James Patterson

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.

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

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.

This was a great class for the hopeful author. I loved Mr. Patterson's honest and irreverent approach to writing. His ideas on outlining and the sample outline included for Honeymoon were enlightening. I am excited to apply what I have learned to my fledgling project.

good, informative, to the point! I am very excited about taking this course, and feel like I am getting one on one attention!

It was very engaging and of all the things I learned my favorite was the outline. It totally makes sense.

I have enjoyed the lessons. My wish would be that the lessons also be downloadable as audio files. I spend more than 6 hours a week in my car.


A fellow student

I was a bit stumped by the causality comment and would like more depth. Maybe it's coming later. Is he saying the plot and the characters are knit together by a sense that something unusual is propelling the story forward? It's not clear in my mind how to do that yet.

Amy B.

As a beginner, I loved the lesson and am thrilled to go through the exercises. Curiosity about the writing process has been both a motivation and am obstacle to getting started in the past.

A fellow student

Why on earth did we move to a noisy room with traffic in the background? What he's saying is priceless and I want to hear it. I don't want to listen to a vacuum cleaner.

Roger S.

This video had so much information! I was pausing the video all the time to take notes. I suspect this is one of teh videos taht I will come back to to seek more understanding from Patterson's context of the notes that I wrote!

Ian C.

These lessons are incredibly insightful and inspiring. I love writing. My specialty is decision-making and I have written successfully non-fiction and short fiction (fables) and now I've decided (haha) to write a novel about decision-making after I came up with an intriguing plot and style (reading many novels fuelled my passion). Yet, as a first-time and aspiring novelist, it is huggingly reassuring to have spectacular and warm advice to help me make less mistakes as I go. I am so grateful that you've taken the time to share your experience and knowledge - thanks James and team.

Daria V.

Another great lesson. Especially the part about worthy opponents. "Good" villains—and by "good" I mean interesting and note-worthy—make any story much more enthralling. Actually, it's interesting that sometimes charismatic opponents seem even more attractive than the main character.

Peter K.

Going back to Plot every few lessons is important because while plot isn't everything, without a good plot you have nothing. drama, suspense, worthy villains or opponents, conflict these are all essential to drama and without drama all you have is a story. Patterson states the obvious which is anything but apparent to most wanna be fiction writers.

Ashleigh H.

Wow. This lesson was so full of good information that I filled two full sheets of notebook paper with notes! Man! That was awesome! Every lesson is showcasing this incredible author's talent and skill, and I'm thrilled to be able to partake in his class. I especially loved the bit about creating conflict, and how an effective romance is written from sustained conflict, either being overcome or succumbed to. So excited for the next lesson!!! Thank you Professor Patterson!

Brooklyn S.

This lesson was amazing and helpful. I'm only fifteen and have been writing for years now, but I never had any proper advice or lessons to lean on for support. That's why I'm happy I'm taking your classes and I'm finding a lot of them useful. Especially this one.

Joey L.

I already knew about most of this stuff he was discussing. It is very important to have surprises and twists in your story because it keeps the reader interested and it's very exciting. The information was very useful.