Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review of Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

I’ve long been a fan of bestselling legal suspense author’s James Scott Bell’s frequent articles in the Writer’s Digest magazine. He has a friendly and pithy way of simplifying the craft and presenting usable and realistic solutions. I’ve clipped dozens of his articles and filed them for rereading. When someone gave me Revision and Self-Editing as a Christmas gift, I anticipated more of the same: hands-on instruction on a subject that befuddles all writers at one time or another. And that’s what I got—I just expected it to be new information, rather than a word-for-word reprint of all those great articles I read (and, although I haven’t read his companion book Plot and Structure, I’ve heard that much of Revision and Self-Editing is also a repeat its information). I don’t hold the reiteration of info against Bell (I’ve done it myself in diversifying media), but the lack of new information diminished the book’s usefulness for me.

Plus, very little in this book focuses on editing. The first three quarters discuss the basics of a good story, before finally delving into Bell’s in-depth editing checklist. It’s true enough that solidifying the basics of story is at the heart of any editing project, but readers can find this information in dozens of other books on the craft. In a book titled Revision and Self-Editing, I was hoping to find tips and tricks focused on the revision process in particular.

That said, the checklist at the end is a great tool. It offers exactly the kind of specificity and experience writers need to bring to the table when the red ink starts flowing. Bell covers twelve facets of story and the nuances we need to double-check while revising—everything from correctly structuring our beginnings, middles, and ends to polishing our characters and dialogue. In summary, I would recommend this book if you’re unfamiliar with his Writer’s Digest articles and haven’t read Plot and Structure. Otherwise, you can probably find all this information elsewhere, without shelling out an extra $17.
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