Arts & Entertainment, Writing
Lesson time 9:18 min
With the right plot, your reader won't be able to stop turning the pages. In this lesson, James measures out his unique approach to developing plot lines that keep readers wanting more.
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Topics include: Condense your plot • Raise the stakes • Create conflict • Create worthy opponents • Build in surprises • Less is more
Story is about-- it's about the thrills and the twists and the turns, but more than anything else it's about revealing character. In a thriller it's how will that character react in a very dramatic situation. I really believe that character is revealed through action. Try to write every chapter as if it was the first chapter in the book. We pay a lot of attention to these first chapter because we know they're important. Try to write every chapter as if it's that important. Write a story, not necessarily a lot of pretty sentences, write a story. Don't set out to write a good thriller, set out to write a number one thriller with a number one story idea. Don't write a single chapter that doesn't propel the story forward. Leave out all the parts that readers are going to skim. They're going to skim stuff. If you find it's that kind of writing, leave it out. Try to write for a single reader who's sitting across the desk from you and you don't want them to get up until you're finished. And if you're smart, make that reader a woman. Why? Women by 70% of the books. Women by 70% of my books, which is interesting. A lot of people don't-- they think that I have a lot of male readers. And I have a number of male readers, but more women. Now let me just give you just a couple of thoughts about condensing plot into something that's manageable very quickly. So if you take the Great Gatsby, you start with Gatsby has everything anybody could ever dream of except love. Gatsby gets love. Gatsby loses love and thus loses everything. And that's kind of Gatsby. And we have Ian Forster's famous line about story and plot. And he wrote, "a plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality." The King died and then the queen died is a story. But the King died and then the queen died of grief is a plot. The time sequence is preserved but the sense of causality overshadows it. Let's talk a little bit about personal stakes in a novel, in a screenplay. You'll certainly hear that when you-- if you've sold something to a studio or you're doing television work or with your editor when you're doing your book, that the stakes need to be raised. And that essentially means that what's at risk here, or what's to be gained is so important to the character, or should be, that you feel-- that the reader feels it big time. So if there's no stakes-- and that's one of the things, I'll talk about having worthy adversaries. If you know as a reader-- and you kind of know-- that the good guy is probably going to win the day. It can't be that simple. You have to feel that there are stakes here. So worst case in the Cross books, in Hope to Die or Cross My Heart, one book and then Hope to Die second book, the stakes couldn't be higher because Alex Cross' family has disappeared and he believes they're dead. But he's not 100% sure they're dead...
About the Instructor
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.
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James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.Explore the Class