The Art And Craft Of Story With Victoria Mixon

I love talking to professionals who can break story down to elements we can reuse as writers. It can be so easy just to write away without considering some of the key aspects of what we need to convey. Thinking about these in advance can save us time in the editing and rewriting process.

Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and independent editor and has worked in fiction, nonfiction, technical documentation, and poetry for over thirty years. She is the author of “The Art & Craft of Story: A Practitioner’s Manual” which we’re talking about today. Victoria’s blog was also voted one of the Top 10 blogs for writers.

In this interview, you will learn:

  • What Victoria does: She basically helps authors take their story and develop them further into something that an agent or publisher would consider publishable.
  • The principles of story have been internalized by authors who have been writing a long time but new authors need to consider how to improve and deepen their stories. It is recommended to plan at least a little and a lot of what you write will be cut out in the final draft, but it’s good to know where you’re going otherwise your story will just fizzle out.

Reader addiction

  • How do you make the reader care? Sympathetic characters aren’t necessarily nice. There has to be conflict between two choices that are very hard to resolve. The bouncing back and forth between intense needs is a very human thing. The more powerful and important the needs the more the reader can identify
  • Generating addiction in a reader. It’s a push/ pull mechanism. The push is based on the tension in the plot and the characters which generates a tension inside the reader. Alternate this with a reward to pull them on and you have a way to hook them into your story.

Character arc and the series

  • I wrote recently about issues with continuity in a series including how some characters don’t seem to have an arc within one book.
  • Victoria recommends creating someone who is so complex and has powerful needs with multiple conflicts. The protagonists of big thrillers have the need of seeing justice done vs saving themselves from being killed. This can be played out multiple times with different variations and sub-plots.

Turning a one liner into a story

  • Victoria takes my own one-liner and expands it. My third book in the ARKANE series will be based around ancient Egypt and the plagues of Exodus set in modern times.
  • The important need is to stop the world being destroyed but this conflicts with the need to save the protagonist’s own life. The protagonist must be forced to choose. This is the tension. We also talk about sneaky foreshadowing that makes the reader think you’re smart!
  • Take your idea and ask questions and create conflict, within the rules of your genre, to a point.

On Kindle sampling and hooking the reader in the first 2 pages

  • It’s not just ebooks, we have always done this with books in stores as well. The powerful hook is critical and a lot of writers start way too early. The hook has to be the point of the actual beginning of the store, the crux point where the characters are forced into it. They have to go down this path. Not when the character is born but throw the reader right into the story. You may not know what this is until you have written the first draft as you have to find the key point of no return.

On self-editing and developmental help

  • Authors with little experience will need more editing and development help than established writers. The first draft often includes a lot of back-story or notes that won’t go into the book but you need to know it as the author so you know how your characters behave. You also need to answer a lot of questions for yourself but it might not be used later.
  • There is a lot of moving scenes around a lot in redrafting. Victoria works in MS Word and breaks it down into chapters for more manageable chunks. [I’m now using Scrivener which is awesome for ease of moving things around.]

On writing fast and writing quality

  • Literary fiction takes a long time to gestate in a writer’s mind which is why genre is where people make a living. You can set your characters up with a series protagonist and then just put the characters into a situation. Get plotting sorted and then you can just write. You will have to do editing but you will be able to write much faster than a literary tome. You do lose some of the depth but you get speed. [Victoria also mentions the interview on literary fiction with Roz Morris]

You can find Victoria and The Art of Story and her other books at or on twitter @VictoriaMixon


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  1. says

    Awesome to see Mixon in action! Thank you for bringing her to the screen, Joanna! And thank you both for the surprise mention…

    Victoria makes terrific points about the writing process. What a lot of first-time writers don’t realise is how much experimenting and wastage there can be – words written, words deleted. How much fiddling, how much questioning and examining. The more experienced you are, the less of this you have to do formally – but you’re still doing it.

    I especially liked the moment where you fed her your concept for your third novel and she flexed her editorly muscles.

  2. says

    This was a great episode — so good I listened to it twice. VM’s advice about writing backstory scenes that don’t go in the finished product fits well with my recent experience. I just storyboarded all the scenes from my WIP (called “Seen Sean?”), and 7 or 8 scenes wound up deleted; the bits of information they had were moved into other scenes, and the whole thing is much stronger.

    • says

      Thank you, Jim! That’s a serious investment of your time, and I do feel honored. :)

      Yes, it’s amazing how much of what we writers think is essential backstory is not, from the reader’s point of view, essential at all. It was quite a cold bath the first time I realized this about one of my novels. But the lesson has been invaluable!

  3. says

    Thank you both for this informative interview. I like the honesty – saying that genre fiction doesn’t aim for the depth that literary fiction targets. Knowing this distinction well enough to stay on one side of the fence or the other is difficult. I like what Joanna said (elsewhere), that you have to immerse yourself in reading your genre because, “you can’t fake it.” Devoting too much or too little to character depth in genre fiction is probably where “faking it” shows up.


  1. […] maybe going from where we’re at to the mid-point. In the mean time, all writers please check Joanna Penn’s interview with Victoria Mixon – it’s free and brilliant. Catch you in a little bit. LL Scare Somebody You […]

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