Jordan Price's Reviews > Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel

Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
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's review
Nov 22, 2010

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’s an interesting chapter on letting your subconscious chew on your story problems.

The reason this book didn’t seem to fit the title was that most of these considerations are things that really need to be present early in the writing process rather than in the revision process. Can you tweak tension between characters to make it more effective during revision? Sure. But it’s kinda hard to add a whole conflict that wasn’t there to begin with. Planning Your Novel seems like a more apt title.

I always thought Plot and Structure was badly titled, too. It made a lively and engaging book about the craft of writing sound dry.

Something I read in Revision and Self-Editing last night really stuck with me is that many writers are “putter inners” who write bare bones stuff and need to fill it out during revision, while others are “taker outers” who write down anything and everything and later need to prune it back to streamline and polish the story. I’m not sure exactly why I found it so heartening, but as I was axing the words today, I just thought, “I’m a taker outer,” and didn’t stress out over words I was deleting.

Five stars for the content even though the title was not exactly a great match for it. I’d rather read a good book with a bad title than vice versa. Highly recommended for writers of all sorts, but especially novelists, who need to whip big, cumbersome manuscripts into shape. But read this before you start writing your next sprawly piece, not after.
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