I've tried several of these books about editing or otherwise improving your fiction manuscript and am usually disappointed, but this one is actually useful. I've long said there should be a straightforward book that teaches what can otherwise take years of study of the market, publishing in general and the different types of fiction. This appears to be it.
Many new (and not so new) writers have little knowledge of the basics of writing a novel. The same 'beginner' mistakes are seen over and over, even with talented writers. Once past that hurdle (which can take years), few know what type of writing they do, so don't know how to effectively refine and market a completed work. Ms. Lyon addresses these issues in a no-nonsense style that gets the point across without preaching or talking down to the reader. Her examples are clear and get the point across. She is obviously well read herself, current on publishing trends and has a good eye for what works and what doesn't.
I've read well-known books that give such poor examples the lessons are rendered useless. In one book, the examples of what not to do are laughably awful. No one would ever make such mistakes, so the lesson is ineffective. In another, the examples of what not to do are from Pulitzer Prize winning novels. Hellooo! Then these egotistical authors, who shall remain anonymous, have the audacity to rewrite the excerpts to show how they should have been done. That was not useful in the extreme. I was unable to finish either of those books because I lost respect for the authors.
On the other hand, Ms. Lyon sites successful authors who are known for the quality she is describing and demonstrates with positive examples.
While some information in the book is fairly basic, some is pretty sophisticated, so all levels of writers can find value. The book is extensive and covers many subjects. Ms. Lyon understands that there are different writing styles and offers information that will speak to those different styles, often with 'if you are this type of writer, skip to Chapter x', saving the reader from slogging through information that wouldn't apply to them.
Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of this work and wish it had been available years ago. It definitely shortens the learning curve.
on April 19, 2008
Elizabeth Lyon's book is a wonderful tool for editing, light on theory and full of technique and examples. It is easily the best book I have read on revision with specific suggestions on all aspects of fiction writing.
Lyon writes both for planners and seat-of-the-pants-ers, with thoughts on structure, style, characterization, and punctuation and syntax. Her style is conversational, clear and supportive. Her examples come from contemporary literature rather than from movies or television, and she assumes that the reader has a manuscript in process. Her book has many good suggestions for creating a first draft, but that is not her focus.
Each chapter has a handy summary-checklist to keep the reader on track with revision. The book is designed to be used as a reference, so that the reader is directed to the chapters which deal with specific approaches and specific difficulties.
Lyon is careful to discuss pitfalls of any approach to writing, such as advantages and disadvantages of single point of view, dual points of view, and author intrusions. She discusses the differences in structure between the hero's journey, as described by Joseph Campbell and the heroine's journey described by Maureen Murdock, and how each fits into a different genre and approach to storytelling.
If you have a manuscript, you need this book now. If you are still thinking about writing, this book will save you hours of revisions later.
on May 15, 2008
From the back cover: "From the first chapter to the last, Manuscript Makeover will show you how to revise and rewrite for a cohesive and consistent story line, strong and memorable characters, and a distinctive style. With this indispensable guide, you can create compelling stories that attract literary agents, editors, and publishers."
Where would we be without how-to books on the multitude of subjects that make up good writing. These books remind me of what I like to call, iron gizmos, those things imbedded at the edge of a highway to keep us from drifting onto the shoulder. Thud, thud, thud, pay attention, keep focused. That said, good how-to books do much more than that, but the difficulty is finding one that, #1 you can understand, #2 you don't fall asleep reading #3 that excites and inspires #4 seems to be written just for you and your project.
I confess to having read (and used) all of Author Elizabeth Lyon's previous how-to books: A Writer's Guide to Fiction, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, and Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write. My expectations, therefore, for Manuscript Makeover, were understandably very high. Lyon's latest book does not disappoint. It lays out for the reader a continuum of valuable guidelines on the journey to good and confident writing and revision. And thankfully, it sails through the #1 to #4 criteria with flying colors.
The 347 page book is divided into four parts:
· Style Speaks,
· Craft Works
· Characterization Endures
· Marketing Pays
Each of the four parts is then divided into subsections that cover things like viewpoint, movement and suspense, time and pace, structure, and a variety of approaches on characterization. The subsections get into the knitty-gritty, the why, the how, and the how-to of the particular area of writing/revising emphasized in that section. The subsections are detailed and thorough, meaning you won't have many--if any--unanswered questions after reading.
In the subsection on Style, for instance, one suggestion (of several) is to approach revisions from Inside-Out--deep listening to your story read aloud, which makes it easier to identify the "clunks, hisses, and coughs" in your manuscript. Or from Outside-In Simple Revisions for Style, which covers a variety of techniques such as varying sentence structure, sentence beginnings, word/sound repetitions, and so many more. In the Outside-In Advanced Revisions for Style
Lyon offers a chapter full of tips to take your writing from adequate to WOW.
Part Four: Marketing Pays Off wraps up "everything you need to know" before you put that manuscript in the mail to an agent or publisher.
Manuscript Makeover is organized and written in typical Lyon style, easy to follow and in a casual voice as though she is talking to you. A helpful feature: you do not necessarily have to start at the beginning and read the chapters in order. Each one contains basic and advanced information, but the book is so well organized, you can easily find and read the particular chapter covering what is troubling you the most about your manuscript.
Manuscript Makeover is a stand out among how-to books on writing and revising fiction because of its all-encompassing coverage and because of Lyon's writing style and organization skills. Read it and Manuscript Makeover will, thud, thud, thud--hold your attention and keep you focused (remember, the iron gizmos?) The title offers good advice: as a fiction writer this is a book you can't afford to ignore.
on December 13, 2008
This is an excellent book for someone considering undertaking a novel or with a complete first draft. I like to take a break between drafts and read a couple of craft books to clear my head and consider where I might tweak/improve my manuscript; I would have found this book more helpful after the first draft than the third, but it was a good primer and - unlike many books of this kind - dedicated to conveying useful information in a productive way.
The author does an excellent service to readers by explaining what she will cover in each chapter and suggesting which readers will find it useful and which readers should look to other chapters for a particular tool or technique. The checklists at the end of each chapter are a perfect shortcut for readers to find out if they're going to find what they're looking for in a particular chapter.
The only thing that keeps me from offering a fifth star in this review is a few too many instances of the author reminding readers to "make sure to do enough of this, but not too much." Readers of a basic/introductory reference, as this book is, probably need more "showing" of examples than "telling" of what to do and what to avoid.
on September 17, 2008
I have to admit that I was disappointed with this book. Do you remember how your elementary school teacher made English way more difficult than it really is by using proper terminology? Predicates, conjuctions, adverbs etc.
This book does the same thing. It takes the simple parts of fiction--like plot, characterization and movement--and essentially makes it more complicated than it needs to be. Much of what is described in long-winded chapters is common sense to the average writer.
I won't say I didn't learn anything, but I recommend Self Editing for Fiction Writers as a much more useful and easier book to understand.