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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

    My guitar case bounced against my trembling knee. My boot stomped the rhythm I’d practiced all week: “Heart You” by OK Morale:

    You think you’re no one special
    You think you’re alone, but—

    “Mox”

    “Mox”

    “Moxie!” I turned to Summer. “What are you thinking?”

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

    “You’re sitting two steps away from him,” she flicked her head to the right,” and you’re thinking about homework?” I shushed Summer and stole a look at Wayne. He was laughter deep in a conversation with two guys from the basketball team. His eyes moved from the six-foot range down to me. I pretended to be staring at the abstract paintings behind him. A cute goatee boy climbed on stage.

    “Any brave souls?” he asked. Summer watched me scan the audience.

    “Why did you schlep that thing down here?”
    —Marie Devers

    Developmental Edit

    Moxie is a fabulous name for fiction. Already, I’m expecting this character to live up to it!

    Detailed? check
    Realistic? check
    Raises a question? check Is Moxie going to go on stage?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check

    What does this tell us about the book we’re starting? A female character named Summer and her friend Moxie are trying to get a male character named Wayne to pay attention to Moxie. Moxie is nervous, shy, concentrating on the words to a song. . .and apparently either confused or trying to mislead Summer.

    Do I want to follow this character through an entire novel? Well, I’m willing to see whether or not Moxie gets up there and plays. (It would be a great twist if Moxie turned out to be a guy!)

    Genre? The high quotient of nerves and shyness plus homework makes me think it’s aimed at either teenagers or college students.Teens would make it Young Adult. College students would make it chick-lit (although that’s gone out of fashion in the years since this hook was written).

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? No. We have enough for the hook.

    Do we need to know what’s going to happen next? No, this set-up is good.

    Does this drop us into a moment in the character’s story? Yes, it does. We are in a place and time with these characters, Moxie has a difficult decision to make, and we can see what’s making it difficult.

    Let’s talk about structure. This is tight and illustrative—without coming right out and describing it, the writer shows us a stage, an audience, two individual groups in the audience, and the venue with its abstract paintings and cute goatee guy. She also shows us what they’re all here for without telling us: it’s open-mike night. Great use of action!

    Here’s a problem, though—I do not use song lyrics or fragments of poetry or other writers’ works in my stuff, and this is why: Michael Cunningham littered Mrs. Dalloway with excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, managing only to illuminate how very inferior his own writing is to hers. Do not do this to yourself. Also, when you use someone else’s words in your hook, it looks as though you’re trying to piggyback on their talent to attract readers, which doesn’t work.

    There are a few minor problems with punctuation and dialog structure, which are covered in “Punctuating Dialog Correctly” in The Art & Craft of Fiction.

    Can this hook be made any simpler and briefer, ratcheting the tension while keeping the good illustration, removing the other writer’s words, and giving the last line the kick it needs?

    Copy & Line Edit

    My guitar case bounced against my trembling knee, and my boot stomped the rhythm I’d practiced all week.

    “Mox. Mox. Moxie!”

    I turned to Summer.

    “What are you thinking?”

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

    “You’re sitting two steps away from him—” She flicked her head.”—and you’re thinking about homework?”

    I glanced at Wayne. He was laughing with two guys from the basketball team. His eyes moved from the six-foot range down to me, but I pretended to stare at the abstract paintings behind him.

    A cute goatee boy climbed on stage. “Any brave souls?”

    Summer watched me scan the audience, my guitar trembling. “Why did you schlep that thing down here?”

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    6 Comments

6 Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: My guitar case bounced—”

  1. Victoria said: “I do not use song lyrics or fragments of poetry or other writers’ works in my stuff…”

    I’ve always kind of liked those quotations you sometimes see at the beginning of every chapter. If this writer had chosen to use the lyrics that way (separate from the writing itself), would you have edited them out? How much can you quote without infringing on copyright?

    I do agree with the edits here but in neither version did I like the friend Summer. A lot has been said about likable protags, but I don’t know if it matters so much with a secondary character.

    That said, this seems like the beginning of a fresh, original YA novel. Good job!

  2. Maureen, those are called epigrams. They can be extremely significant and add a valuable layer of meaning to your theme. But again, if your epigram is better than your whole novel, you’ve backed yourself into a corner. I do not recommend epigrams to beginners for this reason.

    Copyright infringement is a whole other subject. Publishers know how to get permission to reprint, and most authors are willing to give such permission if asked nicely.

    Victoria

  3. Hey, I’m Marie, the writer of this hook. Thank you soooooo much, A. I think your free hook editing is a great idea because 1.) you made my hook better, and 2.) i am now looking at your editing services page the way I look at the kindle page, the LA SCBWI page, and my Amazon wishlist: I WANT IT ALL!

    Maureen. Thanks for the kudos.

    Can I risk being annoying and ask a follow-up question? Moxie is a (female, sorry) songwriter, so she quotes songs throughout the novel. Because I’m afraid of copyright infringement and cool bands who suddenly become lame without warning, I made up all the bands and all of the lyrics she mentions in the novel.

    Does this give me a free pass to talk lyrics, or would you recommend ditching the lyric angle altogether?

    And thanks for the link to the dialogue post. I am a WIP, and I need all the help I can get.

  4. Marie, I’m laughing hysterically—you MADE UP that stuff? OK Morale is YOU?? That’s completely fabulous!

    Let me add that to the Future Topics list, will you? What a heck of an idea!

    Victoria

  5. Yep, I made it up.

    Future topics: yet another reason for me to keep coming back.

    My husband once said, “How come when I do it it’s called lying, and when you do it it’s called fiction?”

  6. Those husband people. You can’t get anything past ’em.

    Victoria




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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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