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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

    Those of you who have read The Art & Craft of Fiction know that I first came to tightly-structured plot through Syd Field’s great book on scriptwriting, Screenplay.

    Field is one of the top two scriptwriting teachers in Hollywood.

    The other is Robert McKee.

    So last year I finally read Story, McKee’s canonical work on writing. I know—kind of late to the party. McKee is credited with naming and defining such essential writing techniques as the ‘inciting incident,’ ‘plot points,’ and ‘set-ups and pay-offs.’ He’s been doing this work forever, and his name is probably the best-known and most-revered among scriptwriters. It’s worth knowing what McKee has to say.

    However, I actually learned to use three-act structure for fiction from Field. When I wrote about three-act design in The Art & Craft of Fiction in 2010, structure was a dirty word in the online writing community. ‘Pantsing’ was the popular mode of creating stories. And prose structure based upon scriptwriting was considered just ridiculous. So I had mixed feelings about venturing into the piranha-infested waters of the blogosphere with what I already knew was an unpopular idea.

    I did it.

    But I was wary.

    And I got pushback. “Entirely different forms!” I was told. “Novels and scripts can’t compare to each other.” “Don’t confuse yourself by writing for the wrong audience!” With perhaps the most insidious and spectacular of bad advice: “Don’t plot. It sucks the creative juice out of your story.”

    By now we all know that this is craziness. Both forms of storytelling rely heavily upon dialog to establish and develop character while illuminating subtext; both are best shown in scenes rather than exposition*; and both need solidly-designed structure.

    I’m not sure why, but these things were either unknown or simply ignored by a lot of writing teachers in those heady days of the mass explosion of aspiring writers onto the publishing scene, when the number of people hoping to become professional writers escalated so quickly that new writing terms had to be invented: “POV,” “WIP,” “pantsing.” (Writers who have been writing since before that era even now don’t necessarily know what those terms mean—they’ve only existed since the birth of mainstream blogging and its attendant rise in aspiring authorhood.)

    Now there are plenty of books on writing that address structure. And this matters. . .because structure is the most important thing, I believe, that Robert McKee ever contributed to the teaching of our craft.

    So check him out: An Interview with Robert McKee

    * In fiction, exposition is a type of narrative summary that ‘exposes’ anything the reader can’t get from the sensory experience of a scene. In screenwriting, though, everything is set in scenes—so exposition is a term used for explanation and/or background information, which usually appears in dialog. And in playwriting, exposition refers to the second act, in which the first act is illuminated through essential backstory.

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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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, 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 multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise 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 has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses 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. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” 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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