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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. What it’s like to be transported to a parallel universe of incandescent vision through your own small words.
    2. How it feels to unravel the mystery of all human endeavor into a web of light that pulses delicately in your hands.
    3. Everything about your main characters’ childhoods, which were so poignant and heart-rending and touching but don’t fit into the story you have to tell today.
    4. What’s in the shadows of your protagonist’s heart that makes them gesture so gracefully, lie so effectively, turn their head with such sudden tenderness.
    5. Where your villain has been to make them burn so deeply, grasp so strongly, care so powerfully about destroying everything that’s ever been against them.
    6. What really happens when the secondary characters go in the other room while the protagonist is watching out the window for the villain.
    7. What hilarious jokes those secondary characters are telling in the background during the pivotal bar scene.
    8. All the subtle, complex minor subplots going on between the secondary characters that would only distract your reader from following with bated breath your protagonist’s driving agenda.
    9. What every single detail of every single room in every apartment or house looks like, down to the patterns on the upholstery and the type of wood the coffee table is make out of.
    10. Your protagonist’s favorite books and movies.
    11. Your villain’s favorite books and movies.
    12. What great clothes your protagonist is wearing in every scene. AND where they got them.
    13. What your villain knows about hatred and malice that you wish you didn’t know and will never actually admit to.
    14. Exactly how—although it would disrupt your reader’s epiphany for you to spell it out in so many words—your protagonist and villain understand each other in the final moment, when they face each other across the abyss of their irreconcilable differences.
    15. What lies beyond the hill in that panoramic view in front of which your characters enact their mesmerizing climactic scene.
    16. How their dark figures against that view epitomize everything you know and feel and believe about the vividness of living.
    17. What your protagonist means when they say, “I’ll just let you wonder.”
    18. What your villain means when they say, “I don’t have to.”
    19. Where your characters go when they walk off the last page.
    20. Exactly how your protagonist felt before it all fell apart, when they were lying in the arms of your own imaginary beloved.
    21. Where your villain hid the steak knives.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    17 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Let’s talk about querying. Because I found a great piece on querying the other day while investigating an agency with which one of my clients is in talks, Folio Literary Management.

    You’ve all read this advice before (although Mr. Kleinman’s is particularly well-written). So why is it that when you send out your own meticulously-researched and -crafted queries, you always wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night immediately afterward, realizing you’ve committed one of these unpardonable sins?

    Why does the universe hate you so?

    1. You addressed your query to the wrong agent.

      Spelled it correctly. Wrote it in your best cursive on the envelope (you should probably get an award for that calligraphy). Made sure they represent your genre. Then stuck the wrong letter in the wrong envelope and—voila!—mailed that sucker off.

      And you can’t dash down and try to get it back out of the mailbox, because you have a friend who did that once and found out (guess what?) it’s illegal. At least that’s what the cop said.

      Hi. I’m not Agent X. I’m Agent Y, X’s worst enemy.

      Just so you know, X hates you. In fact, X is spreading the word in the agent community that you have a communicable disease that travels with your queries. This means agents don’t just reject your queries. They don’t even just throw them away. They carry them into the backyard at the end of long tongs and torch them in an exorcism ceremony.

      I apologize on behalf of X and wish you well in your endeavors. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
    2. You misspelled significant words.

      Including the agent’s name, the name of the author to which you would like to be compared, and “representation.”

      Dear Writer: I’m afraid I don’t “repersant” anyone. But I bet you could get a job at Home Despot. All best.

    3. You spent so many hours writing and rewriting the central paragraph about your novel it now reads like some kind of disjointed dystopian fantasy about gnomes and Humphrey Bogart.

      Even YOU would fling this one off you like a bug.

      Dear Whoever-the-Heck-You-Are: Good luck and all that, but you might want to come out of your cave and have a conversation with a real human being at least once before you try to launch yourself into the field of simultaneous communication with thousands of strangers. Regards.

    4. You forgot the SASE.

      It’s okay. I wasn’t going to respond to you, anyway.
    5. You claimed to have been published, not in the New York Times “Letters to the Editor Department,” but in The New Yorker.

      Honest-to-god, it looked like the New York Times “Letters to the Editor Department” every single time you proofed it.

      Dear Anonymous in Albuquerque: Yeah. The New Yorker‘s never heard of you. I guess their records are pretty slip-shod. Ciao, baby.
    6. You forgot to mention either the title or wordcount of your novel.

      How did this get by you? Were you ASLEEP?

      Dear Yoo-hoo: It’s a fascinating idea, and it sounds like you’re capable of writing really amazing, mesmerizing prose. If you ever get around to writing that thing, you know, you should probably query someone with it.

      Not us.
    7. You misspelled your own name.

      Fortunately—this one’s salvageable. Just hie yourself on down to the courthouse and legally change it. No one will ever know.

    (Also check out this excellent piece on writing a synopsis from James Scott Bell.)

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    6 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    You know what’s hard? Sitting at your desk day in and day out, month after month, year after year, trying to come up with fresh and significant angles on life in an imaginary world. After awhile it seems like every character you create spends all their time flipping through random papers, looking under books, and trolling the blogosphere. (Garrison Keillor once said the characters in his first novel spent all their time smoking cigarettes and looking out windows.)

    Get up! Go out in the world. Your characters are living there. Go look for them.

    1. On a high ladder.

      This is how your characters feel when they have to do something they don’t want to do.

      How do YOU feel? What’s under your hands? Under your feet? In your stomach? Between your ears? Ask yourself what it would feel like if you let go. Then ask yourself what it would feel like if you let go and your foot got caught.

      That’s what happens to your characters after they’ve done what they didn’t want to do.
    2. In an advanced physics class.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re in a conversation they can’t control.

      What are you thinking? What is the person next to you thinking? What is the teacher thinking about you? Ask yourself how you’d teach this class if you were a genius. Then ask yourself what you’d do if the teacher told you to take over with the brain you’ve got.

      That’s what happens to your characters when they have to speak.
    3. In a cold bath.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re waiting.

      What’s your body doing? What’s your skin doing? What’s your brain doing? Ask yourself what would happen if you never got out. Then ask yourself what would happen if your mortal enemy got in with you.

      That’s what happens to your characters when they stop waiting.
    4. In a room full of boxes.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re facing strangers.

      What are your lungs doing? What is your scalp doing? What’s the first thing that flashes through your mind? Ask yourself what’s in these boxes that you’ve forgotten about. Then ask yourself what you’re going to do when you’ve got them all opened and the contents everywhere and you don’t know how to put it all back away.

      That’s what happens to your characters at the end of the scene with the strangers.
    5. Under the sink working on plumbing.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re trying to break through a stonewall.

      How do your muscles feel? How does your spine feel? How do the synapses that are supposed to get you out of this pickle feel? Ask yourself what it would take to get someone else to do this. Then ask yourself what you’re going to say to the person with the gun when you crawl out and explain why you quit.

      That’s what happens to your characters when they break through the stonewall.
    6. On a bridge over a moving ship.

      This is how your characters feel when they have a chance to get something they desperately need.

      What do your legs want to do? What do your arms want to do? What does your neck want to do? Ask yourself how it would feel to throw yourself off the bridge onto the ship. Then ask yourself how it would feel to miss.

      That’s what happens to your characters when they go for the chance.
    7. In an airplane bathroom.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re spying on someone.

      How cramped are you? How twisted can you get? How does the privacy feel compared to being out there with everyone else? Ask yourself what it would be like to go down the drain and fall through the sky. Then ask yourself what it would be like to get stuck.

      That’s what happens to your characters when footsteps head their way.
    8. In the open trunk of a car.

      This is how your characters feel when they’re about to die.

      How do your eyeballs feel? How do your palms feel? When was the last time you used the bathroom? Ask yourself how it would feel if someone slammed the trunk lid closed. Then ask yourself what it would be like to wake up still in the closed trunk.

      That’s what happens to your characters at the moment of death.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    8 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. If you’ve got a love story, bring in a third party.
    2. If you’ve got a thriller, break their tools.
    3. If you’ve got sci fi, create unexpected social norms.
    4. If you’ve got a fantasy, make reality too hard to cope with.
    5. If you’ve got historical fiction, unearth facts no one from this era would know.
    6. If you’ve got a mystery, kill off your informants.
    7. If you’ve got horror, use prosaic details.
    8. If you’ve got an adventure, put your protagonist’s life in danger. And everyone else’s.
    9. If you’ve got comedy, add a touch of poignancy.
    10. If you’ve got YA, give your protagonist a dry sense of humor.
    11. If you’ve got MG, add random non sequiturs to the dialog.
    12. If you’ve got a picture book, make sure your illustrator is the very best.
    13. If you’ve got literary fiction, make sure your editor is the very best.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    9 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Wow, is it fun to work in fiction!

    In 2009 I launched my editing business and began work with my first fiction clients, my brain literally exploding with everything I wanted to say about fiction.

    acw-fiction-cover-600x900At that time, my husband had already sat through 11 years of animated dinner-table conversation on the subject. He’s the one who suggested that I start a business.

    I wonder why?

    I was still burbling with fiction—constantly, all day and night—so I sat down to write my first book on writing:

    Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    I thought I would cover everything. It would be the ultimate book on writing and being a writer. . .with jokes! We created La Favorita Press, with a logo based upon an old 1899 bullfighting advertisement that my parents found in an hacienda in Ecuador in 1972.

    And in 2010, we published Fiction.

    acw-stories-cover-600x900However, I hadn’t gotten very far into writing Fiction before I’d realized that I would not have room to cover everything. So I went right back to work writing a follow-up:

    Art & Craft of Writing Stories

    There was still so much to say about storytelling! So much to say about plot structure and character design! There was still so much to say about how plot grows out of character through very specific organic steps, like a plant growing leaves or an animal growing organs. So much to say about language.

    There was also—which will be news to none of you—so much to say about those twin occupational hazards: revision and despair. Revision. And despair. So I wrote about those, too. But again. . .I added jokes.

    And a year later, in 2011, we published Stories.

    Then last year, in 2015, I began studying Nick Stephenson’s system for self-publishing serial books. I’d been watching the self-pub industry evolve for six years. It worked decently for nonfiction—such as my own books—but it was an absolute mosh-pit of fiction. And Nick is teaching how all that is now changing.

    His system is simple (although you need to see his three free videos to actually do it properly):

    1. Write and polish the best book you possibly can
    2. Self-publish it
    3. Give it away permafree

    Unfortunately, both Fiction and Stories ring it at close to 400 pages apiece, so I wasn’t going to give away either of those permafree.

    acw-secret-cover-600x900Fortunately, however, I have years’ worth of material about fiction on this blog. Even more fortunately, the posts that have gone (in their own modest way) viral are buried and therefore invisible to loyal readers.

    This meant that I could unearth those posts and make them easily-available. And give them away. Permafree.

    So in 2015, I collected my ten most-viewed posts (plus a bonus that I wrote just for the book) in a new slim volume:

    Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers

    And we published Secret.

    FREE.

    But there’s more!

    Because your permafree book is the portal to your mailing list, where your loyal readers get notifications of everything else that you publish in your series, a list for which they must voluntarily sign-up because—you know—they want that stuff. And for this to work, you need to do the whole process all over again:

    1. Write and polish another of the best books you possibly can
    2. Self-publish it
    3. Give it away free

    The difference is this: it’s not permafree. It’s for sale. But whenever someone voluntarily signs up for your mailing list, they get it.

    FREE.

    acw-favorite-cover-600x900So I also collected another batch of special posts, those that I’ve written for other blogs in the online writing community, into another slim volume:

    Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers

    And we published Favorite.

    And while there are, this time, fourteen posts, four of them had been posted on a single blog: Writer Unboxed.

    Because I love Therese Walsh, who manages Writer Unboxed. When she had the Writer Inboxed newsletter a few years ago, I wrote a monthly editorial column, Ask Victoria, opposite the agent column, Ask Chuck, by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. I was even slated to become a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed after that, although my editing business got too busy and I had to bow out. Therese and I are still friends. She’s a love.

    And this is where you come in: you can get both Secret and Favorite

    FREE.

    Just click to download Secret and sign up for the email list through the link inside to get Favorite.

    Right here:

    la-favorita-square

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Today I’m sending you all on over to another one of my most-viewed blog posts:

    8 Ways NOT to Describe Your Main Character

    Although StumbleUpon only shows around 800 views, that’s because we didn’t add the StumbleUpon button until after 8 Ways had already cut its swath through the StumbleUpon crowd. In fact, that darn post has garnered thousands of readers, all hoping—I strongly suspect—they weren’t going to find their own protagonists in that post.

    They probably didn’t.

    But this does show us that it’s simply amazing how many people want to know what they’re doing wrong.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    omg-its-amy3

    I’m very happy to post this guest essay by the curiously refreshing Amy Carey, author of numerous articles on parenting, fitness, travel, and health:

    I used to think writer’s block was a myth. Maybe writers got distracted or felt uninspired, but certainly they weren’t unable to write.

    Then, for several months last spring and summer, I found myself approaching my laptop with every intention of finally producing a sentence, only to spend the next twenty minutes glaring at a blank Google Doc. Every time I attempted to get something down—even a blog post or an idea for an article—I would eventually wander away, having typed nothing. My belief in writer’s block was cemented after only a couple of weeks of drumming my fingers on my desk and yanking my hair out, strand by strand.

    I finally broke through my block one October, when, desperate to get the words flowing, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (with little intention of completing the challenge; who can average over 1,500 words a day for an entire month?). I wasn’t even going to tell anyone about it.

    Low expectations aside, I immediately found myself writing. And talking about writing. And blogging about writing. By the end of November, I had a lump of 50,000 words. The challenge of NaNoWriMo—I hate to lose—along with the novelty of writing fiction, something I haven’t done much since high school, fueled me through the month and a bit beyond.

    Completing NaNoWriMo built my confidence as a writer; I could power through those nights when I felt less like writing and more like swigging wine while reading blogs. But the experience didn’t cure my writer’s block for life. I continue to struggle—sometimes daily—with putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When I do, my inner writing coach spurs me on with a few suggestions for working through the block.

    * Write something else

    Whatever it is that you’re trying to write, it obviously isn’t working. Go a different way. Start a new blog, write a sappy scene for a romance novel, document how to cook cashew chicken. After you get some momentum going, if you must go back to whatever it was you were trying to write, maybe the words will flow more easily.

    * Don’t think ahead

    Put aside any thoughts about, “Who is going to read this?” or “Where is this going?” Wondering who will buy the essay you’ve just started or about all the obstacles that stand between you and getting a novel published only encourages writer’s block. For now, focus on getting something written.

    * Change your venue

    If your brain goes into hibernation at the sight of a blank page in Microsoft Word, buy a composition book and write freehand for a while. Or if sitting on the couch with your laptop inspires you to do little more than play Bejeweled and watch American Idol, go to another room or leave the house altogether.

    * Take on a challenge

    Don’t simply promise yourself that you’ll write for 30 minutes every night. Instead, find a writing contest to enter, compete with a friend toward a measurable goal, or at the very least, set a timer and write as many words as you can in a short amount of time.

    * Deny your inner perfectionist

    When every sentence seems to be coming out wrong, just keep going. You can fix it tomorrow. And for the love of god, turn off the spell checker.

    Amy Carey is a full-time writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been selling freelance articles since 2000, inspired by her children, what she reads, and where she goes. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health and Fitness, Baby Years, iParenting.com, and Bay Area Parent. Amy is also an experienced technical writer who specializes in software documentation for end users and developers. She is a survivor of NaNoWriMo 2008. Check out her website at: http://www.amycarey.net/

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    3 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    I am very pleased to post this essay by my friend Lucia Orth, author of the 2008 critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop:

    I came across some old notes in the past few weeks from an interview and the follow-up research I did while working on the early stages of my first novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime.

    I had the title of the novel and the main character, Doming, but I didn’t yet have a feel for the other main character, Rue Caldwell. Her name, to her, does not mean “to rue” as in to feel sorrow, but rather—as noted in the novel—the plant “rue,” also known as the “herb of grace.” (Thank you, Oxford English Dictionary, always a source of evocative connections.)

    In thinking about my years in Manila, I remembered an entomologist I’d met there. Insects! But, of course. As a child I loved insects and had no fear of them. In Manila I’d shown my own toddlers the rhinoceros beetle and the giant atlas moth, both found on our lanai.

    Rue’s occupation would be biologist/botanist, now specializing in rice pests (rice being the basic food of the Philippines). Through common friends, I tracked the entomologist I’d met in Manila down to Washington, D.C., and out of the blue I called him. Why? I just wanted to talk to someone who’d lived in the Philippines, traveled the country—someone who knew its biology and botany.

    “Yes, there’s a lot a biologist might do there. The most important issue right now is a moth, the yellow stem borer, completely undistinguished, that’s the leading cause of blight. It drills into the hollow stem at the egg-laying stage. There’s no damage shown on the outside, but also no yield, as it severs the growing part.”

    “Hmm,” I think, “stem borer, interesting word…cuts off the growth.”

    “So instead of green on the inside, when we cut the stems open we see brown.”

    Beat. Wow, I’m thinking.

    “This damage is called deadheart,” he says.

    He didn’t understand my audible gasp of realization. I had just glimpsed not only Rue’s occupation, but also a sense of who she was, where she came from, and the rest of what the novel might be. I began to understand how she would perceive things, how she would rely on logic, what she would notice, and how, although she could look through her microscope and see the “enemy,” she could not examine her own heart, nor would she look closely at the heart of the country—the Philippines.

    Her work would become both her anchor and her way of seeing the world.

    There have been other times in writing when I’ve found a word—especially from science or nature—that provided a new insight: the transgressive sea (a term from geology) and scotobiology, the biology of darkness. I’ve used both these words in essays. But the word deadheart, and all that it came to mean, stands out as the discovery (other than the title) that gave me the novel Baby Jesus Pawn Shop.

    No reading is useless to the writer—it’s all discovery: science magazines, the dictionary, the newspaper. As Robert Olen Butler said in a workshop I took with him years ago, quoting Henry James, “A writer is one on whom nothing is wasted.”

    From the New World Encyclopedia:

    Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Insects are arthropods (phylum Arthropoda) belonging to the Class Insecta. With around 925,000 described species, insects comprise the most numerous and diverse group of animals, representing more than half (about 57 percent) of all identified animal species, and date back about 400 million years. It is a specialty within the field of biology.

    Lucia Orth-BW-96Lucia Orth worked for a non-profit organization in Manila for five years and now teaches law in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She spent spring semester of 2009 working in Trento, Italy and presented a writing workshop on “Placing Your Story” at the Writers Garret in Dallas, Texas, on June 20, 2009.

    Departure,” an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, was published in the Asia Literary Review, (Winter 2008, Hong Kong). She is also a contributor to the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, Andrea N. Richesin, editor (April 2009). Lucia can be reached through her website.

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    3 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    budmancover22I’m happy to post this guest essay by the insightful Mark Budman, author of My Life at First Try:

    English is a second language for me. I learned it as an adult.

    The accident of birth and immigration is both a curse and a blessing, but “blessed is the one who is cursed.”

    For example, I struggled with the first sentence of this paragraph. Should it be “the second language” or “a second language”? My first language, Russian, has no articles.

    On the other hand, my bilingual-ness gives me the ability to come up with an unexpected turn of phrase.  Words that are so familiar to the English speaker take on a new meaning to me. I play with them as a child, savoring every syllable.  I twist them, I may even break them, but most times I assemble them into something original and powerful. The end result of the accident of birth is the power of the unexpected and the originality of an outsider.

    When I step away from the English language, I get a foreigner’s view that helps me to navigate the intricate labyrinth of creative writing. Yet, as I mentioned before, I have a harder time fighting the Minotaur of grammar. And clichés—they might sound fresh to me—therein lies another danger. So no matter how long I have been immersed in the sea of English, I’m still a newbie.

    A newbie who yearns and perceives and perseveres.

    Mark Budman’s work appears in Weird Tales, Mississippi  Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, and the WW Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review and co-editor of both the anthology You Have Time For This from Ooligan Press and a Young Adult flash fiction anthology from Persea Books in 2009. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press in November, 2008. http://markbudman.net

    Subscribe:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    1 Comment
  • By Victoria Mixon

    I used to listen to the radio so much I actually played it all night while I slept when I was a teenager. Then I stopped for about thirty-five years and just started again this past weekend when it occurred to me it’s a really easy way to listen to music without getting up and changing the CD all the time.

    So I was listening one day when I found myself in the middle of the most wonderful interview with Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter responsible for A Few Good Men, Social Network, and West Wing.

    Sorkin was promoting his new television drama called The Newsroom on HBO, starring Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels.

    And I’ll tell you, although I haven’t watched television in fifteen years, after listening to Sorkin talk about writing and storytelling and the work he does I am ready to watch that darn show.

    Sorkin speaks so intelligently and so beautifully about our craft:

    1. dialog

      “I love the sound of dialog. It’s like music to me. David Mamet is the master of writing two people communicating who don’t know how to communicate. I like to take characters who are hyper-articulate and see what happens when you give them a silence when they can’t think of what to say.”

    2. action

      “In A Few Good Men I had Tom Cruise driving along and pull over to pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated. He pulls over, hops out, buys the magazine, and hops back in again. That’s about as active as my action scenes get.”

    3. complex character

      “Don’t confuse me with my characters. I have never in my life written autobiographical.”

      This isn’t Sorkin speaking about himself below: this is a character he created. Study how much contrast, backstory, and information he’s packed into a single line:

      ‘I’m a registered Republican—I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.’—Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, protagonist of The Newsroom

    4. reader investment

      “In thinking about writing a show about the news, I didn’t want to invent catastrophes for my characters to cover. It finally hit me I could use recent news events. That way the audience knows more about what’s happening than the characters, and I can use that leverage.

      “The audience wants to yell at the screen, ‘I know how this is going to turn out! Pay attention!‘”

    5. conflict

      “I have people surrounding me who help me find the point of conflict in a scene: the information, be it the BP oil spill or immigrations.”

    6. theme

      “I like to show that it’s okay to be alone in a big city if you can find a workplace family.

      “And I like heroes who don’t wear disguises in the real world.

      “You think, ‘Why can’t that be the real world?'”

    7. reader sympathy

      “We connect to people who are trying. And we connect a lot to people who are failing a lot. Because that’s what we do.”

    Suddenly, I love Aaron Sorkin.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m probably misquoting him like crazy because I listened to this instead of reading it, but you can get the real quotes from the NPR interview transcript.

    2nd DISCLAIMER: When I worked in offices in the old days, maybe it was just us, but we never french-kissed on the public stairs. We took long lunch hours like civilized people.

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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