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Write Powerfully Like the Pros

lEARN VERSATILE PHRASES YOU CAN ADD into sentences making them both reader-friendly and a pleasure to read.

PART TWO IN THE “Vital Keys to the Modern English Sentence” SERIES

Read this sentence out loud, if you will…

In the morning we went out into a new world, a glistening crystal and white world, each skeleton tree, each leafless bush, even the heavy, drooping power lines sheathed in icy crystal.
           (from Notes Toward A New rhetoric  by Francis Christensen, page 14)
Lovely, isn’t it?  It’s one of my all time favorite sentences.  I can just see the beauty and feel cold. It’s a pleasure to read, so simple and clear.
The Loose Sentence
In books on grammar and rhetoric, that example sentence above is called a loose sentence. It’s loose because  those phrases added on after the main clause are not locked on. They are more like a dance than a military march.
AKA Cumulative Sentence
Savvy writing treachers also call this type of sentence a cumulative sentence because it grows by addition.
Start with addition not subtraction
Writing is not just subtraction as in cutting out unnecessary words and sentences when you edit.  Editing is super-important.  But first you must put words, clauses, phrases, sentences and paragraphs down on the page- so that you have something to work with.
Freight cars heavy with meaning
In my previous post on the modern English sentence (http://keystowriting.com/2011/11/),  I pointed out that it’s like a train.  The main clause is the engine, and the freight cars that follow are loaded with specific meaning.  But those freight cars can show up in a considerable variety.
So stay with me while I get slightly more technical and describe below some of those versatile  phrases…

I’ll keep my examples short so that we can focus on each individual add-on.

The most common is perhaps the participle phrase

Judy smiled enchantingly, twisting her ponytail with her fingers.

Above, Ttisting is a present participle. Add ing to the verb twist, and you have a  participle.

Notice how  twisting her ponytail with her fingers adds descriptive detail to the words smiled and enchantingly.  I can better picture Judy in my mind.

Nouns work well too

Judy’s smile was enchanting, an invitation to dance.

The noun invitation  and the words included next to it also describe what Joan’s smile was like.  But the phrase an invitation to dance is built around the noun invitation.  Phrases built on nouns and frequent in both fiction and nonfiction writings.

Nominative Absolutes are “people” too
This is a verbal phrase, usually containing a participle, but this time with a subject.  Two examples…

She smiled, her palms turned upward in resignation. (past participle)

She smiled, her palms turning upward in resignation. (present participle)

A nominative absolute, in spite of its formidable title, is a useful writing device.  It’s just like the participle phrase I described above with one exception: it has a subject.

In both examples above, her palms is the subject of the phrase.  Her palms is the subject, and turned/turning are participles. The nominative absolute itself is almost, but definitely not quite, a clause or sentence. I could have written:

She smiled. Then she turned her palms upward…

That would have been two sentences. Two main clauses. Nominative absolutes are most common in fiction but can be effective in nonfiction too.

Prepositional Phrases are common too
Very frequent in writing. When they become elaborate, it is often best to punctuate them with commas, or maybe even occasionally dashes.

A.  He ran, punching the air with his fists, down the dirt trail and around a bend, soon out of sight.

The main clause is, of course, He ran. As underlined above, there are three prepositional phrases, and the last is introduced by the adverb soon.

(Notice, too, the vivid participial phrase punching the air with his fists.)

I could have included all that information in separate and small sentences:

B.  He ran full out. His fists punched the air. He dashed down the dirt trail. Soon he was around a bend.  And then he was out of sight.

This second version is not necessarily bad. But do you see how more efficient and perhaps effective too the original version A above is?

Phrases built on Adverbs

She smiled shyly and enticingly.

The two adverbs above add to what the author meant by smiled.

Phrases built on Adjectives

Bald Mountain looked formidable, tall and steep.

Most but not all
These are the most of  common add-ons. Certainly there are others.

But for  now compare the two following segments.

1. He was tired. Exhausted really. His sat slumped in the chair. His arms hung limply down at the sides. They were pale white and dead-looking.

2. He was tired, exausted really, slumped in his chair, his hands hanging limply at the sides, pale-white and looking dead.

Which is better?
Is either a bad piece of writing? Well, I hope not since I wrote them! But is number 1 above better than number 2? Not necessarily. It depends on a number of things but primarily the effect you want to create with your writing.

Perhaps the best point to make here is that I think that it’s a good idea to know  your options.  Better yet: practice them so that they come readily to mind when you’re writing.

Now let’s re-visit that first example sentence I started with above, this time naming the phrases:

In the morning we went out into a new world (main clause),

a glistening crystal and white world (noun phrase built on world),

each skeleton tree (noun phrase),

each leafless bush (noun phrase),

even the heavy, drooping power lines sheathed in icy crystal (nominative absolute built on the past participle sheathed)

Suggested Exercises
When you read, be alert for these types of additions.  Check how well they work.  Also, if you will practice this modern sentence, with its various possible additions, you will soon discover how versatile and effective they can be.

The modern English sentence makes for some powerful writing.

Have you found your Writing Voice yet?

Courtesy DeaPeaJay @Flickr

It’s like learning to walk.
When you learned do walk, were you concerned about developing a distinctive walk?  Of course not.  Yet when a person grows up, others can easily recognize her from afar,  just by her walk.  Sometimes just by the way she is standing.

Give it time
Writing is like that too.  It just takes some time–and writing.

It’s like fine art work
I’ve spend lots of years learning watercolor painting. Often I’ve heard fellow painters fussing over being original, having their own style.  Some of them were careful never to copy the style or even techniques of other artist.

Even though that is a time-honored and classical way of apprenticeship.  But after I had been painting for about a year, one gal told me that she could always recognize my style.  I never worried about it after that.

One more art illustration
A favorite oil painter/teacher of mine once said words to this effect: “What does it take to get good? Miles and miles of canvas.”

A Distinctive style
My advice? Just write. Keep writing.  If you want to hurry up the growth process a bit, write more often.  Soon you will realize that your distinctve voice is emerging.  It’s inevitable. You don’t even have to try.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t even be afraid to imitate the style of writers you admire.  This can increase the range of your style, add tools to your toolbox.  Even if you worked at it really diligently and  wound up sounding like those other writers a bit more than usual and for a brief while, in time you would give their stylistic techniques your own flavor anyway.

You’re a snowflake
You are unique, you know.

Keep writing. Write every chance you get.  And enjoy the journey!

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.— Tennessee Williams

______________________________________________

Related info (not necessarily in total agreement with me!):

Excellent post:  http://hollylisle.com/ten-steps-to-finding-your-writing-voice/

Here’s a whole book on it: http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Your-Writers-Voice-Creative/dp/0312151284

Copyblogger is always good:  http://www.copyblogger.com/find-your-writing-voice/

As is Zen Habitshttp://zenhabits.net/voice/

Don’t Miss Melissa Donovan’s Warning of Potential Censorship of the Internet

You can find her sobering blog post here:
http://www.writingforward.com/news-announcements/news-and-announcements/public-service-announcement-writers-censorship-and-sopa

It is brilliant, well-researched and, as usual with her blog, well-written.

It’s something all writers should be aware of.  Everyone really. I, for one, will be taking action in the form of letting my congressional representatives and the President know what I think.

I am a serious Christian, but I am against all forms of censorship, even by well-meaning (but unwise) Christian organizations.  The end does not justify the means.  Bad means –> bad ends.

Writing that Strikes like Lightning and Sings like Song

Courtesy j_arred @Flickr

 

The “Modern” English Sentence, Part III

Lightning hits hard and quickly
One word in the right place can hit hard. Brief sentences and sentence fragments punctuated as sentences are often effective.  You can surprise and delight your reader with unexpected punchy pieces of writing. But always interspersed with longer sentences for variety, to avoid monotony and choppiness.

Rhythm is the key
A song can have several aspects like melody, rhythm and harmony.  But rhythm is, I think, the most easily recognized and utilized in spoken and written language. So in this piece let’s focus on rhythm.

Life is rhythm
The type of rhythm I am talking about has a lot to do with a conversation style.  It’s resembles the way we talk.

This rhythmic aspect of writing is significant. Life is rhythm and movement, the beat of your heart, the moments of time, the surge of surf on the beach.  Paying attention to the rhythm of your words can add power to your writing. It can make it memorable too.

Eloquence is often enhanced by the rhythm of a conversational style
Think about popular songs or even jazz.  Much of the charm comes from syncopation.  The beats and the off-beats.  The best songs and also jazz mimic the way we talk.  Recall Stevie Wonder’s awesome song and read aloud its first four lines below.  And as you do, pay attention to the rhythm of the words.

You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
That’s Why I’ll Always Stay Around
You Are The Apple Of My Eye
Forever You’ll Stay In My Heart

 Comedians and Lyricists
How popular would a comedian be if he spoke like a formal essay?  How popular would a song writer be if she wrote her lyrics that way?

Formal writing has a place, for example in scholarly pieces and scientific research, but the majority of writing these days is conversational in style.  Whether we’re talking copywriting, magazine articles, or blog writing–certainly fiction too.

 Aim for a Conversational Style
We speak well because we’re fluent in our native tongue.  Most people have occasional moments in conversation that  sparkle with bits of genius.  Some speak better than they write.  It comes from speaking our language and hearing it daily, thousands upon thousands, even millions of times.  We’re fluent in other words.

That’s why a number of  writers and also writing teachers advise us when we are writing—and especially when we are having a tough time getting our meaning clear–to imagine that we are explaining our ideas or telling a story to a friend.

Make it conversational but clean it up
Now conversation is messy and inefficient and often not coherent—even with its “bits of occasional genius.”  I don’t advocate writing exactly the way you talk.  You need to clean it up. Edit it.

By the way, one key rhythmic technique is to set up a steady beat that is changed abruptly.  For example…

She came on time, she was well-dressed, but she just wasn’t well-prepared.

So my point is to work at being actively aware of the rhythm of your words.

7  Practical suggestions:
1.  Read Shakespeare in the original, even Chaucerout loud–admittedly dated but masters of English—and also contemporary writers, any writers you find particularly effective.  And listen while you are reading.   Try poetry too, especially poetry that was written with a recognizable meter to it.

2.  Listen to music with a strong beat, including jazz if you wish. Pay attention to its rhythms.  Perhaps even imagine yourself a drummer in the band and get into the rhythm by tapping it onto something handy (probably best not your pet).

3.   Listen more carefully to TV ads. Writers are paid to come up with catchy phrases, words that dance and delight the ear.  Words designed to influence you.

4.  Get radical.  Take up (or revisit) a musical instrument.  Learn to play songs and get the rhythms right.  Or simply memorize songs you especially like.

5.  When you read and come across a sentence or phrase you like, examine it closely.  What is it about it that caught your attention?  Imitate that sentence, using your own words and ideas—not to become a clone of Shakespeare or Chaucer or a best-selling writer, say, but to record those potential rhythms into your subconscious.

6.  How-to-write instruction often advises us not to settle for the first words that occur. Experiment. Try different combinations.  Then choose the best.

7.  And a super key: For sure, work at being actively aware of the rhythm of your words when you write and rewrite.   Listen to your words.  If it helps, read them aloud.

It takes practice
The goal I am implying here is challenging.   But working toward it can augment our writing skills and effectiveness.  It’s not slam-dunk easy.  Very often I find I cannot write lyrically or with thundering impact just because I intend to. Usually, I have to hit upon it.  It’s really rather heavily intuitive.

Be clear, write simply, but be eloquent too
The results are well worth it.  The plain style is of course a good one, but some eloquence doesn’t hurt.

Please feel free to comment:
When you reach for the music and to write with impact, how do you go about it?  What are your “tricks of the trade”?

Related reading:
http://www.llumina.com/writing_with_rhythm.htm

http://www.thinkage.ca/~jim/prose/rhythm.htm

http://www.zeromillion.com/business/improve-business-writing-rhythm.html

http://writeitsideways.com/how-to-write-with-rhythm-that-sings/

Some Vital Keys to the Modern English Sentence

Part I   Let’s hear it for the occasional long sentence!

It’s a beauty
The modern English sentence is beautiful and elegant because it flows they way we think. It is more intuitive than being confined to merely the simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex sentence options of yesteryear. And it’s more powerful.

It’s like a train
The modern English sentence I’m talking about resembles a train. You have the engine at the front, the main clause.

The officer marched into the village.

But you can also add a number of cars following that engine–in fact, quite a good idea.  And these freight cars carry the goods–in many contemporary sentences that’s where much of the meaning is communicated. Now let’s add to the above example sentence:

The officer marched into the village, his AK-47 at the ready pointing forward, his soldiers following close behind, a small but formidable combat unit.

Permit me to diagram that sentence above it so its structure is more obvious:

The officer marched into the village,
              His AK-47 at the ready pointing forward,
                      His soldiers close behind,
                               A small but formidable combat unit.

It also works with Non-fiction:
The above sentence reads like fiction, doesn’t it? Actually, it is fiction. and it’s starting to get a bit long, but is it clear? I think so.

So now let’s look at a non-fiction sentence. I’ll improvise on some of my wiring above:

The modern English sentence is like a train: It has its engine, and it has its freight cars, trailing behind, adding valuable cargo (meaning), often essential actually and clarifying.

Three more brief examples…
This time from Ali Luke’s just-published novel Lycopolis (available in a Kindle edition and soon as a paperback):

Brandon watched him, trying to fathom him out. [Added participial phrase. Kindle edition, location 1392]

Brandon especially enjoyed puzzles, with things to solve. (Added prepositional phrase. Again, Kindle location 1392]

Brandon still disliked being alone in the silence – though he could sleep if he whispered strings of primes into the darkness, backwards and forwards, until the room buzzed with numbers. [The added backwards and forwards is a couple of adverbs, call it an “adverb cluster”; and until the room… is an added adverbial clause. Kindle edition: at location 1353-1354]

(More on the types of additions in my soon-coming blog on this topic, Part II.)

Don’t be too choppy
Modern style–influenced I suspect by copywriting techniques, TV ad video clips addressing a rather short, contemporary attention span–with its frequent very short phrases and even single words punctuated as sentences–can easily get a bit choppy unless we writers take care to include variety in the lengths of our sentences.

The advantages:
Learning this style can be freeing, providing you with formidable weapons for your writing-style arsenal. It can also provide you skill for adding rich texture and meaning into your sentences when you wish to.

Faulkner did it
Faulkner could write sentences that go for a whole page before adding that period. Yet they were in fact simple sentences (by definition, that is not compound or complex or even compound-complex–just a main clause with many add-ons), and all of them perfectly clear and reader-friendly. So could Thomas Wolfe. Even Hemingway wrote sentences like the one I used as an illustration above.

A challenge for you…
Roy Peter Clark in his fine, fairly recent book Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, says this:

Until the writer tries to master the long sentence, she is not writer at all, for while length makes a bad sentence worse, it can make a good sentence better. (Page 36)

Augment your versatility.
Master the long sentence as well as the modern chopped up sentence (and I’m not knocking sentence fragments punctuated as sentences–I use them myself!).

A couple of Promises…
It takes a bit of practice, but if you learn to write this way (assuming you haven’t already!), I promise you this: it can be a freeing experience. I think you will find that your writing sings at times like poetry. And I also think you will find that  your efforts at writing such sentences can actually generate ideas and enable you to pack those sentences with vivid details and clarifying illustrations, and much much more-at will.

Number 2 Challenge for you…
When you read, be alert for this sentence type (called by some “the loose sentence” in contrast to tight, formal ones). See how often it appears and how effectively it works.

Suggested Further Reading:
Online Resource:
http://papyr.com/hypertextbooks/grammar/phrase.htm

Books:
Note– Both of the two following books are out of print and often hard to find but ‘worth their weight in gold.’

Notes Toward A New Rhetoric, 6 Essays for Teachers by Francis Christensen (Harper and Row, 1967)

A Modern Rhetoric by Francis Christensen (Harper and Row, 1976)– Professor Christensen’s master work.

Also-
Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for every Writer by Roy Peter Clark ((Little, Brown and Company, 2006)

Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner (Oxford University Press, 3rd Ed., 2009)

100 Ways to Improve your Writing by Gary Provost (Signet, 1985)

Here’s one of the Best Books on Novel Writing and Structure

A review of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. ISBN 1582979987

This book brings a clarity to the fiction writing process I have not found before. I have read a lot of excellent how-to-write-fiction books, at least over 30 and took thorough notes from most of them. I have also completed two lengthy  courses on fiction writing. Yet I found this text super-helpful.

The “Six Core Competencies” of story writing
That’s what Brooks calls the major topics of his book.  They are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution and
  • Writing Voice

And he covers them all–and more–in only 278 pages. Good news, since most of us writers are already up to our eyebrows in reading material. Yet he does a thorough job of explaining his points.  Plenty clear enough to put them to work in your planning and writing right away.

This isn’t the only book you should read to perfect your fiction-writing skills, but it is really a good place to start!

Clear Guidelines are essential
All of us who write fiction, whether we are beginners or pros, whether we are striving to write the great American novel or just to get published, can benefit form insightful, well-written guidelines on how to go about it.  I, for one, need constant reminders of the many aspects of story-writing I want to keep in mind.  This book provides those guidelines.

A good story idea is not enough
I also need a game plan, a well-thought-out procedure for building that idea into the novel it can become.  I need to consider topics this book covers as I plan and organize my ideas.  Not formulas, but the big picture and what needs to go where and why. Formulas can be rigid. But the principles the author includes are flexible, and rather than inhibiting creativity, they encourage it.

Brooks provides this key information in detail with clear explanations, illustrations from contemporary novels, as well as rather amazing and entertaining analogies.

My favorite portions
The chapters on story structure and theme are among my favorites (although you couldn’t pry any part of the book away from me).

Get published sooner?
Would you like to publish a novel? Would you like to do that in a few years rather than ten or twenty? I cannot guarantee you’ll be published, of course. But assuming you have that potential, I think this book can hasten your victory.

P. S. If you haven’t visited Larry’s blog http://storyfix.com/ I recommend you check it out. I’ve read quite a lot of his posts, and each time I came away with something new or something that needed reminding.

Related posts:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/4-story-structures-that-dominate-novels

http://storyfix.com/a-guest-post-about-story-structure

http://storyfix.com/how-to-learn-story-structure-in-two-minutes-or-less

http://storyfix.com/another-1-5-minute-workshop-on-the-six-core-competencies

Nine things about Powerful writing?

                                           Courtesy  Wesley Fryer @Flickr

1.  Powerful writing gets to us
It hits us where we live. Stirs our emotions. It’s attention-riveting. It’s vivid and to a degree always exciting and intriguing. And it’s convincing. Really good writing is a wake-up call. It prompts us, provokes us to think in new ways and even realize things we always knew, always sensed-or, perhaps never thought of before.

2.  It’s different today.
In previous decades people lived at a more leisurely pace. They would put up with long introductions, long chapters, long paragraphs, and long sentences. Not so much now. The pace of life has accelerated. We’re more in a hurry. In fact, the exception is anyone who dares to take her time.

3. Powerful writing is like magic
Just the right words in just the right places to capture your meaning, your message, your truth. Your take on reality. It hits the target with precision, at least enough to get my ideas clearly across. It’s like the right key strokes to get your computer to do what you want it to do and–with a minimum of fuss.

4.  It’s a pleasure to read
Powerful writing is a pleasure to read. It kindles within us admiration for the writer and a sense that we are getting quality information. From the keyboard of a craftsman, a wordsmith, it’s persuasive. It has impact.

5.  Powerful writing Elevates
It’s like music, really. I can be feeling low, wondering about my projects. Are they worth it? Are they really any good? Should I continue? And I can read something well-written, something encouraging and inspirational and motivating. And soon I feel like a conquering hero.

6.  It’s clear and reader-friendly
Powerful writing doesn’t fight you. It’s not a struggle to read. It flows so well at times that the words disappear into experience as you live the scene, the ideas.

7.  It’s riveting
Powerful writing gets your attention and keeps it. It gives you that sensation, those feelings, the suspense of a thriller. It entices you with questions and has you wondering what’s coming next. You even feel the urge to take a peek ahead.

8.  Powerful Writing is More than Craft
Powerful writing–any good writing–is more than craft of course. It’s something you do intuitively as well as rationally. Right brain and left brain fully engaged, each at least at its proper time and place.  It’s art.

9.  I want to write powerfully…
because I like to write, and I like to do what I do well. It’s worth it, isn’t it? That choice sense of accomplishment. That high when you know you’ve written well. Knowing you’re good at what you do.

What have you written today?

7 Reasons to Write for your Life

1.  Writing can help you Learn.
Writing is one of the best ways to learn information. If you’ve been in college as I have, or even if you worked hard to get good grades in high school, you’ve been faced with having to cram for exams.

One of the tricks that worked well for me was writing the material out by hand. Now at the time, quite a while ago, there were no laptops, not even computers. The closest thing was an IBM Selectric typewriter.  Now I do have a computer, but  I still write by hand at times because I enjoy it.

Back then, writing the information I needed to learn for  exams, and reviewing it several times, helped me get top grades in college.

There’s a saying: If you want to really learn a subject, write a book about it.

2.  Writing can help you become smarter.
Now by saying that, I don’t mean increase your IQ.  I do mean making use of more of your latent intelligence. From the reading I have done, it seems that our innate intelligence is inborn.  Certainly none of us uses all the smarts that are within us waiting to be tapped.

So, to cut to the chase, what can we do to free up more? Well, lots of things really. But the one I want to point to is writing.

Writing is one of the best brain workouts. To Put words on paper that make sense, I have to use both my short and long t erm memory.  I have to think, imagine, even use logic to a degree.

3.  Writing Generates New Ideas and Insights.
Writing often gives my intuition opportunity to reveal new insights to me. Sometimes that means making new connections while doing a mindmap. Or listing topics I want to write about  Many times when I am simply in the midst of putting words down on the page, new ideas do pop up–Sometimes so many I can’t record them all. (Then again, it could be too much coffee.)

4.  Writing can help maintain Mental Health.
I can hear a few of you now: “No, Bill, I want to be nuts, it’s more fun!” It may be, at times.  On the other hand, I think writing can help you stay sane in an often insane world.

For instance, journaling can be an emotional outlet to release negative, stressful feelings. It can also express our joyful experiences. Writing thoughts and experiences in  a journal can be something you do just for you, or it could become the cherished possession of your children or grandchildren.

And in a world where achievement if often hard-won, writing can yield a wholesome feeling achieving something worthwhile.

5.  Writing Enhances Skill.
Plus there’s the added benefit of the practice you get by that writing. Any writing helps to a degree in gaining more fluency with your words.

So we have that 10,000 glass ceiling. Or 10 years readying, studying, writing to become a successful expert at it.

Even the tiniest bit of writing moves us in that direction.

6.  Writing is versatile.
When I graduated college as an English major and was working on a novel, I needed to find work. I applied for a local government position since it was available.  I soon found out that the application process was far more involved  than I anticipated.

And guess what: A key portion of the testing involved writing. I had to write a lengthy report. It turned out that writing skill was one of the main job requirements. To this day I figure my writing skill, such as it was then, helped me get that job–that turned into a career.

Writing skill helps in many areas of our lives. It can help us talk better and sound employable.  And that couldn’t hurt.

7.  Writing is enjoyable.
I know I can’t speak for you, but I enjoy writing. There’s something about coming up with the right words, exciting words, fun words and then painting them with effective phrases and sentences that gets me going. Call it a sense of satisfaction or the intimation that I might make a difference.

That satisfaction is not only real, it is motivating too.

Write on!

Related articles:

http://lifehacker.com/5738093/why-you-learn-more-effectively-by-writing-than-typing

http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/pennebaker/home2000/writingandhealth.html

http://www.becomingsmarter.com/blogging-for-smartness

http://www.ehow.com/about_6507497_can-being-good-writer-career_.html


The Best Book on Revising Fiction-Period

Courtesy Cohdra @morguefile.com

Best-selling author James Scott Bell has written a gem of a book with his Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing, Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel. In fact, it’s like a one-volume manual for fiction writing.

A Comprehensive Overview with a lot of Details
From the introduction: “Beginning writers will therefore find this an essential overview of the craft of novel-length fiction.” But Bell is also careful to admit that entire books have been written on the subjects he covered. So this is not an exhaustive treatment of the know-how necessary to write a competent novel. You should read other books too. Nevertheless, Bell does an admirable job of packing this book with key advice, over and over again.

Some books meander all over the grid before getting specific about what to look at, what to do, and how to do it. So what’s good about this book? In a word, everything! It’s readable and quickly zeros-in on the many targeted techniques. And its instruction is well-organized, systematic, and easy to follow. In fact, it’s like a training manual for novelists.

Still impressed
I’m re-reading it. When I first read it a year and a half ago, I was impressed with its rich content and sound advice.

Good value for your money, and then some…
The introduction “On Becoming a Writer” and the “The Ultimate Revision checklist” near the end of the book are easily worth the price of the book alone. But there is a wealth of information on the pages between–detailed by a writer who has been in the trenches, fighting hard for years to win the wisdom he shares.

It’s divided into two main parts.
Part One: Self- Editing goes over the major aspects of fiction writing, like characters, plot & structure, point of view, scenes, dialogue, show vs. tell, and so on. Each chapter is a jewel that covers key techniques for the novelist and all or certainly nearly all the essential need-to-know points. Most chapters have helpful exercises at the end, and some have more than one exercise.

Part Two: Revision prepares you the reader for tackling serious revision after that first draft has cooled off sufficiently. Topics include: “A Philosophy of Revision,” “Before Your Revise” and “The First Read-through.” Then comes one of the most useful sections of this book…

“The Ultimate Revision Checklist”
This brilliant 38-page  section is really, to me, the heart of the book. It contains spot-on and penetrating questions the novelist can profitably ask herself as she prepares for and goes about re-writing. These questions are grouped, each in its own section with titles like Character, Plot, The Opening, Middles, Endings, Voice, Style & Point of View, Setting, Dialogue Theme, The Polish.

A Few of the extras…
Throughout there are pithy quotes from well-known, successful, published authors that underscore the many points. Bell even included answers to the exercise at the end of several of the chapters.

It’s a Tough Job but…
Revising the first, or second, or third draft can be tough. The key is to identify those things that need fixing, ways to make your novel better. Bell provides not only a workable plan but also the tools to do just that.

From page 215: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”  –Robert Cormier.

Highly recommended.

Other helpful books on revising fiction:
1. Immediate Fiction, A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver.
2. The Elements of Fiction Writing: Revision, How to find and fix what isn’t working in your story and strengthen what is to build compelling, successful fiction by Kit Reed (available used).
3. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham
4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

The Best Book on Revision, Period

Courtesy http://www.sxc.hu

If you’re up early to get that post fixed so that it’s ready to publish, but you can’t seem to get the wording quite right.  Here’s a book that can help:

Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.

There are a number books on writing well  that include the topic of revision among others that I find helpful.  Several of them focus on fiction-writing.

Why then this book? Because Cheney gets down into the word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase, sentence-after-sentence trenches.  His focus is not on fiction-writing techniques  but on all writing and, as his title implies, on “getting the words right.”

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Diction lies at the heart of style.”

“A process central to writing—careful thought”

“Are the words together that belong together?”

The book lives up to its title. Plus, I think Cheney included just about every revision and rewriting technique in existence for improving my writing. So it’s very useful to me for recalling all the things I can do when editing. and also for reminding me of some  techniques I can profitably use more often.

I can thumb my way through my thoroughly-underlined and highlighted copy of this book and more often than not discover what is wrong with that piece I’m working on.

Theodore Cheney was an interesting guy.

At 17 he traveled to the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd, the pioneering American aviator and polar explorer,  and later returned on excursions of his own to polar regions. He earned degrees in geology and geography. He published books and earned an MA in communication. He held a position as a senior scientist at a “think tank.” And he conducted writer workshops and was the director of the Writing Concentration Program at Fairfield University.

This book has come out in a newer edition: Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve your Writing. I prefer the older version, previous title above.  Both are available at online bookstores.

Mr. Cheney also wrote Creative Non-fiction Writing that details how a writer can use fiction devices to add drama and vividness to her non-fiction work.

Highly recommended

What books on writing have you found helpful, including those that cover revision? Please feel free to comment and share.