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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

    So you’re sitting at the table in the captain’s cabin across from Assuipe, guzzling wine and trying not to bang your elbows on the brass table rail that keeps stuff from flying off during storms. He’s allowed you to change your britches, but you’re still wondering whether your heart will ever stop pounding. Probably not.

    “Tell me again,” Assuipe says, clutching his quill and preparing to write laboriously as you speak. He’s not very literate.

    “It’s the story of a genius of a writer whose greatest idea, the most extraordinary premise, the pinnacle of a brilliant career, is stolen by a—by a—well, a pirate.”

    “I like it!” Assuipe belches into his fist. “Go on.”

    “It starts in a little seaside village, where the writer lives. She’s down in the waterfront pub with her friends, when she hears the story of this terrible pirate. It’s her best friend, Panther Jack, who tells the story—”

    “Screw that,” says Assuipe. “Tell me about when the pirate steals the idea.”

    “That’s at the end.” It’s obvious Assuipe knows nothing about the art of storytelling. What a cretin. “Panther Jack is this kind of maverick sailor. She could be a ship’s captain, she’s so experienced, but she’s not into power or authority, so instead she roams the seas on whatever adventure strikes her fancy. She and the writer grew up together—”

    “Screw Panther Jack,” says Assuipe. “I want to hear about the pirate.”

    “I’m trying to tell you—”

    “Your idea about a pirate.”

    “NO. The pirate’s not even in most of it. He only comes in at the very end, when he wrecks everything. He’s just part of the climax. He’s not the actual story.”

    “I like him.” Assuipe grins, and you immediately wish he hadn’t, because his teeth are the worst. “Your climax is the whole point of your story. Bozo.”

    “Assuipe—” You suddenly realize why nobody ever says this guy’s name out loud.

    And so you go back and forth for hours, dickering over your genius idea.

    “—so the writer goes overseas to think this all out, and while she’s there the pattern of everything she’s been through crystalizes in her mind, and—bingo!—Panther Jack’s story of the pirate comes back to her, and she realizes it’s the kernel to the most brilliant premise—”

    “—which is that a terrible and swashbuckling pirate king steals a stupid story so he can live happily ever after—” Assuipe is trying to massage the cramp out of his writing hand.

    “No.” You shake your head. “Living happily ever after isn’t part of the climax. It’s the resolution.”

    Assuipe sighs and puts down his quill. “Living happily ever after is the resolution to the story. But before that, the resolution to the climax is me letting you get down off that plank.” He hawks with a revolting sound and spits into his empty flagon. “You know, for a famous writer, you sure don’t know squat about structure.”

    Read the full essay on the Art and Craft of Fiction.


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11 posts. . .because this blog goes to 11


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.