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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

    We’re talking about tackling first drafts this month, for the sake of all you NaNoWriMoers scampering around out there. We’ve looked at Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo (doing what into the what?), 3 Essential Guidelines for starting a novel in general (doing it how?), and 3 Vital Steps to creating your protagonist (doing it why?).

    And today we’re going to look at writing individual scenes. Because that’s really the nuts and bolts of what’s going on in your squirrely little head right now.

    Or anyway it had better be!

    1. What you need to accomplish

      We’ve been talking over on Jami Gold’s blog about the Story Climax, which is—it turns out—the Whole Point.

      And this is true of every single scene you write, as well.

      What’s the whole point of this scene? Why are you writing it? Why can your story simply not exist without it? Not because it’s:

      • characterization

        That has to happen as texturing in other scenes, the ones that move the story inevitably forward toward its Climax.

      • atmosphere

        See above.

      • info dump

        See above.

      The only thing that’s fair game for a scene is a simply inescapable step in the progress of your characters’ trajectory from the first moment they jump out of the pan until the instant the land in the fire.

      Whatever that step is—that’s this scene’s climax.

    2. How you need to accomplish it

      This part is fun! This is the part about pitting your characters against themselves and each other and watching the fur fly.

      Since all fiction is about cause-&-effect, it’s a given that your characters’ movement through a scene is all about their desperate grappling with their fates. This grappling is what causes whatever you’ve already decided needs to happen in this scene’s climax. And this grappling is enormously entertaining to readers.

      This is why you’ll hear that every scene must have an aim. That simply means that every scene must have something that makes your characters fight. Nobody wants to see them lying around picking lint out of their navels. We want them to do something! And in order for that something to matter, they must have deep, fundamental motivation to do it, motivation rooted—you saw this coming—in their conflicting internal needs.

      So they spend the grand bulk of this scene wrestling with something with everything they’ve got (sometimes in solitude, sometimes in dialog, sometimes in action, even, um, wrestling).

      I have to have it!

      But you can’t!

      Nooooooooo!

      That’s this scene’s development. It’s the bulk of the scene. And it’s a blast.

    3. Why you can’t avoid accomplishing it

      Because, naturally, if your characters could avoid going through all this hell they certainly would.

      But they can’t. Because of the climax of the previous scene.

      They did something in that last scene, made a decision and sealed their doom, and whatever it was acted as the effect that caused this scene. How does the opening of this scene show that, the immediate and dastardly consequences of those actions they thought—they thought!—in the last scene were the only actions humanly possible?

      That’s this scene’s hook.

    Now, most scenes average 1,000-2,000 words, which is four to eight manuscript pages. Use this information as you write. You can go ahead and write the climax first and park it there at the end where it belongs and then go back and fill in with lots of madhouse antics. I do this a lot. And it’s generally not too hard to figure out what to use as the hook that’s going to demonstrate the soup your characters are in now, because you’ve got the climax to that previous scene sitting there staring you in the face. That’s where they were giving their all trying to avoid this exact situation.

    Just be aware as you write this first draft of how many pages you’re looking to fill.

    And remember what your reader expects to find on every single page.

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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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