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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 the joy and fullfillment of writing. We’re talking about how to find gratitude through writing.

    And today we’re going to talk about how we find community through writing.

    It’s not only about the words.

    It’s not only about the readers.

    It’s about all of us. . .being writers together.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Joy and fullfillment. Yes.

    Are you grateful for your life? I am.

    Are you grateful for just being alive? I am.

    How does writing help me find that gratitude?

    I’ll tell you a secret: it’s whole the reason I do it.

    Gratitude.

    Because we only get this one mortal coil. And we writers know how much that matters.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Today we’re going to go to my all-time most-often-viewed post: 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days.

    Now, I’m not entirely certain why this particular post has garnered as much interest as it has.

    Maybe it’s because we love to idea of becoming substantially better at our craft so quickly and efficiently.

    Or maybe it’s because 10 is a nice, round number that we can keep track of by counting on our fingers.

    Or maybe it’s because I brought up trolls first and foremost, back in a day when the blogosphere was a younger place and we were all still wondering what to do about people with nothing to contribute to the conversation but their bad manners. (Now we know: boot them mercilessly out—no one would tolerate guests at a party whose sole goal was attracting attention through dimwitted rudeness.)

    But, however you slice it, this one post has been read by more writers more often than any other post on my blog.

    So it’s worth a re-visit: 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    This topic came from @__Deb, and it’s such a good idea I’m going to extrapolate from it for two more weeks, covering all three aspects of scene: description, action, dialog.

    “Show, Don’t Tell.” Write scenes, not exposition.

    Description is important because:

    1. Details create the life on the page

      If there is one key to the difference between amateur and professional writing, this is it.

      Do you know why agents toss certain manuscripts aside without even pausing to roll their eyes? Not because they’re imps of Satan. But because they can often tell from a single page whether or not the writer has any experience at all with what they’re describing. And that authenticity is essential.

      Do you know why Grisham sells? Not because he’s Dickens. But because he fills his novels with the telling details of his characters’ worlds. Those details make his shenanigans ring true—as though he’s chronicling the real adventures of real people.

      Readers want that. Even when they’re freaking terrifying adventures.

    2. Readers read for new experiences and new angles on old experiences

      We all know how to live our own lives. I don’t need some faceless writer out there to tell me what it’s like to be me (although if they could tell me where my toothbrush has gone, that would be fab).

      A great deal of incredibly poor storytelling gets bought and gobbled up every single day solely for the sake of the experiences described. Best sellers routinely set their stories in celebrity fat farms, tourist destinations (the Louvre!), cruise ships (the Titanic!), pretty much anywhere in New York City. Readers want to believe they are also celebrities, tourists, on a world cruise. (And some of the powers of the publishing world, apparently, want to believe that everyone wants to live with them.)

      Give your reader an experience they couldn’t get without you.

    3. Writing is about using your senses to recreate the world

      Flannery O’Connor taught me this in her canonical work on writing, Mystery and Manners, decades ago, and it was an epiphany I’ve never gotten over. Five senses. All the words in your language. Put them together: a believable fictional world.

    However, description is not important because:

    1. Setting is static, and character is dynamic

      The reason stories aren’t entirely description is that readers don’t read only for the visual (or audio or olfactory or tactile). They can get that from a painting—and in less than a thousand words, too.

      Readers read for character. They want to know how that charismatic rascal is going to pull yet another Houdini to extricate themself from whatever dreadful predicament they’ve gotten themself into. They want it to feel real, sure. But they really want it to move.

    2. Readers want room to project themselves into your scenes

      You’ll hear teachers, editors, and other mentors pussyfooting around this one—“Use enough detail, but not too much.”

      How much is too much?

      “You’ll just know.”

      No, you won’t.

      Too much is more than the absolutely bare-bones essential bits it takes to sketch this one scene with only those details the characters need in order to get through their story to the epiphany at the end. O’Connor used the general rule three telling strokes to sketch a character or scene.

      If your scene has towering philodendrons and leafy maidenhair and fat succulents and towering ficas and leafy swordfern and fat nasturtiums and towering bamboo and leafy begonias and fat little lemon trees, and the characters need a sturdy flower, a lacey screen, and a long stick. . .pick what you need and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

    3. Writing is about going beyond the senses into the very meaning of life

      Which means even Emil Zola had a heck of a time creating great fiction out of purely Naturalistic description. He (and Dashiell Hammett, too) needed both action and dialog to flesh it out.

    Fortunately, you actually can get beyond the five senses through just the nuts & bolts of detail. That’s part of the magic of fiction. In fact, if you’ve crafted your story properly they can be pretty simple nuts & bolts.

    One of my favorite endings ever is Raymond Chandler’s beautiful, “It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way—but not as far as Velma had gone.”

    Even if he’d left off the exposition about Velma he’d have said what he needed to say, putting the reader into that simple final experience after the long, rich, complex experience of his novel—letting them understand for themself the Whole Point.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    You know how everyone’s always telling you “Show, Don’t Tell”? Well, that means “Write Scenes, Not Exposition.” So we’re spending three weeks covering the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog. Last week we did description. Next week we’ll do dialog. And this week we’re doing action.

    Action is important because:

    1. Fiction is about movement

      This is the fundamental purpose of fiction: to get a protagonist from point A to point B with the greatest difficulty possible.

      Don’t make it easy on them, whatever else you do. The excitement lies in the complications, the many and varied ways in which you can pull the rug out from under your characters and force them, time and again, to scramble to their feet with every ounce of strength and wit they’ve got.

      And the very best way to pull the rug out from under them is to give them needs and internal conflicts that make them pull it out from under themselves.

      It may be possible to write an entire novel without action, but I’ve never seen it work. Even Virginia Woolf’s alarmingly passive classic To the Lighthouse is about—what else could it be?—a trip to a lighthouse. It’s not a long trip, and it gets canceled at least once. But, yeah. She did eventually have to send them there.

      And a novel packed with action is not only thrilling but gets from point A to point B. Making that journey the gist of the novel is the very stuff of great storytelling.

    2. Readers are fascinated by characters in motion

      You know how interesting people are when they never move? Uh-huh. Just about that interesting. How much time can you burn up watching your co-workers stare at their computer screens in their lonely little boring cubes?

      You just fell out of your chair, didn’t you?

      Now ask yourself why mysteries, paranormal, thrillers, romance, urban fantasy/sci-fi (contemporary Westerns) are such long-time staples of best-selling fiction. Because the characters never sit still.

      In mysteries they’re always rushing around tracking down the activities of the other characters—except Rex Stout’s canonical Nero Wolfe, who spends most of his time tending his orchids and drinking beer while his sidekick Archie does the rushing around (there’s a really good reason those stories are told from Archie’s point-of-view rather than Wolfe’s).

      In paranormal not only do the characters move, they move in really weird ways.

      In thrillers they move at top-speed in terror for their lives (and thriller is the number one best-selling genre after romance).

      In romance, of course, the ways they move tend to do things to the readers’ gonads.

      And although Westerns have faded—to be replaced by urban fantasy/sci-fi, the new Wild West—it’s all about action. Westerns were riveting to generations of men who’d been raised to be intensely active boys and then wound up working rather less-active jobs in their adult lives. Urban fantasy/sci-fi readers can’t get enough of an industrial landscape much like the cities and even modern rural environments where children these days learn what adult activity is all about. . .sadly enough for those who grow up to while-away their days among endless five-foot carpeted walls.

    3. Action creates that essential Visceral Response

      Of course, the whole purpose behind the purpose of fiction is Visceral Response.

      Readers read for experiences. They want to suffer your characters’ traumas and learn through that suffering how to survive. They want to learn how it feels to survive.

      That means in their bodies. In their guts. In their hearts.

      Have you ever read an action scene that made the hair stand thrillingly up on your head? That Visceral Response is the Whole Point of action scenes.

      And if you can create that in your reader, you have earned the right to call yourself a writer.

    However, action is not important because:

    1. Action is easy to screw up

      And. . .that’s why not everyone who wants to become a best-selling thriller author does. Because action must be meticulously choreographed, tightly worded, designed and polished exactly right for maximum impact.

      Aspiring writers screw up high-tension action scenes all the time, writing them long, writing them disorganized, writing them without even realizing they need to shape them perfectly, which means cutting every single word possible.

      It is far easier to learn to shape scenes around simpler internal conflict—a conversation in which the characters misunderstand each other, or an exchange of information, or a moment of regaining balance—than around external conflict or action that requires perfect timing.

      I spend a lot of my time teaching clients how to shape action scenes exactly right. It’s not easy. But it is essential if you want to use them.

    2. Action is not plot

      You can write all the action scenes you like, and if they don’t move your plot forward they’re just churning mud. An endless number of perfectly-shaped fight scenes will eventually lose all but the most die-hard fight fans. And even those guys are probably already watching cable.

      Every word you put into a story must be essential to getting the protagonist from point A to point B. If an action scene doesn’t do that. . .throw it out.

    3. Action without meaning is just a windmill

      Because, in the final analysis, we don’t read simply to learn how to act. We read to move alongside characters through their worlds toward and through their worst nightmares. It is the movement through the nightmare that has meaning. Everything else is set-up for that.

      That meaningful action teaches your reader how to live.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking about the pros and cons of the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog.

    Now, as we all know, dialog is the mainstay of modern fiction. Raised in a world of television, radio, and telephones, we as an industrialized race are familiar with nothing if not the power of talk.

    Dialog is important because:

    1. Fiction is talking, and dialog is talking from the core of character

      It’s words, all words. Words in your mind, words on the page, words in your characters’ mouths. That’s what fiction is. That’s what sets it apart from the other arts.

      When you take that one step further—move from your own words to your characters’—you pull your reader that one step further into your imaginary world.

      And writing is all about pulling your reader as far as humanly possible out of their world into yours.

    2. We are social animals, and we socialize through speech

      More than anything, your reader is human, and human beings need connection. When we speak to each other, we’re making connections to each other. When our characters speak to each other, they’re making connections to each other and to your reader.

      Be aware of this at all times: your reader is in the room with your characters, listening to them talk and getting to know them through their conversation. That’s your magic pill! Take full advantage of it.

    3. Readers love eavesdropping

      Even better than hearing what they’re supposed to hear, readers love hearing what they’re not supposed to hear. She said that? He blurted out this? They confessed what?

      The thrill of eavesdropping through fiction—rather than real life—is that no character ever says, “Our reader’s such an idiot.” And this sometimes does happen to eavesdroppers in real life.

      It’s a win-win situation!

    Dialog is not important because:

    1. We say a lot more than anyone cares to hear

      Even the most stoic non-conversationalist says more than they need to. Nobody gets the chance to go back and edit their own dialog. That means all that extra crap is always there.

      Your job as a writer is to edit out the extra crap.

    2. A great deal of real conversation is boring beyond boring

      By far, the majority of what we say in real life is shorthand allowing us to cooperate on the things we want to do.

      “Is it?” “No.” “Yes.” “Oh, yeah?” “Um, well.” “I guess.” “Then what?” “I, uh. . .” “Huh-uh.” “Uh-oh.” “Call me?” “See you later.” “I will.”

      Do not inflict this on your reader. They don’t even listen to it when people they like say it.

    3. Talk is cheap

      What readers want is a story with legs.

      Use dialog to introduce your reader to your characters, to reveal the hidden dramas inside that complicate the characters’ worlds all out of proportion, to move your plot always, inevitably forward toward the catastrophe that is the point of using all these words and characters to illuminate something about life that your reader needs to know. . .

      . . .but don’t get bogged down in the chatter.

      Go wherever the excitement is.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Now, you all know who Shirley Jackson was, and if you don’t you can find out from last week’s post about Stephen King. She was most famous for her story “The Lottery,” in which the citizens of a small American town draw an annual lottery to stone someone to death—a story that caused an unbelievable furor when it was published in the New Yorker in 1948.

    The most frightening aspect of “The Lottery” is that Jackson claimed a great many of the hundreds of letters she received were from people who wanted to know where that lottery was held and whether or not they could go watch.

    Wow. She didn’t just find the pressure points in her readers and press them. Her readers pressed back!

    A miracle of a writer.

    But what I love Jackson for best are her ghost stories. She wrote a number of novels with the sole purpose of making you wonder what the hell is going on. I haven’t read all of them—I’m savoring the anticipation—but I have read We Have Always Lived at the Castle, The Sundial, and of course the wonderful, classical ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House.

    I just analyzed Hill House this past weekend. Although Jackson didn’t plan her novels (and, in fact, seems to have dealt with their structure with a rather liberal hand), I discovered a few things I didn’t know before, which I find simply extraordinary.

    1. Anticipation and fulfillment follow a simple arc

      If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about structure, you know it’s a straight-forward three-act design. And in a ghost story (or any story in which you want tension), this design depends as much upon anticipation and dread as it does upon fulfillment of the reader’s expectations:

      1. threat is perceived
      2. threat is described
      3. threat arrives
      4. threat develops
      5. threat retreats
      6. threat wins


      Can you can identify the six elements of structure in that? It’s really simple.

    2. Push/pull mechanism operates most powerfully in extremes

      Weak elements lead to weak reader engagement. This is why thrillers monopolize the best seller lists. You can write a story of people who are only slightly annoyed with each other while mainly pretty happy with their lot. But if you make your reader (not just your character!) really nervous, then really entertained, then really nervous again—you’ll have them by the nose-ring.

    3. The key to increasing tension is adding elements over time

      In Jackson’s work, this means adding emotional strategies for the characters to explore, ways in which they struggle harder and harder to cope with their dilemmas. Yes, your protagonist has two fundamental needs to meet. And they might have two ways in which they’re accustomed to meeting them. But the reader wants to know what they do when they’re backed in a corner, which means when their normal coping mechanisms are taken away from them.

      At first Jackson’s characters are either funny or frightened. Those are pretty normal coping mechanisms. Later they branch out into aggression. Numbness. Terror. And finally, against everything the reader has always believed in, surrender. . .

    4. Humor pushes tension past the reader’s defenses

      Humor is extremely difficult to manage because it’s such a very specialized skill, but if you’ve got the touch you’re golden. And the best place for humor to exist is not in the voice (although a lot of writers today, particularly children’s writers, depend upon a generic humor in first-person narrative voice) but in the characters.

      Jackson’s characters are deep, conflicted, touchy, secretive, and most of all witty. Even at the height of the climactic drama of the novel, in which the four main characters cower together in a bedroom all night while the house rocks and spins and tears itself to pieces around their heads, she managed to slip in a tiny bit of humor in the dialog of two characters trying—with white knuckles—to alleviate the terror that’s threatening to become all-out panic. In that instance, the reader’s resistance to their suspension of disbelief is broken by the deftness of Jackson’s touch, and the scene suddenly becomes unbearably real.

      WARNING: Don’t try to insert humor into your stories without working long and hard at it. Failed humor is worse than no humor at all.

    5. There is no substitute for beautiful writing

      Seriously. I don’t care how many times you hear, “Genre writing doesn’t have to be beautifully-written. It’s only entertainment,” that is bull. All writing is about getting into the reader’s mind, and now more than ever we need writers who understand that readers are not slot machines—insert genre whatever, out dumps a bunch of money—they are human beings with complex and sophisticated relationships to the stories they love.

      Yes, you can wring money out of readers with cheap stuff dashed off the top of your head so long as you accidentally or deliberately plug into some current fad. I could be doing that instead of editing and probably make a much better living. But fads fade over time, and if you’re dependent upon them for your sales your income will fade with them.

      You cannot create stories that last if you don’t care about the writing of them.

      Do you know why we’re still reading The Haunting of Hill House over fifty years after it was published, but nobody knows the names of the bad genre authors of the 1980s and ’90s (which authors are now griping away their years at ordinary jobs, embittered by the shift in their fortunes)?

      The writing.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I love ghost stories.

    Particularly the whole gothic genre of the nineteenth century: intense questioning of reality layered with beautiful houses and dramatic landscapes and sometimes hilariously-dated kitsch. I’ve read all of Mrs. Radcliffe. Whooee!

    I especially love the whole concept that my love for ghost stories is the other side of my utter yellow-bellied, chicken-livered response the few times I’ve thought there was a real ghost in my vicinity. Have you ever seen anyone levitate straight in the air and cling to a chandelier?

    Yeah, that was me.

    That makes my relationship with ghosts and ghostly ephemera the complete encapsulation of everything I know about the internal conflict that is the driving fuel of all fiction:

    1. Be careful what you wish for or you might just get it

    2. When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers

    So it will be no shock to any of you to learn that my one of my favorite novels of all time is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

    My god, what an amazing writer. I stumbled on that book in a second-hand store a few years ago, but I was not surprised to discover later that it is canonical and, in fact, one of the novels that taught Stephen King his trade. (I would love to get into a discussion of all Jackson’s work, and at a some point I probably will, but for now I’m going to content myself with recommending this gorgeous, mysterious novel to writers in general.)

    I was interested enough when I heard that King discusses The Haunting of Hill House in his nonfiction exploration of horror to run out and buy a copy of Danse Macabre, which King wrote in 1981 between Firestarter and Cujo (not counting one of the novels he wrote under his Richard Bachman-Turner-Overdrive pseudonym).

    Now, it turns out King’s interpretation of Hill House is, sadly, so wildly pedestrian as to be almost useless. He analyzes Hill House at length as the height of narcissism because it’s about the internal world of a young woman with whom he can’t identify (although one of his own favorite novels is Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, which is about the internal world of a man with whom he apparently can). King finally admits there might be another “truly terrifying” interpretation of Hill House, which is that it’s the house itself that’s generating the ghosts. . .um, bingo, Stephen.

    However, King is still heck of smart, his book is a meticulous research project on the horror genre of the twentieth century (largely movies and television, but also fiction), and he’s a very good writer when he wants to be.

    I dog-eared dozens of pages of Danse Macabre so I could go back later and copy out quotes and insights, which I am studying right now. And I’m discovering that even when King is a little limited in his exploration of his basic insights, they lead me into truly rich ground in my own understanding of fiction.

    1. Fiction is seeking pressure points

      Wow, do I love this insight.

      Fiction is about reaching into the reader, past their intellectual understanding of both your story and themself, and pressing where it’s sensitive. Some writers—like King—do what they do because for many people the resulting adrenalin rush of terror temporarily deadens all other feeling and gives them some relief from their own fears. And King has learned that readers in an era of political upheaval and economic uncertainty are willing to plunk down a whole lot of cash for relief.

      This is also why romance aka soft-core p*rn is the top-selling genre these days.

      Adrenalin rush through either procreation or running for your life, the two most predictable chemical jolts in the animal kingdom. Temporary relief.

      Yes, indeed.

      But even if you’re not interested in simple-minded triggering of the adrenalin of terror or sex (as I really am not—there are real-life social and personal consequences to addiction to those particular adrenalin triggers, which I’m not going to get into here), your goal is still to trigger emotion in the reader.

      Not in your characters. In the reader. Visceral response.

      Without that, you’re just talking to yourself.

    2. Without belief, there is no reader engagement

      King talks about reader engagement purely in terms of terror and horror, but again this insight applies to all genres, all fiction.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in a fantasy adventure? That reader had better believe the logic behind your fantasy, or they’re not going to feel the thrill of the adventure.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in an exploration of sci-fi? That reader had better believe in your science, or they’re not going to feel invested in the consequences.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in YA or MG? That reader had better believe in the authenticity of your teenagers’ or children’s world, or they’re not going to feel one cotton-pickin’ thing for the dilemmas of your characters.

    3. Fiction is both what you say out loud and what you say in a whisper

      This is called subtext, and it’s essential for all storytelling.

      An enormous amount of the writer’s toolbox is devoted to techniques specifically designed for subtext: structure, pacing, resonance, juxtaposition, dialog, description, action, gesture and mannerism and expression, word choice and and sentence structure and telling detail. The list goes on and on.

      Devote yourself to learning these techniques, and the entire universe of subtext will blossom for you with a complex and unearthly beauty.

    4. Locking the world out is locking the world in

      Again, King discusses this purely in terms of terror—that the character’s efforts to hide (specifically inside a house) lead them very often to closet themself with their enemy.

      But this is, in the greater scheme of things, why readers read: as they sink into fiction to escape their own worries and griefs, they find themselves unconsciously drawn to stories that reflect those very things.

      This is the psychological reflex of healing. We are unconsciously desperate to lock ourselves in with what truly haunts us (not just what pushes our buttons), to face it and triumph once and for all.

    5. Lives and careers can be destroyed in a moment

      Fast, succinct, condensed—these are the hallmarks of great fiction.

      You want your fiction to be powerful, don’t you? Well, power is greatest where matter is most condensed. Don’t stand too close to a black hole, people.

    6. Reader engagement arises from the feeling that the world is ‘unmaking’

      And this is perhaps my very favorite insight. Just that word: ‘unmaking.’ King has put his finger on the pressure point of all humanity with that one.

      Both anticipation and anxiety are the key human responses to the possibility that something we want and need will all our souls is being ‘unmade.’ And those are two of the most powerful push/pull emotions a writer can use.

      Push the reader away with anxiety—oh, no! things are falling apart!

      Pull the reader in with anticipation—oh, boy! things are falling apart!

      The ways in which the reader feels these developments depend entirely upon how you craft your characters, what needs you give them, what illumination you cast upon their endless struggles to meet their needs.

      This is the core of the writer’s work: employing the myriad wonderful techniques of fiction to play upon the reader’s emotions like a xylophone.

      Oh, yes.

    7. Stephen King did a lot of cocaine in the early ’80s

      And you can sure tell.

      You get this from the last third of Danse Macabre, which escalates into the final chapters until you can veritably hear that ole razor scraping the mirror. “Just one more last thing,” he starts saying. “Just one more last thing.”

      Notice how he loses reader engagement when it stops being about leading the reader where he’s decided he wants them to go and begins to be only about him and his frantic, hopped-up need to just keep talking?

      Take a lesson from Stephen King.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I promised you guys a long time ago that whatever I learned from the fabulous Notebooks of Henry James I would share with you here. I haven’t finished it yet—it’s a heck of a long book, plus I got completely sidetracked by Shirley Jackson’s key to increasing tension over time, Dashiell Hammett’s description of Sam Spade’s face in v’s, and Stephen King’s coke addiction, not to mention my grandmother—but I’ve read enough to be able to share some wonderful stuff.

    So. . .please allow me to introduce you to the lessons I’ve learned from the indomitable Henry James:

    1. What passes for exposition in much of modern fiction is merely notetaking to the greats

    2. If you didn’t know how beautifully-rendered and meticulous-written James’ stories and novels are, you might mistake his notebooks for his fiction.

      It’s all there: the protagonist’s situation, character, relationships to the other characters. The secondary main characters and their relationships. The Hook, Development, and Climax (which he sometimes called the denouement, as did Gustave Freytag when he invented Freytag’s Triangle). The motivations for everyone’s behavior. The insights explored.

      All that’s left is the actual writing.

      For the record, James never stopped exhorting himself to write shorter stories than he did. His notebooks are simply riddled with announcements that he intends to limit himself “this time” to 5,000, 8,0000, or 10,000 words. And he seems to have been a consummate failure. I think it was The Ambassadors that was intended to be barely a nibble.

    3. Characters, even in the most ‘literary’ of fiction, always cause their own problems

    4. Very often, James started with an idea based on a story someone had told him at a dinner party. (He was quite the social butterfly of London, an upper-class American expatriate who complained, Camille-like, of the ceaseless whirl of invitations even as he hurtled constantly from taxi to taxi, doorstep to dining room.) His notebooks will say something like, “Lady M told me last night of the case of H de L,” and then elaborate upon the anecdote, commenting in almost audible mumbles, “I think if I were to make it someone young—a woman? a man?—and give them a reason for objecting to the elder woman’s ambitions, I might have a nice little vignette. Yes, I believe that would illuminate what I mean to discover.” Half the time he was mumbling to himself in broken French.

      Always, always he was working with the characters, delving into their conflicting interests and needs, piling pressures on them to see what they’d do. In long, luxurious discussion with himself.

      This could go on for weeks, months, years. He didn’t bother to start the actual writing until he had his conflicts worked out.

      He knew that the Climax of a story is its Whole Point. So he delved and delved and delved until he knew exactly what his Whole Point was.

    5. The more a writer develops their storytelling muscles, the greater a thrill it is to be a writer

      And the loveliest part of reading James’ writing process is the sense you get of his great pleasure in his expertise at spinning tales.

      I believe, of course, that he loved the actual writing. He was so adept with a well-turned sentence, so skilled with flashes of insights. What a joy to be able to produce such accomplished lines, paragraphs, and scenes! Although his writing in his later years became ridiculously convoluted, if you take the time to disentangle his sentences you see that he really was mining ore worth mining, creating refractions with his complicated sentences that could not be created any other way.

      But he also loved the planning. Oh, how he loved it.

      Because he knew this work takes two different parts of the writer’s brain: the storytelling part and the prose part. We cannot become writers by choosing to develop only one and neglect the other.

      This is a lesson it’s too easy to forget in today’s manic rush to publication.

      There is the art. And there is the craft.

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Seth Godin doesn’t think you should write a book thinking you’ll make money off it. He’s written thirteen. I’m guessing he might know.

    But you should watch the video he links to, because it is very cool, and everything Taylor says about teachers can be said about writers.

    What do YOU make?

    Subscribe:


    “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


    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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