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7 Invaluable Lessons For Writers From James

Patterson
I often blithely remark that James Patterson writes Hardy Boys for grown-ups.
Thats not meant as an insult. The more I read his novels, the more respect I
have for his craft. His books dont demand any heavy lifting from the readerin
many ways, theyre like chilling out in front of your favourite detective or police
TV show.

Here are seven lessons we can learn from this best-selling author:

1. Lead with plot. Patterson was once criticised by Stephen King as


being a terrible writer, but his millions of fan dont seem to care. In a
thriller, readers want a tight, nail-biting plot, not five paragraphs
describing the antagonists remote villa or pages of backstory.
2. Keep your chapters short. The average length of Pattersons
chapters is between 500-600 words. He uses the trusted hook and
hang techniquestarting with action and ending with a cliffhanger. If
you want to write an unputdownable thriller, dont give your readers a
reason to leave.

3. Up-close and personal. Patterson mostly uses a first person


viewpoint in his novels. This is what gives his stories their immediacy.
Were inside the characters head. If you write in an unpretentious way
like real people talk, think, and reactyou bring your reader much
closer to your story from page one.

4. The villain gets top billing. From perverted plastic surgeons to


grieving fathers bent on revenge, Patterson makes sure his antagonists
are intriguing, shocking, and wily. He also uses innovative viewpoint
devices to get us into the antagonists mind without revealing their
identity. If you want to give your hero an impossible mission, make
sure his opponent is difficult to catch.

5. Pare it down. In many ways, Pattersons books read like a movie


script. Dialogue and action drives the story. Description of characters,
setting, and emotion are given in swift short hand. If you want to keep
up the pace, make sure you only give readers the barest details that
add a bit of colour, texture, and emotion.

6. Know your ABCs. The main or A story of a Patterson novel is always


supported by two or three B or C subplots that run alongside it.
Mostly these are multiple cases or mystery the hero must unravel, but
sometimes theyre about his personal life. If you want to create a
satisfying experience for the reader, give your story a rich cast of
characters and a lot more conflict.

7. Own your story. Patterson obviously does a lot of research and his
books always have a ring of authenticity. Whether his plots have holes
or his characters seem stereotypical, he always writes with supreme
confidence. Thats probably the biggest lesson to learnwrite like you
mean it.
Unhinged 3 Plot Devices You Should Definitely Be
Using
Storytelling normally follows a linear plot structure, one of rising tension
reaching the point of climax. As writers, we use this template because it works
very well. However, Ive been watching a few movies lately that use innovative
often bizarreplot devices that we can learn from as novelists.

1. The Hinge. In the 60s thriller, The Boston Strangler, a sadistic serial
killer holds the people of Boston in a grip of terror. The first half of the
movie follows detectives chasing down clues and tip-offs with no
success. Then, right in the middle, we get the hinge. The story abruptly
swaps viewpoint and focus and were right in the world of the
strangler, Albert. A family man, with a split personality, the second half
of the story takes us in a new direction, into his descent into madness
as he reconciles the two identities living inside his mind. When to use
it? If the psychology of your killerthe whydunitis more important
than catching the killerthe whodunitthen this will work very well.
2. The Circle. In Quentin Tarantinos iconic Pulp Fiction, we find a
circular narrative. The story opens in a diner at the moment of a hold-
up. We then cut away from this and track several storylinesall
interconnected but told out of sequence. We then end up in the same
diner and follow on from the moment of the hold-up. As we follow the
circle all the way around, the meaning of the other storylines fall into
place and we have the full picture as the audience. When to use
it? If you have a multiple-plot storyline that intersects in certain
places, this will work. Think of it as breaking up a clock-face and re-
arranging it in a way that highlights the tension.

3. The Puzzle. In the surreal, disturbing 2001 movie, Mulholland Drive,


the director offers a story of alternate realities and identities. While we
may believe were watching Hitchcockian noir-thriller, we may also be
inside the main characters dream. To create this effect, the story is
told from the subconscious, which if youve ever remembered your
dreams, you know that they hardly ever make sense. Were given
most of the puzzle pieces, but not all of them. While the plot
breadcrumbs become clues, viewers are then left to interpret the
symbolism for themselves. When to use it? If youre writing a story
that focuses on the interior world of one character and you want to
explore the fragmented reality of this character, this device or
technique will work well.
A 5-Part Story Structure For Beginners

One of the first things we are taught in the 1st grade is how to write a good
story. It makes sense because our lives are made up of stories. Each of us has a
unique tale. Every day is a story with a plot, characters, and a beginning, a
middle, and an end. So, why not tell a good story with a great structure?
Many would support the idea that a good story ought to have these three
main parts. Those who agree are professional writers, movie directors, and
professors. Without these three fundamental divisions, any given story would
appear jumbled. It causes the reader to give up on engaging with the authors
thoughts.

1. Introduction
The beginning of a story is where the author introduces the five important
questions: WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN and WHERE. They familiarise the reader
with the characters, the plot, and the time zone. They give a general idea of
what the reader has to expect from the narrative.
In this first part, also called the exposition, the author creates a bond with
the main character. It is possible to reveal the characters aim and ensure a
hook. That means to provide an incentive and a reason for the reader to
continue pursuing the story.

2. Doorway No. 1
Good narrative structures also contain a delicate shift, or, as some call it a
doorway. It is the section where the author puts the character into a
complicated situation and forces him or her into an irreversible circumstance.
This is the part of the story where the action starts to brew. The main character
may end up in a difficult position and he or she develops the story goal here.
This is the best time to hook the reader into your plot.

3. Middle
The first part (or introduction) serves as a section where everything is set up.
The second part of the story is where the story line develops and becomes
complicated. We call it the middle. More intricate layers of the characters
become clear. Secret intentions and relationships start to surface. Needless to
say, as conflict ensues, tension adds to the story.
It is a good trick to keep the reader on edge. The author also has the option
to weave in subplots to add to the main plot. The middle is the part where the
story starts to move towards the climax. Thats the segment of a narrative, also
referred to as the development, that gives the reader the sense of the
inevitable conclusion.

4. Doorway No.2
As the level of conflict builds throughout the story, doorway No.2 opens. The
writer can make use of it to thrust the main character into a final conflict. Lets
call it the pinnacle of the narrative. This climactic moment is where a major
blow or crisis usually occurs, which later sets up a potential final solution.

5. End
The end or the denouement is the climax of the story. This is the part where
everything comes together and starts making sense in case it didnt make
sense before. This is the section where the author writes about the final
confrontation and the inevitable aftermath.
A good story should not have any loose ends. The denouement is the perfect
place to answer all unanswered questions. Respond to inquiries that may have
appeared throughout the story.
The ending can also include poetic justice or an element of sacrifice. It
depends on the theme and subject matter the author chooses to write about.
This elevates the already scandalous atmosphere that reader has been sucked
into.
We have an innate desire for happy endings. Often times, writers choose to
provide the readers with what they know the public will generally like. Yet, the
story can also end on a negative or ambiguous note. This in turn leaves the
reader wondering and perhaps feeling a bit dazed.
It doesnt matter what type of story you choose to write. The most important
thing to remember is to start at the beginning, continue in the middle, and
finish at the end. And like a good recipe, every story should contain a little bit
of spice, whether its love and romance, or revenge and power.

6 Things Alfred Hitchcock Can Teach You About


Writing
Alfred Hitchcock was an English film director and producer who worked closely
with screenwriters on his films. The master storyteller, born 13 August 1899,
died 29 April 1980, pioneered many techniques in the suspense and
psychological thriller genres. He is best remembered for films such as Psycho,
The Birds, Marnie, North by Northwest, and Rebecca.
I have taken six famous Hitchcock quotations to create these storytelling tips
from this master of suspense.
1. Drama is life with the dull parts left out. Take chances.
Hitchcock knew exactly how to move us out of our comfort zones.
He knew that he couldnt afford to bore his audience. Neither can
you. This means you should avoid pages of backstory and endless
descriptions. Avoid writing beautiful paragraphs to impress readers.
You wont succeed. Most of us read novels for story and to
experience traumatic or extraordinary events vicariously. We want
you to entertain us.
2. Always make the audience suffer as much as
possible. Readers want happy endings but the characters need to
earn them. Good writers put their characters through hell. To make
this work, they create empathetic characters with whom we can
identify. Readers enjoy going through this cathartic experience with
them. We feel the relentless horror experienced by a young socialite
in The Birds. In Psycho, a young woman ends up on the run where
she meets a horrible bloody end at the Bates Motel. In Vertigo, we
empathise with a detective who is tormented by tragedy and his
fear of heights. We suffer with Hitchcocks characters.
3. Im a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious
character. Always look for the dark side of human nature. We all
have one. Writers are naturally suspicious because we always
consider why people do the things they do. We need to become
observers of the human condition. Never take anything at face
value. Everything reveals something. Be suspicious of human
nature, of possessions, of settings, of body language, of speech
patterns of everything.
4. The more successful the villain, the more successful the
picture. Many authors have told me that heroes are only as strong
as the characters who oppose them. Create complex antagonists
who are the heroes of their own stories. They do not have to be
villainous or evil. They do have to have a believable story goal that
opposes the protagonists.
5. I cant read fiction without visualising every scene. The
result is it becomes a series of pictures rather than a
book. Setting is important. If you use setting skilfully enough, you
can create a plot or move a plot forward with it. We all know that
changing a setting can change a character. Great setting details
create suspense and add layers of mood and mystery to a story. You
also dont need elaborate settings. Rear Window takes place
through the eyes of a photographer gazing out of the window of his
apartment. Rope is set in one room, where a murder victim in
hidden in a chest of books. Many people remember the atmosphere
created by the settings in Hitchcocks films long after theyve
forgotten the plots.
6. I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience
would immediately be looking for a body in the coach. Dont
be afraid to stick to a genre that suits your writing style. Most
writers enjoy writing what they enjoy reading.

Basic Plot Structure The Five Plotting Moments


That Matter
A good story opens with a protagonist whose life has been turned upside down
in a negative way by an antagonist. This is known as the Inciting Moment.
This causes problems for the protagonist. The protagonist has to react to this
challenge. The protagonist tries to solve the problem. The problem is not
solved and becomes more complicated. The main character tries again. This
attempt also fails and the problem worsens.
This leads to a dark night of the soul where it seems as if the antagonist will
win. The protagonist tries again and solves the problem.
This is plotting at its most basic. You will have to flesh out the plot from this
simple formula. We know from teaching our course, Writers Write, that most
writers havent even thought out these five points before they decide to write a
book. We would suggest that you use it as a starting point.

Plot Diagram End your novel as soon as the goal is reached

We found this plot diagram and explanation at Novel Writing Help. We want to
share it with you because it is one of the best examples of a plot diagram we
have ever seen.
1. The novel begins with the status quo, in the bottom left hand corner.
Nothing has happened yet.
2. The action kicks in when something happenssymbolized by the line
on the graph beginning to rise.
3. The character finally committing to their goal marks the precise point
at which the beginning of the novel turns into the middle.
4. The middle of the novel is represented by the rising line of action. The
green zigzags indicate that, although the overall trend is for the action
to continue to rise in intensity as the story progresses, there will
nevertheless be peaks and troughs along the way.
5. Generally speaking, the peaks are the points at which the mini plots
climax, and the troughs are those quieter moments in between the
sceneswhat I call the interludes.
6. The middle ends when the character, in failing to reach their overall
goal, hits rock bottom. This is the most intense point of the novel,
when all hope is seemingly lost.
7. The action dips somewhat when the character reacts emotionally to
this devastating blow.
8. But it then rises again when the character, strengthened by their
epiphany, goes on to seize the prize (or not).
9. You could, if you want, end the novel right here. Or you could go on to
show the new status quo in a final chapter. Keep it brief if you do,
though, because anything from here on in is, by definition, anti-
climactic (represented by the rapidly falling line of action).

The Top 10 Tips For Plotting And Finishing A Book


I believe that if you are looking for help in writing your story it is because you
have tried to just sit down and be creative. This seldom works. You have
probably stalled after a few chapters, or halfway through your book. You may
have managed to finish a book and been rejected. You probably have no idea
where you have gone wrong.
I created Writers Write by finding a way through these problems. My writing
courses are goal oriented. They give you practical tips. They give you the tools
to write, and finish, a book. They inspire writers to persevere.
These are my Top 10 Tips for Plotting your story.

1. Write the ending first. This gives you a destination. You may
eventually change the ending but having a goal is more helpful than
you can imagine.
2. Choose your antagonist before you choose your protagonist.
Beginner writers tend to either have a story idea without an
antagonist, or they create one-dimensional villains who do not suit the
heros story.
3. Give your characters physical story goals. A physical story goal is
one that can be experienced through the five senses. Your protagonist
and antagonist should have story goals in opposition to one another.
Example: The villain wants to destroy the heros company. The hero
wants to save his company. The intangible story goals, such as
ambition or finding inner strength, will be revealed as a result of this
conflict.
4. Decide on a genre and stick to it. It is disappointing to a reader if
he or she picks up a romance novel and it turns into a serial killer
thriller. Research genre expectations, word count, etc.
5. Write a synopsis. This should not be longer than two pages. Tell the
whole story. Do not include back story. If you cut out unnecessary
details here you will save time. You will also be able to stick to the
story. It sounds romantic when writers say they let the characters show
them the story. I have found these writers seldom finish novels as they
are always trying out new things. This sounds creative but it is
disheartening when you are trying to become a published author.
6. Be disciplined with settings. Introduce major settings in the first
quarter of your book. It is unnerving when authors introduce a new
setting a few chapters from the end of the novel.
7. Stick to two supporting characters. Amalgamate extra characters
into one person. Your protagonist does not need three best friends and
five love interests. The rules of story-telling require simplicity. Readers
get bored when they are introduced to too many characters in one
book.
8. Break your story into scenes. Become a film director and construct
the scenes. Ruthlessly cut out any you dont need to move the story
forward.
9. Wrap it up and write The End. End the story as soon after your
protagonist has achieved his or her story goal as possible. Dont
explain what has happened and summarise the plot. Your reader is not
stupid.
10. He wins but The best endings in commercial and literary
fiction, as well as memoirs, are when the protagonist achieves his story
goal but Examples: Clarice Starling catches Buffalo Bill in The
Silence of the Lambs but Hannibal escapes; The pigs take over the
farm from the humans in Animal Farm but they have become
indistinguishable from them; In Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela
achieves a free South Africa but ends the book with the message that
there is another long walk ahead.