Outlines: Part 1

James Patterson

Lesson time 9:38 min

James' secret weapon is a comprehensive outline. Learn how he sets himself up for a fast and successful first draft. No matter what, don't skip this lesson!

James Patterson
Teaches Writing
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.
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The most common mistake that writers make, especially young writers, is they don't do an outline. They just wing it, and they just start. And that takes a certain amount of discipline. But I guarantee you, that it's a discipline that will pay off. You're going to do a better book. It's going to take less time. I will write anywhere from three to six drafts of every outline. And that's the most important piece for me, literally writing that outline. [MUSIC PLAYING] Everything should be in the outline-- the arcs of the characters, the main characters anyway, the villains, if there are villains-- got to be in there. And the villains need to be complex. They cannot be simple-minded villains. I really want to build it around that the nugget of the idea. I want to put in as much really juicy stuff as I can. And then if I read that outline, or anybody read that outline, they would say, what a terrific story, and how well you've figured out these scenes. The outline should have tons of promise. You should be going, I can't wait to read this scene, or I can't wait to write this scene, because it's such a rich idea for a scene. The drama between these characters is just so delicious to sink my pencil into, sink my teeth into, sink my typewriter into, sink my computer into, whenever you're sinking. So that's one of the beauties of it. I mean, some days I can't wait to write these next two or three chapters, just because the potential is so great. [MUSIC PLAYING] The only time I ever face the blank page is when I start the outline. And I don't find that that daunting, because when you write an outline, you're not even thinking about sentences. You're thinking about laying the story. And that, by the way, is another tip. When you're writing a story, don't think about the sentences. Think about the story. write the story down. We all know how to tell stories. We tell stories all the time. You already know how to do it. Write the story. Don't write sentences, write the story. [MUSIC PLAYING] What I do in terms of turning, once I get that idea that I love, or you get that idea that you love, I'll then just start writing scenes down, just one line, two lines. Alex Cross starts in his house. He's playing the piano. He's playing Gershwin. He gets a phone call from Sampson-- something fresh and exciting that grabs you so you want to go with Cross into the next scene. But I'll just keep writing out scene after scene, almost as though it's a movie. And at a certain point, I will organize those scenes. Now the thing about scenes is, when you're writing a story, I'm going to say there are an infinite number of possibilities for scenes. There aren't an infinite number, but there are an awful lot of potential scenes. And you have to be aware of that. And ultimately, you have to choose the best scenes. But it st...

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.

James is such a fun personality and truly engaging! It has been fun getting to know his work more. His advice on structure and outlining: excellent.

This class has answered many of the questions I had about how certain techniques are done when writing a book. Perhaps more importantly it has made me realize that all my excuses for not writing were just fear of failure. Mr. Patterson made the writing process less mysterious and has given me the courage to begin doing what I love. Thank you so much! John Olson- CEO Graystone Industries

I was very pleased with the level of detail offered by each of the videos. I watched several more than once and used the videos when I felt stuck.

I have done four of the twenty-two classes. I am excited to finally have structure for all my years of work!! Thank you James!


Stephen A.

I found this interesting... I have finished a book (The Brotherhood of Necessity) with two main characters who never meet. I wonder if this was the best way to flesh out the story, but it was just the way the story went. I have never seen a story which does this, and perhaps there is a good reason (!).

Dale U.

After this lesson I think I'll have to abandon some of my "pantser" ways and focus more on outlines. Its kind of like writing a screenplay and then fleshing it out until it evolves into a novel.

Cherise S.

I've always suspected that outlines were for writers with an inclination towards engineering. Not me. Because I have been stuck for three years on how to make 60,000 words from nanowrimo into a story, I listened to the lesson with more of an open mind. As I listened, a scene that had been towards the end of my words, popped into my head as scene 1. Then a second and a third scene followed. I paused the lesson and started writing. I am not as skeptical about my ability to write an outline. I am grateful and I am eager to see where it takes me.

Thomas R.

I can't imagine writing a story without starting with an outline. I write for middle grades, so I wonder if I am going too complex on some of these writers.

M.L. W.

Loved this chapter. I did an outline my first time out. It made it so easy to organize the flow of the story. A tremendous help in writing the book.

Nicole B.

So usually when I write outlines for my screenplays i will write them in 3rd person. But do i write my outline for a 1st person book in 1st person? I figure I need to or otherwise the whole story wont come through, right?


Good luck Greg with NaNoWriMo. I have a book I've have an idea for, my problem is I don't plot, well not for the first chapters until I get a feel for the main characters.

Greg R.

I've decided to take a rather loose idea and turn it into a novel for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) this November. (The idea is to write 50,000 words in 30 days - no requirement on quality, it's merely to get a first draft done). I'm preparing by getting an outline and some story arcs composed and this is really helpful. I hadn't realised how much needs to go into suspense, character development and a decent villain. This is really going to help the novel outline to have some decent bones to hang the meat of the chapters on!

Scott N.

How do I find The Honeymoon outline? It is not in the PDF download as far as I could tell? Anyone?

Dan U.

I’m completely relating to Patterson’s ideas for an outline. Less so with with David Baldacci. This helps a lot because great writers know what to do and when to dot. They have many tools at their disposal. When one just looks at a black piece of paper you are lost to a degree. Like driving around without gps. At least with an outline you have some guidance. Something to ponder in the scene...hopefully a lot.