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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. . .

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. . .

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.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    I have probably over 2,500 books in my house. Something around 1,500 of them are on the shelves my husband built for me in my office. And most of those books I’ve read—many of them multiple times.

    I really, really, really love reading.

    Here’s how to get the most out of it:

    1. Pleasure

      Read once for sheer pleasure. That’s the joy of every serious reader.

    2. Structure

      Then, right away, skim once more for structure.

      Find the 1/2, 1/4, and 3/4 marks and jot down notes on what occurs there or in the immediate vicinity. Find the 1/3 and 2/3 marks and do the same. Then find the 1/8 and 7/8 marks and the 1/6 and 5/6 marks—one of those pairs is the pair of lintels holding this entire novel up.

      You will be absolutely astounded to discover how concretely a well-written novel is structured. The Hook ends just about 1/8-1/6 of the way in. The ‘spin’ at the end of Act I occurs around either the 1/4 or the 1/3 mark. The shift of focus from Hook to Climax occurs at the halfway mark. The ‘spin’ at the end of Act II occurs around either the 2/3 or the 3/4 mark. And the beginning of the end—the build-up to the Climax—starts just about 1/8-1/6 of the way from the last page, 5/6-7/8 of the way in.

      While you’re at it, check out the 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, and 4/5 marks. Find out exactly what this author had in mind.

      It’ll give you chills when you see just how deftly you’ve been lead.

    3. Character

      Could you ever get tired of hanging out with your favorite characters? That’s why they exist—to add depth and texture to your life.

      When you re-read for character, you don’t have to read chronologically. Browse for your favorite scenes. Stumble accidentally on ones you loved but forgot about. Let the novel fall open in your lap and pick up reading wherever it catches your eye.

      Sink all the way into those scenes, soaking up the dozens of little, telling details with which the author has sketched these people for you. Finger them like beads. Copy out your favorite sentences.

      “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” That line has been a part of my internal world since I was twelve years old. The marvelous, adroit encapsulation of Darcy’s dignity, pomposity, internal struggle, and genuine, simple passion are all there.

      Memorize your favorite sentences in which your favorite characters come fully to life, and you will be richly rewarded later when your own sentences about your own characters roll out of you in similar detail and rhythm.

    4. Layering

      Nobody ever gets everything there is out of a single reading of a great novel. Read lightly for pleasure and then read the whole thing through again for the deeper meanings. . .consciously, slowly, luxuriously, paying attention to every little development as it unfolds. Follow closely the trajectory of scenes this author has created. Notice how each scene leads inevitably to the next, how they build on each other, shaping the characters and aiming them where they need to go. Notice what’s essential. Notice what the author left out.

      The obvious layers of the story sink into your subconscious as the subtle layers rise to the surface.

      Tom Stoppard said, “Talking to intelligent grad students about one’s own work is like getting caught in customs. ‘Yes, officer, I can see it there in my bags, but I honestly do not remember packing it.'”

      Find even those layers that came out of the author without their knowledge.

    5. Epiphany

      And realize, with the greatest works, why they’re great: because they are packed in all directions with not just a single, high-flying, breath-taking epiphany off the end of the novel, but with hundreds of wonderful, indirect little epiphanies all the way.

      Just yesterday I paused in an early chapter of Nicolas Freeling’s Criminal Conversation at the lovely, hilarious line, “‘There are times, Chief Inspector, when I should like to take a fast run of about a hundred yards at you doing up your shoelace.'”

      A few chapters later, casual commentary on police interrogation technique leaped out at me as advice on great writing:

      “The well-known raid technique: the amiable little domestic pleasantry and the bomb in the same breath. . .After the flash, the burn cream.”

      And I laughed out loud at the 1960s London slang, “fearfully twee!”

    Oh, the utter joy of fiction. You’d better believe—somewhere, sometime, somehow—somebody in one of my novels is going to one day say, “How fearfully twee!”



    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories




22 Responses to “5 Advantages of Re-Reading”

  1. Ah, I’m so excited to do this thorough re-read of some of my favorites! I’ve been very into re-reading all year – already read several books three times – but haven’t taken notice of all the elements you mention here. Basically I’ve just marveled at how each book managed to evoke particular emotions and how they worked the climax. Now I see I could do so much more!

    I’m on it.

  2. Victoria said on

    She’s like a heat-seeking missile. . .

  3. ha! 😉

  4. Fantastic post Victoria! I use index cards as my bookmarks and when I come upon a sentence I like, I’ll write it down, or if there’s a great deal of suspense in a certain scene I’ll note that too – what pages, why I need to go back to it, etc. This practice has helped me immensely in studying how I want to write, and, I believe, has improved my craft overall.

    Even better is going through all the cards at the same time and using all those sentences together to create a flash piece, or some such, just for the fun of it, (revising the sentences to use different adjectives or analagies, what have you).

    And you are so right, it’s amazing what we can learn by deconstructing a story.

  5. Victoria said on

    Holy cow, Deanna, index cards as bookmarkers is brilliant. I usually just keep my trusty clipboard by my elbow. Then I’m always scrambling to find a clean page.

  6. ‘Fearfully twee?’ We say that all the time. Brilliant idea for a post – and I love the Stoppard quote.

  7. Victoria said on

    I’m practicing now for when we see you in October. “Fearfully twee. Fearfully twee. Fearfully twee.” It is my new favorite term.

  8. Victoria said on

    And I have no idea what it means, Jeffrey.

  9. And let’s not forget–for the sheer number of things you MISS the first time around because you don’t know what’s coming. Foreshadowing is a wonderful thing, but if you don’t know what it’s foreshadowing, you’re going to miss it. I love watching the pieces of a story fall together when I know what the final shape and structure are going to be. It’s kind of like knitting that way, actually…

  10. Victoria said on

    Oh, yes, Deb. Because when a novel is written properly you’re all but ripping those pages out in your excitement to get to the Climax! You miss all kinds of great stuff, so when you re-read it’s almost like reading a new book.

    Teach me cable-stitching, and I’ll write you a blog post about cable-stitching fiction. 🙂

  11. I would be HAPPY to teach you cable-stitching, but since we’re on opposite coasts, that could be tricky. How often do you get to the NY/NJ area??

    But, really cabling is a perfect description for interwoven, twisting themes for writing. All part of the same fabric, but winding around and making it more interesting, more layered … And it looks almost impossibly intricate once it’s finished, but actually knitting it? One row, one step at a time!

  12. Jeffrey Russell said on

    Re-reading favorite parts of favorite books really is a treat, isn’t?

    Fearfully twee? That does sound like a good phrase! Wish I knew what it meant…

    Here’s something else I wish I knew… What do you mean by “The ’spin’ at the end of Act I?”

  13. Victoria said on

    Jeffrey. Ahem. Have you not read my book?

    Actually, I probably neglected to refer to it as ‘spin’ in my book. That’s Syd Field’s term for the climax at the ends of Acts I and II (the climaxes of Conflict #1 and Conflict #3). He explains in his canonical work, Screenplay, how it’s necessary for the story to take a sudden unexpected shift in direction at those points. I believe in my book I referred to it as dominoes veering unexpectedly around corners.

  14. Jeffrey Russell said on

    Of course I read the book, Victoria. And I still do. I was just making sure I understood correctly. 🙂

    You still didn’t say what ‘fearfully twee’ means…

  15. Victoria said on

    Not a clue, Jeffrey. Not a clue.

  16. How true this is, and I hadn’t realized it.

    Books I love go on a mental list and I reread them every so often – but little did I know this was more than self-indulgence, that I was actually improving my writing skills at the same time.

    (Can I admit I enjoy reading my own books, or is that totally infra dig?)

  17. Victoria said on

    We all write the books we most long to read.

  18. Terrific stuff as always, Victoria! I especially like #1; I’ve never thought about breaking a novel down in that way, but I think I’ll be paying more attention to my own work that way in the future. It makes sense, really: math is everywhere, whether we English major/literature nerds like it or not. 🙂

  19. Victoria said on

    You will be amazed. Concrete structure—it was there all along.

  20. Tamara said on

    Re-reading my favorite books is one of my favorite things 🙂 I’ve even been surprised when re-encountering an element I had forgotten. Some elements really stand out and become ‘the book’ for me. It’s interesting to see that they are surrounded by other moments I might not have appreciated fully the first time.

  21. Yes, those hidden wonders are some of the greatest riches of the works we love best! And they really teach us just how much goes into those beloved books that we might have assumed, upon first reading, where not really all that different from our own, ahem, hopeful first drafts. 🙂

  22. […] advice from Victoria Mixon on the advantages ofre-reading your favorite novels. I didn’t realize how mathematical the greatest novel structures […]