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

(Write Great Fiction)

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,562 ratings  ·  172 reviews
Spot and Fix Manuscript Missteps

Don't let the revision process intimidate you any longer. Discover how to successfully transform your first draft into a polished final draft readers won't be able to forget.

In Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell draws on his experience as a novelist and instructor to provide specific revision tips geared toward th
Paperback, 1st ed., 266 pages
Published May 5th 2008 by Writer's Digest Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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Aug 08, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
Imagine after a bit of soul searching you came to the conclusion that you were in a co dependent relationship and you needed information as to how to improve yourself. You want to make the relationship work, so you get a book called, "Reality & Self Respect: Techniques for Transforming Your Relationship into a Healthy One." As you're reading it you realize the quality and research is amazing. About 1/4 into the book though, the author starts talking about narcissism and how it affects those in r ...more
K.M. Weiland
Dec 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Full of great advice - as Bell's stuff always is - but most of it is on the basics of the craft, rather than editing. Only the last few chapters focus on the subject of the title.
Jordan Price
Nov 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Since Mr. Bell’s earlier writing book, Plot and Structure, is one of my all-time favorites, and since I’m currently in the midst of a huge revision of a stalled novel, I was eager to get my hands on this book. I didn’t feel the contents and its title really did each other justice.

Much of the advice is about creating the right amount of conflict to keep a story plugging along. There are useful chapters on crafting a solid beginning, middle and end. Avoiding dry exposition is explained. And there
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-guides
Firstly, I want to say how I loved this book. This series has a way with keeping me interested!

Secondly, I read another review that stated this book was 80% how to write and 20% how to edit. And at first I agreed with them. But then I sat down and thought about it.

Editing and revising are just going back and polishing up what you've written, adding in more characters or deleting some to make it better! How can you do this if you don't understand the basics well? When I read through the first pa
A. M.
Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perfect for beginners
Let me just start by saying that this book would be ideal for writers who have no experience writing. Why do I say this? Because the first half of the book is dedicated to small summaries of how you could (should maybe) write and examples of plot etc. (the basics). I’m not saying the first half is useless, but I didn’t find anything new in there, and it wasn’t that relevant to the title of the book (a little misleading).

I like Bell’s tone throughout the book. He has an e
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Good info in the revision section (the last bit of the book) but it seemed like a big portion of it was repeat info from the Plot & Structure book, so I skimmed most of that and read the 20 or so pages that were actually relevant. ...more
This writing craft book is above-average. It is helping me to revise my novel.
Shayna Grissom
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This book has great starting points for writing as well as some solid examples. However, it focused more on writing a draft rather than revision. Over half the content was on how to write a draft, and in order to revise, you do need a first draft, but I was hoping for more techniques on ways to improve and shape a draft (as implied in the title).

I would recommend this if someone wanted to create a well thought out first draft and a second revision, but not for fine-tuning or polishing a manuscr
C.J. Darlington
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-how-to
How-to books for writing come in as many variations as there are writers. Some are hype, promising you'll make $100,000 in your first year of freelancing or a $50,000 advance on your first novel. They promise much more than they deliver. There are also the texts which do provide some useful information, but they're about as dry as the Nevada desert in August.

But every once in awhile a writing instruction book comes down the pike which not only delivers techniques you can immediately apply to you
Ross Lampert
Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book here on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
January 1, 2015- January 5, 2015
This time I'm actually ready to revise and read the whole book.

April 28 - May 12, 2014
I admit, this time around I skimmed until I reached the Revision status, but that's because I'm looking at this book more as a guidebook for the story that I'm actually revising. :D

July 20-25, 2013
I absolutely love this book and would recommend it to any writer.

I am an aspiring writer who has never actually revised a novel. I just got the writing part down, now I need to learn h
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
The first seventy-five percent of Revision and Self-Editing discusses the craft of writing from theme to plot to characterization. Only the last twenty-five percent discusses revision.

Although I learned a lot from this book, I believe the book is misnamed and should be Writing and Revising a Great Novel. Alas, my title may not be as catchy, and the author would probably argue that if you practice what is written in the first seventy-five percent of the book, then you will not need as much time
Mar 02, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The opening of this book is where most authors talk about why they wrote it to begin with. This author, however, uses the space to talk about all the aspiring authors who have come to him with dog-eared copies of this book, chocked full of sticky notes and highlighted pages. These people, he tells us, rave about how they never write a novel without this book as a guideline.

The book is a like a broad spectrum antibiotic that tells you all the most right things any famous author or movie ever did
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Exercises, advice, encouragement, and practical next-steps abound in this revision how-to guide. I've even become a better reader since starting this book, because I have been shown how to spot and appreciate good writing. As I go through the revision process on my own work, I anticipate turning back to this book again in the future to see how I'm doing. It felt like taking a class (in a good way) complete with homework, and for a tiny fraction of the cost of another degree!
A.L. Buehrer
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love the Write Great Fiction series. This book is an awesome reference. The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five was that a lot of it was just summarizing content from the other books in the series.

There's a great revision checklist in the back. I love checklists in theory, but my brain doesn't actually know how to use them. For people who have brains that do, I'm sure you will enjoy this book all the more.

Highly recommended.
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Scott Bell offers great advice on editing, deepening your story, and making sure the structure of your book is sound. Many of the exercises will be useful during the several rounds of revision necessary to produce a readable and memorable fiction book. I found much here to add to my revision tools. I'll be revisiting this book often.
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
The last chapter, the checklist, in Revision and Self-Editing is the most useful; I'm currently using it to leave no stone unturned during my revision process. There are good reasons that James Scott Bell's book on writing are perennial favorites and best sellers. I return to them time after time for the concise, common sense advice.
Reading this book couldn't have come at a better time for me. Have been struggling to finish editing my book. The tricks and the fixes in this book have not only reminded me that I already know what needs to be done and should stop stalling, but have given me fresh insights into what and where I can take my fiction.
This is a great writers resource.
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you want to get better at editing this is the book for you. Written by bestselling author James Scott Bell the advice is worth heeding. I found the material skewed towards mystery and thriller, which is just fine by me. I learned a great deal. An extremely technical read with great exercises. I can't wait to put what I learned into practice.
Devin Berglund Joubert
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just recently finished reading this book and found it extremely helpful. James also has great prompts and questions that make you think about your story. It is on my desk while I am editing my novel. :)
Lucas Carlson
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book for self editing

If you are even considering writing fiction of any sort or any length... Put this on your must read books list because it is exactly how to not look like a rank beginner.
Rita Webb
May 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, wonderful, tremendous book on the art of self-editing. Great examples from great authors, explaining what they did and why it worked and how you can do it too.
Bill Tillman
Library ebook expired have to do an amazon.
Kendall Grey
Excellent resource for writers. This one really helped me figure out how to self-edit my books. Highly recommended.
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Good

James Scott Bell knows writers. He knows their hopes, their fears, and what it means to sit down to a blank page every. single. day. He also knows the temptation to sit and read writing books (or write blog posts!) rather than work on the story that only will be perfect in your head.

With that in mind, he takes us gently, lovingly, step by step, in a labor of love, through our work, pointing out over uses of adverbs and clichés (ha! notice what I did there?), reminding us to concentrate o
Sheri Spencer
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Of all the books I’ve read about writing, this one was one of the most influential. In simple but clear detail, it shows you how to cut to the chase and keep the plot rolling.

With examples and a lot of concise insight, Bell shows you how to achieve maximum effect with minimum slack. Through demonstrating revision of sample passages, he shows you how to tighten your paragraphs, minimize exposition by utilizing those details with subtlety in dialogue or elsewhere, and when you come to a snag, he c
Ruthie Jones
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It always feels like the revision process will never end. Plot holes and errors abound! But this book puts your novel into perspective and helps you determine where your focus should be. I especially like the Ultimate Revision Checklist, which is way more than a simple list that you check off as you revise. This section is a detailed list of the main features of your story (e.g., chacters plot, scenes, dailogue) and common fixes to get you on the right track.

While some might balk at being told t
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Only the last 20% of this book is actually about editing/revision. The first 80% is general writing advice. It's great advice, so I don't regret the purchase or the time invested, but from what I gathered, it's the same stuff the author already elaborates in even more detail in his previous works. And then the editing/revision advice comes down to rehashing all that once more in the form of a to-do/how-to list.

It's not by any means a bad book. The techniques are original and practical, the exam
Katia M. Davis
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very good in depth look at revision and self-editing for fiction writers. It is well set out and deals with each aspect of the writing process. There are ample examples of the techniques discussed and many exercises the reader can undertake to get the hang of them. Answers for the exercises that require them are at the back of the book. The topics discussed will work for whichever kind of writer you are, a plotter or a pantser. One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was that i ...more
Lynn Palermo
Good book as it offers some solid revision advice including an excellent Revision Checklist. The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 deals more with writing then revision. Bell covers the major elements of a story, so if you're at the revision stage, chances are you should have a pretty good handle on these elements. I did fine myself skimming through part one. Part 2 is more revision focused and is undoubtedly of value. There are some great exercises and and appendix with the answers. Like I ...more
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Jim is a former trial lawyer who now writes and speaks full time. He is the bestselling author of Try Dying, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, Glimpses of Paradise, Breach of Promise and several other thrillers. He is a winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Inspirational Fiction, and was a fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine. He has written two books in the Writers' Digest serie ...more

Other books in the series

Write Great Fiction (5 books)
  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • Dialogue: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue (Write Great Fiction)
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Description & Setting

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