James Patterson Masterclass On Writing Tidbits [Part 2]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Jalopy Style by Citizen King, Walkie Talkie Man by Stereogram, Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin)

Hello everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’m kind of bad about doing the whole “writing every day” thing. Maybe when I finish my part-time appointment with the Library at the end of the month I’ll start forcing myself into a schedule.

Anyway, I still have been doing the MasterClass lessons with James Patterson. A lot of the earlier lessons are not quite yielding that much for me (just because I don’t have any issues with starting projects or coming up with ideas – all my shortcomings lie in finishing out and editing) but there are still some great nuggets of wisdom to be found.

Today’s is “Story is built around revealing character.”

As a SFF writer, it’s really easy for me to get stoked on my own worlds and cities and forget about the characters as much. I have this great, grandiose idea for a world and a plot, and this is before I’ve even considered characters. In fact, sometimes it seems like the last thing to fall into place is the characters.

Now, at this point I’m going to remind you the same thing I remind myself every day when hearing advice from other writers – Listen to everything, and then figure out what works for you and screw everything else. So if you write worlds so engaging, so achingly real and beautiful, go ahead and just ignore me.

My problem is, I think my worlds are so engaging, so achingly real and beautiful, and they’re not. The proof is in the pudding – as of right now, my fiction publishing experience is all of ONE short story and ZERO anything else. So, I challenge any eye-rollers to take a hard look at their writing and see if this tip might not be more up their alley than they’d initially assumed.

Back to the actual advice. “Story reveals character.” What I’m realizing more and more is that, when I write characters that I truly love – not just as functioning elements of a plot greater than all of them combined, but as unique, motivated, emotional and rational individuals struggling to live in my sadistic creations – people want to read my stuff more. And not just SFF readers – people like my mom, who recently said of the Oasis “You know how much I struggle with science fiction or fantasy of any kind, but your writing in The Oasis is the best of yours I’ve read so far! And I actually became caught up in it, which says a lot coming from me.”

Thanks, Ma. You can go back to reading your historical autobiographies now.

See, the world can vary drastically. The plot can be prone to all sorts of eccentricities and loops. But the characters – the raw, potent pieces of ourselves we imbue with life and a single-minded goal laid into a multifaceted psyche – these are universal. Their struggles, be they on the harsh deserts of Hyperion, the crags of Mordor, or the middle of downtown L.A., are the same.

If you can write worlds like Brandon Sanderson or J.R.R. Tolkien, then fine. Make your characters as flat as you want (God knows Brandon Sanderson did in Elantris). But if you really want to capture your reader, if you really want to ensnare them and make them live your work out in their minds, what better way to do it than by creating a piece of themselves in your characters? A person to identify with, fight with, cry with, love with, and possibly die with?

Okay, I’m getting a bit full of grandiosity. Better to sign off before I do something I regret. Just… do it. Think of characters that engage you. Work with those archetypes, remember?

Yours, dreaming and dreaming on,

-R.R. Buck

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