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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

    I was happy. Life was good. I had a beautiful twenty-two year old daughter, a successful practice, numerous friends, and a nice home. Now I have nothing to speak of, all because of those evil boys.

    My daughter is dead though she died months before her death.

    My practice is dwindling because I’m rarely there to treat patients.

    My friends I’ve alienated.

    My home is empty.

    I’ll never be happy again. Life is over for me. And, is or will be, over for a few others.

    I stand corrected. I do have something to live for—my quest for justice.

    This society will not provide justice for my daughter. No. She has no proof. No witness. Nothing but her word. Not enough evidence to arrest, much less convict. I know how the system works, and she did too. Yes. It’s up to me to make things right again.
    —Lanetta J. Sprott

    Developmental Edit

    This sets us up like a rubber ball on a high dive.

    Tense? check
    Clear? check
    Raises a question? check What happened to the daughter?
    Drop-kicks us off the end? check The dead daughter has something to say? So cool!

    What does this paragraph tell us about the book we’re starting? Some adult old enough to have a twenty-two-year-old daughter has lost almost everything they value over something that happened to kill their daughter. This character knows whom they blame, and they have made the decision to “make things right again,” whatever that means to them. There’s a reference to “evil” boys, which could be either hyperbole or an indicator of the paranormal. There’s also a reference to “this society” not providing “justice,” terms that aren’t defined in this context.

    Do I want to follow this character through a whole novel? I don’t know yet. If this character is just self-righteous and prone to hyperbole, probably not. However, if this is a character with their back against the wall fighting paranormal murderers with the aid of a daughter who continues to speak and bear witness after she’s dead, then, yeah, I’m interested!

    Genre? Revenge thriller, possibly paranormal.

    Do we need to know who the character is, how they got here, where they were before? I wouldn’t mind more specific details. I’d like to know how this character is different from everyone else who ever had beautiful grown kids, a successful practice, friends, and a nice home (whatever that means to them) and lost it all.

    Do we need to know what the character’s going to do next? I’d like to meet them, see them in action in a scene. So far, I really don’t have a grasp on their personality at all.

    Does this paragraph drop us right smack in a specific moment in this character’s story? No. This is mood-setting.

    So let’s talk about the structure of it. It’s a series of emphatic simple statements, building to a longer paragraph that fills out some of the subject matter. That’s nice use of sentence structure to create tension! However, there is some real question about whether or not this is an interesting protagonist, someone with clear judgment, an intriguing conflict to deal with, and real backbone to fulfill that promise about justice. I’m going to assume that it’s an interesting protagonist and the use of the abstractions “evil” and “justice” are there not to be taken at face value as abstractions, but to create a noir effect. Can this be made shorter and snappier, focused on the protagonist’s need, while maintaining reader interest and sympathy?

    Copy & Line Edit

    I was happy. Life was good. I had a beautiful twenty-two-year-old daughter, a successful practice, friends, a nice home.

    Now my daughter is dead—she died months before her death.

    My practice is dwindling.

    My friends I’ve alienated.

    My home is empty.

    This society will not make things right. My daughter has no proof, no witness, nothing but her word. Not enough evidence to arrest, much less convict. I know how the system works, and she did, too. But I do have something to live for—

    Justice.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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No Responses to “Free HOOK Edit: I was happy—”

  1. Wow, I’d like to know what happened too! Revenge can be so creatively done, and this protagonist sounds like the one to do it!

  2. Thank you for your insight, suggestions, and especially for taking the time to do this for me/us!

    I never realized there was a “Revenge Thriller” genre!

    I have a couple of questions….

    You wrote: “This sets us up like a rubber ball on a high dive.” I’m not sure what you meant.

    Is “mood-setting” a bad thing to start off with in telling a story?

  3. 🙂

    You’re welcome, Lanetta! “Rubber ball on a high dive” I made up to amuse myself. It means you’re drop-kicking us with a vengeance, which can only be good.

    I think I made up “revenge thriller” too. There are thrillers. A lot of them are about revenge. If that genre didn’t already have a name, it’s got one now!

    No, mood-setting’s not a bad thing. If it was, I’d have advised you not to do it. But it must be handled carefully. For another example of a mood-setting hook, see A lot of people think garbage collectors are idiots—

    Victoria

  4. Got it! Thanks! I admire your sense of humor!

  5. I loved the changes Victoria made – really cut to the chase more. You have an awesome premise! I’d definitely read on no matter which changes you decide to keep. I like “revenge thrillers” as Victoria says, and I think you have a great start here. I’d love to see some action soon though, but I believe that’s probably right around the corner!




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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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