Posts Tagged Victoria Mixon

The power of suggestion – what can you leave the reader to fill in? (With help from Victoria Mixon)

If you read this blog regularly you’ll be familiar with my friend, the writer and editor Victoria Mixon. Her book, The Art & Craft of Fiction – A Practitioner’s Manual, is a favourite of mine. If friends utter the words ‘I think I’ll write a novel’, they soon find themselves armed with a copy because of the way it deftly bridges the gap between good reading and good writing. Victoria is about to release the follow-up, The Art &Craft of Story, and asked me to contribute a blurb. While reading it I came across a stand-out passage that I wanted to make into a post of its own.

It’s the tale of how she and husband Jeff created a logo for their publishing company (as well as an editor, Victoria is also a graphic designer). She wanted to use an icon of her childhood, an antique advertisement which features a young woman in an enormous feathered hat with elegant gloves and a dreamy expression. But when she and her husband scanned it, there was too much shading and detail for it to work as a logo. So they started reworking it in Photoshop.

Here’s the story, in Victoria’s words.

She needed enough big dark elements to be recognizable at a casual glance—even tiny—but she also needed her itsy-bitsy little facial features to show up with their soulful gaze. We blacked in her hat and gloves (although the gloves have wonderful highlighted wrinkles in the soft leather) and exaggerated her eyes and mouth. We erased all of her from chin to gloves and then went back, meticulously re-creating only those lines absolutely necessary to give her definition. She has a lot of ruffles around her face, which looked weird when they disappeared. We had to get just enough of them in to remove the weird without competing with her more important elements.

The pièce de résistance turned out to be not even a part of her, but the shadow her cardboard cut-out cast on the wall when she was photographed. It’s only behind one arm (the light came from an angle), but it’s a lovely calligraphic line that thins and thickens as it goes around the curves of her sleeve. We sharpened it up. Then we looked at her other arm, which has no such line. We paused.

We were going to flip the line and use its opposite on the other side.

But then I remembered a fascinating fact about stylized images: what the eye knows should be there it will see even when it’s not there.

So we left off the other arm.

And this is something all writers must remember—what the reader knows should be there they’ll supply even when it’s not.

Not only that, but that simple act of the reader supplying the essential last detail is what engages them, sucks them in, pins them down, makes them part of the story.

When we look at our favorite logos, our eye doesn’t keep going back to them because it’s found every single speck of information it needs. It goes back because there’s something missing, and our eye knows what it is. We feel the satisfaction of supplying the missing piece, the sense of completion, the instant of epiphany.

In the book, Victoria uses this anecdote to delve into the way storytelling works in terms of structure, characterisation and description. But as I was reading I was thinking it could apply just as well to revising a novel.

Revision

As you might know from reading Nail Your Novel, I believe in messy first drafts. Pile everything in, then prune. This stage is the work of deep imagination – where I make the story come alive after so long constructing it at a distance with broad strokes. The first draft is where I immerse to let the imaginative juices flow. Description, characters, events, back story – all the detail tumbles out of my head and goes into that draft.

Then I come back to my senses and it’s time to edit. To decide, ruthlessly, what detail isn’t needed and what is. It’s exacting, brutal and transformative.

In particular, I have to take what erupted from the imaginative blunderbuss and make it serve the story. And often that means difficult sacrifices.

Only what’s needed

You’ll see that the picture Victoria started with was lovely in its own right, but now it had to do a job.

This is one of the deepest secrets of good writing – or writing that makes effortless reading, which is the same thing. To take something that is good in its own right – a rich scene or a description or a character – and be able to see what part of it your book needs.

Like Victoria with her cherished but too-detailed lady, I examine whether the ruffles are telling details or discardable darlings. Whether the sensually rippled leather gloves are too distracting. And what I need to make each adapted part fit seamlessly together. If you do this stage of the editing right, every letter of your prose works as hard as it can.

The power of suggestion

Although novels build their worlds though telling details, there is only so much a reader can absorb. Too much and you have a muddle; too little and the reader isn’t immersed. While real life is a broadband activity, reading is like dial-up – we can handle only limited input at once, so writers have to be selective about what we focus on.

This applies not just to descriptions of physical objects, people or scenes, but to emotional states, reactions, textual resonances. Sophisticated writers develop a feel for what they can show and what they can suggest.

When you do it right, you invite the reader to fill in the rest.

And, as Victoria says, that makes them feel very good. It’s as if the book is having a conversation with the reader. It creates fiction that feels profound and resonant; stories that linger in the mind and the heart long after the book is closed.

(Excerpt from The Art & Craft of Story used with permission)

Anyway, this has deviated a little from Victoria’s original argument, and that’s definitely worth a read. You can find it in her book, available on Amazon from September 30

My Memories of a Future Life is now available in full, undivided form on Kindle (US and UK) and is now also available in glorious, doormat-thumping, cat-scaring print. The price of the individual episodes will stay at the launch offer of 0.99c until 15 October, and will then go to their full price of USD$2.99. They’ll always be available, but if you want to get them at the launch price, hie on over to your Amazon of choice (UK, DE, rest of world) now. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters over on the red blog.

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The making of My Memories of a Future Life – interview at Victoria Mixon’s

You remember Victoria? Possibly the world’s maddest, funniest, warmest, wisest book doctor. Earlier this year we had a mighty time goofing around writerly subjects and talking about our long years of experience honing fiction. Her blog was rightly voted one of the top 10 writing sites in the Write To Done awards this year (in which Nail Your Novel was a runner-up). She’s the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction, A Practitioner’s Manual, which is a book I buy for every friend who ventures to say they might one day pen a novel. She’s also about to release its follow-up, The Art & Craft of Story, which you’ll be able to get at Amazon sometime soon.

Anyway, she’s given me a good grilling about My Memories of a Future Life. Was I ever hypnotised? Who were the characters based on? What does it all mean, without spoilers? Come to the other side and see me struggle to explain myself.

For those of you who find the four-episode format too much of a faff, I’m releasing a Kindle edition of the full novel in the next few days. The price of the individual episodes will stay at the launch offer of 0.99c until 15 October, and will then go to their full price of USD$2.99. They’ll always be available, but if you want to get them at the launch price, hie on over to your Amazon of choice (UK, DE, rest of world) now.

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‘Expect the unexpected…’ My Memories of a Future Life in the Kindle store

‘In this intriguing reversal on reincarnation, best-selling ghostwriter Roz Morris turns the tables on all of us who have ever dabbled in past-life regression (and other New Age aspects of metaphysics). Don’t expect just another fable of “who I was.” Expect a complex, intelligent journey into the heart of Western understanding of reincarnation: what it is, what it could be, what it perhaps is not.

‘Morris is a pleasure to read, an accomplished writer with a clear, polished voice and vivid insight into character and place. Is her novel fantasy? Is it sci-fi? Is it a new, groundbreaking mix of fiction genres? What’s the truth behind the story of an injured concert pianist taken further into a dark–even surreal–future than she can handle?

‘Expect the unexpected.

Thank you for the review, Victoria Mixon – writer, fiction editor, and author of The Art & Craft of Fiction.

Episode 1 – The Red Season is now live in the Kindle store. Right here. Episode 2 will follow on Monday September 5th.

I’m having a gosh moment. After eleven novels written in secret for other authors, here’s one with my name on it. And a review of its very own. I feel a bit like those songwriters who compose for other people and finally get to claim a song for themselves – a bit scared, and a bit like singing…

Thank you, everyone who has cheered me on. To the lovely people who requested ARCs and emailed me with their progress behind the scenes and to everyone who has told me how much they’re looking forward to reading it. Just one more thing – if you like it, would you do me a quick review on Amazon? Reviews make a huge difference if casual browsers pitch up on a page, wondering whether to take a chance.

Now I think I’ll get off the podium before I say something ridiculous. If you feel so inclined, you can find episode 1 here.

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Vision and revision: don’t miss our final seminar (with daring URL)

At Victoria Mixon’s again, for the last in our current batch of editor chats. It’s been great fun doing the series, bouncing ideas back and forth with a like-minded writer and editor. Even better, commenters are saying our series is as good as a writing conference – so thank you for that!

Tonight our subject is ‘Vision and revision’, or the buckets of perspiration that follow a bolt of inspiration. We talk about brainstorming and developmental editing, the imaginative quarrying that makes a nebulous idea into a solid novel and how, in the midst of all that sweat we keep our vision fresh. Heady stuff – come and see.

(Thank you, Compujeramay on Flickr, for the photo) Plus Victoria was dared by a naughty tweep to give the post an outrageous and topical URL. No, I didn’t encourage her at all. Nothing to do with me.

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Pretty, precious, purple – talking prose with Victoria

What makes good writing? Victoria Mixon and I are fearlessly grappling with this question in this week’s editor chat, over at her wood-panelled lacy writing nest. Highlight? Victoria threatens to shave her head and move to Tibet Om your way over and see if you can stop her…

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Talking characters – Victoria and me

I’m back at Victoria Mixon’s for the second part of our weekly editor chats. Last week we hammered out plot. Today the subject is characters. We discussed techniques for developing characters, what makes a character with dignity and depth, whether to use all your research – and my dislike of what some of you call plaid and what I call tartan.

Hey, we’re all allowed unreasonable quirks. Take a highland fling over to Victoria’s blog and see what it’s all about… Thank you, Lee Carson, for the picture…

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Things we do for fiction… back at Victoria Mixon’s

I’m at the blog of my fellow fiction editor Victoria Mixon, author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual, for the second part of what turned into a long and rather diverting conversation. In between the goofing we talk about the things we do when writing novels of our own, ghostwriting, bad deals in the publishing world and the time I got hit by a train.

It’s all here. As you hop on over, mind the gap…

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‘We can’t leave fiction alone’ – on the couch with editor Victoria Mixon, figuratively speaking…

Victoria Mixon is probably the most hilarious book doctor in the world. Rascally and razor sharp, weird and wise. I’m surprised clients don’t suffer creative aneurysms. She’s the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction, A Practitioner’s Manual, and her blog was rightly voted one of the top 10 writing sites in the Write To Done awards (in which Nail Your Novel was a runner-up). To celebrate, she decided she wanted to interview me, God bless her.

Head on over to her place where we had, in her words, ‘a rollicking after-dinner ramble about our craft and the extraordinary work of editing fiction…’ Plus some silliness…

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