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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 did it!

    We survived!

    And now we have a few questions to ask ourselves. . .one, two, three, four, five. . .in fact. . .

    Join us for:

    23 Questions for the End of NaNoWriMo.

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

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

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

    Or anyway it had better be!

    1. What you need to accomplish

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

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

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

      • characterization

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

      • atmosphere

        See above.

      • info dump

        See above.

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

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

    2. How you need to accomplish it

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

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

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

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

      I have to have it!

      But you can’t!

      Nooooooooo!

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

    3. Why you can’t avoid accomplishing it

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

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

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

      That’s this scene’s hook.

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

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

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

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking about how to approach the first draft of your novel this month, in honor of NaNoWriMo, Last week we talked about the 3 Essential Guidelines for your overall novel, and the week before that we talked about Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo. And today we’re going to be talking about the protagonist’s character, because that’s the core of all storytelling. (I tackled this topic in 4 Post-Its to Stick Up Over Your Writing Desk, and I outlined the basic elements—which I’m going to talk about in greater depth below—in a series on how to write fiction wrong: How to Characterize Wrong in 3 Easy Steps.)

    But, honestly, you don’t have to be doing NaNo to be starting a novel. If you’ve got holidays coming up in December, you might very well be getting yourself in gear to take advantage of them in the most luxurious way a writer can imagine: by writing!

    1. Your protagonist believes they cannot survive without this

      It’s a need so core to them that if you changed it you wouldn’t be writing about a human being anymore. What is it? Writers have been using the canonical primary needs for hundreds of years without wearing them out:

      • survival
      • love
      • justice

      Truly, these three needs have powered most of the fiction ever written. And there are still more aspects to explore in them. They’re that enormous. They’re that complex.

      Some of the other things characters need are:

      • to protect a child
      • to heal a wound
      • to learn the truth
      • to have an adventure

      These needs also have powered incredible numbers of stories. Remember Don Quixote? Out there scampering around the countryside on that mangy old nag with his reluctant sidekick at his stirrup? What was he up to?

      He certainly wasn’t defending his life. And I don’t think he ever really had a chance with Dulcinea.

      Justice. Adventure.

      He needed them really badly.

    2. Your protagonist can’t survive without this either

      Because that’s what makes a story: two needs. Otherwise, it’s a bildungsroman, the story of a protagonist grappling with a whole series of internal conflicts, and modern readers don’t have the attention span to survive a bildunsroman anymore. They need explicit signposts on why they should care. (I’m sorry, Moll Flanders.)

      But here’s the magic wand—you’ve already done this step. Yes, you have! Look above. How many stories are about two of those top three in conflict with each other? What if you mixed and matched two out of the seven? One of the seven with some equally-powerful but more subtle need?

      • to prove a point
      • to accomplish a lifelong goal
      • to protect someone elderly (or otherwise physically or intellectually vulnerable)
      • to escape evil
      • to come to grips with their own dark side

      You’ll notice that, no matter how subtle a secondary need you give your protagonist, it can pretty much always be traced back to one of those three canonical primary needs. And when you choose not to root your protagonist’s character in a secondary need quite that canonical, for whatever reason, you must add motivation to that subtle need through one of the canonical ones.

      Also, although experts once swore mysteries were too ‘intellectual’ to accommodate romance, pretty much any story gets better when you add thwarted love to the mix.

    3. Your protagonist has absolutely no intention of choosing between the two

      Which means any situation in which they are forced to do just that serves as a rip-roaring, roof-raising, mind-bending catastrophe for your Climax. As country singers are so fond of reminding us, “My baby left me, I lost my home, and then my dog died.”

      1. Say you have a protagonist who needs:

        • survival
        • love

        Whomever they love, it puts them in danger. In danger of losing their job? In danger of losing their home? In danger of losing their sanity?

        When Jane Eyre had to choose, she lost all three. Well, she wasn’t totally plugged in to begin with, but I really don’t think that night on the moor could have helped much.

        Pit your protagonist against themself by giving them the two most fundamental needs in the human animal. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, either. It could be love of a friend, love of a place, love of a cause.

        Romantic love has the added attraction of sex, of course, which always gets the attention of the hormonally-bullied. (You know who you are.) Just keep in mind—and this is really important—you must address sexual issues through their grip on the personality rather than through simple textbook instructions. Your reader doesn’t need to learn how to do it. They need to learn how to handle the consequences when they indulge in something they know how to do all too well.

      2. Or say your protagonist needs:

        • justice
        • survival

        Their pursuit of justice does nothing but put their life in danger. You know what that is?

        Every thriller ever written.

        This is why thriller works so well as series genre. Because you can pit your protagonist against themself through their need for justice—and the evil perpetrators’ efforts to kill them—over and over and over again until Doomesday and never run out of excitement.

        Be aware that thrillers get their layering through complicated technical subjects, so the authors of thrillers do a great deal of research into specific industries: law, politics, banking, history, international espionage, high-tech weaponry, et cetera, plus very often exotic locales. That all needs to be professionally-researched and very adroitly handled. For advice on how to use your research properly, read Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, in which she explains exactly how she used her research for eleven ghostwritten books, eight of which were best sellers.

      3. Or maybe your protagonist needs:

        • love
        • justice

        What would force a person to choose between what they want and what they know is right? Well, almost everything. Anne of Green Gables tells us all about it as she works her way through her daily life—the endless, excruciating decision-making process that never leaves us alone. It’s when she has to choose between the things she loves and the things she knows are right that she becomes important to the reader, someone they will carry with them internally for the rest of their life.

        Because such stories don’t have death hanging over anybody’s head, they tend to be more mild-mannered. That allows them to go deeply and profoundly into the human experience. Remember that your reader is reading not only to be reassured that life is worth living, but to learn something they don’t already know. If you choose to pit your protagonist against themself through these two very human (but not dastardly) needs, you’ll have to know something about those needs that the reader can’t figure out for themself. Just reiterating an experience identical to the reader’s own without adding anything original won’t hold their attention.

    You can see how this simple pyramidal design gives you a protagonist your reader passionately wants to see succeed, even as you back that protagonist into worse and worse corners until you’ve backed them right against a wall.

    Then your protagonist must always, in the Climax, choose. That choice is the secret ingredient that makes your story work.

    This, my friends, is what we call sympathetic character.

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Every year I write a series of NaNoWriMo posts, like the admittedly bizarre 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Unforgettable, 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Helplessly Addictive, and 5 Ways to Make Your Novel Inescapable. Last week we looked at Running into the Jaws of NaNoWriMo. And for those of you who learn better in conversation than through written instructions, I’ve even been interviewed on video by Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn blog. Joanna asks me for pointers on how to approach writing the sequel to her Kindle best-seller, Pentecost—pointers I explain as universal to storytelling in general, so they can help you dive into writing your own new novels.

    So let’s review very quickly how to make that a swan dive and not a cannonball:

    1. Know why this story matters

      Somewhere, somehow, at that one moment when they can least afford it, your protagonist is going to come up against themself in a spiritual dark alley. And it’s going to be bad.

      They have always, all their life, sincerely and desperately believed they could not handle this confrontation. Chaos, madness, mayhem, yes. But not this.

      And that heart-stopping confrontation is why you’re writing this story. Handling the impossible matters to readers—it’s honestly the only thing that does.

      That’s your Climax.

    2. Be great fun to run around with

      The bulk of a novel is just for fun, thrill, excitement, unending adventures that leap from one peak to another as though in Seven-League Boots. Your reader’s grappling with one drama! Aaagh! They’re grappling with another! No! They’re back to grappling with the first drama again! Eeee! There’s a new drama they didn’t see coming!

      Back and forth, round and round, in and out of the complexities of your plot they run full-tilt, flapping the pages of your book as they go. They can’t stop!

      That’s your Development.

    3. Understand Backstory

      Don’t get too attached to the first scenes that it occurs to you to write. Those are your warm-up scenes, and chances are almost certain they’re Backstory, not Hook.

      Write them! Have a fabulous time! But be willing to set them aside in their own little outtakes files later, when you’re far enough into this story (possibly at the end) to be able to see what originally happened to force the decision that got your protagonist into this whole impossible mess in the first place.

      That’s too important of a scene to toy with by getting yourself emotionally-dependent upon it right now. Just take lots of notes as you work on your novel so it will be a truly fabulous opening scene when you do eventually write it.

      That will be your Hook.

    And because we all live here in the twenty-first century, I know as well as you do how hard it is to squeeze NaNoWriMo into your already-packed schedule. So remember the 9 Ways to Find Time to Write.

    Take a deep breath, run to the top of the highest pinnacle you can find, and start flapping your wings. Welcome to NaNoWriMo!

    Is all your hair standing on end yet?

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    UPDATE: November 11—Secret Advice for Writers just hit #1 in its category in the Kindle Free Store. Fiction and Stories are now #15 and #16 in their category in the Paid Store.

    FINALLY!

    It’s been five and a half years since we first published The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual.

    A year later we published The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual.

    And ever since, I’ve been busy editing.

    acw-secret-cover.300

    But. . .this past year I began hearing of an amazing new movement in the self-publishing industry: a brilliant system for connecting readers with the self-published books they love—a system that really works.

    This system was just pioneered last year by Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson, and it is awesome.

    I spent all summer studying their system, involved in their courses, learning how to do what they do. Because Nick and Mark have cracked the code that’s transforming the self-publishing industry from a toddler staggering drunkenly across the landscape, largely dependent still upon the distribution networks of the traditional publishers, into the new wave of fiction following in the venerable footsteps of the 1930s genre revolution of the drugstore paperback.

    Our time has come.

    So we at La Favorita Press have just this week done two things:

    1) Re-issued Fiction and Story under slightly-altered titles to be better referenced by the online bookseller referral engines:

    Art & Craft of Writing Fiction: First Writer’s Manual

    Art & Craft of Writing Stories: Second Writer’s Manual

    Fiction and Stories are now priced permanently as ebooks at $3.99 and in paperback at $19.95/$17.98 (unless you have Amazon Prime, in which case they’re free).

    Favorite.300x4502) Published two new books:

    Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers

    Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers

    And the kicker to Secret and Favorite?

    They’re FREE.

    Why?

    Because this is the system that Nick and Mark teach:

    *) offer your first book permafree through the online booksellers (and, of course, your website)

    *) include in that book a link to your new email list, which list we’re calling here “Art & Craft of Writing”

    *) give away your second book free to everyone who subscribes to your list

    Dev Editing copyIn this way, we can easily find the readers who want my work, and they can find me. From now on, we know exactly whom to notify whenever we publish a new book on the Art & Craft of Writing. This email list is solely for this one purpose—no blog-type ‘newsletter’ filling your inbox, no reminders to buy, no hovering or pestering. Just the information you want whenever we publish each new book, and otherwise polite radio-silence. Because we know you’re busy.

    Now, naturally, none of this would be any good if these were the only books I ever planned to write about fiction.

    So guess what?

    Yep.

    I’m going to launch a new series of books: Step-to-Step Guides to Become Your Own Editor.

    If you wonder what those will look like, you can check it out. That’s the page for my launch team, the Mixoneers. For a limited time, you can still join.

    Or you can simply sign up for the Art & Craft of Writing email list, in which you’ll be given the chance to join the Mixoneers once you’ve read my Advice to Writers.

    Or you can go get your free copy of Secret Advice for Writers and sign up for the Art & Craft of Writing list through the link in the book.

    Such excitement to have you along for this new adventure—I’m so looking forward to meeting every one of you!

    Because our time has come.

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Time to take off our shoes and socks, roll up our pants, flex our fingers, and with blood-curdling yells of terror and glory in our eyes. . .

    run straight into the jaws of NaNoWriMo

    Every year I run a series helping those of you doing NaNoWriMo stay focused on writing the very best novel you have in you.

    Are you doing it this year?

    You’ll have company!

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Elwood in sunlight on my desk.Saturday

    . . .

    It is with great sorrow that I share the news of the passing of my beloved blog cat.

    He was diagnosed last month with inoperable cancer and died yesterday in our arms. He was fourteen and a half years old.

    For those of you who have been with me since I began this blog in 2009, you’ll know him as a familiar sight and the subject of a number of my favorite blog posts: 4 Reasons My Cat Can’t Be A Writer, 4 Reasons My Cat Should Be the Writer Instead of Me, and of course A Writer’s Organizational Tools. He has been by my side, sleeping in the sunlight on my desk, throughout all the years of my editing business. A little bit of him has gone into every piece of fiction and memoir I have ever worked on. I hope you can feel the influence of his kind and wise spirit in your writing.

    He also appears invisibly in my arms at the bottom of every blog page, where he will remain invisibly in my arms forever.

    office-with-elwood

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we talked about reasons to love Melville Davisson Post, the great nineteenth-century mystery author of the backwoods of Virginia. In case you’re new here, that conversation was caused by a post I did that was all lurid, over-the-top covers of vintage mysteries. And that post was caused by Sabine in the comments on an even earlier post when I was interviewed by the extraordinarily strange and wonderful Rachel X Russell (see how I get cause-&-effect worked into everything I tell you?).

    So this post is dedicated to Donna Montgomery, who spoke up in the comments to recommend Rafael Sabatini.

    I ran right out and got a copy of Sabitini’s marvelous 400-page novel, Scaramouche.

    Whoa, Sabatini.

    1. Rafael

      First off, I happen to think this is one of the most beautiful names ever. If I hadn’t already had a name ready for my son twenty years before he was born, I’d have named him Rafael. I did put a Rafael into a story once—a charismatic and lovable rascal—but it’s not finished yet. He’s still busy being charismatic and lovably rascally.

    2. Historical setting

      Just like Davisson Post, Sabitini was master of his era. However, unlike Davisson Post, Sabitini didn’t live through the historical times or anywhere near the times he portrayed in this novel. He apparently grew up in Italy and England at the end of the nineteenth century—raised by opera singers—and spoke six languages.

      The setting of Scaramouche is late eighteenth-century France. . .that’s right: the French Revolution.

      This is the world of Victor Hugo and Les Miserables. However, Sabitini makes it entirely his own through the fabulous attention to authentic detail and the excruciating moral rack upon which he puts his protagonist, the lawyer and aristocrat Andre-Louis. I learned more about the French Revolution from following Andre-Louis’ adventures through the tangled underground of proletariat revolt (aided, according to Sabitini, by the king himself against the aristocracy) than I ever got out of a history book.

      Granted, Marie Antoinette gets a decidedly bum rap from Sabitini, as she has gotten through the history books as well, although there is now some question about exactly how dastardly she was and, contrariwise, how easy it was to scapegoat her for being a foreigner during a time in which the French were already doing quite well destroying their own proletariat without any help from outsiders at all.

      But it doesn’t matter.

      Because Scaramouche is a rollicking, rolling, high-quality literary tale of hair-raising adventure through one of the most significant and world-changing events of recent centuries.

      And nobody’s ever going to agree about Marie Antoinette anyway.

    3. Theatrical players

      And this I love so much, because Andre-Louis acquires his nickname Scaramouche when he joins a troupe of traveling theatrical players and takes on the role of the archetypical ‘little skirmisher,’ as explained by the theatrical director: with “the gift of sly intrigue, an art of setting folk by the ears, combined with an impudent aggressiveness upon occasion when he considers himself safe from reprisals.”

      Do you recognize this archetype?

      I do.

      The Native Americans called him Coyote, the Trickster. The Scandanavians called him Loki. The ancient Greeks called him Eros. Even during the Middle Ages, medieval courts always came equipped with their jester, the quintessential Fool of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

      Now whenever I find myself frustrated by those who seem interested only in disrupting the joyous-but-serious work that we do here in the writing community, those who would throw cold water on our efforts to help craftspeople develop literary craft, who seemingly-deliberately take our sense of humor for insulting challenge and hard-won advice for penny-ante poker. . .I remind myself:

      Life is a very mysterious place.

      The gods may simply be messing with us.

      Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the fandango?

    4. Freddie Mercury

      And of course I couldn’t get through this without mentioning him.

      If there was ever a Scaramouche for our poor and benighted, dark and dour, painfully-cynical and utterly-confused age, it was the exuberant queen of Queen.

      The other night, my husband and I sang the entire “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of our lungs (okay, at the top of my lungs) while cooking dinner for our son, who said sweetly when we were finished, “I would have suggested we just play the record, but you seemed to be having so much fun.”

      Must we forever be tilting at windmills, Freddie—our lives un-spared of monstrosities, trapped between Beelzebub and getting our lips to our babies, just got to get out, just got to get right out of here. . .

      . . .any way the wind blows?

    Yes. We must. They must.

    And then we must create art about it.

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    My husband found this excerpt from Mark Twain’s famous criticism of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper on the blog of Marcel Gagne: Writer and Free Thinker at Large.

    This excerpt has become known as “Mark Twain’s Rules of Writing.” And I tell you people, verily, these rules are as true today as they were in the nineteenth century.

    My personal favorite is:

    The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

    Although I’m also very fond of:

    The author must say what they are proposing to say, not merely come near it.

    My husband followed Marcel’s link to Project Gutenberg, where Twain’s entire criticism of The Deerslayer is housed, and he sent me this excerpt on the definition of art, which it seems to me we need in this era now more than ever:

    “There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now—all dead but Lounsbury. I don’t remember that Lounsbury makes the claim in so many words, still he makes it, for he says that Deerslayer is a “pure work of art.” Pure, in that connection, means faultless—faultless in all details—and language is a detail. If Mr. Lounsbury had only compared Cooper’s English with the English which he writes himself—but it is plain that he didn’t; and so it is likely that he imagines until this day that Cooper’s is as clean and compact as his own. Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of Deerslayer is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.

    “I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens.

    “A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are—oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

    “Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.”

    —Mark Twain

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    So, last month was all about writers conferences, and if you were busy all month actually attending those conferences you can catch up with us here, and here, and here, and especially here (a story of hope!).

    Then last Friday I confessed what happened after that last writers conference. . .when I got my first agent and my first book published and my whole life turned into one, long, glamorous stroll up the glorious, golden rainbow of publication.

    Except for my publishing house whizzing by on a souped-up roadhog so I wound up hospitalized with a bad case of broken dreams.

    While I was at the hospital I also had a baby (well, nine months later), but that wasn’t the publisher’s fault. That was mine and my husband’s.

    And—for the record—that particular move turned out to be brilliant.

    But actually what I did last week—while I was telling you all that story of hope—was go offline and hang out in the summer sunshine and enjoy the hilarious, charming, and charismatic fruits of that brilliant trip to the hospital fifteen years ago: my son.

    Plus I worked on a novel that used to be a ghost story (as described in The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual) but is now a god-knows-what involving all my favorite elements of grand, gothic literature only as if it all happened at my house.

    Sort of.

    1. Jadestone Hatchet

    And while I was flexing my arms over my head yesterday reveling in the pure, unadulterated joy of fiction—of being a writer of fiction—I finally figured out how to keep my papers organized.

    For those of you who write fiction, this will be of extraordinary importance.

    It involves an object I once wanted with all my heart and soul when I was traveling in New Zealand as a young, footloose, rather scatter-brained writer (a poem about which trip can be found in the Volume 34, Number 1 issue of The Northwest Review), but which at the time I couldn’t possibly afford.

    So fifteen years later when some friends traveled to New Zealand they brought me home a smaller facsimile.


    No, I didn’t use the little jadestone hatchet to chop up all my notes into tiny subatomic particles so I wouldn’t have to organize them.

    Cynics.

    2. Artist’s Easel

    Instead, I took the artist’s easel my father made for me for my fifteenth birthday—back when we both thought there was a possibility I would become a painter rather than a writer—which I keep propped in the corner next to my desk to remind myself I could so easily have gone to art school and wound up qualified to teach something for which I might actually have to leave my office. . .

    And I looked at the mountain of notes on my current manuscript that I had intended to spend the day sorting so I could clear my desktop for the activity of—um—writing. . .

    And a little lightbulb went on over my head.










































    Now, after thirty-odd years of constantly digging frantically through piles of slithering, disorganized, increasing pages of notes on all the books I am, at any given moment, in the middle of writing. . .

    I suddenly have the perfect combination of organizational tools.

    And you will notice, of course, that my notes are classified according to the three great building blocks of literature: CHARACTER, PLOT, and PROSE (with an emphasis upon notes for the Climax).

    3. Cat

    Plus cat.

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    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    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. . .


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. . .


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. . .


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 her three sci-fi/fantasy series. 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. . .


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 her up-coming 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, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

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