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.
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.
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.