A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, '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

    A very well-read friend of mine, who is not a writer, keeps giving me the sage advice of write what I know. I’ve tried that. I don’t like it. I much prefer to let my somewhat askew of center brain go to places of imagination which I have never experienced or seen. Am I crazy or what?

    Well, Jocko, yes, you probably are crazy. Welcome to the club.

    You know this is actually a really important issue for writers. I talk about it a bit in The Art & Craft of Fiction. It’s true, the advice to ‘write what you know’ truly is sage advice but highly misunderstood.

    The rationale for writing what you know lies in authenticity. All fiction hinges on authenticity—the details of your characters’ world, the way they speak, the way they move, the logic of how their mistakes blow up into ever-bigger and -bigger mistakes until their lives come crashing down upon their heads.

    Now, if you write realistic stories about characters who live lives quite similar to yours, then you don’t have to waste a lot of time on research. All you have to do is carry a notebook around with you as you go bumbling about your daily business and take notes on it: describe what it looks like where you eat your meals, describe what it looks like where you work, describe your favorite bars and hang-outs, describe your home and friends’ and family’s homes. Study the ways in which you and the people you know speak and express yourselves, your gestures and expressions and mannerisms, your body language, your noises, your subtleties, your silences. Study the cause-&-effect of how events in your lives play out. Study it carefully.

    However, if you write fantasy or sci-fi or mystery or horror or some permutation of those umbrella genres, you’ve put yourself in a position in which you can’t do your research the lazy way, just by being you. You have to spend a lot of time—a whole darn lot of time—getting to know your characters’ world. It’s not right there in front of your face. You have to seek it out.

    If you’re writing sci-fi you need to study the science upon which your characters’ world is based, and you need to study the logic by which reasonable extrapolations might be made that would result in the events you want to explore. If you’re writing mystery or horror you need to study the craft of mystery or horror so you know how to lay clues and interweave red herrings, build tension through verbal techniques and understanding of human psychology, in order to give your readers the thrill for which they read. And if you’re writing any type of fantasy—just making it all up yourself—you need to do an astronomical amount of world-building, ala J.R.R. Tolkien. All that iceberg, as Hemingway said, holding your story up and giving it its dignity.

    This is a ton of work. And it takes a seriously long time.

    So mentors and teachers often advise aspiring writers—whom they suspect of being in a bit of a hurry and unaware of the extraordinary amount of time it takes to learn to write well and then do it for each and every novel, much less spend all that time inventing entire worlds—to stick with the easy path and fill their writing with whatever they can easily observe.

    However, on the other side of the coin lies the fuel of all great fiction, which is the writer’s own unique, quirky, unreproduceable take on how all those details interact with each other and create layers of meaning above and beyond the dry facts. And that’s what’s happening to you when you long to let your “somewhat askew of center brain go to places of imagination.”

    Go there! That’s the fun of writing fiction.

    But no matter what stories you choose to tell, if you want them to be any good or to matter in any way to your reader—you still have to write what you know.

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

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

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




    “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

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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. . .

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 PanMacmillan. 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. . .

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. . .

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. . .

TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. 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. . .

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, forthcoming from 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. . .

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. . .

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. . .

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. . .

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. . .

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