My James Patterson MasterClass Writing Notes

on Creating Better Characters and Opening Lines

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JAMES PATTERSON WRITING ON MASTERCLASS.COM | Photo by Arash Asghari on Unsplash

Red smith, a famous sports writer said, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

There are a few reasons why James Patterson’s MasterClass.com writing class is so goddamn cool:

1. James Patterson spits the truth about finding success in writing, and he spits it often and succinctly, and better, he does it humbly.

2. Mr. Patterson talks about writing like it’s my college basketball coach talking about pick and rolls. These dudes make millions of dollars to study what they study. He breaks it down so it makes sense to the common (wo)man.

3. James talks about the process of how he writes, and how much time he spends on his craft. Most people aren’t willing to put in the time, the work, to make their passion successful.

Here are some opening lines of novels from Author James Patterson:

“Early on the morning of December 21, 1992, I was the picture of contentment on the sun porch of our house on 5th street in Washington, D.C. The small, narrow room was cluttered with mildewing winter coats, work books, and wounded children’s toys. I couldn’t have cared less. This was home.” — Along Came A Spider

“ It’s way too early in the morning for dead people.” — You’ve Been Warned

“To the best of my understandably shaky recollection, the first time I died it went something like this.” — Private

In Kiss the Girls, the opening line goes, “For three weeks the young killer actually lived in the walls of extraordinary fifteen room beach house.”

“I have some really bad secrets to share with someone and it might as well be you — a stranger, a reader of books, but most of all, a person who can’t hurt me.” — Confessions of a Murder Suspect

Some helpful advice: A good author focuses on bringing you right in and if you haven’t gotten the readers in the first chapter, you’ll lose them.

You have to grab them!

Did I ever tell you story about how I was hijacked by pirates while sailing the Caribbean during my mid-life crisis?

James Patterson says he wants to feel as involved as the reader as he reads his own story. He will spends months on outlines, days on revisions, and his dedication to the craft becomes overpowering.

FOUR REASONS YOUR WRITING WILL SUCK READERS IN:

A. You have a tremendous idea and that idea is new and different. For example: a divorced cowboy lawyer that lives in a hotel room, hires a hooker paralegal, and runs around DC with gator skin boots while trying to win a defense suit of a wrongful death against a billion dollar defense and technology corporation (I just made part of that up with a bit of help from the show Goliath and some of James Patterson’s advice).

B. You’ve created characters are so fresh, so cool, so dope, how they look at the world, they can’t stop reading.

C. You want the readers to love that character, root for that character or root against, put them in the shoes or life of that character. Basically, at the end of the day, you want readers to love/hate that character so much, they can’t stop reading.

D. You make them feel the character, their emotions, their thoughts, their feelings, and they want to keep reading.

WHAT GOES INTO CREATING CHARACTER?

Think of anyone you’ve met, why are they interesting? Are they religious? Are you spiritual? How does this affect how they conduct their life? How does it affect your life? Any physical things that affect you, or how you see the world?

What is your internal life about and what is happening below the surface, the second layer, the third?

Pretty much, write out people’s ticks when you see them or remember them.

What and who they are.

What fits your main characters that are relevent to your story. You just keep adding more layers to write and as you figure out something about character you start to understand your character as you write along.

I don’t write realism. Hundreds or thousands of policemen say about his writing on their professions, “You got it right.”

He gets the feelings of what cops, FBI agents, etc feel when they come home after a tough day on the job, the decisions, the drama, the trauma, and gets the emotional part right, which means readers will feel it.

What goes through the minds of these people? Of these characters? What goes through anybody’s head when they come up to big emotional moments or crossroads in their life?

In one of his drafts he wrote at the top, “Be there.”

Be in the scene and experience it like that character.

Like drowning, would you really go in and save them? Is it reflex or is a decision? Your own life is jeopardy if you go in.

One of his characters is quite bright, his father been to jail, terrible relationship with his dad, he’s been in the army, he was a hero in the army, a helicopter went down, he saved people, but he also left someone in the helicopter. One person.

Yet, the character feels shame and readers root for him to change, everyone else thinks he is heroic.

“We are on his side, but he isn’t on his side.”

You want to root for him, shake him and make him realize. You want to change him, but he cannot escape that character truth about himself.

When you have a character that seems one way, he is hard, and then you see another side of him, that he is is sweet, empathetic side as well, you start to be surprised and love the character more.

We are all like this, we just need stories of understanding and the people of our lives are full of qualities that people either love or hate, that we root for or root against. Seeing the other side of the character adds more complexity. The more rounded, the more sides, the better.

Humans are complex.

You feel you are meeting the full person this way when you write this way and approach characters this way.

OPPONENTS AND VILLAINS

They need to be smart, clever. Have to be able to surprise you. Makes for more interesting reading. “I can’t or didn’t see that coming.” The more you humanize these characters, the better.

Game of Thrones is a great example. Your favorite characters in the first few chapters get their head lopped off by cunning villains, and after your favorite characters get murdered, and it floors us.

We must read on.

Readers are peculiar.

They root for some characters to die or be hurt or get #turnt up.

But a lot of times you get non-complex, not interesting characters and you just want to put the book down immediately.

THE BACKGROUND LIVES OF CHARACTERS

The lives, the pets, the kids are very important. He gets actual threats from readers that he can’t kill off certain cats, dogs, of characters, etc. They get attached to the animals.

Readers are going to find out more about your character than they will about their own partners, friends, bosses, and it’s a very intimate relationship. Remember that when you write.

That’s one of the reasons people love novels.

I mean, you can’t let them forget the characters.

Think about your favorite fictional characters, heroes, and villains, what qualities do they have?

James Patterson’s on writing character examples:

  • Humbert Humbert (Lolita) — Distinguished, self-loathing, lustful, predatory, desperate
  • Harry Potter (Harry Potter Series) — Orphan, modest, loyal to the end, brave, irritable
  • Hannibal Lecter (Silence Of The Lambs) — Monstrous, brilliant forensic psychiatrist, serial killer, refined gentleman, lack of conscience
  • Willy Wonka (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) — Dreamer Mischievous, mad scientist, eccentric, benevolent
  • Jo March (Little Women) — Independent, tomboy-ish, blunt, opinionated, passionate
  • With your list of characters and their attributes, choose your favorite trait in each. Are there any similarities between the characters? Write a few sentences explaining what traits make each protagonist/villain so memorable.

JAMES PATTERSON WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

James explains: “With respect to characters, you want things that really dig deep and say a lot very very quickly, to get us interested in the person.”

With that in mind, write a list of 20 traits for a new character, then discard 17 traits.

Do the remaining traits still make for a compelling character?

Write the opening line for your novel. Rewrite it. Make it interesting. Compelling. Revise it again. Make it better. More succinct.

Read more James Patterson New MasterClass Notes by Trevor Huffman— by following me on this Medium.com thing.

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