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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 intrepid Andrew Rosenberg of Seattle, Iapetus999, gets the FIRST Free CLIMAX Edit! And for having the cojones to throw it out there in front of you all without precedence—to be, in fact, the first at the party, so to speak—he’s going to get a Free Developmental Edit of that entire chapter. He also gets to be the only one posted today. I’ll work on the others tomorrow.

    I know. I didn’t tell you. But it’s true. Andrew gets a reward for being so entirely and courageously on the ball.

    You know what else? From here on out it’s based not on timing but on quality. The best climax I get each day for the next three days will receive a Free Developmental Edit of that entire chapter.

    I should have told you. I know. But I wanted your courage to be based on integrity and not competition.

    You can go ahead and compete over the others.

    Oh, yes, and let’s get in there and praise the authors of the Free Edits. You know as well as I do it’s not easy to put your WIP out there for others to scrutinize. Praise! That’s why we do it. Let’s make it worth these brave authors’ while!

    Setup

    Prudencia married Dunstan, Duke of Hartford, to restore her family’s prestige.
    What she really wants/needs is a man who respects her and loves her for herself.
    And there’s a lot of Steampunk shenanigans going on, since they just were defeated by a mechohorse attack.

    Climax

    “Dunstan.” Prudencia turned to the man. “You…lied to me. You’ve lied to me all along. You—you bastard. You tricked me into believing I was special, an heir to something. But I’m nothing! I never was, and I never will be!”

    “You’re my wife,” he cried, stepping closer. “You’re a Duchess, a noble woman of New Britannia. Compared to these native mongrels, you are a goddess.”

    A light dawned inside of Prudencia, from somewhere deep inside. “No. No, I’m not. We’re not. These two people, my friends, are the only noble people in this room. We should worship them. We are the mongrels, we are the infidels, thinking ourselves superior because of some title passed down by the greedy invaders of this continent, but we’re nothing. We’re craven cowards of the worst order, and we bring nothing but shame to the title Duke and Duchess. We don’t deserve any of this. They do. They should carry the titles.”

    “Blasphemy! You mock centuries of tradition, of order, of the finest breeding. These mongrels are not fit for anything of the sort, except for rounding up and executing.”

    “Over my dead body.”

    “We’ll see about that.” He lunged for the weapon in her hand. She fought him, struggling to regain control of the pistol, and it fired.

    [Note from Andrew: My wife thinks that that shot shouldn’t kill anyone important, but I disagree. Someone has to die.]

    Developmental Edit

    Can we tell clearly what the premise of this novel is? Well, we know Prudencia and Dunstan are going to lock horns over just how special or not special she is. And what’s that all about? Prudencia realizes it’s not enough to be an aristocrat—she wants to matter as a human being.

    But what happens because of her realization? Andrew’s right. Someone has to die. Because this is the exploration of values that probably inspired the author to concoct this story in the first place. But the real premise of a story is an event:

    [Whoever] accidentally killed [whomever] in a tussle over Prudencia and Dunstan’s ambitions.

    I say you make it one of them. Accidentally killing your beloved over your conflicting values is a HECK of a premise!

    I also say that immediately prior to this you make Prudencia and Dunstan on the verge of total reconciliation over previous conflicts, unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival or revelation of some piece of information, or character development, that changes everything for Prudencia.

    These characters are both strong, they’re determined, and they’re in fabulous opposition to each other. No wimps or hand-wringers here! We’re right there in the room with them, watching the sparks fly!

    Now, the dialog does cross the line into a little too much exposition/telling the reader how to feel. Prudencia and Dunstan must always been firmly rooted in real character. Do lovers and spouses talk like this when they’re mad at each other? When they’re suddenly talking divorce? (Dunstan certainly doesn’t see this coming.) Well, you know, I don’t.

    I’m going to suggest Prudencia would be more concerned with her own outrage over Dunstan’s hoodwinking her—“I’m your wife, you idiot!”—than about explaining her ethical logic to him. It’s all come to a head in her, all of a sudden, and she’s MAD. She’s in a HURRY to tell him about it. She wants to lay her cards on the table vis-a-vis their marriage, and she wants to do it NOW. If he doesn’t totally follow her philosophical dilemma, screw him. He can just figure it out.

    I’m also going to suggest Dunstan would be focused on this unexpected about-face in the woman he thought was doing okay as his Duchess, the woman he thought shared his values and his view of the crawling hordes. She’s saying what? To him? The DUKE? What, has she lost her frigging MIND? He’s going from WTF to your dead body in about five seconds flat. That kind of acceleration tends to throw a guy.

    This is pretty cleanly-written for genre, a nice little melodrama that’s not pretending to be anything but what it is: a kick in the pants. We’ll just keep in mind cutting out every word that isn’t essential to the pacing or plot.

    You will notice one thing, a little [dumpety-dumpety-dum] at the very end. We need something there, just a bit more rhythm going to get the reader barreling full-speed at that final smash into the wall: “it fired.”

    You do need to verify that whatever era this is set in actually had something we would consider a pistol. If it’s too different, you’ll probably need to use a word that describes it more specifically. Unless perhaps you’ve settled all this way back at the beginning of the novel, so the reader has known all along exactly what the thing is.

    Oh, yes. And you have to include who gets killed—that’s the climax of the Climax. That’s why you’re telling this story.

    Copy & Line Edit

    “Dunstan.” Prudencia turned to him. “You…lied to me. You’ve lied all along. You—bastard. You tricked me into believing I was special, an heir to something. But I’m nothing! I never was and never will be!”

    “You’re my wife,” he cried, stepping closer. “You’re a Duchess, a noble woman of New Britannia. Look at these mongrel natives. You’re a goddess!”

    A light dawned somewhere deep inside Prudencia. “No. I’m not. We’re not. These two are the only nobles in this room. We should worship them.”

    “You mock—mock centuries of tradition, of order, of breeding. Your ‘friends’ are fit for nothing but rounding up! execution!”

    “Over my dead body!”

    “We’ll see about that.” He lunged for the pistol in her hand. She fought him, struggling to regain control, and [dumpety-dumpety-dum] it fired.

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    6 Comments

6 Responses to “Free CLIMAX Edit: Andrew

  1. Thanks!

    Interesting interpretations on all of it…
    I think one small thing that could clarify it is that he’s not stepping closer to intimidate her…he’s positioning himself to swipe that pistol back. Maybe I need to change it to “he cried, eying the trembling pistol.” or something like that. And they certainly don’t love one another…their marriage (earlier that day) was only a bargain to solidify his power (because of her supposedly “pure” bloodline which was bunk) and her wish to, well, become someone important with power.

    What changes everything is that not only does the Duke launch an ill-fated coup with ends almost before it begins, he then tries to sneak away from it in a cowardly fashion, which she just can’t tolerate.

    The premise is more complicated than what you stated. It’s definitely about ambition, and the bloody path it leaves, but the man who really is brave and noble is right there in the room with them, but because he’s not titled, she never sees him (until now).

    Definitely gives me a lot to think about!

  2. WTG, Andrew! You’ve emboldened me. I might just submit mine.

    Oh, and just to add to Andrew’s clarification (because I know just a smidge about his book), he doesn’t have to worry too much about historical details, since this is steampunk/alternate history, and I’m certain he’s already hammered out the timeline and details. 😀

    Here’s a question for you, Victoria: how formal a register (in speech and narration) do you feel ideal in a historical?

  3. Jordan, authenticity of character and detail matters.

    But trying to speak like someone from another era. . .if you aren’t going to research how they spoke in pretty serious depth, I wouldn’t even bother. Clean, clear voice with only as much slang in dialog as you absolutely can’t get away from (and you can get much farther away from slang than most writers think) works far better than a stab at the voice of an era you haven’t totally researched to the point of exhaustion. And nobody researches the voice of an era to that point but a historian specializing in that particular era.

    You notice that Andrew doesn’t need a formal tone. “he cried, stepping closer,” works partly because it’s timeless. The impact is straight and true.

    The clue is to plug into the real details and the real people speaking and acting in your novel. Because no matter what the era, no matter how long ago or how far away, people are people. And that’s what matters.

  4. I did write most of the book in elevated tone to emulate early 20th century fiction. I kind of lost it near the end because I was rushing through the draft. But Prudencia also likes to talk in an affected (or pretentious) voice throughout a lot of the novel, to make herself sound smarter and more important.

    Here’s one of my favorite examples:
    Prudencia placed the box down, tiring of this juvenile discourse. “You shall allow me to pass and fulfill my commerce with the proprietor of this establishment, or you shall be dispatched henceforth into a lavage of mire in yon boulevard.”
    The men stood silent. “What the heck did she just say,” asked the large one.

    She tries really hard 🙂

  5. Oh, Andrew, you’re doing comedy–that’s great!

  6. Ha – I love the addition of comedy in the midst of conflict.

    I confess that I have not yet read any steampunk, although from the outside it seems like something I would like. Do you have any links to share?




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