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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. . .


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.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we learned how to plot wrong. That was fun! Now we all know how to do it so nobody will ever be interested and our stories will never get published, much less read.

    Interestingly enough, when I wrote this whole series two years ago it was the post on how to characterize wrong that got all the attention.

    So I’m going to send you on over to that original post to find out why.

    What you’ll learn over there is something I learned—not by reading lots of books on writing or taking lots of classes or attending a lot of writers workshops or following lots of blogs—but by studying storytelling. Novels. Stories. Ballads.

    The real thing.

    And I want to remind you: you should be learning the bulk of your craft this way too.

    It’s all about the real thing.

    Next week we talk about how to write wrong.

    And the week after that we talk about how to revise wrong.

    Plus, of course, we need 9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    April is the cruelest month.
    —T.S. Eliot

    Apparently bank clerks really have a hard time with certain months of the year. Of course, the last person you’d expect to write canonical poetry is a bank clerk.

    So I’m going to spend this month talking about how to do everything backward. There’s nothing like doing something wrong to bring out the unique creativity of the individual.

    Let’s start with plot, because that’s the simplest thing to learn and therefore the simplest thing to screw up:

    1. Hook at the wrong place

    2. Most aspiring writers have no idea what they’re going to write about in their novels—they just sit down and dive into something that seems interesting. And that’s a lot of fun! Whee, doggies. Who are these characters? What are they doing here? What are they up against? Why don’t they know it?

      And this last bit is what bites them in the butt—Why don’t they know it? Because the writer doesn’t know it, that’s why. But the characters should know. They should be completely and shockingly clear on what they’re up against in the Hook. And they should be absolutely desperate to get it resolved.

      When you launch into a story this way—expecting to keep this Hook in the final draft—all you do is share with your reader your own fogginess and indecision about your story. And they don’t want your fogginess and indecision. They have plenty of their own.

      Unfortunately, your characters can’t possibly know, in all its depth and import, something you don’t know. You need to know why you’re starting where you start. That Hook casts its shadow forward over your entire novel.

    3. Develop in the wrong way

    4. And because these aspiring writers don’t know what their novels are about when they start writing them, they have no idea where to take them. They just keep writing scene after scene, bumbling along, feeling around in the dark, wondering what on earth is going on.

      Again—all kinds of fun and excitement. For the writer. Beyond boring for the reader. The reader needs you to have already figured out what on earth is going on. Otherwise, they’ll go find a writer who has.

      You would not believe how much of my time I spend kindly separating the wheat from the chaff for aspiring writers. “This scene is fabulous and gripping and carries your story forward exactly right,” I’m telling them. “These other ten scenes must have been great fun to write, I know. But they’re your background notes. They belong on your desk, not in your novel.”

      If you could figure out just how much of my time that takes. . .you’d know just how much money you could save by doing that part for yourself.

    5. Climax at the wrong place

    6. And when these aspiring writers finally burn themselves out on all this random fantasizing, they tend to throw up their hands and end on the real point of all this for them: a long, detailed description of how happy all the characters are when they’re no longer struggling anymore. This can go on for a really long time. This can go on for chapters.

      Which just caps off this exercise in writing for the sake of the writer. Unfortunately, this is vastly different from writing for the sake of the reader.

      Even John Gardner was told to cut 1/3 of his 1970s magnum opus, The Sunlight Dialogues. (He did.)

    Because this is the crux of the matter: you can write your first draft solely and entirely for your own sake if you like. Everyone knows how thrilling that is, what a pleasure to the writerly soul. We all wallow in it. Otherwise, why would we be doing this work?

    But if you want to sell that novel, that final draft must be plotted with unerring care and precision for the sake of your readers.

    Next week we talk about how to characterize wrong.

    The week after we talk about how to write wrong.

    And the week after that we talk about how to revise wrong9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

    I can’t be the only person who learned all this the hard way.

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    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I always take the a week to go bask in the summer sun with my beloved family—sitting on the swing with my bare toes in the lawn, admiring my beautiful vegetables bursting gloriously from their beds, smelling the rich, green scent of heat, and yelling at the cats for looking too seriously at all that nice, soft, litter-worthy soil around my treasured vegetables.

    So today I’m going to send you on over to a post where we can talk together for just a little while about why writing is our chosen craft, why we do this work we do, why it’s the work that reminds us we’re alive.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We have this convention at our house where, whenever someone says something especially hilarious, we write it down on a yellow-sticky and stick it to the refrigerator.

    As you can see, when you post yellow-stickies of your best dialog on your refrigerator, it eventually becomes a veritable blizzard of yellow-stickies. Especially if you live—as I do—with extremely witty people.

    Dialog is tricky stuff.

    So this week, instead of reproducing my original post on dialog, I’m going to send you all right on over to read it in all its original glory:

    3 Reasons Dialog is Important, 3 Reasons It’s Not

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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 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

    This topic came from @__Deb, and it’s such a good topic that 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, believe 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 darn 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

    Now, we’ve gotten ourselves into the dark side of fiction—in which we’ve learned who will fail as writers (not us!), how we screw up our manuscripts, and the things we writers always overlook—so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. I mean, the real dirt on writing.

    I remember the day I received my first spam about my blog. I felt as though I had finally arrived.

    Hi,

    Nathalie here from Bozo Media and I wanted to drop you a line and just compliment your site http://victoriamixon.com/. Nice layout, good info, good resources. I was looking around at a few different sites relevant to Washing Machines. I definitely thought yours was one of the best. That being said, I also noticed you guys have some great content related to them.

    I currently work for a company that maintains website that offers best deals and information about Washing Machines – http://www.wtfwashingmachines/fakeurl. We are a nationally recognized, reliable source for Washing Machines and I was wondering if you’d be interested in giving us an opportunity to write guest post relevant to your site. I can assure you that our article will be very informative to your visitors and also drive more traffic. I would be very pleased if you allow me to add a link to our site in the article.

    Looking forward for your reply.

    Regards,
    Nathalie.

    Wow. Nathalie. I just don’t know what to say.

    Because the truth is teaching the craft of fiction is exactly like teaching people to use washing machines.

    But how did you know?

    1. Fiction starts life dirty

      This is the honest, unvarnished truth, people: modern published fiction is, from many angles, as Dirty as Hell. And it’s in desperate need of a really good Cosmic Fictional Washing Machine.

    2. Your job as a writer is to get your fiction all dirty

      Go ahead—write it, thrash around in it, have a fabulous time, make a big old fun muddy mess. Get it all over yourself. You don’t need me for that part. Anyone can do it, and hundreds of thousands of people do.

      It’s a blast!

    3. Really dirty

      Then go back and write your story again more honestly.

      Go down through the layers of superficial uniform dirt that get all over everybody when they truly relish a big, hefty, messy, magnificent first few drafts.

    4. Cosmically dirty

      Find underneath those top layers the story that’s really there.

      Find the real people living inside the characters, of whom you have barely scratched the surface. Find the details of their lives that make them three-dimensional in exactly the way your reader’s life is three-dimensional. Find the universal themes of comedy and tragedy out of which they’re been created and the complex interweaving of those elements that your characters must navigate on their way to enlightenment.

      Uncover the fabric of your characters’ unique lives that your reader needs to touch in order to reach the heart of what you’re doing.

    5. Beyond cosmically dirty

      Then write it again even more honestly. And write it again. And again. And again. . .

    6. My job is the washing machine

      Then I’ll teach you how to clean up your fiction.

      Every time you let your manuscript go cold and take it out later for another revision, you’re sending it through the Cosmic Fictional Washing Machine.

      Every time you come here seeking help with your writing, you’re bringing it to the Cosmic Fictional Laundromat.

      Every time, the structure of your story gets a little clearer, the humanity of your characters gets a little truer, your reason for writing this novel gets a little more significant, to you, and to your readers too. Eventually—if you work hard enough, with enough dedication and soul-searing honesty, for long enough—it will be beautiful, vivid, shining.

      Clean.

      A new definition of meaning.

      And you will be proud to wear it around in public for the rest of your life.

    7. Cleanliness is clarity

      However! If you rush out and insist your fiction be published while it’s still even sort of dirty (much less as dirty as it is when you first stand up out of rolling around in all that mud—and, yes, you can get stuff published in that condition, it happens all the time)—then, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, the dirt will become ever more and more obvious as the years go by and your craft improves.

      Your increasing clarity as a writer will show you the dirt you left in that manuscript. . .

      . . .as your understanding of the meaning of life deepens

      . . .as your reasons for living make more and more sense in the overall universal scheme of things

      . . .as you see more and more clearly through your own unique, vivid, unforgettable lens.

    This is the process of writing, my friends: first dirt, then cleaning.

    I say this with all editorial love for the writers in you and compassion for what writing your novels means to you (I know—I write novels too):

    Develop a sincere, lifelong, humble respect for the Great Cosmic Fictional Washing Machine.

    There’s that lighter side to writing again.

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    advice you’ll find.”

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Luckily for us, even the dark side of writing (even the really dark side) has its light side.

    How many times have you screwed up your writing? Once? Twice? A hundred times? A thousand times? Counting all the times you’re screwing up this very instant and the times you intend to screw up in the future. . .infinity?

    EVERYONE SCREWS UP.

    This should be printed in big, bold letters at the top of every sheet of paper, every typewriter, every keyboard, every pencil and pen. It should be something all writers sit and stare at all day long as they mull over their novels.

    It should be something you could get tattooed on the insides of your eyelids so every time you start thinking you’re the only hopeless loser in history to fail so abysmally at the impossibly simple task of writing what you know needs to be written—all you have to do is close your little eyes.

    But until that tattoo becomes possible, let’s talk about the lessons to take away from your ghastly, nightmarish, soul-destroying facility with failure. Shall we?

    1. Writers get to erase

    2. Why, yes. Yes, we do.

      And we leave no trace.

      Painters don’t get to do this. Neither do sculptors, woodworkers, theater actors, live musicians, or jugglers. Not to mention dentists, surgeons, emergency rescue teams, air traffic controllers, pilots, deep-sea divers, venomous snake handlers, stuntpeople, firewalkers, or bungie-jumpers. You know what job I do not want? The guy who has to dangle off a wire from a helicopter to save some window jumper from a tall building when a bug flies into the pilot’s eye.

      But in writing I get to make all the mistakes I like. I can write a zillion words based on a complete fallacy. I can make my characters wooden imbeciles, set stories on a moronic cartoon set, make the action about as swift and decisive as custard pie. I can be simply atrocious at this.

      And so long as I learn from my mistakes before I get around to trying to publish, nobody will eeeeeeeeever know.

    3. Nobody can tell how many times you’ve erased

    4. Not only do I get to hide my mistakes, but I get to do it an infinite number of times.

      Screwed up my protagonist’s personality? Fine. I’ll fix it. Made it even worse? Fine. I’ll fix it again. Made it even worse? Fine. I’ll fix it again. Wound up with a half-witted three-armed ignoramus bully with delusions of racial superiority who owns far too money, which they use solely to support the sweatshop and advertising industries, and signed them up for a red herring political organization for brainless gorms that accidentally managed to name itself after a particularly vivid sexual innuendo?

      No problem! I can keep nothing but the character’s name. In fact—I can even throw out the name.

      And I never, ever, ever erase all the way through the paper.

    5. Plots are endlessly adjustable

    6. Yes, but what if it’s my plot that sucks?

      What if I started off with a mind-numbingly boring first chapter I didn’t know was supposed to be a hook, switched gears to backstory that makes mind-numbing look interesting, rambled on for five chapters covering my cliche-ridden survivalist manifesto, filled the next twenty chapters with rude observations about my reader’s personal hygiene, and ended lamely on nothing in particular when I realized I don’t know how to write a novel?

      It’s okay! All I have to do is think of what story I’m really, really interested in telling. Then I ask myself, ‘Yes, but what’s the point?’, backtrack from there a few major steps, and launch into it at a random startling place.

      And if it turns out I’m not all that interested in telling that story after all? So what?!

      I can go out on the back porch, scratch my heinie on a post, hawk a loogie in the rhodies, and belt out Don’t Cry for Me, Agentina until the neighbors throw shoes.

      Then I can come back indoors and turn it into the story of how I totally humiliated myself at the rodeo that time, only I say it was my sister who did it, not me.

      It doesn’t matter! Plots are made of unbreakable elastic.

    7. Characters can’t rat you out

    8. And those characters I used the first time—well, the first dozen times—while I was trying to figure out what story I really wanted to tell? The only creatures on earth who know the truth about all this?

      Completely mute except for the words I put into their mouths myself. Hear that incoherent screeching in the distance? Hear how it gets all mumbley when I put my hand over it?

      Yeah, that’s me. Stifling my characters. Even in a court of law, they can’t bear testimony against me.

    9. Settings always look as good as new

    10. You know, I used to set all my stories in invisible settings. I was too lazy to go find out what places actually looked like, so I just set my characters down wherever I wanted and let them start talking. I let them do things, too, so long as it didn’t rely on anything in the setting. And I didn’t even know I was imitating Hemingway.

      But even when I made my settings ridiculously impossible—they call it an “anarchronism” when you let your Druids smoke cigars—and even when I went out later and found out how impossible it was, I still got to take out the impossible stuff and insert the correct details later, and it looked like I’d done it that way in the first place.

      Sometimes I still do it that way, just to amuse myself.

    11. Dialog gets more interesting as it gets more disjointed

    12. And sometimes I wrIte and rewrite the same dialog over and over again, trying to get it right, taking it apart and putting it back together again, hammering it to bits, until it sounds like the characters are having totally different conversations all in the same room at the same time over the same table.

      You know what I’ve discovered? Dialog sounds a whole lot better that way.

    13. Actions are always replaceable

    14. I even leave out the actions. Randomly. Whenever I’m too sleepy or bored or preoccupied clipping my fingernails to think up anything worth writing down. Or, worse, sometimes I use actions I know perfectly well are trite and unbelievable (never “hips that beckon,” but sometimes pretty darn close), just to fill up the space.

      Eventually, when I feel like it, I go back later with a thesaurus and try out different words in different orders without even considering what might work best—“slapped/kicked/slid across ice/fingered greasily/dashed past and back again/baked in a steak-&-kidney pie/yodeled like a Swedish tenor.”

      Sometimes I do it with my eyes closed. Sometimes that’s how little attention I feel like paying.

      That’s also how the characters in my stories wind up doing things that really make each other sit up and do a double-take.

    15. In imaginary space, no one can hear you scream

    16. You have total and complete freedom to vent the frustrations of writing on your story. Go ahead and take out on it everything that’s ever happened or not happened to you, tear out its heart and jump up and down, savage it like a bulldog.

      Try it. Yeah. Nobody made a peep, did they?

      I love this craft.

    No matter how badly you screw up your manuscript, it’s okay! So long as you’re one of those 6 Personality Types Who Will Succeed as Writers.

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    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    So now that we’ve taken a good look at the 6 personality types who will fail as writers, let’s turn and face our demons.

    You know how you work so hard to get that first draft down on the page? How you sacrifice comfort, companionship and casual entertainment, family time, work time, leisure time, exercise, sleep, nutrition, freedom from toxins, sobriety, eventually your very sanity—all for the sake of that novel?

    Then you suffer the hellfires of the damned in revision?

    Then you realize in a blinding flash of epiphany it’s a huge piece of crap and start the whole cycle over again? Because you want that badly for it to be good?

    And then you finally, finally, finally have a manuscript you’re proud of, a beautiful, heartfelt evocation of everything you needed to say in exactly the way you needed to say it, and you hire an editor, and send that baby off, and it comes back. . .all. . .EDITED.

    What the hell?

    Such a thankless task it is. These are the things every writer—even you, even me—always, by necessity, overlooks:

    1. Chaos

      You designed it. Swear to god, you did. And you did your blessed best to stick to that design. But everyone knows characters have no respect for their maker, they go tripping off with their heads in the clouds, or in the sand, or under a rock, their fingers in their ears, singing, “la-la-la-la-la-la—I can’t hear you!” while you’re leaping up and down shrieking, “It’s a cliff! You idiots! You’re going to die a horrible death! Watch your stupid—! damn. Back to the drawingboard.”

      I don’t care how carefully you planned your story or how meticulously you adhered to your plan, there is stuff in there that makes no sense. You know why? Because you have a great imagination, that’s why. And there simply isn’t enough story in the world to sensibly organize absolutely everything you’re capable of thinking up.

    2. Lag

      Closely related to all-out chaos, these are slightly better-developed detours. Your characters come up with cool stuff to do that has nothing whatever to do with your story, but they’ve got you convinced it’s okay because, hey! they can get a whole lot done while they’re doing it. So you follow them dutifully, writing it all down, shaping it and molding it for climax and polishing the language, thinking, “Maybe there’ll be a spot for it.”

      But there’s not. Bummer about that. So you shoehorn it in—not because it works—but because you simply can’t bear to leave it out.

    3. Flab

      Oh, the words. Words, and words, and words, and words. It’s not your fault. It just comes out of you that way.

      Everybody uses more words than necessary, because it takes that many words to get the golden nuggets mined out of your subconscious and onto the page. Then you go back and bravely cut out 25% of them. But there’s another 25% that needs to come out, and you’re faced with a choice: this 25%? or that 25%? or some impossibly intricate, interwoven combination of the two? And what about the other 50%—is that all good, or are you missing something important that needs to be cut out of there, too?

      And your vision goes swimmy, your head starts lolling around on your neck, there’s a ringing in your ears, and the next thing you know you’re on the floor under your desk biting your knuckles and twitching convulsively.

      You just don’t know.

    4. Overkill

      The single most fundamental fact about the craft of fiction is the impassable abyss between what the writer sees on the page and what the reader sees. You see absolutely everything. Some of it you don’t even get around to writing down. And when you come back for revision, you automatically doubt every single instinct you had in the original writing about what the reader can tell is going on and what’s just a bunch of gibberish.

      So you help them out. You insert a lot of useful, enlightening paragraphs meant to focus their telescope for them as they peer, eternally short-sighted, across that abyss at the world you happen to know is far more vivid and brilliant and meaningful than they can ever discern from such a distance.

    5. Anticlimax

      And this one’s due to sheer, helpless, futile, blind hope. You know perfectly well that Climax doesn’t do it. But, oh, my ever-loving god, you have been through this entire manuscript so many times, so faithfully, so laboriously, so intently. There is no more blood in the stone.

      What are the chances that Climax works just exactly perfectly, and you simply can’t see it for all the sweat and tears blurring your eyes?

      Whatever, you know?

    REMEMBER: There’s a lighter side too.

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    “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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  • By Victoria Mixon

    That’s what love is: learning to love what your lover loves.Greg Brown, husband of Iris DeMent

    Mama taught me to tell my truth.Iris DeMent, wife of Greg Brown

    Your manuscript owns you. This might not seem obvious at first, but it is a fact that every writer (eventually) comes to accept. The manuscript—not the writer—gets to decide when things begin, where things go, and how things end. All the writer can do is cling to their manuscript with all their strength and try to love whatever that manuscript loves.

    So, with no further ado, here are fourteen tried and true ways to love what your manuscript loves:

    1. Blatantly

      Manuscripts, honestly, are even shyer than their notoriously shy authors. Your ms does not necessarily want to be talked about to your friends. However, it does want you to respond when it calls to you and make sure nobody interrupts you or stops you from pursuing it.

      So be a dragon. Stand guard over your manuscript’s tender little personal space.

      Know thy manuscript.
    2. Under a spotlight

      Manuscripts are secretive, so you have to turn the limelight on them and make them dance.

      Personally, I always hated the idea of going on-stage clear up until I won a minor poetry award in college and had to go behind the mic to read my poem. Suddenly I loved it! I could have stayed all night! Maybe they’d like me to read something else while I was there—say, Moby Dick?

      This is your manuscript in front of the footlights. Throw the switch.

      Know thy light switch.
    3. In conversation

      Manuscripts are inveterate eavesdroppers. Speakers are utterly fascinating to them.

      No matter how dull or pointless or rambling the conversation, your ms wants to record it all and then mull it over in privacy. Why did she say that? What was he doing while he wasn’t answering? Where would this have all gone if they hadn’t been interrupted? And how did that interruption catapult them into further complications between them?

      Listen for your manuscript out among the madding crowds, and it will reward you with great riches.

      Know thy ears.
    4. Publicly

      Manuscripts are also unscrupulous spies. They want to know absolutely everything everybody does.

      They want to be constantly holding things up to themselves like clothes in front of a mirror: Would this fit? Would that work? What if I went over there and did the other thing? How would it turn out if I made this happen and reacted to it that different way?

      Be your manuscript’s vision upon the world, and it will reward you with gold in abundance.

      Know thy eyes.
    5. Falling asleep

      Manuscripts are also wicked Imps of Satan and love to disturb your sleep.

      This is because they get the most freedom when you’re too tired to fight back.

      There is a magic moment when you have quit caring about the responsibilities of the day but have not yet succumbed to the wayward randomness of dreams—Proust introduced his entire ouvre, Remembrance of Things Past, with a nearly endless soliloquy on that very tiny space. Guess from whence those seven classic volumes sprang?

      Know thy magic moment.
    6. In a bad mood

      Manuscripts have no shame. Your ms likes you no matter how awful you are.

      In fact, it likes you best when you’re at your wit’s end.

      It especially likes leaning over your shoulder pointing out exactly how you move and speak and think when you’re least likely to appreciate such solicitude. It is your overbearing siblings at their very worse.

      Fight it off, and it just gives it that much more material. And the more you try to ignore it, the more powerfully present is its note-taking. That means the greater detail you will recall later, with a cooler head, when you are done throwing your tantrum and are ready to sit down and convert it into the internal conflict from which all great protagonists suffer like the blazes.

      Know thy rage and suffering.
    7. During inappropriate activities

      Manuscripts like to imagine themselves chronicling what has never been chronicled before. This doesn’t mean you are going to chronicle those things. But your ms wants to know what it would be like if it did.

      So pay a little attention.

      Just the tiniest details, the most fundamentally true elements dropped into references in your scenes can snap a story around and reveal the underlying tension of which your characters refuse to speak. Notice what nobody else has ever mentioned. Ask yourself, “How is this moment, right now, changing me permanently? How will I be different from now on forever?”

      Don’t tell your partner.

      Know thy secrets.
    8. With a microscope

      Manuscripts are so extraordinarily complex and multifaceted that nobody, in truth, ever tells the complete story exactly perfectly. There is always stuff that falls by the wayside.

      But is it the right stuff?

      Your ms doesn’t want to let go of any tiny spec of information about itself without a thorough review, and you shouldn’t either. Those tiny specs are what create three-dimensional worlds in which your characters seduce your readers into their eternal clutches.

      Sondra Day once advised treating emotional baggage as garbage and throwing it out as fast as possible without stopping to sort it. But she wasn’t a storyteller.

      Sit down with your ms and meticulously sort through it.

      Know thy garbage.
    9. With a bullhorn

      Manuscripts also like to whisper and look the other way just when things get hairy. They long to be drawn out. And you’re going to have to be the one to do it.

      You know that moment in Nancy Horan’s disastrous novel, Loving Frank, when the protagonist leaves her husband for Frank Lloyd Wright, only Horan doesn’t show the protagonist actually doing it? She skips right over it and goes on her merry apple-cheeked way to the worst ending to a cute little love story ever?

      Whip out your bullhorn whenever you come to such pivotal, life-altering, load-bearing scenes in your story and yell through it, “She looked at her husband! She said, ‘I’m leaving you for Frank!’

      Know thy story.
    10. Before it matters

      Manuscripts are not born on the page. They are born in the deep, dark roots of your past, somewhere years ago when somebody said that thing to someone else that one time.

      Always be paying attention to the manuscripts you have not yet conceived. Collect details, data, trivia, facts, impressions, faces, names, gestures, ideas. Let them burble around in your subconscious, stewing in their juices. Let them take from each other, give to each other, trade meanings and references. Let them alter each others’ chemical make-up.

      Someday you’re going to need all that stuff in a form you cannot yet imagine.

      Know thy life.
    11. After the fact

      Manuscripts don’t stop needing love and affection when you think they do.

      Please believe me when I say this.

      I see dozens and dozens and dozens of manuscripts, every single one of them polished to the full extent their writers think they can possibly be polished. And not one of them is finished.

      When you have done everything you possibly can for your ms in this incarnation, set it kindly aside and go on to other things. Raise your kids. Do the laundry. Go on vacation. Finish building your house. Start another ms.

      Your ms is still living and growing in the back of your mind, all the time you’re doing other things, and that life and growth are essential to its publishable version.

      Know thy patience.
    12. When you have exhausted all other options

      Manuscripts are an endless dump of everything you don’t know what else to do with, the infinite acceptance of all you are that makes no sense.

      Your ms loves being that for you. Go ahead. Let it be.

      When you have no resources left, when you have been sucked dry and thrown aside, when you are but a shell of the persona you fondly believe yourself to be. . .go back to your manuscript. Sink into your fictional dream. This is why you write—this bond between your story and you.

      Know thy passion.
    13. On the ground

      Then get up out of your chair or down off your bar stool or pedestal or wherever you’ve been hanging out, lay both palms on the ground, and be intensely grateful that it is there.

      The planet on which you live is the source of everything good and bad and creative and fictional coming your way.

      Know thy source.
    14. With your arms thrown open

      And finally stand up and throw your arms wide to the sky and the sun and the rain and the wind and the stars.

      You will never get it all down in words. You will never triumph over the unknowable. And this is your saving grace. Because if you could get it all down in words once and for all—triumph over the unknowable—then fiction as an art form would die, taking all of us who love writing it along with it.

      Know thy grace.

    But what exactly is it that your manuscript loves? This magical thing you’re struggling to love in fourteen different ways?

    Oh, that one’s easy. It’s always the same eternal, ephemeral work:

    Thy truth.

    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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