Writing About Writing About Writing Review 19

Part 19 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here

As promised last time I’ve moved onto the books I have about editing and revision. I also received and read the Pocket Workshop from Clarion.

As per usual the cover isn’t great (a constant theme – see all the other examples below and throughout these blogs). This is a mix of essays from writers who have all been instructors at Clarion West. As usual with a mix of voices the essays are of mixed usefulness. There’s enough here that’s made me shelve it – but potentially come a re-read I’ll decide it’s not reference worthy enough. They say – ‘like Carion this book is not for beginning writers’ but some of the essays are pitched at beginners (I feel). I found the essays on exposition by Tobia S Buckell and Diverse story forms by Henry Lien of most use.

In order to revise you need to identify what mistakes you’re making. I found this short book – The 38 Most Common Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham – an entertaining and useful read. The narrative speed chapter is one I don’t think I’ve seen elsewhere and made some lights come on when reading. I don’t think this is a must have but it won’t hurt you to read it. Like the Pocket Workshop I may decide on a re-read that it’s not reference worthy but I liked it enough on a first read to keep it. I’d say that you want to avoid the mistakes here (like ‘don’t describe a sunset’ on superfluous description) rather than spot them on an edit – but if you have made these mistakes you can edit them out. Some of the mistakes are on generally being a writer so not entirely an editing book.

In Fiction First Aid Raymond Obstfeld takes a different approach on writing Nuts & Bolts by identifying problems with fiction such as ‘low stakes/bland personality’ under character or ‘noticeable lack, or overbearing use of, symbols’ under theme (the book is divided into plot, character, setting, theme and the writer’s life). Each chapter has a symptom, diagnosis and a treatment Again this is more a precautionary rather than a remedy. Except if you’ve had feedback I think. You are unlikely to self-diagnose most of these problems (imho) but if you’ve received feedback from a beta reader that identifies a problem like “I didn’t think this character worked” you may be able to discern why using Obstfeld’s diagnosis and fix it using his treatment. I like it overall so onto the shelf it goes.

Revising Fiction by David Madden is built upon a series of questions (e.g. ‘have you used the device of interior monologue ineffectively?’) Although, again self-diagnosis is hard, this is an excellent remedy for when things are not working. It could even serve as a Nuts & Bolts instruction on how to use various techniques and tools before writing. I’ve referred to this book enough to know it deserves a place on the shelf.

The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield is another excellent reference. The first 50 or so pages give you a whirlwind tour of how novels work and the narrative elements that they are made from. Which lays the groundwork for the rest of the book on how to revise – first take a close look at what you’ve got, then make a plan, then follow the process and lastly polish. This is a comprehensive and accessible book with a set of tools that you can use to make whatever you’ve written better. I recommend it. However the ‘polish’ section could do with expanding. But luckily the next book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King supplies just that.

This looks at the various narrative techniques/tools – show and tell, proportion, dialogue from a ‘fix it’ perspective. So once you’ve had your diagnosis you can apply the treatment as recommended in this book. There are some exercises but the most useful part – and the reason I’m keeping it for reference – is the checklist at the end of each chapter (which complement the questions in Madden’s book.)

It’s a shame that there isn’t just one book that does the job of teaching you how to revise and self-edit but of these books I’d say that you should buy yourself The Last Draft, Revising Fiction and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. However you can also skip the self-editing one if money’s tight as Bridget McKenna’s blog is a free (and excellent) self-editing resource.

One final editing book (not self-editing and not Nuts & Bolts) is What do Editors Do?

This is a modern version of Editors on Editing that I reviewed briefly in WAWAW 15 – like that book it’s a collection of essays from working editors on the craft of editing. It’s a lot more up to date than Editors on Editing and interesting to read alongside. There’s a lot more emphasis on commissioning and acquisitions in the modern version and, as ever, there’s a mix of good and not so good essays. I think if you were only to buy one you should go with this more up to date book. But I’m keeping both.

I’m now moving onto Nuts & Bolts of specific media – starting with how to write for comics, then theatre, then screen.

Drop a comment with your favourite writing book or tip here or email me via the Contact page. If you’re a publisher or Indie Author and would like me to review your writing book drop me a line!

Published by suttope

Pete Sutton has a not so secret lair in the wilds of Fishponds, Bristol and dreams up stories, many of which are about magpies. He's had stuff published, online and in book form, and currently has a pile of words that one day may possibly be a novel. He wrote all about Fishponds for the Naked Guide to Bristol and has made more money from non-fiction than he has from fiction and wonders if that means the gods of publishing are trying to tell him something. You can find him all over social media or worrying about events he’s organised at the Bristol Festival of Literature. On Twitter he’s @suttope and his Bristol Book Blog is here: http://brsbkblog.blogspot.co.uk/ He's contributing editor of Far Horizons e-magazine which can be found here: http://info-far-horizons.wix.com/far-horizons-emag

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