Monday, August 4, 2008

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


Review by JL Wilson (http://www.jayellwilson.com/)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King is the one book I re-read every year because every year I learn something new from it. I take it with me on our annual “get away from it all" vacation, sit down and skim it, then pick up my WIP and start editing – really editing.

The thing I like most about this book is the examples: it gives you 'before' and 'after' fixes for Show & Tell, Interior Monologues, Dialogue Mechanics, and the oh-so-elusive "Voice". There's a checklist at the end of every chapter with simple questions to help you evaluate your own writing, then there's an exercise if you want to try your hand at their techniques.

The tone is amusing, anecdotal, and the text is readable, not dry but sprinkled throughout with stories from their own work (both are professional editors and give workshops around the country on their techniques).

Here’s an example of one of their ‘checklist’ entries in the “Easy Beats” chapter. They’re discussing how to eliminate unnecessary ‘beats’ (actions sprinkled throughout a dialogue scene, such as walking, rubbing the eyes, etc.). One checklist item at the end of the chapter is: “Do your beats help illuminate your characters? Are they individual or general actions anyone might take under just about any circumstance?”

Sounds easy, right? That one checklist item made me go back and look through my WIP and evaluate that sort of detail. Now I have “individual beats” on the personal checklist I go through before I turn a book in to my editor. I want my characters to be unusual and memorable, and a way to do that is to find the one personal ‘action’ that occasionally comes through when they’re speaking.

And here’s a checklist item in “Characterization and Exposition” that made me sit up and think when I first started writing: “Look back over a scene or chapter that introduces one or more characters. How much time, if any, have you spent describing the new characters’ character? Are you telling us about characteristics that will later show up in dialogue and action?”

That one item suddenly explained for me the difference between “show” and “tell”, a topic I’d heard over and over again at workshops. I got out my highlighter, went back through my manuscript, and edited out a lot of unnecessary information. My book was tighter and more readable for it.

I think all of us, no matter how many books we have published, can continue to learn and hone our craft. This is one book that can help you do it in a way that’s readable, fun, and will never grow old or stale.

7 comments:

Mya said...

This is a book I KNOW I need. Going to hunt it down right now :D

skirbo said...

A very big 'ditto'. Hope Amazon has it. Thanks for the information!

Sarah

Natalie Hatch said...

I just bought this book, I figure if I have to go through another edit I may as well do it the right way so that next time I won't have to make soo many changes (she says crossing her fingers).

J L said...

You can't go wrong with it, trust me -- it's VERY readable and useful!

Kristin said...

I do the exact same thing you do! I have this book and re-read it just before I'm about to edit a new MS. It's my little ritual that works wonders at separating me from my book...giving me the perspective I need to cut the bad stuff and keep the good stuff. Highly recommended!

Kristin said...

I do the exact same thing you do! I have this book and re-read it just before I'm about to edit a new MS. It's my little ritual that works wonders at separating me from my book...giving me the perspective I need to cut the bad stuff and keep the good stuff. Highly recommended!

Terry Odell said...

This book is at the top of EVERY SINGLE SPEAKER'S list in EVERY writing workshop I've ever taken. It's a must have. And it's not something you read and set aside. You'll refer to it often.