7 Invaluable Lessons For Writers From James Patterson

7 Invaluable Lessons For Writers From James Patterson


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 don’t seem to care. In a thriller, readers want a tight, nail-biting plot, not five paragraphs describing the antagonist’s remote villa or pages of backstory.
  2. Keep your chapters short. The average length of Patterson’s chapters is between 500-600 words. He uses the trusted ‘hook and hang’ technique — starting with action and ending with a cliffhanger. If you want to write an unputdownable thriller, don’t 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. We’re inside the character’s head. If you write in an unpretentious way — like real people talk, think, and react — you 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 antagonist’s 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, Patterson’s 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 they’re 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. That’s probably the biggest lesson to learn — write like you mean it.

James Patterson is an American author who has sold an estimated 350 million books worldwide. He first became famous for his Detective Alex Cross novels starting with Along Came a Spider.

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. How To Plot A Perfect Scene In 10 Minutes
  2. Unhinged — Three Plot Devices You Should Definitely Be Using
  3. Visual Storytelling – The Silent Ballet

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This article has 5 comments

  1. HANNES NEL

    Thanks Anthony. I still follow your articles. Could you write us an article on how to end a novel, please?

  2. Elle Knowles

    Good points made in this article Anthony. Enjoyed it! ~Elle

  3. L. Smith

    Nice! Thank you for this. Just get to the point and keep the intensity high, like bestsellers do. Duh! It should be so obvious.

  4. Yuvrajsinh

    Did you find a time to read Paulo coehlo’s books, Anthony ?

    I would love to read the same lessons from the Paulo.

    Meanwhile, lots of take away from your post. Thanks !

Comments are now closed.