Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon

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Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon isnโ€™t just about revision; itโ€™s about writing. Itโ€™s a book on writing, with the revision angle. And itโ€™s solid.

Read it because you want to learn the writing craft … or you just want to tell a better story.

Key Takeaways

  • Know the difference between style and voice. Voice is unique to each author. Style can be captured in phrases or descriptions that apply to many different authors.
  • When you do a read-aloud of your script, donโ€™t perform it. Read it straight.
  • Practice riff-writing. Riff writing is when you quickly flesh out a portion of an early draft that needs more depth or room. The author writes: โ€œMost early drafts are โ€˜tightโ€™โ€”they are shells of what they need to be, outlines or condensed revisions of the full story … In twenty years as an independent editor, I โ€˜have rarely seen a manuscript overwritten …โ€ Most are underwritten.
  • Add conflict to every single page. Even in quiet scenes, show inner conflict. Conflict shouldnโ€™t be too up and down, eitherโ€”it should rise slowly, evenly.
  • Avoid sagging middles. When conflict flattens out, or starts to go up and down, up and down endlessly without building, โ€œ… the reader will at some point get tired rather than more deeply worried about the outcome.โ€
  • The first chapter should raise lots of questions in the mind of the reader. Hook them good, right away with the main question of the book thatโ€™s not answered till the end.
  • The protagonist needs a backstory wound (one that is emotional in nature), as well as a universal need or personal yearning.
  • To learn more about great storytelling, read Newberry Award-winning books. Young adults are a hard audience to capture, and the way these books do it is highly instructive.

About the Author

A writing teacher and book editor since 1988, Elizabeth Lyon is the author of half a dozen books on how to write, revise, and market novels and nonfiction. In Manuscript Makeover, Lyon offers aspiring novelists the guidance and instruction they need to write and edit well-crafted and compelling stories that will stand out from the competition and attract the attention of agents and publishers.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.


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