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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

    Dear Major Bradon,

    I’ll keep this simple for you.

    Technomancy: The fine art of combining science and sorcery.
    Technomancers: People who manage to survive combining science and sorcery.

    Did I mention that there aren’t that many of us?

    We’ve been called many things over the years, alchemists, magicians… But don’t get hung up on whole ‘sorcery’ thing. Technology is what it’s really all about. Take a look at my business, I can apply occult biometrics to anything. Yes, even swords in stones, though I’d recommend sticking with more modern technology, it works better. Trust me, if Merlin would’ve had a chain gun with a biometric trigger-lock keyed to Arthur, he’d have used it. The crazy old codger would have loved the idea of guns.

    I don’t think I need to tell you not to try this at home. Actually, don’t try it all, stick to the military. You’ll live longer.
    —Angie Capozello

    Developmental Edit

    I love that Merlin’s gun would be keyed to Arthur. Terrific eye for the telling detail!

    Detailed? check
    Threatening? check
    Raises a question? check Who’s threatening Major Bradon?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check Don’t try what at home?

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? Major Bradon doesn’t understand Technomancers. In fact, it looks like he’s thinking about messing with them. Someone is warning him not to—on pain of shortening his life.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? I’m not completely certain what character we’re dealing with. I get the impression it’s not Major Bradon. It must be the anonymous author of the letter. They sound intelligent, creative, assertive, and a bit smart-aleck. I like that!

    Genre? Fantasy, possibly sci fi, possibly violent with that reference to the military.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? We know quite a bit about this narrator, what they do, how they do it, why they’re squaring off against Major Bradon and his military. That’s great!

    Do we need to know what happens next? I hoping we cut directly to a scene in which either the narrator looks up from writing the letter or Major Bradon looks up from reading it.

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? Well, the personal address to another character tells us we’re in an exchange. So that’s immediate. But I’m hoping to meet a character directly any second.

    So let’s talk about the structure of it. There is a problem here, and that is that agents and publishers don’t particularly like stories that start with letters anymore. I think it confuses them. Whatever the reason is, it’s a strike against you. And your hook is not a good place to have a strike against you.

    There’s also the grammar in the first sentence about Merlin. This might very well be intended to illustrate the voice of the narrator, in which case we keep it. (But if it’s an author error, it needs to be corrected.)

    Other than that, there’s a whole lot of information packed into character communication, with good motivation so it doesn’t sound contrived. And the narrator’s character comes through clearly. Excellent stuff!

    Can this be made shorter and snappier, keeping the 1st-person address to Major Bradon without relying on a letter format?

    Copy & Line Edit

    I’ll keep this simple, Major Bradon. Don’t get hung up on the whole ‘sorcery’ thing. Technology is what it’s all about.

    Look at my business: a Technomancer can apply occult biometrics to anything. Yes, even swords in stones, although I’d recommend sticking with more modern technology than that. Trust me, if that crazy old codger Merlin would’ve had a chain gun with a biometric trigger-lock keyed to Arthur, he’d have used it.

    I don’t need to tell you not to try this at home. Actually, don’t try it all.

    Stick to the military. You’ll live longer.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: Dear Major Bradon—”

  1. Thanks for the tip about not starting with letters! I had planned on beginning each major section with another snarky set of notes between the two, but now I’ll have to rethink that a bit.

    I’ve definately been struggling with the Merlin line – trying to get the voice right without tripping up the reader. I think I’ve re-written that one paragraph about 50 times already. Do you think leaving in the quirky grammar would be a deal breaker?

    And yes, you do get to meet Nox in the next paragraph. She’s fiesty, cantankerous, and I am having no end of fun writing this character 😉

  2. Angie,

    The quirky grammar is great as long as you’re using it to illuminate this character. It absolutely puts the reader in the head of the narrator. My only concern was that some new writers accidentally use poor grammar they mean to be correct.

    I think you’d be perfectly safe using a brief passage like this in italics to introduce each major section. The key is to keep it brief and extremely tight. You don’t have to make it clear they’re addressing each other in writing—that can be mentioned or even just suggested in the story. It’s a trivial point so long as the reader is swept up on their actual relationship.

    What matters is this subtle extra layer that doesn’t interfere with the flow of the plot.

    Victoria

  3. I like the contrast between science and sorcery. Using the reference to Merlin in something that’s apparently high-tech sci/fi is great. It sounds very interesting!

  4. Really like the voice of this, the tone is so sassy! And the Merlin reference made us see more than you actually wrote, instant mental picture. Great!

  5. In the first sentence three words pop out: “Major”, “technology”, and “sorcery”. A person would expect the first two to go together, but sorcery is like the opposite pole on a magnet. That raised my curiosity to see what is going on here.

    Your approach has imagination.




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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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