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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

    We’re talking about tackling first drafts this month, for the sake of all you NaNoWriMoers scampering around out there. We’ve looked at Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo (doing what into the what?), 3 Essential Guidelines for starting a novel in general (doing it how?), and 3 Vital Steps to creating your protagonist (doing it why?).

    And today we’re going to look at writing individual scenes. Because that’s really the nuts and bolts of what’s going on in your squirrely little head right now.

    Or anyway it had better be!

    1. What you need to accomplish

      We’ve been talking over on Jami Gold’s blog about the Story Climax, which is—it turns out—the Whole Point.

      And this is true of every single scene you write, as well.

      What’s the whole point of this scene? Why are you writing it? Why can your story simply not exist without it? Not because it’s:

      • characterization

        That has to happen as texturing in other scenes, the ones that move the story inevitably forward toward its Climax.

      • atmosphere

        See above.

      • info dump

        See above.

      The only thing that’s fair game for a scene is a simply inescapable step in the progress of your characters’ trajectory from the first moment they jump out of the pan until the instant the land in the fire.

      Whatever that step is—that’s this scene’s climax.

    2. How you need to accomplish it

      This part is fun! This is the part about pitting your characters against themselves and each other and watching the fur fly.

      Since all fiction is about cause-&-effect, it’s a given that your characters’ movement through a scene is all about their desperate grappling with their fates. This grappling is what causes whatever you’ve already decided needs to happen in this scene’s climax. And this grappling is enormously entertaining to readers.

      This is why you’ll hear that every scene must have an aim. That simply means that every scene must have something that makes your characters fight. Nobody wants to see them lying around picking lint out of their navels. We want them to do something! And in order for that something to matter, they must have deep, fundamental motivation to do it, motivation rooted—you saw this coming—in their conflicting internal needs.

      So they spend the grand bulk of this scene wrestling with something with everything they’ve got (sometimes in solitude, sometimes in dialog, sometimes in action, even, um, wrestling).

      I have to have it!

      But you can’t!

      Nooooooooo!

      That’s this scene’s development. It’s the bulk of the scene. And it’s a blast.

    3. Why you can’t avoid accomplishing it

      Because, naturally, if your characters could avoid going through all this hell they certainly would.

      But they can’t. Because of the climax of the previous scene.

      They did something in that last scene, made a decision and sealed their doom, and whatever it was acted as the effect that caused this scene. How does the opening of this scene show that, the immediate and dastardly consequences of those actions they thought—they thought!—in the last scene were the only actions humanly possible?

      That’s this scene’s hook.

    Now, most scenes average 1,000-2,000 words, which is four to eight manuscript pages. Use this information as you write. You can go ahead and write the climax first and park it there at the end where it belongs and then go back and fill in with lots of madhouse antics. I do this a lot. And it’s generally not too hard to figure out what to use as the hook that’s going to demonstrate the soup your characters are in now, because you’ve got the climax to that previous scene sitting there staring you in the face. That’s where they were giving their all trying to avoid this exact situation.

    Just be aware as you write this first draft of how many pages you’re looking to fill.

    And remember what your reader expects to find on every single page.





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    The Art & Craft of Fiction
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    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Designing a Series Around Classic Plot Structure

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking about how to approach the first draft of your novel this month, in honor of NaNoWriMo, Last week we talked about the 3 Essential Guidelines for your overall novel, and the week before that we talked about Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo. And today we’re going to be talking about the protagonist’s character, because that’s the core of all storytelling. (I tackled this topic last November in a post so bizarre that it famously prompted Roz Morris of Nail Your Novel to ask, “My dear, what are on you on?” 4 Post-Its to Stick Up Over Your Writing Desk. And I outlined the basic elements—which I’m going to talk about in greater depth below—back last summer in one of a series I did on how to write fiction all wrong: How to Characterize Wrong in 3 Easy Steps.)

    But, honestly, you don’t have to be doing NaNo to be starting a novel. If you’ve got holidays coming up in December, you might very well be getting yourself in gear to take advantage of them in the most luxurious way a writer can imagine: by writing!

    1. Your protagonist believes they cannot survive without this

      It’s a need so core to them that if you changed it you wouldn’t be writing about a human being anymore. What is it? Writers have been using the canonical primary needs for hundreds of years without wearing them out:

      • survival
      • love
      • justice

      Truly, these three needs have powered most of the fiction ever written. And there are still more aspects to explore in them. They’re that enormous. They’re that complex.

      Some of the other things characters need are:

      • to protect a child
      • to heal a wound
      • to learn the truth
      • to have an adventure

      These needs also have powered incredible numbers of stories. Remember Don Quixote? Out there scampering around the countryside on that mangy old nag with his reluctant sidekick at his stirrup? What was he up to?

      He certainly wasn’t defending his life. And I don’t think he ever really had a chance with Dulcinea.

      Justice. Adventure.

      He needed them really badly.

    2. Your protagonist can’t survive without this either

      Because that’s what makes a story: two needs. Otherwise, it’s a bildungsroman, the story of a protagonist grappling with a whole series of internal conflicts, and modern readers don’t have the attention span to survive a bildunsroman anymore. They need explicit signposts on why they should care. (I’m sorry, Moll Flanders.)

      But here’s the magic wand—you’ve already done this step. Yes, you have! Look above. How many stories are about two of those top three in conflict with each other? What if you mixed and matched two out of the seven? One of the seven with some equally-powerful but more subtle need?

      • to prove a point
      • to accomplish a lifelong goal
      • to protect someone elderly (or otherwise physically or intellectually vulnerable)
      • to escape evil
      • to come to grips with their own dark side

      You’ll notice that, no matter how subtle a secondary need you give your protagonist, it can pretty much always be traced back to one of those three canonical primary needs. And when you choose not to root your protagonist’s character in a secondary need quite that canonical, for whatever reason, you must add motivation to that subtle need through one of the canonical ones.

      Also, although experts once swore mysteries were too ‘intellectual’ to accommodate romance, pretty much any story gets better when you add thwarted love to the mix.

    3. Your protagonist has absolutely no intention of choosing between the two

      Which means any situation in which they are forced to do just that serves as a rip-roaring, roof-raising, mind-bending catastrophe for your Climax. As country singers are so fond of reminding us, “My baby left me, I lost my home, and then my dog died.”

      1. Say you have a protagonist who needs:

        • survival
        • love

        Whomever they love, it puts them in danger. In danger of losing their job? In danger of losing their home? In danger of losing their sanity?

        When Jane Eyre had to choose, she lost all three. Well, she wasn’t totally plugged in to begin with, but I really don’t think that night on the moor could have helped much.

        Pit your protagonist against themself by giving them the two most fundamental needs in the human animal. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, either. It could be love of a friend, love of a place, love of a cause.

        Romantic love has the added attraction of sex, of course, which always gets the attention of the hormonally-bullied. (You know who you are.) Just keep in mind—and this is really important—you must address sexual issues through their grip on the personality rather than through simple textbook instructions. Your reader doesn’t need to learn how to do it. They need to learn how to handle the consequences when they indulge in something they know how to do all too well.

      2. Or say your protagonist needs:

        • justice
        • survival

        Their pursuit of justice does nothing but put their life in danger. You know what that is?

        Every thriller ever written.

        This is why thriller works so well as series genre. Because you can pit your protagonist against themself through their need for justice—and the evil perpetrators’ efforts to kill them—over and over and over again until Doomesday and never run out of excitement.

        Be aware that thrillers get their layering through complicated technical subjects, so the authors of thrillers do a great deal of research into specific industries: law, politics, banking, history, international espionage, high-tech weaponry, et cetera, plus very often exotic locales. That all needs to be professionally-researched and very adroitly handled. For advice on how to use your research properly, read Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, in which she explains exactly how she used her research for eleven ghostwritten books, eight of which were best sellers.

      3. Or maybe your protagonist needs:

        • love
        • justice

        What would force a person to choose between what they want and what they know is right? Well, almost everything. Anne of Green Gables tells us all about it as she works her way through her daily life—the endless, excruciating decision-making process that never leaves us alone. It’s when she has to choose between the things she loves and the things she knows are right that she becomes important to the reader, someone they will carry with them internally for the rest of their life.

        Because such stories don’t have death hanging over anybody’s head, they tend to be more mild-mannered. That allows them to go deeply and profoundly into the human experience. Remember that your reader is reading not only to be reassured that life is worth living, but to learn something they don’t already know. If you choose to pit your protagonist against themself through these two very human (but not dastardly) needs, you’ll have to know something about those needs that the reader can’t figure out for themself. Just reiterating an experience identical to the reader’s own without adding anything original won’t hold their attention.

    You can see how this simple pyramidal design gives you a protagonist your reader passionately wants to see succeed, even as you back that protagonist into worse and worse corners until you’ve backed them right against a wall.

    Then your protagonist must always, in the Climax, choose. That choice is the secret ingredient that makes your story work.

    This, my friends, is what we call sympathetic character.





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Listening and Not Listening to Beta Readers

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Every year I write a series of NaNoWriMo posts like the bizarre and inexplicable 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Unforgettable, 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Helplessly Addictive, and 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Inescapable. Last week we looked at Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo. And for those of you who learn better in conversation than through written instructions, this year I’ve even been interviewed on video by Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn blog. Joanna asks me for pointers on how to approach writing the sequel to her Kindle best-seller, Pentecost—pointers I make universal to storytelling in general so they’ll help all of you diving into writing your own new novels right this minute.

    So let’s review quickly how to make that dive a swan dive and not a cannonball:

    1. Know why this story matters

      Somewhere, somehow, at that one moment when they can least afford it, your protagonist is going to come up against themself in a spiritual dark alley. And it’s going to be bad.

      They have always, all their life, sincerely and desperately believed they could not handle this confrontation. Chaos, madness, mayhem, yes. But not this.

      And that heart-stopping confrontation is why you’re writing this story. Handling the impossible matters to readers—it’s possibly the only thing that does.

      That’s your Climax.

    2. Be great fun to run around with

      The bulk of a novel is just for fun, thrill, excitement, unending adventures that leap from one peak to another as though in Seven-League Boots. Your reader’s grappling with one drama! Aaagh! They’re grappling with another! No! They’re back to grappling with the first drama again! Eeee! There’s a new drama they didn’t see coming!

      Back and forth, round and round, in and out of the complexities of your plot they run full-tilt, flapping the pages of your book as they go. They can’t stop!

      That’s your Development.

    3. Understand Backstory

      Don’t get too attached to the first scenes that it occurs to you to write. Those are your warm-up scenes, and chances are almost certain they’re Backstory, not Hook.

      Write them! Have a fabulous time! But be willing to set them aside in their own little outtakes files later, when you’re far enough into this story (possibly at the end) to be able to see what originally happened to force the decision that got your protagonist into this whole impossible mess in the first place.

      That’s too important of a scene to toy with by getting yourself emotionally-dependent upon it right now. Just take lots of notes as you work on your novel so it will be a truly fabulous opening scene when you do eventually write it.

      That will be your Hook.

    And because we all live here in the twenty-first century, I know as well as you do how hard it is to squeeze NaNoWriMo into your already-packed schedule. So remember the 9 Ways to Find Time to Write.

    Take a deep breath, run to the top of the highest pinnacle you can find, and start flapping your wings. Welcome to NaNoWriMo!

    Is all your hair standing on end?





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Growing Plot Out of Character, Situation Out of Need

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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


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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Time for taking off our shoes and socks, rolling up our pant legs, flexing our fingers, and with blood-curdling yells of terror and glory in our eyes. . .

    running straight into the jaws of NaNoWriMo

    Every year I run a series helping those of you doing NaNoWriMo stay focused on writing the very best novel you have in you.

    Are you doing it this year?

    You’ll have company!





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Seeking Publication for Children’s Educational Literature

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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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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    As October draws to a close and November looms, we all know what’s ahead.

    Yes, we do.

    It happens every year around now, and every year thousands of aspiring writers have the time of their lives with it.

    So let’s review our:

    6 Golden Rules for NaNoWriMo





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Talking Multiple Genres

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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 came into our October review of the three most basic aspects of structure through the exit—as is only right—and we’ve worked our way backward through the middle of all the high jinks and mayhem.

    So let’s get right up to it now and tackle that most difficult and rewarding of all structural tasks:

    HOOK: 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Inescapable

    If your reader can escape your HOOK, they will.

    But they can’t, can they?





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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Making Choices Between Fight or Flight

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

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re in October mode, which means that we’re revisiting the three most basic aspects of plot structure, beginning (as we like to begin: backward) with CLIMAX: 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Unforgettable.

    That was fun!

    So now let’s back our way into the middle of the novel, where all the crazy complications and subplots and inexplicable tangents live. And we’ll review exactly what’s going on there and why the reader loves it so:

    DEVELOPMENT: 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Helplessly Addictive

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I always like to spend every October studying in-depth the three most basic aspects of plot structure:

    HOOK

    DEVELOPMENT

    CLIMAX

    There are lots of folks in the online writing community who are limbering up their writing muscles at this time of year. And I have found that the simpler and more straight-forward the lessons in craft, the better we learn them.

    Also, I had a teacher once who told me it takes 14 iterations for a lesson to sink into the human brain. So after 14 years of revisiting these three fundamentals. . .you all should be pretty darn adept.

    So let’s start backward—as we always do.

    Because what’s the fun of doing it the normal way?

    CLIMAX: 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Unforgettable

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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

    This is writers conference month here, so a few weeks ago I taught you guys how to get people all riled up at you at a writers conference.Then we discussed what to watch out for in the way of presenters—the bullshitters and the non-bullshitters, part one and part two.

    So now I’ll tell you another writers conference story.

    This one is a story of hope.

    Once upon a time many years ago, I had just returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from a thrilling, hair-raising, and actually quite productive six months of adventure and writing in Hawaii and Australia. I’d gotten a job as a tech writer at a small computer start-up in Silicon Valley, so I was recovering a bit from the state of abject poverty into which my adventures had plunged me. And a friend and I were sitting in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Northbeach neighborhood one afternoon when he pulled a flyer from his pocket.

    It was an ad for the Writers Community at Squaw Valley.

    “Are you going to apply?” I said.

    “Maybe. Are you?”

    “Maybe.”

    I went to my manager at work, who happened to be extremely smart and extremely cool and extremely cute, and asked him what he thought. After all, he had a degree in Creative Writing from the University of California in Santa Cruz. Plus he was extremely cute.

    “Well, you know what I think about writers conferences,” he said.

    Actually I didn’t, but I was afraid he’d already told me and I’d been spazzed out on his cuteness and not listening, so I didn’t ask.

    Instead, I went to the conference.

    It was the very first writers conference I’d ever been to, and I didn’t know who Oakley Hall was (the guy running the conference), so when I got to the registration desk and the woman at it announced grandly that she was Mrs. Oakley Hall, I replied without a spark of recognition, “I’m Victoria Mixon.”

    I had signed up to share a house with other attendees, and I wound up with five other women, among whom were two in my writing workshop. We had a great week—we went to lectures by agents and famous authors like Amy Tan, we attended our workshop, we read each other’s manuscripts, and we drank a lot of wine. There was a big party to which we went as a gang, where we accidentally knocked a painting off a wall and almost got kicked out by the homeowner.

    One of my roommates and I went up to an agent after an agents’ panel and introduced ourselves. My friend already had an agent, so their conversation was kind of general. But I didn’t have an agent and wanted one, so I was quite happy when the agent invited me to lunch the next day. (We had lunch, and after we got home to San Francisco I took her my current manuscript, and she became my first agent.)

    I had also signed up for my manuscript to be critiqued by Anne Lamott, who was right then becoming famous for Operating Instructions and had just published Bird by Bird. In my excitement and confusion, I had sent her the second chapter of my novel instead of the first, so she was understandably baffled by the storyline, but she seemed to like it.

    “It has a strange sort of power,” she said. “And you write like a dream.”

    Then she waited politely for me to ask her to sign the copy of Bird by Bird that I had in my lap.

    But I was too embarrassed by my excitement and confusion, so I didn’t ask.

    During that week I became particularly close to the two of my roommates who were in my workshop, whose manuscripts I found extremely beautiful and compelling. They were unpublished, like me—one a professor of Native American law in Kansas, and the other a struggling English teacher at a community college in New York City. We traded addresses when the conference ended, but we fell out of touch anyway.

    A few years later I thought of them and found an address for the one in New York. Her first novel, Angels in the Morning, had been published by the Permanent Press—she’d rewritten it from a different point-of-view and given it a different title—and become a Booksense Selection. Her second novel, The Forgotten Island, was being published by Bloomsbury Publishing, and it too went on to become a Booksense Selection, translated into several languages.

    We were both recently married and had very young sons, so we bonded again.

    At some point I also wrote to the professor of Native American law, saying that I hoped she was still writing, since if anyone was a writer she was. And she wrote back a beautiful letter saying she had, in fact, just been on the verge of giving up when she received my letter. She was so moved that she read the letter out loud to her family over the dinner table. She said she was still working on her novel.

    That novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, was published in 2008 and nominated for the most prestigious national prizes in the US (which she is too modest to mention), while being highly-acclaimed by NPR and Kirkus Reviews.

    And now I’m pretty sure you guys know by this time who these writers are. I’ve written about them in my books, and I use quotes from them on my blog to make me look good.

    • Unpublished, struggling, dedicated craftspeople when I met them

    • Acclaimed fiction authors today

    I want you to know that it happens—talent and hard work and dedication to craft do get recognized:

    Lucia Orth

    Sasha Troyan

    (Also, I married my cute manager and have been with him for 20 years now. So that worked out as well!)

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’ve been talking about writers conferences here, in particular how to make friends and enemies at them. And as I promised last Monday, here are the other five things that should set off your bullshit alarm at writers conferences:

    1. A presenter who can’t be bothered to research what they teach

      • True story:

        I was at a writers conference once when the presenter sketched a quick triangle on the board.

        “Do you all know the plot triangle?” he said. “I think this is from Aristotle.”

        And he proceeded to “teach” a sort of vague, truncated, misunderstood version of Freytag’s Triangle.

        Now, I’m pretty courteous. I’m not going to raise my hand and say, “Um, excuse me, but don’t you mean you think that’s from Freytag? As in: the nineteenth-century German writer who developed a pyramid structure to describe beginning, middle, and end along the lines of the five-act play of Shakespeare’s era? Because that triangle’s really famous. And I don’t think he’d ever even met Aristotle.”

        No, I’m not.

        I’m going to sit there on my hands, and if necessary I will smile. I will not point out in front of a class full of innocent hopefuls that this presenter hasn’t even looked up this triangle he likes to think he’s teaching, before sailing blasely into this room to try to teach it.

      • Another true story:

        I was at a writers conference once where the workshop presenter added nothing at all to the critiques.

        She simply sat at the front of the room saying, “And what do you think of what we just heard?”

        This presenter had been snickering to me earlier about how she always accepts invitations to present at conferences because it’s freebie food.

        I was an attendee in that particular session, but I wound up carrying the ball whenever the attendees didn’t know how to sort out a fiction dilemma because the presenter just sat there smirking and trying to hide the fact that she didn’t know either.

        One attendee came up to me later and expressed her disappointment that the presenter hadn’t contributed anything to the workshop. At all. Several others came up to me later and thanked me for my help and asked me if I was a professional editor. (At the time I was, but I wasn’t freelancing.)

        Even worse, another presenter came up to me later—a smart, engaging, professional writer—and told me how sorry he was I hadn’t appeared in his session. . .because I’d been in the lame workshop instead.

    2. The presenter who ignores the demographics of their class

      You should know that presenters are told by the conference organizers what to expect in their classes. This is so that everything will go smoothly and the attendees will know they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

      However, once I was in a seminar in which certain attendees were local high school students who had won scholarships to the writing conference.

      And we were all forced to sit there listening to the presenter announce gleefully, “I love teaching adults because then I can talk about sex all I want,” and proceed to describe fiction techniques in terms of sex, tell stories about sex, and even read sex-related blurbs from her own book. She told us all about how she was violently raped when she was a teenager.

      I wound up coping in scribbled notes with a disclosure of traumatic sexual shame from the teen writer I was there to mentor on the craft of fiction.

      Yeah. We missed a lot of that presenter’s talk.

      The thing is that, whether any particular class is made up entirely of adults or not, this presenter had no way of knowing if they were going to trigger PTSD in some of the attendees. Sex is either a painful or quite private topic for many people.

      Writing conference attendees do not pay to have their personal issues messed with by strangers in public.

      They pay to learn the craft of writing.

      Sex, religion, and politics: these are not appropriate topics for lecture at writers conferences without previous warning.

    3. A presenter who can’t be bothered to plan their session so they actually cover everything they promise to cover

      How many times have you seen this happen?

      At the beginning of the session, in accordance with popular advice on public speaking, the presenter lists out loud everything they intend to cover before their time is up.

      If you know anything at all about teaching fiction, it might sound like kind of a lot to cover in one session, but you figure they’re probably going to skim. Or maybe they’re just way the heck more organized than you would be in their shoes.

      So you jot down the list, making little asterisks next to the items that look most interesting to you. If you’re really organized and really OCD (like me) you even leave big spaces in between in which to fill in what you’re going to learn about each item.

      Then you spend a good, long time listening to the presenter tell stories about their own experiences with the first few items (probably, “How I got my idea for my novel,” and, “What my agent said about how my novel was the fastest sell in publishing history”), until suddenly it’s five minutes until the end of the session, and they still have half-a-dozen points left to make.

      So you and the rest of the class sit and watch them riffle through their notes saying loudly without looking up, “Uh, plot—don’t be boring. Character—ditto. Troubleshooting—come to one of my classes back home, I’ll give you my card. Professionalism—have it. Any questions? Okey-dokey. All out of time. ‘Kay, thanks, bye!”

      And then you’re in line politely waiting with a burning question that you’d hoped this class would answer, while everyone else gets a chance to ask their questions and get their copies of the presenter’s book autographed and make personal friends with the presenter, until the attendees for the next session flood into the room and appropriate the chairs, and the presenter picks up their things and heads out the door, still chatting vivaciously with someone about three people ahead of you in line.

      And the whole class turns out to have been a complete waste of your time. . .and your money.

    4. A presenter who teachers misinformation

      And this is the one that really makes smoke come out my ears.

      Because you guys can’t necessarily tell. If you already knew this stuff, you wouldn’t be here to learn it, now, would you?

      • Did Aristotle invent Freytag’s Triangle?

        No, he did not.

        Aristostle invented the Six Elements of Drama, which any presenter worth their salt can discover in two minutes by googling Aristotle. Or Aristostle’s Triangle.

        Gustav Freytag invented Freytag’s Triangle.

      • Did Syd Field invent three-act structure?

        No, he did not.

        Syd Field wrote a terrific book called Screenplay in which he describes three-act structure and explores the ways and means behind why it works.

        Our current understanding of three-act structure, according to some sources, actually dates back to (are you ready?) Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama. It has been immortalized in our lifetime in books on screenplay by Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Yves Lavandier. (I talk about it a lot in my books too.)

      • Should aspiring writers plot?

        Hell, yes, they should.

        Otherwise Freytag’s Triangle and three-act structure are of no use to them whatsoever.

      Oh, I could go on and on and on about this one. So many of you innocents come to me asking about the misinformation you’ve been taught, and I’m here banging my head on my desk thinking, Who is doing this to these poor people?

      Then I go to writers conferences, and I find out: academics who earned advanced degrees or inexperienced authors who got lucky with publication without actually learning the craft.

    5. A presenter who indulges in snark, bad manners, or irritability

    6. And this one makes smoke come out of everyone’s ears.

      Or it should.

      However, only too often conference attendees assume that, because they’ve paid to be taught by these pillars of the publishing industry, any snark or bad manners or irritability that falls on their heads they brought on themselves.

      You know what professionalism is?

      Professionalism is being friendly and polite and encouraging to everyone you meet, regardless of how silly or ill-informed you might secretly find their questions and comments. Because they’re human beings. And they’ve paid you to treat them professionally.

      If a presenter has trouble with an attendee who’s sincerely a problem, they go to the conference organizers. That’s what they’re there for.

    7. A presenter who makes no bones about being there solely for the party with the other presenters

      “Oooh, look,” these presenters say to other presenters at the presenter/attendee social mixers. “They have square dancing in this town.”

      “How’s the room they gave you?” these presenters say to other presenters five minutes later, still ignoring the attendees. “Have you been to the beach yet?”

      “Oh, my god, you’re wearing the orange plaid!” these presenters cry from the podium when another presenter sidles into the room in the middle of their lecture to attendees. “I put the dishes in the dishwasher—your turn next time!”

      “Are you a local?” these presenters say to random attendees without even pretending to be interested in them. “How do I get home from here?”

      Now, when I was the editor of my high school newspaper I once got my butt kicked by our teacher for running a gag front-page article about how to set up a “directions booth” downtown in our lovely vacation town to tell rude tourists right where they could go.

      So what these presenters who ask me for directions don’t know is that. . .I’m a fiction writer because I like to lie.

      Ha.

      Ha.

      Ha.

    Folks, these people are trouble not just for you, the attendees, but also for those presenters who really are prepared, who really have come to make themselves available to aspiring writers, who really do take these conferences and their function in the writing community seriously.

    Those presenters can’t blow the whistle on such shenanigans without sounding petty and competitive. So they walk away smiling politely and shaking hands, while inside seething on behalf of the paying attendees they’ve just spent several days watching being duped.

    But you can.

    You can blow that whistle loud and clear.

    For the sake of everybody involved—both present and future—please do.

    LAST WEEK: 5 BS Indicators for Writers Conferences

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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. . .


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, tragic and 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 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 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, 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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