- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; 2nd edition (May 5, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781582975085
- ISBN-13: 978-1582975085
- ASIN: 1582975086
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 89 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #491,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) 2nd Edition
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While certainly helpful (3.5 stars in my opinion), this is not my favorite revision and self-editing book. I much prefer Raymond Obstfeld's Fiction First Aid, which offers much more targeted, detailed advice on a variety of specific problems. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print also feels more comprehensive (although it is focused solely on self-editing, not revision). If you have those two books, I'm not sure you need this one, but it's still nice to have because Bell covers material the others don't and vice versa.
I imagined this book would be devoted exclusively to revision and editing strategies: how to use critique groups, friends as readers, the mechanics of moving text around or rearranging scenes while maintaining flow, record-keeping strategies, which problems to address first, etc. That's not what it is, for the most part. The first two-thirds of the book, although titled "Self-Editing", is really a distillation of writing advice on standard topics, such as plot, character, dialog, point of view, etc. If you own some of the other books in this series, this will be familiar territory. And the subjects are approached mostly from the point of view of how to write well rather than how to edit what you've already written.
The final third of the book, titled "Revision", gets into more of the nuts-and-bolts material I had imagined the book to be about. A fair amount of this is pep-talk or philosophy of writing, but the heart of this section is a revision checklist. This is a genuinely useful tool: a list of things to check your writing for, listed in an order that makes sense (big-picture stuff first). There are "key questions" and "common fixes" for each element of fiction. If nothing else, this helps alleviate the feeling one can have, sitting down to revise of manuscript, of being overwhelmed with all the different things that might need work. I know I have a tendency to revise in a few areas and neglect others. The checklist is a good cure for that.
Still, there wasn't much in this book that I hadn't already read or figured out for myself. No "magic bullets" for foolproof and efficient revision.
All that said, I think this is an excellent book, especially for aspiring writers who have not read other books or taken classes on the subject. It has the virtue of covering everything and emphasizing the importance of revision in the creative process. In fact, if someone were beginning to write fiction and wanted a single book to learn from, this is the one I'd recommend. Bell's prose is clear and engaging, his examples are cogent, and his advice is sound. He's not teaching a rigid method or promoting his personal preferences, just presenting the basics of good fiction writing in a way that any new writer can understand and apply.
If you don't have any books on writing, this is a highly recommended place to start. If you've bought and read a shelf full of them, you've probably got what you need already.
Nevertheless, I'm very glad I bought this fifth book. James Scott Bell gives the reader stuff he/she can not only use, but that will spark new ideas on "how" to write in more interesting/realistic dialog (for example). But there's a lot more than dialog lessons here.
There is a particularly good chapter (5) on "plot & structure." However, his chapter on "point of view" serves up the same old "point of view" about first person that, again, the big boys must giggle at (try reading James Lee Burke for example). Normally, I hate exercises in a textbook, but I found myself quite fascinated by the ones in the back of this book.
All in all, this is the best, most helpful book on revisions and self-editing I've read over the past 12 years. It is not simply a rehash of grammar 101 and guidlines for editors (when there were such animals) from the 1950's. There are many excellent ideas and gremlins to watch out for. "Running through the garage, Frank threw his other four self-help editing books in the dumpster." I rest my case.