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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

    Free CLIMAX Edit #3 is Jeff’s. . .

    Setup

    Jeff didn’t send a setup, and the reason is obvious. Because we can get everything we need to know from his climax. Yeah—that’s pretty vivid writing!

    Climax

    The cockpit didn’t go silent, but the noise changed.  There had always been a background hum before, and now all I could hear was the wind.  The nose pointed down automatically.  I eased back on the yoke out of habit, practically without thinking, and watched the airspeed bleed off as I tried to hold altitude.  The propeller spun in the wind.

    Below me was a country road and a vineyard.  To the right was a rocky riverbed, to the left a four-lane highway dotted with cars.  By Hobson’s choice, I lined up with the vineyard, which was rapidly becoming my only option.

    Suddenly a powerline appears, right in the path.  Who would string a powerline over a vineyard?  I listen for the stall warning horn but there was none, so I ease back just slightly on the yoke, raising the nose.  I see the wires go by twenty feet below.  Now to line up with the rows.  Damn, should the wheels be up or down?  I don’t remember!  They are down now, and no time to change them. I don’t see any person or truck below, and it wouldn’t matter now.  I am committed.  I hold the yoke as if I were going to break it off.  Forty feet to lose, now thirty.  I am lined up, the wings are level.  I have to keep them level.  That is the only control I have left. 

    It never goes through my mind that this could be my last moment on earth.

    Developmental Edit

    First off, I’ll tell you all what Jeff already knows: This climax is actually twice as long, but I asked him to cut it down to 250 words for the special. I’m really sorry I had to, because it is GRIPPING and would have scared you guys right out of your chairs.

    So. . .given that we lost a lot of the telling details in cutting it down to size, this has some excellent stuff in it that puts us right in that cockpit, in that moment, going down with that plane. We have all the clues we need to know where we are: cockpit, wind, nose, yoke, propeller. What’s particularly interesting is that it’s not all visual details. The first tangible one, in fact, is a sound. Very nice!

    Now, jumping from tense to tense can work in a seriously literary piece, but I wouldn’t try it in an action sequence. I chose past tense because it seemed to be working just fine in the first paragraph and put it all in that.

    I’ve trimmed out every word I can to keep the momentum up, focused on the moment of impact (which, tantalizingly, doesn’t appear). Do we need that moment of impact? Imagine it without it: “last moment on earth” and cut straight to whatever happens after impact. It could work!

    I’ve altered “propeller spun in the wind” to “propeller spun with the wind” to strengthen the indication that the propeller is not spinning of its own accord. That’s essential to the plot point and absolutely must be clear.

    I’ve also removed the reference to Hobson’s Choice. Although it’s a distinctive detail that adds depth, it’s also a potential head-scratcher, and you don’t want to lose the reader at any point in this climax, wondering, “Who’s Hobson?” God forbid they should stop and go look it up.

    Overall, very powerful, very clean!

    Copy & Line Edit

    The cockpit didn’t go silent, but the noise changed. There had always been a background hum before, and now all I could hear was the wind. The nose pointed down automatically. I eased back on the yoke out of habit, practically without thinking, and watched the airspeed bleed off as I tried to hold altitude. The propeller spun with the wind.

    Below me was a country road and a vineyard. To the right was a rocky riverbed, to the left a four-lane highway dotted with cars. I lined up with the vineyard, which was rapidly becoming my only option.

    Suddenly a powerline appeared right in the path. Who would string a powerline over a vineyard? I listened for the stall warning horn, but there was none, so I eased back just slightly on the yoke, raising the nose. The wires went by twenty feet below. Now to line up with the rows. Damn—should the wheels be up or down? I couldn’t remember! They were down. No time to change them. I didn’t see any person or truck below, and it wouldn’t matter now. I was committed. I held the yoke as if I were going to break it off. Forty feet to lose. Thirty. I was lined up, the wings were level. I had to keep them level. That was the only control I had left.

    It never went through my mind this could be my last moment on earth.

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    6 Comments

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    6 Comments

6 Responses to “Free CLIMAX Edit: Jeff

  1. Thanks! That is much tighter. I had worried about the tense change, and I’m glad you sorted that out.

    Do you really think people won’t understand Hobson’s choice? That’s a shame. For what it’s worth, the wikipedia article on it has some other interesting “choices” that could be easily turned into plot devices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson%27s_choice

    Thanks again

  2. Well, I don’t know what Hobson’s choice is. I’d have to look it up. So if you’re writing for a wide spectrum of readers, you take that chance.

    I’d use it elsewhere in a story, where the immediacy isn’t so crucial.

    Thanks for the link—I love “Morton’s Fork.” You’ve got to wonder, “Who’s Morton? And what was up with his fork?”

  3. Hmm. I’m never a fan of negative sentences that tell me something that’s not happening. The way I read it, I actually thought the opposite…that all he could think about was that this was his last moment on earth.

    I think when the plane starts going down, the very first thought anyone has is, “is this ‘it’? Is this the time we crash and burn?” It the first thing they think about the first time they ever fly, that planes crash and people die.

    I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the sentence, it creates great suspense. It does disconnect me from the character just slightly.

    I’d love to see the full 500 word version in the comments!

  4. Yeah, that negative sentence is an anomaly. What it does where it is—the final sentence—is flip the reader, because of course you are expecting the pilot to be thinking, “This might be my last day.” And the fact that he mentions it at all makes a complex, paradoxical point. So you go out of this piece wondering, What does he mean? And curiosity about what more you have to say is exactly what you want.

    There was a final sentence in which he clarified, “That came later.” But it was lost in cutting it down.

  5. Interesting! I thought some of those same things while reading it (and yeah, I actually did stop and look up Hobson’s choice. Wikipedia is great, but methinks it’s preferable to have someone not turn to it in the midst of reading the most dramatic moment of your story).

    I was also left on that note of “Why not?!” with the last line—I sure as heck would be!

  6. Thanks for the comments! Here is the original:

    Then the engine just stopped.

    The cockpit didn’t go silent, but the noise changed. There had always been a background hum before, and now all I could hear was the wind. The nose pointed down automatically. I eased back on the yoke out of habit, practically without thinking, and watched the airspeed bleed off as I tried to hold altitude. The propeller spun in the wind.

    I felt like a robot as I went through the engine-out checklist in my mind, which suddenly seemed foreign, as if I had never done it before. I checked the electric breakers, the fuel level, the ignition switch, and simultaneously steered in the direction of the nearest airport—it seemed tiny and far away, like an island in an angry sea. I circled around to line up with it. I clicked the microphone button and sent out a single message that I was landing with no engine, but there was no response. I could see the airport now, and I was lined up—but it was sinking lower than it should. I unthinkingly advanced the throttle to slow my descent, but of course there was no power.

    I looked down. Below me was a country road and a vineyard. To the right was a rocky riverbed, to the left a four-lane highway dotted with cars. I knew there were powerlines over both the country road and the highway. By Hobson’s choice, I lined up with the vineyard, which was rapidly becoming my only option.

    Suddenly a powerline appears, right in the path. Who would string a powerline over a vineyard? I listen for the stall warning horn but there was none, so I ease back just slightly on the yoke, raising the nose. I see the wires go by twenty feet below. Now to line up with the rows. Damn, should the wheels be up or down? I don’t remember! They are down now, and no time to change them. The ground is coming up fast. I don’t see any person or truck below, and it wouldn’t matter now. I am committed. I hold the yoke as if I were going to break it off. Forty feet to lose, now thirty. I am lined up, the wings are level. I have to keep them level. That is the only control I have left. Twenty feet, ten.

    It never goes through my mind that this could be my last moment on earth. That comes later.

    Suddenly the windscreen fills with green, and I am thrown hard against my shoulder belt. It feels like it is stretching. It seems to last forever. I can not lift my head against it. Items from the back of the plane fly over my bowed head and into the windscreen.

    Then, it is over, and silent. I sit, unconsciously quiet, for a few heartbeats, unable to move or see or speak. Then, just as suddenly, I can move and see things. The plane is nose-down, but still upright. There is a vague smell of gasoline. It occurs to me that I forgot to crack the door open before landing, so I might be trapped. I try the door, and force it open against the bent wing below. Some training comes back to me and I turn off the ignition key, and the gasoline, and the electricity. I unlock my seat belt and step onto the wing.




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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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