Chapter 6 of 22 from James Patterson

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

James Patterson Teaches Writing

James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.

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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 for the very first time. In this course, he guides you through every part of the book writing process.

22 lessons totaling 3+ hours of video from James covering everything from starting your outline to getting published.

Each video lesson is paired with notes, reading materials, and assignments to make sure you get the most out of your class.

Submit your rough drafts and assignments for feedback from other students taking the class (and possibly James himself!).


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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

Jessica M.

I was never an outline person, but I'm using them more and more. I used to think outlines took away the creativity, but the nice thing is it's your outline, so you can change it as much as you want as you go along! I also agree with him, if it's a good outline it makes you excited to start writing each chapter.

Chester E.

Do you feel that outlines help you organize ideas? Sometimes I'll get an idea and feel it would belong in a different story. Like Cassandra, the smooth talking scientist, who saw her boss get mowed down by a pair of Tommy guns. ... and then Recyclops, the shambling beast, fangoriously devoured the Wrigley Building, brick by brick.

Adrian W.

I tend to approach things in a logical and organized process. I love the concept of Outlines. This should be just the jump start I need.

Dee D.

I'm on the fence when it comes to creating an outline. Sometimes I'll create one, but most of the time in my head I'll create the characters then put them in a difficult situation. I will start some of them at point A while some might start at F or at Q etc. You get the point. But only I as the writer know what the outcome will be. I just let the characters navigate their own path from point to point and mostly listen to them until they achieve the outcome I wanted. Sounds crazy, but it works for me. Then at the end, I'll go back then and completely put my writer's hat and write with more detail. Then rewrite, rewrite and more rewrite until complete.


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...