A Review of Two Books on Revision Techniques

My bookcase holds two books that deal with revising and editing fiction: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King; and Manuscript Makeoverby Elizabeth Lyon. Both are excellent resources that will help you revise your manuscript for structure and style. Manuscript Makeover also deals with copyediting and polishing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

This book contains sections on: show and tell; characterization and exposition; point of view; dialogue; interior monologues; repetition; sophistication and voice, among others. I will be forever grateful for the section that explained exactly what a “beat” is.

The introduction states that the authors will teach you the craft of editing – “the mechanics of scene building, dialogue, point of view…; the tricks to striking the most effective balance between narrative summary and immediate scenes; the ways to convey your characters without getting in your readers’ faces….” And the book delivers on that promise, through examples, analysis, checklists (or summaries of each chapter’s lessons), and exercises.

The exercises at the end of each chapter often take the form of “revise the following paragraph to correct for errors of ….” The great thing about the book is that suggested solutions for the exercises are provided at the end of the book.

The authors state that, since writing and editing are two different skills, you should not try to do both at once. They suggest that you use the book’s principles to revise your manuscript once you have a first draft.

However, many of the exercises are very useful for working on craft at the outset. For example, the exercise of converting summary to scene, while useful for revision of a first draft, could also help you immensely when moving from your initial notes or outline to drafting scenes at the outset.

Similarly, a point of view exercise of writing a scene in three different points of view would be very helpful when you are first determining the viewpoint through which you wish to tell your story.

At the end of the book is an appendix of recommended books for writers, including books on craft, inspirational books, and reference books.

Manuscript Makeover

The bulk of this book is devoted to structure of your novel and characterization.

This book contains sections on: revising for style; craft (revising for genre, the journey structure, the five-stage structure, movement and suspense, time and pace); characterization (including character-driven beginnings, character-driven scenes and suspense, character personality and voice) and marketing (copyediting and polishing for submission).

Each chapter has a head note that tells you what the chapter addresses and how to determine whether to read the chapter or skip to the end of chapter summary. At the end of each chapter is a “makeover revision checklist” that summarizes the principal points of the chapter – a handy refresher so that you can refer back to the highlights easily. The chapters explain the concepts being addressed, then highlight potential problems with various aspects of a concept and then tell you how to fix the problems. Hurray!

My Thoughts on the Texts

Both these texts are excellent resources. Even though Self-Editing for Fiction Writers bills itself as a resource to be used only after you’ve produced a first draft, I am tempted to use it as a tool for practicing or developing my abilities in the first instance.

For revision per se, if I had to select only one of these resources, I would buy Manuscript Makeover, because when it comes to revision, I am a fan of any text that tells me how to recognize a problem and fix it.

About Charlotte Morganti

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. In addition to her law degree, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her short fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review and The Whole She-Bang 2. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and the quirky characters who populate her fiction.