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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. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. 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. . .


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. . .


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 multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise 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 has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses 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 second novel 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. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


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

  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking this month about instantaneous ways to improve craft—because, as Carrie Fisher says, “Instant gratification takes too long.” We’ve talked about 2 Tricks to Breaking Writer’s Block in One Day. And 3 Tricks to Increasing Tension in One Day.

    Now let’s talk about how you can use your own life to improve your fiction. . .in one day.

    1. What do you most want?

      Protagonists are people who want.

      And when you’re talking about characters who want things badly enough to keep readers intrigued for 300 pages, you’d better know those characters inside and out. In fact—you’d better know them as well as you know yourself.

      Know what drives you through life. That’s the best drive to give your protagonists.

      Most of the great writers wrote the same character over and over again under different names, in different plots, throughout their lives. Those particular characters have the motivations those particular writers understand. Deeply. Profoundly. In the magnificent, complex manner necessary to write about it.

      Raymond Chandler wrote a whole series of characters exactly like Phillip Marlowe before he finally settled on the name, career, and face of Marlowe.

    2. Why can’t you have it?

      What the hell is wrong with you?

      That’s what the hell is wrong with your protagonist.

      And don’t mistake this to mean it’s something outside of you. Of course you’re strapped for cash, tied to a job, inevitably tethered to the need to make a living. But your need to survive lives inside you. And that’s an excellent need to impose upon a protagonist.

      You’re also desperate for love and understanding, lonely, frustrated, trapped alone in a tormented little skull without the skills or confidence to survive what you have to do just to survive. That’s also all going on inside you. Another excellent need.

      Why do you think so many books are built around protagonists torn between a fight to stay alive and the need to be loved?

      Even Pride and Prejudice—with Austen’s pivotal exploration of entailment and the precarious futures of disinherited young gentlewomen—is about nothing but love and survival.

    3. How are you buying into this?

      Make no mistake about it: you are.

      And that’s what makes you interesting. Otherwise, you’re just a blob.

      That’s what makes your protagonist interesting, too. Internal conflict. How are they buying into their own nightmare? What inside them keeps them strung up on their own self-made scaffold? What makes them kick? What makes them kick over the chair?

      If you’re not interested enough in human nature to sink to this level of self-examination, to bare your chest to the elements, to admit to this severe of self-sabotage (and you have it—we all do), you’re simply not tough enough to write fiction.

      Emily Bronte exposed her guts in Wuthering Heights. Self-loathing doesn’t get any more fascinating than that.

    4. What would force you to choose?

      Because eventually you’re going to choose.

      In your life. And in your fiction.

      This is what readers read for: what do you choose when you can’t have it both ways? How do you make sense of a life that is, in the final hour, senseless?

      Everyone reads to learn how life makes sense. You’re here to drag the ultimate nightmare—what if life doesn’t make sense?—out into the light and reveal it for what it really is: angel or devil, creation or destruction, incandescent hope or crippling despair.

      Nothing less.

    NEXT WEEK: 1 Secret Trick to Becoming a Genius Writer in One Day

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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

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I love the idea that so much of learning to write well starts the instant you learn it. What a fabulous craft! Last week we learned 2 Tricks for Breaking Writer’s Block in One Day. Now for the rest of the month we’ll be talking about other tricks that also work in one day.

    We’re always hearing about how we need to increase the tension in our stories, how we need to get ahold of the reader by the lapels and never let go.

    But how?

    1. Curiosity

      Don’t answer your questions the minute you ask them.

      Give the reader time to wonder. Who is that suspicious character? Why are they involved with your protagonist? Why is your protagonist reacting the way they’re reacting?

      You’re constructing a puzzle, and the reader keeps turning pages to collect the clues and discover whether or not they’ve solved it correctly.

      Patricia Highsmith began The Talented Mr. Ripley—about a man who drifts into murder for the sake of wealth and a new identity—with a scene in which Tom Ripley scurries down a busy street escaping in great distress a man obviously following him, who Tom believes is a police officer sent to bust him for one of his confidence tricks. He’s not from the police, it turns out. In fact he doesn’t mean Tom harm at all. He’s just desperate to offer Tom the opportunity of a lifetime.

    2. Cutting

      Don’t let your final draft ramble.

      Far too many aspiring writers write and write and write and forget to revise out the standard 75%. Go ahead and write everything you can discover about any given scene, but then go back later and cut everything you possibly can—almost all exposition, every possible dialog tag (especially internal dialog), every single extraneous scrap (choose one action instead of two or three, one line of dialog instead of back-&-forth, one pivotal descriptive detail). Cut scenes. Cut paragraphs. Cut sentences, phrases, individual words. Trim it down to the lean, mean bones.

      James M. Cain packed so much into so few, simple words that his classic novels The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity read like explosions.

    3. Contradiction

      Don’t let your stories lie flat.

      Toss them like hot potatoes from one plotline to another. Now we’re startled. Now we’re entranced! Now we’re scared. Now we’re intrigued! Now we’re freaked out of our seats. Now we’re flying high. . .

      Zane Grey, the granddaddy of all great adventure stories—from which sprang such modern post-apocalyptic blockbusters as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—wove double plotlines through his novels so thickly the reader is forced to let go the reins early on, so they wind up airborne without either wings or parachute by the end of the Hook.

    And that’s where you want your reader: in the air, out of control, completely possessed by an ungovernable urge to discover what on earth your story is all about.

    NEXT WEEK: 4 Tricks for Improving Your Fiction in One Day

    FINALLY: 1 Secret Trick to Becoming a Genius Writer in One Day

    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

    We’re going to spend this month talking about tricks of the trade that work in one day. There are a lot of them, and with all of us struggling to juggle work, family, social life, and writing (plus all that time we wind up paying attention to marketers to whom we don’t even want to pay attention). . .we need ’em.

    This is all because last week I ran into to a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile who’s writing a memoir. I asked her how things were going. We talked a bit about a time a couple of years when she’d told me she was having a lot of trouble with it—she couldn’t make herself write a particular incident she needed to write.

    She’d asked me if I had any advice: did she need a class? a group? a coach?

    Now, I do this kind of work with writers all the time, helping them write what they need to write when they need to write it, so, yeah, I had some advice for her.

    And I’ll give it to you too, in case you’re ever up against a similar block.

    Groups and classes can help if all you need is a little peer pressure to get yourself in gear, but they can make it worse if you’re really struggling with an emotional block and find yourself embarrassed to be unable to break through, especially in front of others. So before you invest in anything try these two tricks:

    1. Permission

      Give yourself permission to pause and write about this issue whenever it strikes you, even if it’s only a line or two between work projects that you can go back to and develop later.

    2. Details

      Whenever you do have a chunk of time in which you’d like to write, focus first on recording some concrete, neutral, unrelated details—what you had for lunch, the view from where you’re sitting, some conversation you had recently—to kind of grease the writing wheels so the words will come out of you more easily.

    Frequently it’s the effort to make two transitions at once (the transition into writing mode plus the transition into a safe emotional space) that can cause this kind of writer’s block, and it helps to take them one at a time.

    Remember: you’re writing what you write not to bind yourself ever-more tightly in your painful emotional paralysis, but to free yourself so you can live this one life you get as fully as humanly possible.

    NEXT WEEK: 3 Tricks for Increasing the Tension in Your Story in One Day

    THE WEEK AFTER: 4 Tricks for Improving Your Fiction in One Day

    FINALLY: 1 Secret Trick to Becoming a Genius Writer in 1 Day

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

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    And now that we’ve plotted wrong, characterized wrong, and written wrong. . .let’s talk about how to sit down with that baby and revise it wrong.

    1. Be obsessed with letting your language ‘breathe’

    2. This is code for: “Be unwilling to revise anything but inexcusable errors and typos.” This is because you must trust, you must trust in the process (didn’t your Discount Life Coach tell you that only last week?), you must understand that those words in that order in those sentences came out of you by Divine Inspiration and cannot be tampered with without losing their ‘freshness’ and ‘spark.’

      ‘Freshness’ and ‘spark’ being code for: “Accidentally getting it right.” Because you don’t actually have a clue what you’re doing.

      Experience? Practice? Education? Time-tested techniques for shaping, honing, polishing written language? What do you think you are, a buffing wheel?

      Don’t waste your time on rewriting stuff you’ve already written, whatever you do. Think about how many more books you could publish if you stopped worrying about how the last one turned out and got busy on the next. You’d be a millionaire in no time!

      This is why so many people are self-publishing books these days with titles like God Wants You to Write.

    3. Look for guidance only from peers on unsupervised critique forums

    4. Because, as we all know, money always flows toward the writer. So be sure to get everything you need to become a successful author for nothing, as a fool and their money are soon parted.

      At least you hope so. After all, you’re counting on lots and lots of fools out there with lots and lots of money to buy this book you’re accidentally writing in spite of yourself.

    5. Be correct that your peers have little to teach you

      Well, it’s true.

      Which is why it’s so easy to dismiss them as callow unbelievers if they actually suggest revisions. Or—heaven forbid—going back to the drawingboard.

      The problem is that your peers don’t know any more about this work than you do. So their opinions, no matter how well-meaning, can’t possibly be any more than amateurs’ surface reactions to a deep, complex, multifaceted craft no one has ever completely mastered before they died. Not even Stieg Larsson.

      The truth is that you’re probably an unrecognized genius—that’s why your critiquers misunderstand you. I mean, what expertise are they going to use to recognize you with? They’re a bunch of amateurs.

      Except the ones who are even more amateur than you are, of course. Those guys love you!

    You are the only real authority on your own work, unlike all those OCD nitpickers who style themselves ‘experts.’ (Good thing publishers have unloaded most of them.) Publishers are a big, shiny store window. You are a customer.

    And the customer is always right.

    I only know this stuff because I’ve been there.

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    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we learned how to characterize wrong. The week before that we learned how to plot wrong.

    And today I’m going to teach you how to cripple your book so that—even if your plot is maximum overdrive and your characterization nothing short of brilliant—no one in the industry will touch it with a ten-foot pole.

    So let’s get busy and write wrong:

    1. Model your writing on crap

    2. If the single best way to learn to write well is to study the literary canon with enormous care and all the intelligence you can muster to learn the techniques of the greats. . .that makes the single best way to learn to write wrong reading nothing but cheap modern crap and telling yourself, ‘If they can get away with that, I can get away with anything.’

      Because writing is all about ‘what you can get away with,’ isn’t it? Heaven forbid it should be a highly-developed craft with a long and illustrious history of hard work, dedication, and sometimes real genius behind it.

      It’s a slot machine!

      Garbage in, garbage out.

    3. Believe the uber-marketing hypesters who tell you, “The writing doesn’t matter”

    4. So don’t waste your time actually learning how to write, people. The writing doesn’t matter. Throw your random, half-baked ideas into unpolished words—your ideas, your brilliant ideas that no one, not even the geniuses in the history of literature, ever, ever, ever thought of before—and shove them PDQ down the Golden Query Chute. And that deafening silence you get in reply? That just means they’re too busy shuffling through the mountains of shlock everyone else who doesn’t care about the writing keeps shoveling through their mail slots—they can’t recognize natural talent anymore when they see it.

      It’s the era of entitlement! And you’re entitled to be rich and famous.

      Don’t pause to learn how to write. You don’t have time. (Why not? I don’t know. But you don’t.) Just keep on shoveling. Someone’s bound to be young, inexperienced, and/or desperate enough to take you on. And after that—whoa!—it’s Easy Street.

      Move over, J.K. Rowling.

    5. Be in a hurry to get published

    6. And this is why it’s best to read only stuff being shoveled as fast as possible through the chute right now, this minute—because that will show you what sells.

      No, you don’t have a famous name or a devoted following of hundreds of thousands or insider knowledge of how writing and modern publishing work, like the best sellers who—for business reasons of their own—often no longer have the time to polish their work properly before they publish it.

      But you’re going to skip right over that little detail. What they do you can do.

      Without their famous name. Or their reputation. Or their understanding of the craft and industry. Or their publisher. Or their agent. Or their mega-numbers of readers. I guess. . .

      So, when in doubt, be sure to ramble on for pages in exposition, explaining your story in vague abstractions for that dimwit you expect to buy it (a fool and their money, yesirree), substitute noises you make up yourself for dialog (“Waaaghghghgh! Nngngng. Uh, dunno, duncare”), brand names for telling details (doesn’t everyone know brand names? I mean, we’re all glued to our shopping malls and TV commercials together, right?), and the verb ‘grab’ for every action you possibly can (“She grabbed the door, ran in the house and grabbed her keys, grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge, and as she ran out he jumped out from behind the door and grabbed her”).

      Your reader will get the general idea. Because these days readers don’t read books carefully, anyway, only buy them for the famous names on the covers (although you did, you admit, skip over that little detail). And since they’re reading standing in line to buy cheap plastic crap they don’t need, anyway, that’s all they care about.

    Literature? It’s the twenty-first century, people! We don’t need no stinkin’ literature.

    Next week we learn how to revise wrong.

    Naturally, none of this helps at all if we don’t know 9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

    Hi, my name is Victoria, and I have written mountains of shlock. But I didn’t publish it—not most of it, anyway—and I’m working to get better now, one day at a time.

    UPDATE: Phyllis K. Twombly has added: Neglect Feedback; Ignore Concepts Within One’s Chosen Genre; Don’t Research

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    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we learned how to plot wrong. That was fun! Now we all know how to do it so nobody will ever be interested and our stories will never get published, much less read.

    Interestingly enough, when I wrote this whole series two years ago it was the post on how to characterize wrong that got all the attention.

    So I’m going to send you on over to that original post to find out why.

    What you’ll learn over there is something I learned—not by reading lots of books on writing or taking lots of classes or attending a lot of writers workshops or following lots of blogs—but by studying storytelling. Novels. Stories. Ballads.

    The real thing.

    And I want to remind you: you should be learning the bulk of your craft this way too.

    It’s all about the real thing.

    Next week we talk about how to write wrong.

    And the week after that we talk about how to revise wrong.

    Plus, of course, we need 9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

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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

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    April is the cruelest month.
    —T.S. Eliot

    Apparently bank clerks really have a hard time with certain months of the year. Of course, the last person you’d expect to write canonical poetry is a bank clerk.

    So I’m going to spend this month talking about how to do everything backward. There’s nothing like doing something wrong to bring out the unique creativity of the individual.

    Let’s start with plot, because that’s the simplest thing to learn and therefore the simplest thing to screw up:

    1. Hook at the wrong place

    2. Most aspiring writers have no idea what they’re going to write about in their novels—they just sit down and dive into something that seems interesting. And that’s a lot of fun! Whee, doggies. Who are these characters? What are they doing here? What are they up against? Why don’t they know it?

      And this last bit is what bites them in the butt—Why don’t they know it? Because the writer doesn’t know it, that’s why. But the characters should know. They should be completely and shockingly clear on what they’re up against in the Hook. And they should be absolutely desperate to get it resolved.

      When you launch into a story this way—expecting to keep this Hook in the final draft—all you do is share with your reader your own fogginess and indecision about your story. And they don’t want your fogginess and indecision. They have plenty of their own.

      Unfortunately, your characters can’t possibly know, in all its depth and import, something you don’t know. You need to know why you’re starting where you start. That Hook casts its shadow forward over your entire novel.

    3. Develop in the wrong way

    4. And because these aspiring writers don’t know what their novels are about when they start writing them, they have no idea where to take them. They just keep writing scene after scene, bumbling along, feeling around in the dark, wondering what on earth is going on.

      Again—all kinds of fun and excitement. For the writer. Beyond boring for the reader. The reader needs you to have already figured out what on earth is going on. Otherwise, they’ll go find a writer who has.

      You would not believe how much of my time I spend kindly separating the wheat from the chaff for aspiring writers. “This scene is fabulous and gripping and carries your story forward exactly right,” I’m telling them. “These other ten scenes must have been great fun to write, I know. But they’re your background notes. They belong on your desk, not in your novel.”

      If you could figure out just how much of my time that takes. . .you’d know just how much money you could save by doing that part for yourself.

    5. Climax at the wrong place

    6. And when these aspiring writers finally burn themselves out on all this random fantasizing, they tend to throw up their hands and end on the real point of all this for them: a long, detailed description of how happy all the characters are when they’re no longer struggling anymore. This can go on for a really long time. This can go on for chapters.

      Which just caps off this exercise in writing for the sake of the writer. Unfortunately, this is vastly different from writing for the sake of the reader.

      Even John Gardner was told to cut 1/3 of his 1970s magnum opus, The Sunlight Dialogues. (He did.)

    Because this is the crux of the matter: you can write your first draft solely and entirely for your own sake if you like. Everyone knows how thrilling that is, what a pleasure to the writerly soul. We all wallow in it. Otherwise, why would we be doing this work?

    But if you want to sell that novel, that final draft must be plotted with unerring care and precision for the sake of your readers.

    Next week we talk about how to characterize wrong.

    The week after we talk about how to write wrong.

    And the week after that we talk about how to revise wrong9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

    I can’t be the only person who learned all this the hard way.

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

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I always take the a week to go bask in the summer sun with my beloved family—sitting on the swing with my bare toes in the lawn, admiring my beautiful vegetables bursting gloriously from their beds, smelling the rich, green scent of heat, and yelling at the cats for looking too seriously at all that nice, soft, litter-worthy soil around my treasured vegetables.

    So today I’m going to send you on over to a post where we can talk together for just a little while about why writing is our chosen craft, why we do this work we do, why it’s the work that reminds us we’re alive.

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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

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We have this convention at our house where, whenever someone says something especially hilarious, we write it down on a yellow-sticky and stick it to the refrigerator.

    As you can see, when you post yellow-stickies of your best dialog on your refrigerator, it eventually becomes a veritable blizzard of yellow-stickies. Especially if you live—as I do—with extremely witty people.

    Dialog is tricky stuff.

    So this week, instead of reproducing my original post on dialog, I’m going to send you all right on over to read it in all its original glory:

    3 Reasons Dialog is Important, 3 Reasons It’s Not

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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

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    You know how everyone’s always telling you “Show, Don’t Tell”?

    Well, that means “Write Scenes, Not Exposition.”

    So we’re spending three weeks covering the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog. Last week we did description. Next week we’ll do dialog. And this week we’re doing action.

    Action is important because:

    1. Fiction is about movement

      This is the fundamental purpose of fiction: to get a protagonist from point A to point B with the greatest difficulty possible.

      Don’t make it easy on them, whatever else you do. The excitement lies in the complications, the many and varied ways in which you can pull the rug out from under your characters and force them, time and again, to scramble to their feet with every ounce of strength and wit they’ve got.

      And the very best way to pull the rug out from under them is to give them needs and internal conflicts that make them pull it out from under themselves.

      It may be possible to write an entire novel without action, but I’ve never seen it work. Even Virginia Woolf’s alarmingly passive classic To the Lighthouse is about—what else could it be?—a trip to a lighthouse. It’s not a long trip, and it gets canceled at least once. But, yeah. She did eventually have to send them there.

      And a novel packed with action is not only thrilling but gets from point A to point B. Making that journey the gist of the novel is the very stuff of great storytelling.

    2. Readers are fascinated by characters in motion

      You know how interesting people are when they never move? Uh-huh. Just about that interesting. How much time can you burn up watching your co-workers stare at their computer screens in their lonely little boring cubes?

      You just fell out of your chair, didn’t you?

      Now ask yourself why mysteries, paranormal, thrillers, romance, urban fantasy/sci-fi (contemporary Westerns) are such long-time staples of best-selling fiction.

      Because the characters never sit still.

      In mysteries they’re always rushing around tracking down the activities of the other characters—except Rex Stout’s canonical Nero Wolfe, who spends most of his time tending his orchids and drinking beer while his sidekick Archie does the rushing around (there’s a really good reason those stories are told from Archie’s point-of-view rather than Wolfe’s).

      In paranormal not only do the characters move, they move in really weird ways.

      In thrillers they move at top-speed in terror for their lives (and thriller is the number one best-selling genre after romance).

      In romance, of course, the ways they move tend to do things to the readers’ gonads.

      And although Westerns have faded—to be replaced by urban fantasy/sci-fi, the new Wild West—it’s all about action. Westerns were riveting to generations of men who’d been raised to be intensely active boys and then wound up working rather less-active jobs in their adult lives. Urban fantasy/sci-fi readers can’t get enough of an industrial landscape much like the cities and even modern rural environments where children these days learn what adult activity is all about. . .sadly enough for those who grow up to while-away their days among endless five-foot carpeted walls.

    3. Action creates that essential Visceral Response

      Of course, the whole purpose behind the purpose of fiction is Visceral Response.

      Readers read for experiences. They want to suffer your characters’ traumas and learn through that suffering how to survive. They want to learn how it feels to survive.

      That means in their bodies. In their guts. In their hearts.

      Have you ever read an action scene that made the hair stand thrillingly up on your head? That Visceral Response is the Whole Point of action scenes.

      And if you can create that in your reader, you have earned the right to call yourself a writer.

    However, action is not important because:

    1. Action is easy to screw up

      And. . .that’s why not everyone who wants to become a best-selling thriller author does. Because action must be meticulously choreographed, tightly worded, designed and polished exactly right for maximum impact.

      Aspiring writers screw up high-tension action scenes all the time, writing them long, writing them disorganized, writing them without even realizing they need to shape them perfectly, which means cutting every single word possible.

      It is far easier to learn to shape scenes around simpler internal conflict—a conversation in which the characters misunderstand each other, or an exchange of information, or a moment of regaining balance—than around external conflict or action that requires perfect timing.

      I spend a lot of my time teaching clients how to shape action scenes exactly right. It’s not easy. But it is essential if you want to use them.

    2. Action is not plot

      You can write all the action scenes you like, and if they don’t move your plot forward they’re just churning mud. An endless number of perfectly-shaped fight scenes will eventually lose all but the most die-hard fight fans. And even those guys are probably watching cable.

      Every word you put into a story must be essential to getting the protagonist from point A to point B. If an action scene doesn’t do that. . .throw it out.

    3. Action without meaning is just a windmill

      Because, in the final analysis, we don’t read simply to learn how to act. We read to move alongside characters through their worlds toward and through their worst nightmares. It is the movement through the nightmare that has meaning. Everything else is set-up for that.

      That meaningful action teaches your reader how to live.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

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