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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

    There’s really only one thing we can talk about today: CLIMAXES.

    The climax of your novel is, bizarrely enough, the premise. It’s the point of the entire story.

    Suppose you’re a writer working intensely on an incredibly deep and meaningful story. You’re an eighteenth-century American who’s been in Europe and are on your way home, so you have to do this work on shipboard. But that’s okay because you’re so completely immersed in it that you could work on it anywhere. Or else you’re a European who’s been in America. But, anyway, you’re on a ship, working, working, working away as towering waves crash over the prow and the tang of salt wafts to your nostrils.

    Now, news of this extraordinary story has leaked out into the general public. Since you have a huge international reputation as a storyteller, everyone knows this story is worth a fortune. It’s rumored to be the pinnacle of your career. It’s the most amazing production of a brain that’s already produced stories greater than Homer’s, plot twists more baffling than Cervantes’, audience investment more powerful than Shakespeare’s. Anyone who possesses it will be richer than Croesus. But of course you keep it top secret so no one can steal it from you. It is—as Bertie Wooster would say—a real pip.

    But disaster strikes
    . Oh, no! Your ship is hailed and, in quick order, boarded by pirates. They kill everybody on board and take command. You are hauled up in chains before the pirate captain, the notorious Assuipe, with his reputation for collecting strange and unusual treasures and selling them to buyers of enormous wealth known only to him. This guy could sell snow to Eskimos. He’s that good.

    And he wants your story.

    “No!” you cry. “I won’t tell you! I’d rather DIE FIRST.”

    He’s okay with that. In an instant, his minions have flung out a plank, and you are encouraged at sword point to climb up on it and begin your promenade. They’re leaning over the side of the ship tossing edibles into the depths to attract sharks. This guy’s mean.

    “Well?” he calls when you’re a third of the way down the plank.

    “I won’t!” you yell furiously over your shoulder. You rattle your chains above your head at him.

    Poke, poke go the points of the swords.

    “What do you think?” he calls when you’re two thirds of the way down the plank.

    “Never!” you bellow, yanking futilely against your chains. One foot slips, and you jerk it back with a private whimper.

    Poke, poke go the points of the swords.

    “It’s time, matey. Will you tell me or won’t you?” he calls when you get to the end of the plank.

    The pirates lift, and the plank begins to tip. Below your feet, shark fins are circling. The tang of salt wafts to your nostrils. You shriek.



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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.