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

    Dear Victoria: I have questions about two things in Art & Craft of Writing Stories. I’m going to meet with my longtime crit partner Bonnie on Saturday to toss around some ideas for my next book and wanted to talk about your book. We do that a lot; I bring a writing book I’ve just read and we try to figure it out. 🙂 Now I can tell her you answered my questions!—Diana Rubino

    Thank you for writing, Diana! I’ll answer your first question here and your second question in a separate column.

    1) “The protagonist must have two needs that are mutually exclusive.” I’ve never heard that before, and find it very interesting. I’ve learned that the protag must have a need, a goal, and that has to be thwarted, over and over. Does having two needs give the story or the protag more depth? In saying she needs to have two goals or needs, is that an external one and an internal one? To parallel the ext. and int. conflicts?—Diana

    You haven’t heard it before because I developed this idea myself, through my work with editing clients and study of fiction. 🙂

    Exactly—it gives the story more depth, but more than that it gives the writer greater clarity about what they’re doing and therefore greater control over the story.

    Very often I see manuscripts in which the writer has followed normal writing advice to give their protagonist a need and then thwart it, but they do this by imposing on the protagonist some outside force that simply makes the protagonist a victim. This creates weak storytelling and undermines the reader’s investment, because we’re not interested in reading about victims. We’re interested in reading about fighters. We need to know what to do when life knocks us down, and we can’t learn that from victims.

    This is all internal. An external conflict can be associated with one need for contrast between the two needs—need for a difficult loved one, or a challenging job, or actual survival—but this has no power unless the protagonist is personally invested in both needs, deep down inside. (Otherwise, they’d just walk away.)

    Power is derived by showing your protagonist as both a sufferer and a fighter. Root both extremes of their conflict in their own character. Each time the protagonist meets one need—the one that creates their suffering—they create the other need—the need to fight suffering.

    This focus upon the internal allows you to show through myriad aspects exactly how our strengths become our weaknesses and our weaknesses our strengths. And this keeps the reader intrigued page after page throughout an entire novel, because the reader is learning that there is no enemy as great as ourselves, there is no success so powerful as triumph over our own failings. Paradox is the key to all epiphany.

    As Bryan Ferry says, “When you love someone, you get to know how the strong get weak and the rich get poor.”


    “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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11 posts. . .because this blog goes to 11


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.