From James Patterson's MasterClass

Outlines: Part 1

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!

Topics include: What your outline needs • Focus on the story • Begin sketching your outline • Add more suspense • Edit, edit, edit • Try a character-focused approach • Be thorough


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!

Topics include: What your outline needs • Focus on the story • Begin sketching your outline • Add more suspense • Edit, edit, edit • Try a character-focused approach • Be thorough

James Patterson

Teaches Writing

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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.

I'm not even done with the class and I am writing better than I ever have. breaking it down the way he does helps me and the way I understand. Love it

Love this class I look forward to it every time.

Inspirational and practical insights into the art and business of being a professional writer. A must for anyone struggling to write their breakthrough novel.

Thank you, I hardly wait to start (learning from the best).


Jessica T.

Outlines are a MUST for me. Every now and then I might know how I want a story to begin and I'll go ahead and write that (and even then it might change), but from there I begin the outlining process. And I put a lot of detail in my outlines because it might be a while before I get to actually write it and I want to remember everything. I'm actually working on an outline right now that I'm itching to begin writing the story.

Sydney H.

Doing an outline is what I am bad at now but he makes this so great it makes me want to develop the habit

Eric B.

For some, like me, who likes to look forward, the outline is a valuable discipline and ritual to keep me on track.

Shreyasta S.

Hi Guys, I cannot download the attachment of this chapter. Has anyone downloaded the pdf before? Can you please add the pdf in this link?

A fellow student

Allow me to plug K.M. Weiland's Outlining Your Novel program based on a workbook she created. I was never against outlines but I never had a focused way to come at them. Weiland's program lets you create scene lists that you can easily rearrange and nest, conduct character interviews to really get to know them, layout character arcs, detail the main conflicts, and a bunch of other useful tools. Using her program has really kickstart my serious writing. Find her at I know this sounds like an ad but it honestly isn't. I'm just trying to share a really fantastic tool with y'all.

Alan H. J.

What James calls an outline is what I call a detailed synopsis. I wonder what it started out like.

Mitchell B.

I used to never do an outline. I believed that a writer had to write the story as it came to them. Now, I still believe that, but I also understand that the best way to tell a story is by laying it out in black and white. Thanks to this lesson, I have my first outline done and already several notes on how to either enhance the scene or additional scenes as they enter my mind.

A fellow student

This lesson reminds me I need to finish read Story Grid so I make sure I include everything necessary for a particular kind of fiction to work.

Donald C.

I. a. 1. i My mother drilled this into my head. It seemed like it took me forever to grasp. The outline is the work. The writing is the joy. It's like decorating the Christmas tree. It's hell putting it up. But then you get t hang your favorite ornaments and tinsel. That's fun.

Katie T.

I love the idea of outlines at first I was unsure about how well I will stick to it