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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

    In the morning, when there was nothing but birdsong and grey walls and the cramping in his joints for company, regrets and misgivings gathered in a half circle around him and waited for answers.

    He was a little late to this party. Coming to terms with these entities should have been a priority long ago. Now there would be no convoluted explanations forthcoming. He had no excuses except for his overactive libido and greed, but they were failings.

    There were no logical reasons for his unacceptable behavior. A loser didn’t have answers. A loser didn’t think in terms of logic. Hell, a pathetic simp like himself was nothing but a waste of life.

    Perhaps if he had Tapped a little less and taken more responsibility for his charge, the world might have remained a pretty decent place.
    —Mindy Peterman

    Developmental Edit

    I’ve got to say, I’m riveted by the word Tapped. I have no idea what it means in context, but if this is a story about how someone went to prison for Tap-dancing when they shouldn’t have, they have my UNDIVIDED attention.

    Ominous? check
    Pointed? check
    Raises a question? check What did this person do?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check Apparently, it was powerful enough to ruin the world for somebody.

    What does this tell us about the book we’re starting? A male, possibly late in life, regrets something—probably a lot of somethings—caused by his overactive libido and greed. He’s a loser, a pathetic simp, a waste of life. Apparently not a sympathetic character. AT ALL.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? Not necessarily. I like a protagonist I can relate to, someone with failings, yes, but also with some redeeming qualities that make me feel good about identifying with them. Unless this narrator is highly-unreliable, I don’t right now expect this character to do anything I’m going to admire.

    Genre? Fictionalized memoir, I’d say. Unless someone pulls out a gun in the next paragraph.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I get the clue that they’re in jail. I’m not certain there’s birdsong in jail, but I could be wrong. That’s enough information to place us in a hook.

    Do we need to know what’s going to happen next? I think something should. I’d like to see this character do something active to attract my interest. Passive protagonists do not engender reader loyalty.

    Does this drop us into a moment in the character’s story? Sort of—we’re waking up with sore joints. But we segue immediately into character analysis.

    Let’s talk about structure. Is this a highly-charged moment? Apparently not. It’s morning, and there’s birdsong. Does it work for it to be talkative? Because this is not a fun or silly or witty character, but actually kind of a jerk, it would be better to keep the words to a minimum. It’s extremely difficult to create an unsympathetic character, and the best way to do that is with mystery. The less said the better. What does this tell us about the story? Character-driven.

    There’s a problem here with abstractions. Abstractions are telling. They are the antithesis of showing. They interfere with your story and, because they take brain power to grasp, they disengage the reader. The only time to use abstractions is when you have something so unbelievably profound to say that you’ve built up entire scenes and episodes around this very moment.

    Also, unless there’s a specific reason, I don’t think the verb Tapped should be capitalized.

    Can this hook be made any simpler and more intriguing, while creating a mysteriously-unsympathetic character and avoiding the problem with abstractions? Let’s save the backstory info and cut straight to the most intriguing line.

    Copy & Line Edit

    Perhaps if he had tapped a little less and taken more responsibility for his charge, the world might have remained a pretty decent place.

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: In the morning, when there was nothing but birdsong—”

  1. You certainly packed a lot of emotion into this! I don’t know how agents and publishers feel about such overwhelming negativity, but hey. There’s likely a market for it somewhere. We just need to see the emotion built in a scene to hook us and you’re well on your way!

  2. Negativity in the post-Beat era does not deter anyone. What matters is: are we intrigued?

    Victoria

  3. This makes me wonder if it’s a prologue?

    Perhaps if this character does something drastic within a few moments (poor guy seems on the verge of some sort of breakdown) – and then switch to other action?

    I’d suggest interspersing the thought with some action beats. Get into it. Step away from internal, passive thought, and describe the moment through action. Make sure to weave in a main character quick!

  4. I really like the imagery of the first sentence. I could see that it might not serve as the first sentence of the book, but I think it works well, and could come slightly later. It gives the feeling of the protagonist being haunted and alone, even though all of these thoughts and sensations seem to be crowding around. Crowded and alone at the same time.

  5. I kind of like the dark tone – there’s nothing wrong with an edgy main character, as long as you give them some redeeming qualities down the road. And it does make you wonder how they got so deep into self-recrimination, what did they do to end up here? Good start!

  6. I like the poetic feel of the first sentence, which seems to counteract with the character’s personality. Interesting! I’d definitely read on after this.

  7. Thanks so much for the comments and concrit! Ashley, you are correct. This is a prologue.




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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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