Review: Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell

Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel
Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel by James Scott Bell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell, is an outstanding guide for anyone working on a second (or third) draft of her or his novel. It covers all stages of editing and revising, with exercises to help you put your new knowledge to work. The first part, on self-editing, Bell calls a “sort of writing boot camp,” with chapters on character, story structure, point of view, dialogue, setting, voice, showing & telling, theme, and exposition. The second part gives the writer an approach to revising a manuscript, including a handy and extensive checklist. If you struggle with editing your manuscript, this book will help you, whatever your weakness or difficulty. I highly recommend it. My copy will be well-worn by the time I’m finished editing my work in progress.

Bell sums up his advice for writers with powerful words from another author, John D. MacDonald. While revising your manuscript, remember this advice:

[Mr. MacDonald] was once asked what he looked for in a story, and his answer is a fitting one for all writers, in whatever genre. This is from the introduction to MacDonald’s short story collection The Good Old Stuff:

‘First, there has to be a strong sense of story. I want to be intrigued by wondering what is going to happen next. I want the people that I┬áread about to be in difficulties — emotional, moral, spiritual, whatever, and I want to live with them while they’re finding their way out of these difficulties.
‘Second, I want the writer to make me suspend my disbelief. …I want to be in some other place and scene of the writer’s devising.
‘Next, I want him to have a bit of magic in his prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing. And I like an attitude of wryness, realism, the sense of inevitability. I think that writing — good writing — should be like listening to music, where you identify the themes, you see what the composer is doing with those themes, and then, just when you think you have him properly identified, and his methods identified, then he will put in a little quirk, a little twist, that will be so unexpected that you read it with a sense of glee, a sense of joy, because of its aptness, even though it may be a very dire and bloody part of the book.
So I want story, wit, music, wryness, color, and a sense of reality in what I read, and I try to get it in what I write.’Go thou and do likewise.

Amen, Mr. Bell.

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