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James Patterson on writing: Plotting, research, and first drafts
The best-selling author tells us his methods.
James Patterson is the world's bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, Max Einstein, the Women's Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson's writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn't like to read," only people who haven't found the right book. He's given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.
James Patterson: I think outlines are hugely important for almost anything you do – probably not everything but almost everything. Certainly writing novels that are nonfiction; I think writing speeches, same thing writing essays, writing letters. And it always comes down to what's your big idea? What's the point of the thing? What's the focus of it? And then what are the points the many points that you want to make? And then what's an order that makes sense?
And you start putting down points you might have a hundred points and you might decide here are the ten that I'm going to concentrate that really make this a powerful story. And I just think pretty much anything you do it's going to be better if you outline it first, most anything. And people don't do it as much now because that first draft stuff. I think first drafts are insulting for the most part. And you're always getting them and they're like semi incoherent, full of spelling – well, spellcheck fixes that – bad grammar. The whole, you know, you're reading this going like really? Did this person graduate from high school? People do that now. I think a second draft is a good idea, especially if you're doing it to a boss. You're talking to your boss, let your boss see how smart you are not how sloppy you are.
When I'm writing a book I'll do three or four or five versions of the outline. That's it that's the book. I mean you read one of my outlines you've kind of read the book. Now it may change a lot and it will change because certain characters get more interesting than I thought they were going to be, as I'm writing certain chapters I'll go oh I wanted to go another way so I'll make a shift and suddenly things will go in a way that I wasn't originally planning it to be. I almost never the ending and the outline it's almost never the ending. For whatever reason by the time I get there I want to do something different.
I try to get as close to the bone as I can get. What's the core idea? What drives this scene? And I want to do it in a paragraph really because if you start doing chapter 1 and you wrote two pages of outline it's already all over the lot. I mean seriously you can get all that shit in that first chapter? And you can do it in certain kinds of narratives, but not if it's a scene.
And another thing, I think that people do a lot in fiction and nonfiction and so they'll go out and they'll research and then they just dump the research. You can almost feel it. It's supposed to be some scene where it's a romantic scene where someone is going to propose to the other person in Saint Patrick's Cathedral but they've done a lot of research so it's supposed to be a very romantic scene but they dump like three pages of it was built in such and such. Stop! That's not supposed to be in here because it's supposed to be a romantic scene.
- James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
- He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
- James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
The President Is Missing: A NovelList Price: $30.00New From: $9.99 in StockUsed From: $6.01 in Stock
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.
- Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
- More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
- SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]<p>Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.</p><p>Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.</p>