By Victoria Mixon
Only the invisible bears us up; we speak together in the shocking darkness, each carrying the other somehow, unseen.—Derek Raymond
Here’s the thing about storytelling, folks: it has to have a purpose. Why are you telling this story? I mean, what’s your point?
If your point is that writing fiction is one heck of a fun and entertaining way to spend your leisure time, then I say, “Good for you.” Have yourself a field day. You’re enjoying your life! That’s what it’s there for.
However, if your point is that you expect to sell this story and make money off other people reading it, then I say, “Know thy audience.” Thy audience is not entertained by watching you hang out at your desk laughing hysterically at your own in-jokes. They are not moved to weep when you get all blue inside. They are not cast off the rainbow into epiphany by you leaping to your feet yelling, “Eureka!” They’re still sitting there stolidly waiting for it to matter to them.
And if you can’t give them that. . .well, don’t be holding your hand out waiting for the cash registers to start ringing. They’re not going to.
There is only one purpose to storytelling, and that is to get to the CLIMAX. So if your novel’s CLIMAX is boring, redundant, more trouble than it’s worth—FORGETTABLE—then you have a problem no amount of writerly marketing hype can overcome.
This is the simplest technique ever, but aspiring writers rarely know about it. Resonance is that wonderful reverberating feeling inside the reader that makes their whole body feel like it’s been gong’d. Gonging a reader is putting them between two large brass gongs and giving it a hearty whangngngng. Great novels always have resonance. The reader reels back in their chair at the end shrieking, “That was toooooooo fabulous!” Then they’re desperate to read it again. Or, better yet, to read the very next thing this author writes.
You create resonance by putting a subtle but clear clue to your CLIMAX somewhere near the very beginning, then spending the rest of the novel drawing the reader’s attention away from it. This is why mystery writers have to put the culprit in the first 1/4-1/3 of the novel.
The simplest technique ever.
This is the part pantsers love doing but rarely know they have to follow up on. You know what we call fuses that aren’t followed up on? Loose threads.
When you pants loose threads without knowing they’re supposed to be fuses, you get to the end of your novel. . .and it doesn’t end in all the fuses coming together to make an almighty explosion, but in you, personally, getting bored. Sadly, the writer is the last person who ever gets bored. Guess what that means? That’s right. All your readers have already died of boredom and turned up their toes long, long before you finally meandered into your ad-hoc, how-can-I-get-out-of-this? WTF-ever ending.
That’s not a CLIMAX. That’s just a fizzle.
Go ahead and amuse yourself to the eyeballs with the fruitful, verdant abundance of your random imagination. Lots of fuses! Boy, howdy!
Then spend some lengthy, intense, brain-breaking hours figuring out exactly how all those wild ideas can come together in the most thrilling, wonderful CLIMAX ever, the reason your legions of future fans are going to love this novel and read it again and again and again.
You all know about cause-&-effect, right? Because you’ve been listening to me rant about it for ages, on this blog, on my advice column, and in my books?
Readers do not read for the honor of watching you sit around all your days scratching and drinking coffee (as fascinating as that might be). No. They read for logic. Their minds are steel traps. IF a character were to have this personality, AND they were to find themself in that impossible predicament, THEN how would they cope?
Every single event you put into your story must be tied inextricably to the other scenes. What’s your CLIMAX? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that?
You know the old E.L. Doctorow saw about writing a novel being like driving a car at night where all you can see is whatever’s within reach of your headlights? That’s actually backward. Writing a novel is like backing a car up at night where all you can see is whatever’s within reach of your taillights.
Readers stop reading when they stop being addicted to your story. When it stops surprising them. When their curiosity dies.
“What’s that? Something just fell out of me onto the floor. Oh. My curiosity. DEAD.”
Not only must every single page inspire your reader’s curiosity anew, keep it fat & healthy, thrill it with unending surprises, keep your reader helplessly addicted to you and your story. . .your whole reason for telling this story had darn well better be the most surprising, curiosity-inspiring, addictive part of the whole thing.
“How’d that author DO that?” You want them desperate to keep reading your novels to find out, “What kind of magic are you WORKING here?”
At the same time that your CLIMAX must be surprising it must also be inevitable. Deus ex machina is cheating. And readers with minds like steel traps hate cheaters. Do you want your readers to hate you? No, you do not. Not if you want their money you sure don’t. But how do you make your novel’s CLIMAX both surprising and inevitable? Both unexpected and familiar? Both shocking and ringing impossibly true?
All three parts of the braid working together: Resonance. Fuses. Impeccable, inescapable cause-&-effect Logic.
Lock it in.
And when you’ve got all three aspects of the novel locked in (HOOK, DEVELOPMENT, and CLIMAX), remember to stick those 4 Essential Post-Its up over your writing desk.
MOST HILARIOUS COMMENT:
I might have this tattooed on my forearm. The entire post.—Jessica
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A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor
VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Setting an Unfamiliar Scene
A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR
VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN
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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