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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 filming began last week after months of preparation. He was eager to get on with it. He was known for channeling a character so well that his physical appearance changed. He’d been making movies since his twenties, and was well known for a time. He was aging though, faster in movie life than real life. Even with filters and makeup and soft lighting, the camera picked up the worry lines, the softening of his features. He was 45, and no longer the big star. He’d been relegated to supporting actor by age and a fickle public. He didn’t mind, it was still absorbing and let him escape himself. He was spared most of the publicity obligations, where the media wanted the fresh face of the star sitting at their interviews. He didn’t get many people recognizing him anymore, because the public had moved on. He had a chance to start over.
    —Amy Henry

    Developmental Edit

    I like the philosophical attitude of this character. I should be so philosophical!

    Informative? check
    Detailed? check
    Raises a question? check Who is he?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check How is he going to start over?

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? A 45-year-old male movie star is facing the decline of his fame due to aging. But he doesn’t mind. He still has work, and he likes the percs of greater anonymity. He is starting a new life.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? Well, he’s not unpleasant. But he doesn’t have a very complete personality yet, aside from his philosophical attitude toward his conflict. I’m interested in seeing how he reacts to something he’s NOT philosophical about.

    Genre? Mainstream fiction?

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I’m interested in a few more concrete details. We know his backstory, but we don’t know much about him as a person.

    Do we need to know what he’s going to do next? I’m hoping something unexpected. I’d like to be thrown into a scene where he shows us the things we’re being told.

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? Not yet. We know he’s a week into filming a movie and several months into prepping for it.

    So let’s talk about the structure of it. One note: numerals are spelled out unless they’re ridiculously long, like years.

    Now, the character seems like a perfectly nice guy with a solid philosophical side, which is attractive. But this is mostly backstory. Can we make it shorter and snappier, while saving the backstory for later—or, better yet, set this up to illustrate the backstory in a scene—focusing right now on the most intriguing elements?

    Copy & Line Edit

    The filming had begun last week, after months of preparation. He had a chance to start over. He was eager to get on with it.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: The filming began last week—”

  1. You know, after I sent this, I realized it sounds more like the inside of the dust jacket rather than a hook. Sheesh. So I have lots of work to do. Is there a problem that I used “he” so much? I wondered that too. Thanks Victoria….your questions are a huge help! Amy

  2. You’re welcome, Amy!

    Any word that’s repeated a lot begins to draw attention to itself, but where you have to pay the most attention is at the beginning of sentences. You can only start a couple of sentences in a row with the same word before it starts to grate on the reader’s nerves.

    I would love to see this piece re-done as a scene in which we get to see the character being all the things you describe him as. Give us snippets of dialog between make-up artist and director about his aging, let him deal with someone either baiting him or reassuring him about how his career is going. Throw us into the moment! We’ll learn a lot about him from hearing him speak to people and seeing his body language as he copes with this change in his life.

    Victoria

  3. I would love to see this character interacting in a scene. I can already tell the writer has a great voice. Well done!!

  4. This is what is so hard for me to understand, because the answers to the questions that are brought up about him do get answered in the following paragraphs. So I see I need to find an active moment, introduce him there, and then get to the backstory.

    I’m just not sure how to convey enough details about him in the hook that will make him interesting to continue with, and not have too long of a hook. This is great though, gives me a focus!

    Thanks so much!

  5. Amy, you’re very welcome.

    You can use those first few lines of edited exposition if you feel it’s important to the story to introduce it just a little. But readers are most deeply affected by scenes.

    You don’t have to make the entire scene less than 150 words. Just the beginning part, the part that grabs the reader’s attention, makes they curious about this character, and then drop-kicks them with a little nugget of juicy news. You can keep going with the scene after that if you want. The example of hook-development-climax on a micro level that I used on Nathan’s blog—the lines from Jack Kerouac—were not the entire scene. But they grabbed us, made us wonder, gave us some information, and then snapped our heads around a little just to make sure we were paying attention. Keep that up for 250 pages, and you’ve got a cliff-hanger.

    Yes, the things I suggested you ‘show’ in your new scene are all ‘told’ in the original exposition. Do you see how this is simply Show Don’t Tell? You can TELL us your protagonist is forty-five and beginning to show his wrinkles on camera, but it’s more real to us if you SHOW us the characters dealing with this fact.

    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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