Author James Rollins shares writing tips at California Writers Club luncheon–and I was there

September 26, 2013

It’s not every day that the best selling author of some 30 international thrillers reveals the contents of his writer’s toolbox with the likes of me—a first-time YA novelist of limited renown.

But that’s exactly what happened last weekend.

The author is James Rollins, and the truth is that he shared a few of his success secrets with a house full of fans and writers during the monthly luncheon of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch, CWC.


It was a wonderful author presentation, and Rollins’ tips were solid. So much so, that I decided to share them with you. For ease and consistency, I’ve used the pronoun “he” to connote the hero of the story, as did Rollins. No affront intended to those of us who write about female protagonists.


Creating memorable characters

  •  Make your hero bigger than life; he must do what we don’t or can’t.
  •   He shouldn’t be perfect. Give him a flaw or foible.
  •  Your hero should be kind to animals, children and old people.
  •  Make him good at what he does. Examples: Dr. House in “House” and
  • Mr. White in “Breaking   Bad.”
  •  Others should like your main character. He should return that affection.
  •  Give your hero an underdog aspect. Combine sympathetic characteristics
  • with those that are unsympathetic.
  •  Your main character’s major desire must be thwarted.
  •  In other words, establish your character’s goal and then torture him. 
  • (Yep, Rollins  said this. It was good for a hearty laugh.)
  • Your hero must take active steps towards achieving his goal. No acts of God.

Note: Give your antagonist the same characteristics or qualities your hero has but in lesser degrees.


A few words of wisdom

  • Your first line is important, but don’t make it overly dramatic.
  • It must pique the reader’s interest and raise a question in his or her mind.
  • The rest of the story must build from that line.
  • The first five pages are crucial to your story. Use all five senses. Evoke emotion.
  • Your first 25 pages will make or break you.


From Rollins’ latest novel

When I read Rollins’ most recent novel The Eye of God (William Morrow), I was impressed by how closely he follows his own advice. His opening line:


The king died too slowly atop his wedding bed.


Now that’s a hook.  His following lines did not disappoint.


 The assassin knelt over him. The daughter of a Burgundy prince, she was the seventh wife, newly wed the night prior, bound to this barbarian lord by force of marriage and intrigue.


The story builds artfully and with great suspense from there.


Rollins ends his prologue at page six in keeping with making your first five pages compelling enough that readers, including potential publishers, want more. He ends a subsequent chapter at page 26, making it the perfect break for sending to agents and other interested parties.


Words to write by

Rollins says that when editors proclaim, “Give me something I’ve never seen before.” It’s not true. If you do, they will say, “I don’t know how to market this!” He advises writers not to chase the market, to follow your passion and to keep your writing fresh.

I’m impressed by Rollin’s generosity, sharing with us what he has learned during his illustrious career. In addition, I’m grateful to the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch, for consistently providing speakers the caliber of James Rollins.

For a list of Rollins’ novels, visit his site here.

2 Responses to Author James Rollins shares writing tips at California Writers Club luncheon–and I was there

  • Thank you, Jo, for sharing James Rollins tips. I heard him speak once and found him very personable as well as talented. His books are amazing. Wish I could have been there.

  • It’s great having Rollins live close enough to be available for appearances. Thanks for checking in, Margaret. I know you have just published your own novel and are quite busy at the moment.

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