James Patterson MasterClass on Writing Tidbits [Part 4]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Troublemaker by Weezer, Reptilia by the Strokes, Thunderstruck by AC/DC)

Today I want to pull out a few things about viewpoint and voice that surprised me in the James Patterson MasterClass module.

The first thing is the idea of changing viewpoints throughout the novel. Patterson said something akin to, “I don’t give a shit if I’m supposed to stick to one viewpoint; using both first-person and third-person viewpoints gives me the best of both worlds.”

See, now this one is where I have to disagree. So far, I’ve only ever read one book where I felt that multiple styles of viewpoint in the same work was a good thing, and that was Hyperion; and even in Hyperion it doesn’t really count because (as you know if you’ve read the book) the frame story is seven different characters telling their own personal narratives to each other, each narrative being in a different POV style and tone.

Obviously I can’t say James Patterson hasn’t been successful with his type of writing, but herein lies the most important advice I can give any writer starting out like me (and I’ve said it before) – listen to everyone’s advice, and then choose what works for you. It doesn’t matter if the number one author in the world says you have to do it – if it’s not going to work for you, you don’t have to do it.

The second thing I wanted to pull away for examination was about which viewpoint to choose in a given scene. Patterson said, “When you imagine each scene, try to imagine whose perspective might make this scene most interesting.” He gives the example of a murder – is it more interesting to see the murder from the victim’s standpoint, or the killer’s, or the detective’s?

Now, this should seem obvious to any good writer, but it resonated with me particularly because I don’t actually give that consideration to each chapter. Usually, I want to have an equal number of scenes from each of my major characters’ POVs, and so I just choose whatever character is experiencing the main conflict to be the POV for a given chapter. But sometimes, seeing the way in which a character who isn’t a part of the conflict reacts to the scene is even more illuminating for all parties.

It’s one of those mystical things about writing, determining whose perspective should be given in a scene. It’s like a sixth sense you just have to hone through sheer volume of work. So if you can’t figure it out right now (I know I’m still having difficulties with it), just keep writing from whatever character’s perspective is your default, and then ask yourself after you’ve finished writing – how would another character react to this? Would it be more interesting to hear their internal monologue in regards to the situation?

I’m gonna put this idea into practice right now, so I’ll catch you all later. Until then, good luck writing! If you want some other tips, click here, here, and here.

Yours, fighting tooth and nail against a case of the Mondays,

-R.R. Buck

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4 thoughts on “James Patterson MasterClass on Writing Tidbits [Part 4]

  1. As one who writes murder mysteries, it’s interesting that we’re asking, “who should we view the murder as?” My protagonist is the assistant of a detective so we never actually “see” the murders happen. The inspiration for my mystery series came from a video game series called Ace Attorney. You play as a Defense Attorney and go to court and such. Sometimes they show you the murder before the case begins so you already know who the killer is and you have to try to help your character figure it out. Other times they don’t show you at all so you’re going in clueless, just like your character. And honestly, I think I like it better than way. I like having to figure it out from scratch.

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      1. I haven’t. I’m still working on the first novel. I have thought about one of my protagonists witnessing a murder so then the readers would technically know the culprit. But I have a whole timeline planned out for the series, so I don’t know if it would fit anywhere. Maybe as a short story or something.

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