Donna: Your sixth book, Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, has been called “one of the eight great writing books for 2008 . . . and perhaps the most comprehensive book on revising fiction.” Will you please briefly summarize the highlights of Manuscript Makeover?
Elizabeth: Now you’ve put me on the spot! Let’s see, summarize 100,000 words of instruction. There must be a haiku for that.
Use check-off lists
At the end of each chapter
To fix all problems
I made Part I on Style, where most how-to books tuck style into the end and give it short shrift (you got it or you don’t). I placed it first because I’ve heard countless agents say they are looking for “voice,” “a fresh original style.” Without distinctive writing, you’ll have trouble selling your novel. I wanted to help everyone set the imagination on fire and re-capture lost originality, first and foremost.
In terms of the books I’ve written, the cart arrived before the horse—how to sell before how to write. With A Writer’s Guide to Fiction and A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction, I filled that gap, and had the pleasure of sharing my unique style of teaching craft. One of the goals I set for myself with each book was to make a contribution to the literature and not merely to rehash existing ideas.
Second, because I see my approach as exceedingly practical (a Midwest farm girl watching my father fix equipment), I also sought to break down my how-to instruction into steps. The sections “Going South” in the Writer’s Guide books, and all of Manuscript Makeover, are organized by what can go wrong and how to fix it.