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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

    Trapped.

    Isem’s eyes flickered around the room as he shifted on the chair. There wasn’t much to see. A small table lined with chairs, a fire licking away at the logs in the fireplace. A wood stove, a sink, and a counter where his captor stood, back to him. She was a short woman, but powerful. Overpowering her was not an option. To Isem’s right, an open door beckoned him with the inviting rays of dawn. His hands twitched as they rested on the table. If I could just make it to the door, he thought, she’d never catch me.

    He glanced back at the woman. But if she catches me… He shuddered at the thought. The punishment facing him was bad enough without anything else tacked on. The prospect of freedom was too tempting though, and Isem braced himself against the table in preparation for a mad dash for the exit. On three…
    —Richard Young

    Developmental Edit

    Terrific tension! Syd Field, the quintessential playwright, always begins a scene as close to the end as possible. You don’t get much closer than this!

    Tense? check
    Detailed? check
    Raises a question? check Will he try to escape?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check Will he make it?

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? A male character named Irem is being held against his will by a woman physically stronger than him and apparently planning to punish him. They appear to be in a home, and it is dawn.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? I’m ready to at least follow him to the next page! I want to see if he makes it. And whether he does or not, I want to know why he’s being held against his will and by whom.

    Genre? I couldn’t find Isem in any name catalogues online, so I’m guessing it’s fantasy. It could be adult, children’s, or YA (I suspect the reason Isem can’t overpower the short woman is because he’s smaller than she is—a child), but there could also be a thriller or mystery element.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I like not knowing. That’s tension!

    Do we need to know what’s going to happen next? I am POISED to find out!

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? Yes, it does. The sun is coming up, and Isem desperately wants to make a break for it.

    So let’s talk about the structure of it. This is a very tense moment. There’s a certain amount of explanation that can be left to the reader’s imagination, inferred from the characters’ action and internal dialog. There is also one instance of sunlight “beckoning,” which is a problem because beckoning is a very specific gesture performed with the fingers, meaning inanimate objects—even fingerless objects—cannot beckon. Can this be made any shorter and snappier, while removing the explanations and beckoning and retaining the tension and ambiance?

    Copy & Line Edit

    Trapped.

    Isem’s eyes flickered around the room—a small table, chairs, a fire licking at the logs in the fireplace. A short, powerful woman stood at the sink with her back to him. The light of dawn came through an open door, and his hands twitched on the table. If I made it to the door, she’d never catch me.

    He glanced at the woman. But if she catches me. . . He shuddered. Isem braced himself against the table. On three. . .

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: Trapped—”

  1. I immediately liked the idea of a woman holding a man hostage! :O

    I really liked the editing on this one as well. Good example of writer and editor working together to make “beautiful music.”

    Most bodacious!

  2. I love how this starts with the one-word paragraph. It creates great tension!

    Victoria-

    I’m not sure I understand why you don’t like the use of the word “beckoned.” I totally get that it’s a human gesture, but if the open door beckoned to him, isn’t that just personification? Showing us that the door being open was calling him to escape into those inviting rays of sunlight? I really like the use of the word there, so I’m just a little confused. If you have a chance, I’d love some more explanation on this particular edit. Thanks!

    Also, I wanted to say how wonderful it’s been to read these hooks, along with your analysis and edits. It’s been quite educational and entertaining! Thanks for all the time you’ve put into them.

  3. Hi, Gretchen! Thanks for the kind words!

    “Beckoned” is one of the more commonly-misused words in English these days, which makes it a cliche. When you state that inanimate objects act and feel as if they were human, you are either writing magical realism or you are saying things that can’t possibly be true.

    Fiction is about telling the truth. Flannery O’Connor addresses this issue extensively and with great insight and charm in Mystery and Manners.

    The topic of cliches is a whole blog post unto itself. Thanks for the idea! I’ll put it on the list.

    Victoria

  4. Ah, that does make sense. Thanks for the response! I’ll have to check out Mystery and Manners.

    And yes, please write a post about avoiding cliches! I could probably use some help there. 🙂

  5. Another great example of staring int he middle of the story for maximum tension. (Looks like we’ve got the in media res thing down!) Definitely pulls you in and drop kicks you out!

  6. Yes – the “Trapped” does it for me. An immediate “Oh dear, that can’t be good” reaction. Everything that comes after paints how “trapped” the character is, and I’m right there wanting to find out.

    Nicely done – and the edits tighten everything so it hums.

  7. I liked the way you started off your storyline, Richard! Very intriguing! I do have lots of questions, so would certainly keep turning the pages!




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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. . .


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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. . .


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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. . .


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