The second week starts with a lesson on Research. Again, nothing terribly new in this video. One part is about interviewing people for their expertise in an area. He doesn’t talk about how to locate these people or approach them, probably because all he has to do is send off an email or pick up the phone—or, more likely at this point, have his assistant do this.
The second topic is locations. He recommends actually walking the locations you’ll use in your books, making notes about what strikes you. I concur, if at all possible. Years ago, a writer friend asked me if I could answer questions about Tucson for her because she couldn’t come here to see it herself. Of course I said yes. I was relatively new to the area, so I had to ask other people I knew for help. After I read one of her books, I realized the limitation of this technique. You don’t know what you don’t know, so you don’t ask about it. She had a glaring inaccuracy, describing something as if it were like the area where she lives. She assumed it would be like that, so didn’t know she should verify her assumption.
Of course, if you’re writing about first century Jerusalem, there’s not much chance of walking that location. Or twenty-fifth century Ganymede. But, as Patterson says, there is the Internet.
One of the bonuses of doing research, whether it be by interviewing people or walking around a city or clicking through the Internet, or, as in my case this morning, picking up one of the reference books you’ve collected, is that things you learn will give you ideas for your story. It goes back to that you-don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know thing. Chances are if you discover an interesting, new fact, your readers will find that interesting, too.
If it advances the story.
Beware the dreaded infodump, which is what it’s called when the author puts in all this stuff she learned doing research that has nothing to do with deepening character or advancing the plot.
That’s the end of the lesson on research.
And now a whole mass of writers will desert this blog (and probably never sign up for Patterson’s class) because he spends the next two lessons on Outlines. No other topic in this course gets two lessons. If you’re a pantser, you’re going to throw up your hands at this point.
I’m a plotter. Because I think a writer should take the time to figure out which method works better for them, I think you should try both ways. If you never try it, how do you know it won’t work?
So I’ve tried writing into the mist, a.k.a. pantsing, a few times. I’ve found that success is 50-50 for me when I write without an outline. Sometimes absolutely amazing stuff happens, unexpected stuff, fun stuff, that I doubt I would have come up with had I written an outline in advance. And sometimes I get several thousand words in and have no freakin’ idea where to go from there.
There’s something comforting about having a plan. You sit at your desk in the morning, look at your outline, and know exactly where to begin writing. You can set word count goals because you won’t have to spend time staring out the window trying to figure out what happens next or what clue to plant in this scene or why your sleuth suspects a certain character of being the murderer.
That doesn’t mean nothing unexpected happens as you write. The muse doesn’t work that way. Especially if you’re doing NaNoWriMo and freewheeling it a bit to get your 1667 words that day because you realize you’re going to come up short of 50,000 and there’s no time to sit back and rework your outline. But I think you have to beware the rabbit trails. It’s too easy to wander off the path you’ve set for yourself with no way to get back.
I had one of those muse bombs pop up two years ago, and I went with it, because it didn’t actually change the story I was telling. It happened way at the end, and I figured I could edit it out during revision if necessary. But I decided I liked it, and it became an important part of the plot of the next year’s NaNo novel.
Obviously, Patterson believes in outlining. In fact, for him writing the outline is the most creative part of the writing process. He writes multiple drafts, over a period of weeks, of his outline, in more detail than I’ve ever considered doing. I imagine this makes writing with co-writers a whole lot easier.
One thing I have to bring up this week because it’s important to know: Patterson does not go into details in these videos. I suppose that’s part of them being a “Master Class.” They’re more a discussion of how he works than how to do things.
For example, in discussing Plot in Week One, he never mentions the different plot structures such as the three-act structure, the four-act structure, the hero’s journey, the W Plot, or any of the other various ways of plotting a novel. He either assumes you’ve learned about this somewhere else or doesn’t think it’s necessary to know about it.
His lessons on the Outline are similar. He talks about scenes and twists and arcs, but he doesn’t talk about ways to develop them. The workbook for the class includes the entire outline for one of his novels, so you can read through that and analyze the structure, but it would be helpful if he explained how to weave in subplots and similar techniques.
Which leaves me in a quandary. I was starting to think of this as a beginner’s class, but the assumptions and/or omissions in each lesson make me think beginners wouldn’t quite fit either. I suppose I’ll have to wait a few more weeks before deciding.