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Despite the order in which I'm talking about resources, revision should happen before copy editing, otherwise you'll waste a lot of effort on material you don't ultimately keep. Most of you are pretty savvy in these matters, but for any beginners, some clarity on that point seemed necessary.
Revision is what truly separates the amateurs from the pros. Even a middle schooler can do a quick edit and correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it takes tremendous skill and indeed wisdom to evaluate what isn't working in a scene, chapter, section or character arc, then actually fix it. Here are two books that offer some great training.
Fiction First Aid
Raymond Obstfeld's gem Fiction First Aid is one I first discovered in my local library and quickly realized I needed to own. Using medical metaphors of symptoms, ailments and treatments, he examines typical writing problems and their causes, then suggests a number of approaches to revise the problem away. Most sections have an application exercise he calls "physical therapy."
The first two chapters, on plot and characterization, take up nearly half the book. He covers everything from developing great plot structure and suspense to remedying predictable, cardboard, and unlikable characters. His examples are drawn from both books and film across many genres, which I found particularly helpful.
The middle chapters on setting and style can help you build a more compelling fictional world from the outside in. He helps you determine how much setting detail you need and how to better ground scenes without bogging down the story. The style section has great advice on finding a balance between bland or monotonous writing and overwritten purple prose.
I found the theme chapter especially useful. Because so many English teachers theme us to death in high school, it can be tempting to tell yourself that theme is for dull classics of yesteryear. Obstfeld argues quite convincingly that ignoring theme can lead to pale, thin stories that don't stick with readers. To have a theme is to write a story that means something, that puts forward a sort of emotional and intellectual thesis, then proves it. His case study of the film Groundhog Day illustrates well what a theme is and how one operates in fiction.
Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover is a book I turn to again and again. Her approach is a rare mix of methodical and somewhat freewheeling creative. Every section ends with a checklist for revision that alone is totally worth the price of the book, it's so well organized and thorough.
Lyon opens with giant-picture items--the overall style and presentation of your story. How do feel when you read aloud? Is it captivating? Is it full of your deeper truth? She suggests a number of really helpful exercises to write more deeply in revision. Her concept of "riff writing" is revolutionary, because it challenges you to go broader and deeper, not simply cut, cut, cut when you revise.
Rather than simply clumping together disparate plot concerns, she divides plot issues over several chapters: whole-book structure (2 chapters), Movement and Suspense, and Time and Pace. Her concept of developing "mattering moments" is incredibly helpful for building well-paced plots.
Roughly a third of the book covers characterization concerns: Viewpoint, Character Dimension and Theme, Character-Driven Beginnings, Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense, and finally Character Personality and Voice. I found her information on voice--especially how to make characters sound unique from one another--quite revolutionary and paradigm-shifting.
The book wraps up with chapters on copy editing and querying manuscripts, with those fabulously helpful checklists I mentioned earlier.
Do you enjoy revision or dread it? Why?