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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print Paperback – April 13, 2004
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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.
In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert 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.
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- ASIN : 0060545690
- Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks; Subsequent edition (April 13, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780060545697
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060545697
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #30,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2018
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This book highlights what really are some of the most obvious fallacies a writer can make and it does it in the most poignant of ways. Everything they say is in the simplest terms. No bushes are being beaten and they don't cut any writer any slack. Chances are, your manuscript has at least three of the fatal errors outlined in this book. At the very least. More likely, it has nearly all of them. I'm unashamed to say that the latter is me, to one extent or another.
Probably one of the greatest things to come out of this book is the acronym R.U.E., Resist the Urge to Explain. This carries over in multiple chapters, from reiterating explanation in dialogue to redundant points being made and back again. I found that a common theme in many of the editing points they make boils down to over-explaining. Writers want to press the point so badly, and make sure the reader understands exactly what they're saying that that they'll flog the dead horse explaining it. Often the author, usually subconsciously, doesn't trust the reader to get it so important points are reiterated at the expense of the reader's intelligence.
As I write my fanfiction (yes, I write fanfiction) I'm more conscious of writing mistakes that I knew I shouldn't be making but it's something I need to re-reference in the book. For example, using dialogue tags such as "she said as she twirled her hair around her finger" are markedly amateurish. This is actually one of the points in the book I have the hardest time with. I get it but if the action is relevant, I don't see how it can weaken the writing. Here's a little further explanation on this from a comment I made on the original post--
. . . Chapter 11, Sophistication. According to the authors, "Both the 'as' construction and the '-ing construction' as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action ("She pulled off her gloves") and tuck it away into a dependent clause ("Pulling off her gloves . . ."). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.
The two examples they gave are, "Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him" and "As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him."
They then go on to say-"We're not suggesting that you avoid these phrases altogether. There are going to be times when you want to write about two actions that are actually simultaneous and/or genuinely incidental-actions that deserve more than a dependent clause. And given the choice between an 'as' or '-ing' construction and a belabored, artificial alternative, you're well advised to use the 'as' or '-ing.' But be aware that hacks have long ago run these useful constructions into the ground. Learn to spot them in your own writing and, if you see more than one or two a page, start hunting around for alternatives."
This is the second to last chapter so most of the points made in this one and the following are more about fine-tuning the work after all the other stuff has been fleshed out. The authors are crazy adamant about eliminating hacks (I can't count how many times they repeat the word) so any style common in hack writing, they've pounced on. So it's not that it's wrong, it's just more of an easy, lazy way out. And I know I'm guilty a hundred times over, at least.
I still have the most trouble with that one and I'm more inclined to think they've just seen that technique used so much in writing that they want to see alternatives. Too much of anything is bad technique but I think this is the only borderline point they made.
I also see flaws in works that I read, ones that I didn't see before, especially in web serials, because of this book. I bite my tongue, of course, because I'm not these people's editor and it's much more than just an improperly punctuated sentence but this book has made me so much more aware of others' flaws as well as my own weaknesses.
For instance, I'm getting better at spotting redundant text in writing but that's still very hard for me. My eyes see someone making a point, not beating me over the head with it. That's another chapter I need to read again (as if I'm not going to read all of them again, right?) because I want to soak in all the information, make sure I'm getting it right and apply it to my own work. I want to recognize the redundancies, not just on a small scale but a much larger one in order to make my book better.
It comes with learning to be a better editor that the ability to look at works more for fun kind of starts to fade. It becomes harder and harder to turn that editor off and just read, especially after reading a book like this. I just have to keep telling myself to shut up and read because I like the story. But I think that's a small price to pay in order to make my work that much better. I can chain the inner editor up when I'm not using her, even though I might be able to hear her screams but I'd rather have that than no inner editor and novels that should never see the light of day.
So if you want to edit, you want to do it well, do it right and make your manuscript as good as it can be, pick up this book. I've even made it super easy for you. You don't even need to leave your seat. Just go to my Amazon widget to the right and click until you find the book and buy it. I promise you, you won't regret it.
Really, there's a reason why every writer I've met, both in person and over the internet, recommends this book to edit their novels. Just remember, these are not hard and fast rules. Keeping to them too strictly will just result in sterile writing and you don't want that. Listen to your own judgment and make the call based on that.
My only nit to pick are that I would have found navigation easier if the answers to the exercises at the end of each chapter immediately followed the exercises themselves.
But that is, as I said a nit.
The connection to this book is that when he was still in the editing and publishing business, the two authors who wrote _Self Editing for Fiction Writers_ were editors on Stein's staff at his publishing company for many years. So they learned at the knee of the master. And their book is, frankly, superior to all of the editing instruction Stein put in his own books simply because it's condensed into a short, easily readable, book without an ounce of BS in it anywhere. Stein himself acknowledged this when he started telling his students that they should read _Self Editing ..._ at least once a year. If not more.
If you want to write well, there's a short list of absolutely essential instructional books that are vital for people learning the craft. Most of them are written by Sol Stein. Two are not: _The Elements of Style_ by Strunk and White (which most writers have already) and this book under discussion here. You can take all the other instructionals and tutorials from other authors and teachers and toss them in the dumpster. None of them, available from any author, is even a tenth as valuable as the ones I'm talking about. This book being one of them.
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Its only advice on self-editing is in the Introduction, wherein it advises putting the manuscript in a drawer for a while in order to look at it “with fresh eyes”. The Introduction makes a reasonable case for not paying an editor, when one might do it oneself - but this book was written by professional editors who don’t seem to have experience of editing their own work; at least, there are no examples of such, all the examples are of editing the work of others.
The 12 chapters duplicate advice for writers that one can find in decent books on writing, but not as well. After the Introduction, there’s nothing on self-editing. So the title is misleading. I’d ask for a refund but it’s too much of a faff to bother. The one star is because Amazon doesn't allow zero stars.
Self-editing includes many hazards as well as gaining distance (“fresh eyes”) such as reading, not what’s written, but what one expects to read; lacking the objectivity required to cut precious, favourite bits; getting tired of editing and stopping when it’s “good enough”; thinking the text is clear when to others, it’s not; missing major plot holes; editing away the passion that originally impassioned the writing; allowing the inner perfectionist to make the story perfectly inhuman, e.g. with proper grammar everywhere proper grammar don’t fit.
I usually say nothing about a book if I can’t say something nice. Well, all the pages are there, and I didn’t spot any grammar errors.
It’s beyond me how this book has made it into the second edition, still without living up to its misleading title.
Each chapter uses a similar format and is equally as good. Chapters cover, dialogue, interior monologue, using beats, and point of view, amongst others. I would say it covers all those areas which many writers find difficult.
The one thing I did find slightly jarring was the cartoons. I do not feel they added anything of value and the writing which accompanies them is difficult to read. The book is excellent without them.
Whilst more experienced writers may find they know much of the advice given in this book already, those newer to the craft will find it to be useful. I would suggest it is read before starting the first novel. Once the first draft is written then it should come into play to help shape and develop the novel. Overall, an excellent book which I can highly recommend
The authors are not trying to make you a better writer, they are trying to make you a saleable writer in today's climate. Many of the great works of the past would not have made it through the modern editorial process (they give many examples of this). Quite possibly, in the future, the rules may change again. But, for now, Browne and King teach you the process of getting your novel into a shape that an agent or a publisher's reader will want to look at twice.
This isn't just (or even mainly) about getting rid of adverbs and 'showing not telling', which you can find on any 'advice for authors' website. Browne and King give a balanced picture of all the areas that might trouble your prospective publisher. The chapter on Proportion is especially important, particularly since the subject is often overlooked.
Actually editing your book using the checklists presented here will be a fairly painful process for most writers. Browne and King do their best to get us over that with frequent examples from their own practise, as well as exercises where you can get your teeth into someone else's work before starting on your own.
You may disagree with some, or all, of the things they advise. However, this is not a book about becoming a great writer or producing great fiction, but about overcoming the common issues which generate the all-too-familiar "we're sorry, but we couldn't see this fitting with one of our lists" letters.
Strongly recommended if you really want to be published.
A couple of minor criticisms. The book is written - perhaps to some degree unconsciously - for North American readers and possibly even a particular class of reader. That's not to accuse the book of snobbery, or even exclusiveness, but there's a lingering sense that something is missing.
The well-hammered points about the changing tastes in literary styles are not to be ignored, but don't necessarily apply equally all places, all traditions nor all genres. Examples abound of writers who have done the opposite of what the authors recommend, and pulled it off.
As for the cartoons, they are desperately poor - poky drawings accompanied by captions that resemble the lost wanderings of a dwarf species of spider - a kind of visual example of prose that is so bad you don't even attempt to read what it has to say. Oops.