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?