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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » James Patterson and Outlines

   
Author Topic: James Patterson and Outlines
tesknota
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So facebook's ads have finally persuaded me to try James Patterson's MasterClass on writing. He has twenty some videos about the writing process, from idea conception to marketing the final product. It's not terribly detailed as far as what to do in certain situations of plot, but I think that OSC's writing lessons on this website does an excellent job of that.

Anyway, I've been going through the videos, and James Patterson STRONGLY believes in a good outline. His idea of an outline is just a paragraph summary under every chapter heading (labeled ONE, TWO, THREE, etc...). I know that there's many ways to do an outline, but I think that I'm going to try it this way. It seems a little blunt, but now that I think about it, it's pretty effective. I would just need to have my character descriptions/motivations be somewhere else.

I'm not sure how many of you have checked out his MasterClass, but I'd love to hear your inputs on different methods of outlining a novel. Specifically, the types of outlines that you've tried, what you liked about it, what you didn't like about it, or why you don't believe in outlines, etc. =)

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extrinsic
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Perhaps Patterson's masterclass offers insights for structural considerations; aesthetics considerations, rare, if at all, even in his published works. Grammar, par habits, like self-publishers though. He's the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, the situation television half-hour broadcast formula; the airport, convenience, and grocery store newsstand racks of publication culture.

I base an outline sketch partly on intent and partly on intuition, mostly on a facet of a self-involved moral human condition complication.

Patterson's novels scratch at the edges of moral ideas to the emphasis of simple plots' external noble-ignoble axis conflict resolution -- straightforward poetic justice tragedy or comedy exclusively. I don't feel he wants to attempt tragic-comedy's beautiful human condition transformation. Nor does mass culture want to either. Immediate and effortless self-gratification is empty of reward and is fleeting, here-today-gone-tonight satisfaction.

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wetwilly
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Wow, extrinsic. Great summary of why I don't like James Patterson. Honestly, I wouldn't take his class. I don't think he writes good books, and I don't want to learn how to write crappy books. Or mediocre books. I want to learn how to write great books. James Patterson doesn't know how to do that.

Although, obviously, he does know how to write commercially successful books, so I can't fault anyone for wanting to learn his formula. It's just not a path I want to take for myself.

Running a KFC can probably make you some good money, but I'm far more interested in fine dining.

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tesknota
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I've honestly never read any of his books, but I'm getting a hint of what both of you are talking about. Patterson talks about writing fast-paced action, how to keep the audience hooked, how to leave readers wanting more. As extrinsic has pointed out, I don't think his intent is to write about the human condition. He sets out to write thrillers, and his audience reads his books expecting just that.

Though I was just expecting a casual conversation about outlines, I will clarify something about his MasterClass. He doesn't really teach HOW to write (content-wise). He's trying to teach the path to becoming a published writer. It's more or less encouragement for every step of the writing process, from idea conception to marketing. His personal anecdotes are amusing. I'm gleaning way more lifestyle lessons than I am writing lessons from this MasterClass. I'm not complaining; I need more structure in my lifestyle if I ever hope to write a (good) novel!

I don't need James Patterson to teach me how to write, because I don't want to write thrillers. I find OSC's writing lessons and books on the subject ( How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and Characters and Viewpoint ) way more useful for learning the craft. =D

Mmm. KFC. Thanks for making me hungry, guys.

Extrinsic, do you stick to one outline format that works for you, or do you change it up depending on what you write? And wetwilly, what's your general take on this? I'm experimenting with outlines; I'm not sure which is most effective. Sometimes I just find myself starting multiple outlines of different formats and it all just becomes a big jumbled mess of files. =(

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extrinsic
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My outline template is standardized only in terms of a dramatic unit's function. Start, middle, end, though division by division to paragraph or sentence-level unit. Still, the outline is a pencil sketch, a study, so to speak, not pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, acrylic, or oil.

A start, for example, these facets I believe are essential: introduce what the narrative is really about -- the moral complication; emotional, character, and plot movement; the tangible external complication (self-involved want and problem satisfaction efforts); event, setting, and character introductions; and conflict (opposition forces of stakes, motivations, and outcomes), especially raise doubt of outcome.

More or less, those facets for middles and ends, too, except an end satisfies complications and resolves conflicts.

Sentence and paragraph levels, too, I feel, the essentials reflect the larger structural arc: preparation start, suspension middle, and resolution end segments. Only the micro level oscillates between complication satisfaction and conflict resolution progress and setback and leaves the larger complication and conflict satisfaction and resolution until the outcome end.

Of note, I favor reading and writing narrative's that discover a moral truth as an inevitable surprise end. I don't care for "philosophical" narratives that assert a moral law. They petitio principii: assume the initial point (is valid and is objectivist moral law); they "beg the question," a circular logic that assumes a conclusion, presupposes a conclusion. They preach.

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Grumpy old guy
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I guess my initial outlining process is to get plot, character, and premise all working together to make a unified story. This involves a lot of navel gazing, unfocused mind-wandering, and scribbling cryptic snippets of dialogue, scene, and plot info into a writing pad.

The next step is to take all this mush and massage it into a linear narrative--this is the skeleton on which I will create the rise in tension and conflict, develop the scenes and define their tasks and purposes, and plot out character growth for all the major characters.

At some point I will get sick and tired of all this fussing about and then I'll sit down and write Draft Zero and see what I've got. After that it's just a case of cutting or adding and . . .

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm still experimenting to see what works for me. My mind has changed a great deal since I was 16 (I'm 31 now), and what worked then won't necessarily work now. What I used to do was jot down a quick sentence or paragraph for every important scene and save that into two separate documents. I'd keep one document pristine--just the outline. The second one was the home for my rough draft. Each time I wrote a new scene I'd paste it over the appropriate part of the second document so I knew how much progress I'd made with my first draft. It meant I could write scenes out of order without getting lost in the story.

I'm probably going to try that again and see if it still works with me for my longer projects, but if not I'll probably try something a little more disorganized. We'll see how things go.

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Robert Nowall
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I used to use outlines, but I found I wound up telling the story---and having no desire to tell it again in longer form. Now I just try to have some kind of ending in mind when I start.

But my track record with long form writing isn't good---not selling any of it applies to all my writing---but with the long form, I wind up with twenty or twenty-five thousand words with just two characters...and also novel-length works that meanders to no conclusion and are eventually abandoned.

(I did finish a novel just a few months ago---realizing the point I reached was an end, not just where I abandoned it---but I've got some more revision to do, as well as deciding what to do with the damned thing. It's not SF or fantasy, though it's kinda a science-fictiony setting.)

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babooher
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Awhile back, John D Brown, who has won several awards (including Writers of the Future), offered a free class as he was trying to get test subjects. I signed up. His ideas on outlining were, to me, much more effective than Patterson's. I'm about 20,000 words or so into a novel and I kind of blended Brown's approach--which is somewhat based on OSC's three grunts--and Patterson's. Brown's website (www.johndbrown.com) has a ton of links with all kinds of help and explanation. Just click on "On Writing." To me, the free info on Brown's website was much more effective than the "encouragement" Patterson's class offers.
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extrinsic
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Brown's modalities offer insight into two, only two, of Damon Knight's story types: Conflict resolution and puzzle solution. Also, Brown's modality, like Patterson's, pits external forces in opposition based upon a certain hegemonic value and belief system, like Patterson; that is, maintainance of an objectivist's hegemonic zeitgeist of a zero sum scenario -- one entity gains at the proportionate expense of one or more other entities' loss.
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babooher
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I actually found Brown's scaffolding of literary analysis through the lens of a writer to be highly beneficial. So while he may focus on two basic story types, his pre-writing method can be employed by anyone for whatever type of story a writer would like to create. If you're looking for cookie-cutter structures, that isn't what he teaches.
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dkr
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Tesknota, I also have utilized the two OSC books you mentioned and liked them a lot. And though less specifically targeting writing technique, I have really enjoyed;
Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg
Becoming a Writer - Dorothy Brande

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tesknota
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Sorry I disappeared from this! School got a big rough. My outline is basically where it was when I started this thread. I'm just now getting back to it...

I've got to check out Brown's resources. They look really good! And yeah, dkr, they're really good! I learn something new every time I open them.

So far, the main benefit I'm getting from my outline is the clear path it provides in terms of story backbone. Even as I reread what I had written a month ago, I'm (re)discovering many things about my story. The casual, almost stream-of-consciousness type of outline sorted by chapters (Patterson's model, from what I can tell) does a good job of providing structure and reminders of details in an 'orderly' fashion.

Of course, there are benefits from all sorts of outlines, and there's no way that I'm going to argue that paragraph blocks are the best way to go. I guess I'm taking comfort in this bulldozer method. =D

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