James Patterson has held a top position on the list of best-selling thriller writers for the better part of two decades, so I jumped at the chance to take his MasterClass, learn his secrets, and add to my thriller writer toolbox. You may be wondering if taking the class would be a good move for you. Stick around for my James Patterson MasterClass review and see what you think.
In this post, I’ll share my personal James Patterson MasterClass review, let you know what you can expect to gain from it, and give you an idea of the way the class works. I’ll also reveal what, for me, were the highlights and why you may (or may not) want to take the class yourself.
Before we get started, I want to be fully transparent and let you know that while I wasn’t paid to write this review, the links below are affiliate links. If you sign up for MasterClass, it will help me be able to keep writing (and help me continue sharing what I’ve learned about the writing process). Of course, this won’t affect your overall price, and it didn’t affect my decision on the course.
Take a look at James Patterson’s MasterClass here. Now, let’s jump in.
The multi-colored palette of a thriller writer
In order to write a great thriller, you need to draw upon all the skills of an accomplished writer in any genre . . . and then some. James Patterson’s books are billed in England as having pages that turn themselves. He has mastered those skills and shares the secrets of his success in a candid, accessible way that is easy to understand and possible to practice.
When I signed up for this class and started working on the lessons, I had just finished the manuscript for my latest thriller and put it in the hands of my advance reader team. Learning from James Patterson gave me the chance to reflect and to see how well I implemented the tools and concepts featured in the class, as well as helping me gear up for the next book.
What you get in James Patterson’s MasterClass
If you haven’t taken a MasterClass before, let me tell you about what you’ll get.
You’ll start out with a series of pre-recorded video sessions, in this case twenty-two videos adding up to over three hours of instruction. Be sure to download the PDF workbook which contains additional information, challenges to take your learning further, assignments, links to recorded critiques from James Patterson, and a place to keep your own notes.
You’ll also have access to an interactive community and the instructor’s “office hours,” which means you can submit questions, in either written or video form, and get an answer back. Maybe not from the man himself, but someone on the team will field your question.
And the Patterson class offers an additional piece that I found to be of particular interest: the outline he used to write the novel, Honeymoon.
Here’s a closer look at what’s inside the course:
1. James Patterson himself!
So, you get to sit back in a relaxed atmosphere and absorb writing wisdom from a top-notch professional in your chosen field. How great is that? Take notes, play it back, go at your own pace. More than once, I found myself laughing out loud and talking back, responding to a point he’d just made.
Patterson feels real and honest. He acknowledges his success—and his failures—in a way that makes you realize he’s an ordinary guy who used to be in the same place we are. Just starting out.
2. 22 Marvelous HD Video Lessons
I like how the lessons were filmed in various locations—a hotel room, a bar, a NYC apartment—and all very “real to life.” Street noise, a vacuum cleaner, glasses clinking in the background made me feel as if I were there, drinking it all in, part of the experience.
Here’s an outline of all the lessons:
- Passion + Habit
- Raw Ideas
- Outlines, Part 1
- Outlines, Part 2
- Writer’s Block
- Creating Characters
- First Lines
- Writing Dialogue
- Building a Chapter
- Writing Suspense
- Ending the Book
- Working with a Co-Author
- Getting published
- Book Titles and Covers
- Marketing the Patterson Way
- Personal Story
3. Downloadable PDF Workbook
The workbook is well-organized and full of useful information and little tidbits, as well as assignments that make for great practice. It starts with a section about James Patterson:
James Patterson was born in 1947 and raised in Newburgh, New York. He studied English at Vanderbilt University, and found work as a junior copywriter at the advertising agency, J Walter Thompson Co, where he devised the iconic slogan “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid.” While he became CEO and chairman of the company’s North American division in ’88 and ’90, James also pursued a career in novel writing. He found critical success with his ’76 book The Thomas Berryman Number, but it wasn’t until ’93 when he released Along Came a Spider that James met explosive commercial success. Today, he is the world’s best-selling author and holds the distinction of writing more #1 New York Times Best Sellers than any other writer in history. James has sold more than 300 million books worldwide and is characterized by unadorned prose, thrilling fast-paced plots, and bitesized chapters.
From there, the workbook provides an orientation for the class and explains how to make the best use of the Patterson MasterClass before breaking down each lesson and adding assignments and challenges.
At The Write Practice, we’re all about putting what we learn into action. That’s why it’s so great that each lesson in the MasterClass workbook comes with an assignment to help you practice and polish the skills you’re learning.
5. Office Hours + Class Interaction
In the Office Hours section, James Patterson sometimes plays the role of the jaded pressed-for-time editor to illustrate how important it is to hone your skills and polish your submission so that it grabs and holds reader attention. He critiques several of the assignments, giving credit where credit is due, but without pulling any punches.
And here’s a cool feature: you can submit your own question for consideration. You may choose to send in a video, or simply type it in. Opportunities for interaction with other students are also available in the discussion and comments areas. Sounds kind of like home, doesn’t it?
A few of my favorite things
- Learn how to outline effectively. I was thrilled to be totally simpatico with James Patterson on a couple of controversial issues. I was pleased to see the emphasis he puts on writing and using a proper outline, since that’s the way I work. “It’s not mechanical,” he says, “because that’s creative. That is a book. It is a book called an outline.” I agree. To me, outlining is where you craft the story and is the most creative part of the whole process.
- Imagine your ideal reader. I like how he counseled to write the story to a single person sitting across from you—someone who wants to be there, who wants to engage in a cat and mouse game, and whom you don’t want to get up and leave until the story is over. Keep the story tight, keep it engaging.
- Set the scene. He talks about “being there,” by which he means being in the scene, feeling it, using sensory detail and emotion to bring the reader right into the scene with you, and using only one POV per scene. He likes to use first person for his main character, like Alex Cross, and third person limited for the supporting characters.
- Suspense! Patterson reveals the secret to creating and keeping suspense in the story so those pages keep turning themselves.
- Learn the secret to the perfect ending. Patterson says his strategy for crafting a bang-up ending is worth the price of admission alone. I won’t give it away, but I will say that he makes it clear that getting the ending right is critical, and a few of his books feature alternate endings. He talked about the 2012 edition of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, which includes 39 of Hemingway’s 42 proposed endings.
- Get to know Patterson himself. I really enjoyed listening to Patterson’s personal story and his experiences with Hollywood. It was fun to get a glimpse into the beginnings and growth of his rise to success.
- Pay attention to the things you don’t know. Throughout the class, Patterson repeated the idea that it’s all well and good when he talks about something you’re already doing. It’s when he brings up the things you’re not doing that you should perk up your ears and give it your full attention and consideration.
- Find out if you’re willing to become an author. The class will help you make a determination whether or not you’re committed to investing the time and effort into pursuing a writing career.
Why the class may not be for you
- You’ll learn the secrets—but lose the mystery. If you treasure the mystique of a good thriller, some of the magic may dissipate when you get a look at the man behind the curtain. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Patterson admits this about readers: “I don’t think they’ll read books the same way again after listening to this.”
- It’s an intermediate/advanced class. The class assumes a certain level of proficiency before you begin, and goes beyond the basics. If you haven’t yet developed the fundamental tools of effective writing, you may want to brush up on those skills before investing in Patterson’s MasterClass.
- It’s not a classroom atmosphere. Some people prefer to learn in a classroom, getting direct interaction with the teacher and other students. The online format requires more self-discipline to get the assignments done because there’s no deadline and no grade. Also, getting feedback is a bit more complicated than simply raising your hand and asking a question.
- It might feel familiar. If you’ve taken writing classes before, you’re already aware of many of the things Patterson has to say. However, I think there are nuggets in here for everyone, expansions on concepts you already know, and inspiration to re-ignite the fire and help you forge ahead.
If you’re okay with that, though, then this class could be perfect for you. Sign up here or read on for my final review.
My review: Is James Patterson’s MasterClass for you?
Should you take James Patterson’s MasterClass? Go for it! I found the class tremendously fun, inspiring, and encouraging. I’m grateful to have gotten reminders about important aspects of the craft and new insights into other parts of the process that I hadn’t thought about or experienced.
Ready to take James Patterson’s MasterClass and learn the secrets to writing page-turning thrillers?
The lesson videos are awesome and the “office hours” videos are a great bonus and very instructive. The workbook helps tie everything together and gives you concrete steps for practicing and improving your writing abilities.
This class is for writers who want to grab readers and propel them through a satisfying cat-and-mouse puzzle of a story filled with suspense. It’s for writers who want to learn how to create a sense of “being there.” It’s for writers who want to deliver a thrilling story wrapped around compelling characters and keep the pages flipping.
If you’re that kind of writer, this class is for you!
Final verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed James Patterson’s MasterClass. It provided insight and inspiration, renewing and reinforcing my enthusiasm for the craft. I loved being able to see the outline for one of Patterson’s novels and get a peek at how he works. If you’re able to take the class, I recommend it. Sign up here.
Have you taken James Patterson’s MasterClass? What do you think of it? Let us know in the comments.
What a character chooses to tell you says something about that character. Always try to find the best character to “tell” each scene, the point of view that will provide the most thrilling perspective.
Here’s an exercise James Patterson mentioned in the lesson on building a chapter. Take a story in your life (what happened at the grocery store, or your parent-teacher conference, for example) and write it down. Then change the voice and write it again from that different perspective. Note the differences depending on point of view, and make sure to use details that are relevant to the character.