spiritual person? How does that affect how you conduct your life? Do you have any physical attributes that are important? Are you 70 pounds overweight? What does that mean to how you conduct your life? Your internal life and the way you deal with the world. Pretty much everybody you meet, if you just start writing down all their little ticks and all the things they do, and that's what makes them who they are. And there's a kind of an infinite number of things. I mean they really are. And that's the challenge of it. You know, what fits your main characters that are relevant to your story? So that's-- you just want to make it as tight as you can in terms of those talents really making that story stronger and stronger and stronger. And you just keep more and more attributes and things that the characters do. And eventually-- and that's also an aha moment, and also very joyful, when you figure out something about that character that that's exactly right. And what you're going to find that is you're starting to understand your own character. As I said, I don't write realism. But I've had hundreds, maybe thousands, of policemen and FBI people go, you got it right. And I think what they mean by that is not that I got all the details right, but I got the spirit of it right. I have the feeling for what it's like to be a cop and after doing a very difficult job that a lot of people don't understand how hard that is, and then how hard it is to leave it behind and go home and try to be a father or a husband or a wife or whatever that particular cop is. So I get the emotional part right, and that gets me over a lot of bumps. Talking about Michael Bennett and one of his kids who goes out and is robb...

Set out to write a best-selling book

James Patterson, the author of 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, reveals his tricks of the trade. In his first online writing class, he guides you from the start to the finish of your book.


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

I loved the class. I have already started outlining my book. James Patterson is a great teacher. This will be with me for the rest of my life.

As usual, James Patterson did his thing! I am a lifelong fan, and an aspiring author, so taking this class was a no-brainer. I loved it!

I have really been stuck on character building and scene development and Mr. Patterson helped me forge a new path.

Very well done, I was enlightened how James and Dan Brown share similar views regarding story movement, purpose and first lines. The importance of first lines are my biggest take-away. I also like James recommendations regarding Hollywood.


Rob B.

Be relaxed - but get it done. Take breaks....use TBD and come back to it. Great advice.

Joey L.

Good idea's about how to make your character's interesting. Very useful information in this video.

A fellow student

This section is very helpful as I am trying to make my main character a nurse, with flaws. She is a warm and pleasant person but has anger issues that come out with harassments when she was a teenager. The more she is exposed to the real world she gets physical. I have a back story, but I think she needs more flaws? any help is appreciated. Thanks, Lenora.

Paul A.

I enjoyed this lesson, but I would like to have had specific examples from Mr. James Patterson's books. I would like to see or hear clips showing how he built his characters.

Catherine M.

I've been reading "Liar Liar" by James Patterson and am truly intrigued at how he developed the character Harriet Blue "Harry". At first I really disliked her, but by the end of the book I loved her and was pulling for her to win. A complex character with a dark backstory that melds perfectly with her need to track down a serial killer who is, one by one, killing off the people she cares about. The novel sort of drew me in morbidly, then pushed me away, then drew me back in, and by the end I was up reading into early morning hours. A quiet work of art and something to learn from!

Michael O.

I don't know, maybe I'm ready. I found this lesson opening me up about character, opening up the possibilities. Quite a release for the moment, like a flower bud blooming. This felt real, significant, sincere. I believe this will help with next step(s) of creating character. Thanks.

Deb L.

In the notes I clicked on "CRITIQUE — CHARACTER ASSIGNMENT." I clicked on this link and went to an "After Hours" section. I expected to see a video title that said, " CRITIQUE — CHARACTER ASSIGNMENT" or something that indicates it's about creating character....but I didn't see it. What am I missing?

Natalie D.

This is an outline for a current character I have. I've marked the 3 I kept with **. 1. 6’2”, Blonde with green eyes, Knows he’s attractive. 2. **Resentful of his hippie parents for abandoning him and his little brother. 3. Likes to push the rules if he thinks his end results will be favorable. 4. **Enjoys not fitting the FBI mold. 5. Loves working for the FBI. 6. Admires his boss, Cole, but gives him a lot of grief at work. 7. Good relationship with his younger brother. 8. Raised by his maternal grandparents from age 8. 9. Works on the side with an agency that trains police dogs. 10. Adopted a dog that failed out of the program for being too timid, named Loki. 11. Likes playing the field and being single. 12. Loves a good stout. 13. Works out regularly. 14. Falls hard when he does fall for someone. 15. Keeps a secret stash of gummy candy at his desk. 16. **Especially good at undercover work because he’s a good liar, but he hates being lied to. 17. Expert marksman. 18. Sarcastic. 19. San Francisco Giants fan. 20. Hides his early childhood in a hippie commune from most people he knows, and introduces his grandparents as his parents.

Bridget M.

This lesson is especially helpful to me. Creating a story line comes easier for me than crafting the characters. For months I've been struggling with my main character because even I feel like I don't know her well - how will readers? I think it's even more challenging since it's a middle grade novel with a 13 year old protagonist. I teach middle schoolers, so it shouldn't be this difficult to nail this character's attributes (devastated, anxious, hopeful/adaptable), but I feel like I'm failing big time. Any suggestions? I've made the list of attributes, but it's like I can't get inside her head.

A fellow student

My character: Average Always seeking to be special Determined by the loss of his parents