Outlines are Essential, Says James Patterson

When I found out that James Patterson, the most prolific and successful author of our time, was holding a writing class, I was all in. 

The outline is the most creative part of writing your novel, and sometimes, James says, he writes several different outlines for the same story before he decides how it will all work out. He can be working on an outline for months before he is happy with it.

Before you start the outline, you need the raw idea. This is a one-paragraph summary of your story, and if your story is to succeed, the idea has to be something more than a little disparate, create tension and conflict, and should grab readers’ attention from the start.

Here’s the idea for my upcoming novel, ‘Virgo’s Variant’:

Cinematographer Lexie King is determined to break free from the drugs, and psychoses that haunt her as a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She signs up as one of the camera operators for a new reality show set in Africa, knowing that it will be totally out of her comfort zone. It is too late for her to quit the assignment when she discovers that one of the contestants is the man who abused her, The producer has dropped her and the other camera operator, with the twelve contestants, in a remote region somewhere in Africa with no means of communication. The producer dies, and the only person who knows where they are is the pilot who dropped them there, who is away on his honeymoon. Rumor has it that all the local inhabitants have abandoned their villages because a monster roams the region. Then the murders start, and the only person Lexie trusts is the cowboy, but could she be wrong? He is certainly physically strong enough to be the murderer.

So my next task is to write an outline. This is a summary of each chapter, with one or two paragraphs per chapter. Every chapter is a new scene, and should contain something that propels the story forward and adds a new twist.

Once the outline is all written up — and typing it out in Word works for me — you can go back over the scenes and experiment. Add new twists, reorganize the order of events, make notes for future reference, add something to create more suspense, and make a note of how the events affect the personal lives of each character.

Here you will edit, edit and edit again before you go any further.

The one thing I did notice about the outline is that, without dialogue or the internal conflict and thoughts of the characters, it’s pretty blah, but that all comes later, and James goes over the do’s and don’ts of dialogue and creating conflict in some detail.

Only when you are completely happy with your outline should you start the novel, which will flow easily now that you know how the story progresses. I used to be a pantser, but now I know better.My greatest problem with this particular novel was that I had already written it before the classes with James, and it was with my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing. I received the first edit from them soon after completing the course. I found that with the outline, I was able to do a lot of editing that I probably wouldn’t have done before. I cut out a lot of unnecessary explanations and changed some of the events. (Show don’t tell). I also ended up with double the number of chapters I originally started with, because short one-scene chapters make the story move at a faster pace, and if your story drags, your readers will lose interest.

If you are interested in taking the class, here is a link: James Patterson Teaches Writing

Reading and Editing

Editing is an essential part of the publication process. Whether we like it or not, it is almost impossible for a person to see all of his or her errors. Everyone needs an editor–even the world’s best selling authors, and I don’t mean searching for typo’s and grammatical errors–I mean content and development editing.

I belong to several online organizations, where writers share their work free, either in return for a guaranteed review, or just for added exposure. I usually select romantic suspense or suspense novels, and download them to my Kindle.

Every now and then I discover a new author whose work I love, and I give them a review and I buy their other books.

More often than not, though, I only read a few pages before giving up on a story and moving on to the next book. The problem I find to be the most common, is that authors have self-published without the aid of an editor, and their work just doesn’t flow. I don’t feel comfortable giving these writers a review, because negative reviews can cause terrible harm and discouragement. It’s easier just to move on. The most common problem I see is head-hopping and author intrusion. A lot of writers don’t know that in today’s publishing world, fiction is written as if the characters are telling the story, and there is no narrator/author.

When I was ready to publish my first novel, the Internet didn’t exist as we know it today, and I had to go the traditional route, and submit my manuscript to several publishers, knowing that rejections were part of the process. Since then, the Internet publishing business has taken off, creating exponential opportunities to those who want to write. I will always be thankful I had to submit my work to publishers, because even now I still prefer to go that route for a very good reason.

Reputable publishing houses, run by people who know the publishing industry, will always have at least one accredited editor on staff, who will work with each author to help hone their work, and make it best it can be before publication. (The downside is that not all publishing houses are genuine, and it is difficult if not impossible for a new author to recognize a scam.)

Jude Glad, my editor and a part owner of Uncial Press, has been a wonderful mentor, and has taught me more than I could have learned in a couple of years of college classes on creative writing. I will always be grateful to her. My Zodiac Series is published by Soul Mate Publishing, and owner/editor Debby Gilbert has added to my bank of knowledge in a very positive way, and I don’t know where I would be without either of them.

I was so inspired by them, that I decided to pay forward and give back to other writers what I have learned, and I started my online editing business to assist self-published authors, and give them a better chance at achieving their dreams. I have made my pricing extremely competitive because I know most writers don’t have a lot spare cash lying around. I wish I could do it for free, but editing is time-consuming, and it does take away some of my writing time.

I have done very little active promotion, but have always been busy since the inception of my editing business, thanks to word of mouth recommendations from some of my wonderful customers. I am only one person so I can only handle one manuscript at a time. I’ve had the privilege of reading and helping to optimize some wonderful stories, and fascinating non-fiction by some very talented authors.

My services include development and content editing, formatting for, and uploading to Amazon’s CreateSpace and KDP Direct, and other online self-publishing platforms, plus cover creation, I’ve also recently been asked to write someone’s memoirs, and I’ve added that. I also build websites or help create and format blogs.

Here is my address: Youselfpublish.com