Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review: Manuscript Makeover

As a fan of the works of Elizabeth Lyon of The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and A Writer's Guide to Fiction fame, I was super excited to receive a copy of her latest work, Manuscript Makeover for review. Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore would be a welcome addition to any writer's library.

I'm a handbook junkie. I like do-this, then-this, now-this instructions. I'm a big fan of The Breakout Novel Workbook, but the endless exercises can be a bit tedious, and it (like most makeover books) only really helps when you have a complete WIP. Because I edit at the end of the first draft (and second, third, fourth . . .), slash and burn editing makes sense for me. But, a multiple stage, many pass through technique doesn't work if you'd prefer to do a little trimming here, a little weeding there, a nice shrub over here . The edit-as-you go crowd have sorely needed a handbook that can be used as the draft progresses AND again in the second draft.

Enter Manuscript Makeover. With this book, you can choose: Extreme Makeover or Design on a Dime. You can take your finished manuscript and work through the book, one chapter at a time. Or you can take your concept, and work through the book as you complete the first draft. While she's targeting writers with completed first drafts, I also see this book as an invaluable aid during the outline stage. Her lists of advantages/disadvantages for each style choice (type of hook, viewpoint, flashback etc) really set this book apart from other guides.

I tend to be a visual learner, so I like the pro/con lists, and the checklists at the end of each section. The checklists and summaries add a "Dummies Guide to . . ." feeling, but it's not an unwelcome vibe here as it enhances the readability and usability of the book. The one feature I see missing is an overall checklist--either at the beginning or the end. This would be handy if a writer wanted to tackle sections out of order. I also would have liked more examples from published works, but her examples are clear and concise.

The sections on copy editing and on synopsis are both very brief, so if these are your main concerns, you'd probably be better served by other handbooks. Also, if you're looking an inspirational "this is why I'm a writer" type prose, you won't find it here. This a nuts-and-bolts inspection of your manuscript, and it doesn't waste time with many "hang in there" reassurances. I found this refreshing, but others may be at a point where they need more inspiration and less exercises. If that's the case, read one of the many author-on-writing books, then return to this one when you are ready to work.

This is one of the few handbooks I'd recommend to begining AND seasoned writers. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Now, tell me, what are your favorite handbooks? Read any good resources for writers lately?


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Wavy, my eyes hurt just reading this. LOL. I am not a worksheet girl nor am I a form girl or a craft-how-to girl. I just write. Edit most as I go. Then I revise one last (major) time. Trust my instincts and hope it works. I have read a few craft books, but they usually don't hold my interest for the long term. I keep telling myselt to read The Hero's Journey (I have it on my shelf), I just never seem to find the time.

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy, I am so happy to see you here and so I am responding when common sense should tell me to stay out of this one s I am not good with hand books and exercises and all the rest. I just read what Eli said and she said it better than me. I love the idea of something like this, but the application for me never works. I get out the kit or open the book and see the forms and start doodling and then think of a million other things I should be doing the foremost one of which is to write.

I have read the hero's journey and enjoyed it, but it's not really a hand book, or is it? I wish I had your brain and that things like this would not only attract me but make sense to me. But I don't.

Again, huge fun to see you here and I have appreciated knowing how you are doing and that you are back to writing even if only a little while the baby scoots around on the floor collecting dust bunnies on her knees. Or was that just my kids???

Paty Jager said...


Can I just say WOW! You are a total book junkie! LOL

Over the years I've purchased several writing topic books. I read about the first chapter, skim through the rest and shelve them. Books on writing bore me. I'd much rather attend a workshop where the instructor gives examples and explainst the different craft and other issues to me.

I applaud those who can read them and glean information that helps them with their writing. I just don't absorb information that way. Never have. I think that's why I did well in geography but struggled with history in school. They were taught by the same high school teacher, but in geography you had visual maps to see where things were and relate countries to countries, where with history you just read a book and tried to momorize dates and people.

Off topic- sorry!
Anyway, I'm glad these books work for you and for anyone else who learns this way.

Paty Jager said...

BTW- It was great you could stay so long at the meeting last night! give Tavy a couple more months and you might make it through a whole meeting!

Genene Valleau said...

Hurrah, Wavy!

I saw the comments pop up in my e-mail and KNEW I had to read this post. (I've been working on a project and am just now getting to e-mail.)

I love how-to-write books and have a couple shelves of them! Probably no surprise to anyone. :)

Included in my collection is The Writer's Journey, First Draft in 30 Days (though even I go a little cross-eyed at the level of detail in her forms), The Weekend Novelist, What If?, How to Write Romances ... as well as a bunch of the Writers' Digest series books like Scene and Structure.

I rarely follow any of these step by step, but they give me ideas that I mutate to fit my own style.

Manuscript Makeover sounds like one I'd probably like. Thanks!

wavybrains said...

Thanks for the comments ladies!

I think I just need structure. I'm beginning to really see this in other areas of my life, but definitely in my writing. It's why NaNoWriMo and daily page/word counts work for me, and why I can't fall off the wagon writing wise or I fall ALLLLLLLLL the way off :) And when it comes to revising, I like checklists because it provides a tangible list of things to do. It keeps you going once you type "the end" and don't have a daily page total.

Of course, no checklist in the world can help you solve major plotting problems . . . .

Or lack of computer time problems.

Paty--it was wonderful seeing all of you too! And hey, I made it almost all the way till 8:30. Here's hoping for a full meeting (and a full Tavy :)) soon :)

Totally unrelated to my post, but who votes we bring Terry back again? SOON!

Kendra said...

This book sounds right up my alley. I'll look into it. I like Donald Maass' Breakout Novel book and Stephen King's On Writing. One of the first craft books I ever bought was The Hero's Journey because Karen Marie Moning recommended it. It's the only book I've ever sent back to Amazon. I was pretty new to this writing stuff back then and it made absolutely no sense to me. Thresholds? Mentors? Huh? Where's the half naked Scot?

I get it now. And clearly see it in Moning's writing. But it's still not for me. Give me a worksheet and checklist any day.