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S2/E4: David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing

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This week we’re reviewing our first class: David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing presented on the Master Class platform. It was first offered in June 2019.


Let me just say this before I say anything else about this class. David Baldacci just seems like a really, really nice person. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten around to reading any of his forty books, But like a lot of the sentient world walking around in 1997, I saw Absolute Power, the film based on his debut book of the same name. He’s done okay since, with more than $130 million in book sales worldwide.

I do read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, though I don’t tend to gravitate to the subject matters of a lot of David’s books (i.e. political intrigue, the CIA, the FBI). After this class, however, I will be looking for one to try. The effort, heart, and professionalism he puts into his craft is evident in the way he talks about his writing and the way he presents the information in this course.

This course has lessons on everything from mindset to craft to the business of writing. Included:

  1. 18 video lessons

  2. A 97-page class workbook with key points from the lessons and writing assignments to help you get the most out of the lessons

  3. Examples of his handwritten outlines for two of his books (both around 40 pages)

  4. A forum community (facilitated by Master Class staff) where you can interact with others taking the course

There’s a lot here, but like usual, I’m just here to give you a taste. Here are my…

Three Things

1 He spends two lessons discussing research methods and sources, which makes sense given his books are known for being very thoroughly researched and therefore pretty realistic. He urges you to get out there and talk to people, to walk the space whenever you can, etc. That being said, he reminds you to stop and actually write the story. Or as he says, “Research is fun; it’s hard work, too. No research is as hard as actually writing the story.” He now alternates writing and research rather than waiting until he has all the research he needs before starting. He commiserates, “I know it’s attractive to keep researching. It’s like being a permanent student…Just as a writer, realize that you have to…stop the research and write the book.” Research is important, but it can also be a siren’s call to endlessly prepare and procrastinate actually writing your book. (If you know me at all, you are laughing right now.)

2 Echoing last week’s episode, think of your relationship with your editor as a collaborative one, and not a combative one. Many times he’s had a situation where an editor pointed out something on say, page 48, that had him write something completely different on page 238 that the editor didn’t even mention. The other eyes make your story stronger. Remember, you both want the same thing: to create a great reading experience for your readers.

3 Nobody’s system is the same. You have to find the writing process that works for you. He has wildly successful author friends who write a certain number of days, pages, or hours every day. When they’ve crossed that finish line, they’re done for the day. No two days are alike for him. “They’re typical for being atypical.” Some days he writes zero words, some days four thousand. “When I sit down to write, I write until my tank is empty…I don’t really care about the quantity.”

More on that important subject:

“You all have to find the process that works for you. And you may go through multiple methods…You may change, down the road, having one process that worked for two or three years that worked great for you, then all of a sudden..y’know, let me try something else that might work better for me. David Baldacci in MasterClass: David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing

If you go straight through the lessons, this course will take you a little under four hours. Most lessons are around fifteen minutes are so. I have the MasterClass app on my phone and listened to it when I was doing other things and then went back to the accompanying workbook and sample materials later. Obviously, MasterClass is available anywhere you can get a web browser, and I have streamed MasterClasses to my computer, iPad, and TV before with great success.

*When you’re tempted to hang onto a story versus getting it out into the world, remind yourself that the world is waiting for that book and the next one and the next one. When you’re wondering when is the right time to let a book go, remind yourself of this fact. A career is built on books that are released out into the world, not trapped in your head or your desk drawer.

There are lots of other great writers on MasterClass you can check out, including:

  1. Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing

  2. Judy Blume Teaches Writing

  3. Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers

  4. Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

  5. Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling

  6. Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing

  7. David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing

  8. Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story

  9. James Patterson Teaches Writing

  10. Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

  11. David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor

  12. Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

  13. R.L. Stine Teaches Writing for Young Audiences

There are two ways to access a MasterClass.

  1. Individual classes cost $90 each and you have access to them forever.

  2. The all-access pass costs $180 annually ($15/month) and gives you access to every class. Other categories of classes besides writing include classes on film/television, music/entertainment, culinary arts, business/politics/society, sports/games, design/photography/fashion, science/technology, and lifestyle. It’s important to note that you don’t get access to them once you cancel your subscription.

Next week I’ll be reviewing another class for this series. I’ll be offering up three concepts and a hack from Jessica Brody’s “Productivity Hacks for Writers” class in her “Writing Mastery” series on

Until then. . .

Happy writing, people!

#ClassReview #Mystery

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