- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Subsequent edition (April 13, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060545690
- ISBN-13: 978-0060545697
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 498 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print Subsequent Edition
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"A superb tutorial for anyone wanting to learn from pros how to polish fiction writing with panache.""--Library Journal"
From the Back Cover
Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories. Renni Browne and Dave King are two of the country's best-known independent editors. In their years as president and senior editor of The Editorial Department, they have edited the work of many writers - including bestselling authors - before the manuscripts went out to agents or publishers. Over half the manuscripts worked on to completion eventually got published, and over half that number were first novels. In this book Browne and King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own manuscript, in order to bring your manuscript to its fullest potential. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, interior monologue and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert fiction editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited. Every chapter contains hands-on exercises to help you apply these techniques to your own work. And illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist George Booth keep everything in perspective.
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1. Showing not telling
2. Characterization & exposition
3. Point of view
5. Dialog mechanics
6. How the text sounds
7. Interior monologue
8. Beats (character actions between bits of dialog)
9. Sentence/paragraph/chapter breaks
11. Sophisticated versus amateur style
They include passages from works of famous writers as well as of clients of their own editing service in showing how to address errors. They also provide exercises, and in the appendix, suggested answers to those exercises. Excellent.
The book is certainly worth reading, but I am concerned they missed the forest for the trees in certain places. The best example of my concern is in the first chapter on showing not telling. The authors take issue with the following line from F. Scott Fiztgerald's The Great Gatsby:
The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.
The "problem" is the ly-adverb "confidentially". The authors suggest it would be stronger to eliminate this adverb explaining the girls' emotion, and instead write the following:
The two girls and Jordan leaned their heads together.
Their rule is to avoid using adverbs to tell the reader which emotions the characters are experiencing, and instead convey their emotion by dialog and actions. This is a perfectly reasonable rule, and I agree it should be followed, most of the time. In the above example however, the rewritten version doesn't quite convey what Fitzgerald intended. There could be many reasons for the girls to have leaned their heads together. They could have been tired from the party and from the alcohol they consumed, for example, and simply flopped their heads to one side in exhaustion. The notion that they leaned closer to gossip was lost when the word "confidentially" was removed. To address this, we could give a more detailed explanation of exactly how they leaned together. Here is my suggestion:
The two girls and Jordan leaned their heads together, glanced from side to side, and lowered their voices.
A problem with my version however, is that the longer explanation might interrupt the flow of the scene. None of us can get into Fitzgerald's head, but I'd like to offer a reasonable guess regarding his reason for using the dread ly-adverb. Most of us have a mental image of how a group of gossiping girls behaves. The word "confidentially" encapsulates this mental image, and adequately conveys the mood of the scene. It's a shortcut, and if it's not overused, it can be effective. I sense the authors are too rigid in the application of their rules.
FINAL QUESTION: Would The Great Gatsby have been a better novel if F. Scott Fitzgerald had not made "mistakes" like the one above? I doubt it. For me, Dave King and Renni Browne lost credibility when they began line editing a novel of that stature. Most readers agree the novel has an essence that goes beyond such mechanical issues. That's what I meant at the beginning when I said the authors may have lost the forest for the trees.
Do you write? Do you even have the faintest aspirations of writing? Then read this book. It’s an absolute goldmine of information. I found the first half to be the most useful, though the second half is valuable as well.
This book covers everything from internal monologue to pace, and everything in between, packed with examples and exercises.
I have two minor nitpicks, however. The authors use a staggering amount of examples later on in the book, many of which I feel weren’t necessary. Did they illustrate points? Sure, but they were already well explained on their own.
Secondly, there’s one part of the book, (in the chapter Sophistication), that could’ve been elaborated on. The authors tell us to avoid using the dependent -ing and as structures, (E: Pulling off her gloves, she entered the room), as according to them, “hacks” back in the day were notorious for their usage. Even so, I don’t feel that condemns these structures to eternal hack-ness. Is there some bigger, better reason to avoid them?
Still, as with most of the awesome information in this book, I’d rather just nod my head and keep an eye out for it. They’re the editors, after all, and they’re very aware of the invisible tricks that make a good manuscript tick.
There is no possible way reading this book won’t benefit you. A strong 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The kindle apps can show pictures so I don't know why Amazon decided not to include them. If you want an electronic version of this book (it is a good book) you may be better off using a different service.
“I wanted something to help me with substantive editing. Rather than a guide for self-editing this turned out to be a prescription for writing.” He paused. “Most of the authors’ suggestions are for rewriting according to their own preferences in writing. They actually object to matters of style, not composition itself. Granted, some are useful; others, not so much.”
When he asked to explain himself, Burt cited issues that prevented him from following most of the prescriptions. First, they all reminded him of the “linguist” who recommended that writers avoid the use of Latinate words and prefer Anglo Saxon vocabulary, without realizing that her statement included four words of Latin origin. Then came the examples of inadequate writing by commercial writers such as Robert Ludlum.
“This prompts the question: Why does anyone write? If not to share by seeling their work, they should just keep a diary. What of Ludlum’s dislike of “said” in dialogue? Readers don’t seem to care. The same thing goes for purists who abhor ending a sentence with a preposition instead of using inflexible phrases that sound peculiar to the average reader. I’d be more afraid of spelling errors and faulty sequencing of events than of so called ‘fragmentary sentences,’ that can be used so efficaciously.”
Burt went on to point out that people who prescribe usually do so from the vantage point of their own preferences, not necessarily because writers need the straitjacket of rules that may not adapt to their own objectives. As a rule, people who tell others how to write fiction usually have not written any themselves.
“Take point of view, for example,” stated Burt. “What about cinematographic perspective, that John Sandford uses so effectively? Oh, wait, another commercial writer!”
I chuckled, but had to agree.