Revision & Self-Editing
James Scott Bell
(Writer’s Digest Books, 272 pp)
Scope: How to get your first draft to a final draft
Overview: James Scott Bell has written several writing books, covering topics from plot to dialogue to conflict and suspense. My favorite is Revision & Self-Editing. Broken into two parts, the book is both expansive and specific. First comes the self-editing portion. Here the author discusses the major aspects of a novel: voice, character, setting, point of view, theme, and more. Each chapter is only around 10 pages, but they’re meaty, giving the reader a sound understanding of the fundamentals.
Next comes revision. Bell talks about the philosophy of revision, why and how to do it. Then he provides a checklist to help the reader analyze each aspect of what he or she has written. Does my lead character jump off the page? Is the tone of my novel clear from the opening? Do I have enough tension and conflict? These are the types of questions he encourages the reader to ask of their work.
Each chapter comes with subheadings, examples, exercises, and a key points review. When I first bought the book, I read it through cover-to-cover. My WIP improved immensely. Now I pull out Bell’s book whenever I revise and review whatever topics I’m struggling with.
- “Train to be your own editor.”
With so much material out there, writers need to have their manuscripts in top shape when they approach agents, editors, or the self-publishing process.
- “Push beyond the familiar.”
This idea comes up several times in the book. Whether it’s a ho-hum character, a vanilla setting, or a generic plot line, push your imagination and devise ways to freshen, enhance, and transform the familiar.
- “Take the long view, and learn to see revision as a friend.”
Revision can be tedious, boring, and even disheartening. But in the long run it makes you a better a writer. It builds your confidence and shows you’re a professional.
- “Go from large to small.”
Start with the major aspects of your work that need revision: plot holes, POV issues, limp characters, etc. Then polish: cut out repetition and needless words, fix grammar and spelling.
- “Good writing is rewriting with know-how.”
Before you can successfully revise a novel (or any piece of writing) you must know what to look for. Therein lies the benefit of this book in others like it. They provide the tools to help you critically examine your work, to realize you strengths and flaws, and to improve upon both.
I finish my entire first draft before going back to revise. What’s your approach to revision?