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

    These questions from Diana Rubino are about my new ebook, Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers. If you haven’t got a copy, you can now pick one up free.

    1. “10 Ways to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days”: “We can feel free to throw in gratuitous imaginary details, so long as they’re neutral and not meant to sway the reader toward positive or negative interpretations. If we feel the urge to sway the reader, we’ll use a detail bent in the opposite direction from where we want it bent.”—Why wouldn’t you put in a detail that elicits a positive (or negative) interpretation if you want to sway the reader that way? And why would the detail be bent in the opposite direction?

      This is about learning authorial control.

      Too often, we just put down on the page whatever falls out of us in the moment. When we’re riding along on the surface of the story like that, we’ll very likely to put down cliches, because those are what occur to us first.

      So we use this exercise to build the habit of drilling down past the surface cliche stuff into surprising details that will make our scenes unique.

    2. Tension: “We don’t bother with transitions.”—Are you applying this to first drafts, when it’s all coming out of our right brains? Because I’ve been told that I have weak transitions.

      Yes. Skip right over the boring bits. Go straight to the exciting scenes. The reader does.

    3. Isn’t SOME exposition necessary? I try to tell as much as possible in dialogue, but don’t want it to read like a play. Isn’t exposition part of a scene?

      This is a very, very common misconception. I can’t even tell you how many industry professionals routinely parrot this belief without doing their research.

      NO exposition is necessary.

      The reader doesn’t want to be ‘told’ about the story. They want to be ‘shown’ the story itself. They don’t want to waste their time on extra stuff. They just want to see characters speaking and acting in their environment.

      So the more you stick to your characters speaking and moving in their environment and leave the reader to do the thinking, the better the reader will love you.

      Now, exposition can be done beautifully. Most of our canonical greats are famous for it. I post their quotes on Twitter. And we do generally wind up using some exposition, just because none of us is ever as disciplined as we ought to be. But exposition is so incredibly difficult to make worthwhile—and so incredibly easy to screw up—that I always advise writers to work as hard as possible to discipline themselves to do without it.

    4. What’s that one word Henry James uses to show his perfect authorial control?

      “Stopped.” It’s the final word of “The Turn of the Screw.”

    5. “5 Ways to Make Our Novels Unforgettable”: “The reader is not moved to weep when we get all blue inside.”—You know that saying ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’?

      Yes, I do. Another very, very common misconception.

      And the only way for it to make any sense at all is to simply ignore the myriad fabulous techniques of fiction that have been discovered and developed over the past 150 years.

      I’m afraid this is the kind of thing that happens when your industry becomes inundated with people who don’t even know that techniques exist.

    6. I realize they’re not going to cry at everything in the story that makes us cry, or be entertained as we laugh hysterically (love that line—I laughed at it!) but since our purpose is to evoke emotion, don’t we want to make them laugh and cry at the things we want them to?

      Yes, we do. That’s why we have fiction techniques. And that’s why we practice our perfect authorial control.

      For example: the first time I taught at a major writers conference, one of the things I was asked about was humor.

      How do you do it?

      I told them that I could teach them the techniques of humor, but I could not give them a good sense of humor.

      This got a laugh.


      Because I used the technique that I was about to teach. Humor is exactly the same as a story: build the reader’s expectations, then end on a punchline that is both surprising and yet—in the context of the expectations you’ve just built—inevitable.

      I didn’t need to laugh in order for them to laugh. I already knew the punchline was coming.

      Then I told them the old Groucho Marx joke: “Outside of a dog, a book is your very best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

      Groucho didn’t need to laugh either. He also knew his punchline was coming. But it’s still one of the best jokes ever.

    Read more in: Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers


    “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.