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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

    It’s a story. Maybe you might think it’s not much of a story, but it’s all I have in my defense. I could tell you exactly what happened, but that wouldn’t be enough for you to understand.

    I need you to understand. I need you to know why I did what I did. Maybe then you won’t think too badly of me. Maybe then you’ll be able to forgive me. Or at least you’ll know the truth. People say the truth is subjective. That I’ll tell you the story in a way to make myself look good. But I can’t. I don’t think there is anything I can say that’ll make me look good. After all, I am guilty. But only guilty of wanting things to be better. Of wanting to do good. I mean, I loved her. I really did. I think she even loved me. But I guess now we’ll never know, will we?
    —Jo Ann Hernandez

    Developmental Edit

    A protagonist at odds with themself is a good kind of protagonist to have. A protagonist who’s done something wrong at odds with themself gives you a wonderful, wide field to play in.

    Freaky? check
    Contains pithy lines? check
    Raises a question? check What did this person do?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check Whatever it was, it shut someone up for good.

    What does this tell us about the book we’re starting? There’s a guilty character defending themself to us about something that can’t make them look good, something that has removed the option of finding out how this woman felt about the character.

    Do I want to follow this character through an entire novel? Mmmm. . .maybe not. He doesn’t sound like someone I’d want to know. I personally am not entertained by unredeemably dark characters—I’ve worked at a Battered Women’s Shelter, and I know there’s already too much of that in real life. Unless he gets really creative and interesting right away.

    Genre? The ominous mood-setting sounds like thriller to me. It could be horror, but it’s tricky to do horror in the first-person voice of the perpetrator.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? Clearly, that’s the story we’re about to hear. But a detail or two to show how this story is unique might be a good idea.

    Do we need to know what’s going to happen next? I think we already do—the character is going to tell their story.

    Does this drop us into a moment in the character’s story? No, this is build-up, the author preparing us for a terrible narrative, setting a mood through which she wants us to interpret the story. This is very common in hooks: we writers work ourselves into our stories by beginning to write before the first exciting event. That’s how we get up-to-speed.

    Let’s talk about structure. Because this is a mood piece, it relies incredibly heavily on word choice. Silly mood can be conveyed with a lot of chatter. Smart-aleck mood can be conveyed with a certain amount of well-chosen loquacity. A threatening mood, however, needs simple, straight-forward, preferably brief language to contrast with the creepy information, forcing the details rather than the author’s tone to carry the weight. Particularly with a dark mood, there’s a real danger of trying to tell the reader how to feel. This must be avoided at all costs. What does the first-person dark mood tell us about this story? Character-driven.

    This hook is also attempting something very difficult: this narrator is asking something from the reader—understanding—even while implying that who they are and what they’ve done is highly unsympathetic.

    Can this hook be made any simpler and briefer, while kicking off with a pithy line and emphasizing the character’s honesty and possibly lovability to avoid alienating the reader’s sympathies?

    Copy & Line Edit

    People say the truth is subjective. That I’ll tell the story in a way to make myself look good. But I don’t think there is anything I can say that’ll make me look good. I think she loved me. I guess now we’ll never know, will we?

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: It's a story—”

  1. I agree with the heavy editing here, but I think one point was left out that might well be crucial — that despite the possibility of it being unrequited, the narrator’s love was certain. So I would suggest:

    “I think she loved me. I know I loved her.”

  2. Maureen,

    Ah, yes. But we don’t know yet that what the narrator is talking about is love. If by “love” they mean, “I loved her, so I had to kill her,” that’s not love. And calling it love in the hook risks losing readers who know that.

    We’re working to keep this narrator interesting, which means complexity, which means we have to bend over backward not to tell the reader to like them.

    We’ll find out as the story unfolds what the narrator really feels and what it means. In the meantime, whether or not the woman loved the narrator is important because the kicker is she can’t tell us anymore.

    Victoria

  3. Well, the author now has 100 more words to unfold the story and still remain within “hook” parameters — would be interesting to see a rework on this one! 🙂

  4. Talk about a hook! anti-hero? Love it. Very intriguing. I like Maureen’s addition of I know I loved her… so his intentions meant well?

  5. I do love the mystery in this hook! Great job!

  6. I get a wonderful sense of desperation from this person. He (I’m assuming it’s a “he”)is so desperate to explain his actions–apparently, actions that were quite bad. You know he is begging for forgiveness, maybe from himself as much as from others. But you don’t really know if he deserves forgiveness. You don’t quite know whether to feel sympathy or plain horror. It conveys a lot of emotion in very few words.




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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.

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