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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

    The wolf would have been mistaken for a large dog in the low light. Alexis wasn’t fooled. She knew who and what he was. His hackles slowly raised and he bared his teeth.

    “I’m not going back, Quinn.” Alexis hugged the bag closer, shielding herself from the intense, glowing eyes as best she could. “I know the rules. You can’t force me. I have to choose it and I don’t.”

    A sharp huff escaped his snout. She didn’t dare move. After five years of running from the Keltoi, and from Quinn in particular, she had finally allowed herself to believe she was safe. She’d settled down, taken a full-time job and rented an apartment. Hell, she had even adopted a cat from the local animal shelter. She should have known better. Quinn would hunt her until either she was dead or he was.

    It was in his blood, or rather she was.
    —Stephanie St. Clair

    Developmental Edit

    I like a story that throws me straight into a scene. And chances are good I’m going to stick around for the second page if the characters are scaring the bejeezus out of each other without resorting to tacky violence!

    Tense? check
    Solidly detailed? check
    Raises a question? check How’s she going to get away from the wolf?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check Yes! Yanks the reader’s head right around—what do you mean, she’s in his BLOOD?

    What does this tell us about the book we’re starting? A female named Alexis with an important bag squares off against her arch-nemesis, a wolf named Quinn with whom she has long, scary history.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? I’m willing to see where she goes next. She’s got guts, she’s got a cool head (she knows the rules), she’s got a heck of a vital conflict going on here.

    Genre? Fantasy. Maybe adventure or thriller.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I think we could drop some of this backstory. The tension in this scene is great. I’d focus on it.

    Do we need to know what’s going to happen next? I’M sure sticking around to find out!

    Does this drop us into a moment in the character’s story? You bet. Alexis is just about to fight for her life. That’s a heck of a good moment.

    Let’s talk about structure. The tension is high. Just based on what we know about her already, we’re willing to throw our weight behind Alexis. The backstory can wait until later. Let’s turn up the heat.

    Can this hook be made any shorter and snappier, without inessential backstory, while keeping the conflict focused?

    Copy & Line Edit

    “I’m not going back, Quinn.” Alexis hugged the bag closer, shielding herself from the glowing eyes. “I know the rules. You can’t force me.”

    The wolf’s hackles raised, and he bared his teeth.

    She should have known better. Quinn would hunt her until either she was dead or he was.

    She was in his blood.

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: The wolf would have been mistaken—”

  1. Stephanie St.Clair said on

    Thanks for the comments. I loved how you tightened it up. 🙂

  2. I’m glad! Half of editing is taking words out. The other half is knowing which ones to leave in.

    Thanks for being one of the guinea pigs! You did a great job.

    Victoria

  3. The only thing I’d change, in the tightened version, would be to leave the last line as it had been. It begins gently, and in an ordinary way, then the “…or rather she was” really snaps the reader’s head around.

    Apologies if sideline comments aren’t wanted for these exercises.

  4. KjM, you make a good point. The reason I didn’t keep that either/or structure is that it’s used in the line above, and it weakens the impact of a technique to use it twice in a row unless you’re very specifically building tension with repetition—which unfortunately is a technique so over-used I avoid it unless it’s from a really fresh and different angle.

    If you can remove the either/or from the sentence above, it works fine in the kicker.

    Victoria

  5. Aww, I liked the part about the cat. Gives the MC a human touch.
    Sometimes too many edits makes the characters sterile. I want to know why I should care about this person, not just the fact that they’re in danger.

  6. Ah – I see it now (now that’s it’s been pointed out to me. Sheesh!)

    Finely edited. It has to be hard not to let your concentration weaken as you work on these, so you don’t miss that kind of repetition.

  7. Andrew–you bet, the cat will be in the picture. Just not the first few words. Focus on one thing at a time, so the reader knows what to pay attention to. Yank them in by the collar first. Then show them how nice you’re going to be.

    Pushing your readers around: http://victoriamixon.com/2009/06/20/pushing-your-readers-around/

    Or are you just afraid I’ll take the cat out of yours? 😉

    Victoria

  8. really good! I liked the action, immediately I was wondering who Quinn was and why. Very tight piece. Nice!

  9. I was especially intrigued by this one, since I love Celtic mythology and things derived in some way from Celtic culture or history. So reference to the “Keltoi” got me right away. Then add in the suspense of the wolf being there in the first place, and the fact that she’s been running from him for so long, and I’m certainly hooked.

  10. This one hooked me right away. The line edit was just the thing…

    Wondering what will happen to cat. Don’t kill the cat!!! 😉

  11. Love this one – you immediately get thrown into the shoes of someone being hunted, and feel for them. Genre is clear from the get-go, conflict is clear, and it makes you want to learn more about both characters.

    Not worried about the cat. I’m sure it will eventually walk in while we’re sleeping, bat at our nose and drop a dead mouse on us. Just because it can. 😉

  12. Very intriguing hook. I’d certainly read more. I want to know how Alexis is going to get out of this – and what Quinn will do to keep her. Great characters right off the bat.

  13. “It was in his blood, or rather she was.” ??? I have to hang around just to find out exactly what that means. This is no ordinary wolf. Werewolf? At least it’s something supernatural. This hook leaves us with dozens of questions that need to be answered without leaving us too confused to care. We have to know!




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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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