Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

( 26 )

Overview

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,...

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Overview

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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060545697
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/13/2004
  • Edition description: 2nd Revised and Updated Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 82,240
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Renni Browne, once senior editor for William Morrow and other companies, left mainstream publishing in 1980 to found The Editorial Department, a national book-editing company.

Dave King is a contributing editor at Writer's Digest. He also works as an independent editor in his home in rural Ashfield, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition

How to Edit Yourself Into Print
By Browne, Renni

HarperResource

ISBN: 0060545690

Chapter One

Show and Tell

What's wrong with this paragraph?:

The conversation was barely begun before I discovered that our host was more than simply a stranger to most of his guests. He was an enigma, a mystery. And this was a crowd that doted on mysteries. In the space of no more than five minutes, I heard several different people put forth their theories -- all equally probable or preposterous -- as to who and what he was. Each theory was argued with the conviction that can only come from a lack of evidence, and it seemed that, for many of the guests, these arguments were the main reason to attend his parties.

In a sense, of course, there's nothing wrong. The paragraph is grammatically impeccable, and it describes the mystery surrounding the party's host clearly, efficiently, and with a sense of style.

Now look at the same passage as it actually appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address -- within a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."

"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.

"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."

"There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that," said the other girl eagerly. "He doesn't want any trouble with anybody."

"Who doesn't?" I inquired.

"Gatsby. Somebody told me -- "

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man." A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

"I don't think it's so much that," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's more that he was a German spy during the war."

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

"I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany," he assured us positively.

"Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to her, she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."

What's the difference between these two examples? To put it simply, it's a matter of showing and telling. The first version is narrative summary, with no specific settings or characters. We are simply told about the guests' love of mystery, the weakness of their arguments, the conviction of the arguers. In the second version we actually get to see the breathless partygoers putting forth their theories and can almost taste the eagerness of their audience. The first version is a secondhand report. The second is an immediate scene.

What, exactly, makes a scene a scene? For one thing it takes place in real time. Your readers watch events as they unfold, whether those events are a group discussion of the merits of Woody Allen films, a lone man running from an assassin, or a woman lying in a field pondering the meaning of life. In scenes, events are seen as they happen rather than described after the fact. Even flashbacks show events as they unfold, although they have unfolded in the past within the context of the story.

Scenes usually have settings as well, specific locations the readers can picture. In Victorian novels these settings were "I heard that from a man who knew all about him, often described in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail. Nowadays literature is leaner and meaner, and it's often a good idea to give your readers just enough detail to jumpstart their imaginations so they can picture your settings for themselves.

Scenes also contain some action, something that happens. Mary kills Harry, or Harry and Mary beat each other up. More often than not, what happens is dialogue between one or more characters. Though even in dialogue scenes it's a good idea to include a little physical action from time to time -- what we call "beats" -- to remind your readers of where your characters are and what they're doing. We'll be talking about beats at length in chapter 8.

Of course, anything that can go into a scene can also be narrated. And since scenes are usually harder to write than narration, many writers rely too heavily on narrative summary to tell their stories. The result is often page after page, sometimes chapter after chapter, of writing that reads the way the first passage quoted above reads: clearly, perhaps even stylishly, but with no specific setting, no specific characters, no dialogue.

A century or so ago this sort of writing would have been fine. It was the norm, in fact -- Henry James wrote at least one entire novel composed largely of narrative summary. But thanks to the influence of movies and television, readers today have become accustomed to seeing a story as a series of immediate scenes. Narrative summary no longer engages readers the way it once did.

Since engagement is exactly what a fiction writer wants to accomplish, you're well advised to rely heavily on imme-diate scenes to put your story across. You want to draw your readers into the world you've created, make them feel a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can't do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there.

We once worked on a novel featuring a law firm in which one of the new associates led a rebellion against the senior partners. The writer introduced the new associate and two of his colleagues in the first chapter by describing their job interviews with senior partners. The interviews were given as narrative summary -- she simply told her readers what the law firm was looking for in a new associate ...

Continues...

Excerpted from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition by Browne, Renni Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the second edition 1
1 Show and tell 5
2 Characterization and exposition 23
3 Point of view 40
4 Proportion 67
5 Dialogue mechanics 82
6 See how it sounds 99
7 Interior monologue 116
8 Easy beats 140
9 Breaking up is easy to do 160
10 Once is usually enough 175
11 Sophistication 192
12 Voice 213
App. 1: Answers to exercises 235
App. 2: Top books for writers 264
Index 269
About the authors 280
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First Chapter

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition
How to Edit Yourself Into Print

Chapter One

Show and Tell

What's wrong with this paragraph?:

The conversation was barely begun before I discovered that our host was more than simply a stranger to most of his guests. He was an enigma, a mystery. And this was a crowd that doted on mysteries. In the space of no more than five minutes, I heard several different people put forth their theories -- all equally probable or preposterous -- as to who and what he was. Each theory was argued with the conviction that can only come from a lack of evidence, and it seemed that, for many of the guests, these arguments were the main reason to attend his parties.

In a sense, of course, there's nothing wrong. The paragraph is grammatically impeccable, and it describes the mystery surrounding the party's host clearly, efficiently, and with a sense of style.

Now look at the same passage as it actually appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address -- within a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."

"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.

"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."

"There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that," said the other girl eagerly. "He doesn't want any trouble with anybody."

"Who doesn't?" I inquired.

"Gatsby. Somebody told me -- "

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man." A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

"I don't think it's so much that," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's more that he was a German spy during the war."

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

"I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany," he assured us positively.

"Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to her, she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."

What's the difference between these two examples? To put it simply, it's a matter of showing and telling. The first version is narrative summary, with no specific settings or characters. We are simply told about the guests' love of mystery, the weakness of their arguments, the conviction of the arguers. In the second version we actually get to see the breathless partygoers putting forth their theories and can almost taste the eagerness of their audience. The first version is a secondhand report. The second is an immediate scene.

What, exactly, makes a scene a scene? For one thing it takes place in real time. Your readers watch events as they unfold, whether those events are a group discussion of the merits of Woody Allen films, a lone man running from an assassin, or a woman lying in a field pondering the meaning of life. In scenes, events are seen as they happen rather than described after the fact. Even flashbacks show events as they unfold, although they have unfolded in the past within the context of the story.

Scenes usually have settings as well, specific locations the readers can picture. In Victorian novels these settings were "I heard that from a man who knew all about him, often described in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail. Nowadays literature is leaner and meaner, and it's often a good idea to give your readers just enough detail to jumpstart their imaginations so they can picture your settings for themselves.

Scenes also contain some action, something that happens. Mary kills Harry, or Harry and Mary beat each other up. More often than not, what happens is dialogue between one or more characters. Though even in dialogue scenes it's a good idea to include a little physical action from time to time -- what we call "beats" -- to remind your readers of where your characters are and what they're doing. We'll be talking about beats at length in chapter 8.

Of course, anything that can go into a scene can also be narrated. And since scenes are usually harder to write than narration, many writers rely too heavily on narrative summary to tell their stories. The result is often page after page, sometimes chapter after chapter, of writing that reads the way the first passage quoted above reads: clearly, perhaps even stylishly, but with no specific setting, no specific characters, no dialogue.

A century or so ago this sort of writing would have been fine. It was the norm, in fact -- Henry James wrote at least one entire novel composed largely of narrative summary. But thanks to the influence of movies and television, readers today have become accustomed to seeing a story as a series of immediate scenes. Narrative summary no longer engages readers the way it once did.

Since engagement is exactly what a fiction writer wants to accomplish, you're well advised to rely heavily on imme-diate scenes to put your story across. You want to draw your readers into the world you've created, make them feel a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can't do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there.

We once worked on a novel featuring a law firm in which one of the new associates led a rebellion against the senior partners. The writer introduced the new associate and two of his colleagues in the first chapter by describing their job interviews with senior partners. The interviews were given as narrative summary -- she simply told her readers what the law firm was looking for in a new associate ...

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition
How to Edit Yourself Into Print
. Copyright © by Renni Browne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 7, 2011

    Worth the money though it Inadvertently promotes a pet peeve of mine

    As a new erotic fiction writer I found some very nice pointers in the book and clear examples for most of what they try to convey. My biggest issue is that many authors today are using the techniques shown here and are writing stories that are so short and lean that they're boring or they move so quickly its like being rushed through a meal. Faster and leaner is not always better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 26, 2012

    Very Valuable

    I'm still working my way through the exercises here, but I'm finding their method of descriptions interspersed with examples to be very helpful in clarifying my own writing. If you have a desire to hone your own writing, making it more professional, get this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Extensive but Simple

    As someone who someday wants to work with fiction either through editing or writing one day, this piece was perfect. It was detailed, easy to read, and educational. Every chapter, paragraph, and sentence was put in one use or another. I give this five stars, and that is unusual for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2011

    A Must Read For Writers

    They did not take any short cuts in helping teach writers how to make the most of their writing. If an idea came to them, they did it. No matter how long it took to do. The checklists, exercises, and endless examples within the chapters made this book stand out by feet from the four other writing books I've read. The comic strips in each chapter were funny too. I agree with other reviewers that this book is not for delicate egos. It is daunting to read about ALL the things that you could do to make your manuscript better. But, don't you want to know? No matter how scary it is? I did. I can't recommend this book highly enough. I had already written a very solid manuscript. But, I needed to know how to polish it. This book was perfect for me. It articulated to me what I had done well and pointed out what I needed to change.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2010

    A MUST HAVE!

    If you write you should have this book. It is very helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2009

    Just what I needed!

    This was exactly the information that I was looking for in order to edit my book. The advise was clear, with good examples. Thanks

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 6, 2009

    As a novice writer, this book is great to really learn the craft of writing.

    The book teaches how to write through editing. It's amazing how much I've learned already. The book is full of examples of various techniques for writing, and clearly demonstrates the difference between good writing and that which is not so good. There are short exercises and tips at the end of each chapter.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2007

    WORTH STUDYING

    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition, by Renni Browne and Dave King, is well worth studying. I read the first edition years ago and found it very helpful. Let¿s face it, writing means rewriting, and that means self-editing. When I received my copy of the second edition, I tossed the old one out and read the new one cover to cover. I marked my new copy with lots of yellow ink and took a bunch of notes for further reference. Chapter titles include: Show and Tell, Characterization and Exposition, Point of View, Proportion, Dialogue Mechanics, See How It Sounds, Interior Monologue, Easy Beats, Breaking It Up Is Easy To Do, Once Is Usually Enough, Sophistication, and Voice. On a five-star scale, I ranked this one four stars. Although I liked most of the material and its presentation, I didn¿t give it five stars because of what¿s missing from the text. There are plenty of other self-editing subjects and issues that could be have been covered, or covered in more detail. Everything considered, this book is worth studying.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2005

    This book improved my manuscript %100

    Simply said, this book is fantastic. For beginning or experienced writers, it is a great overview of the elements of style. It offers very practical advice on how you can improve your work in a meaningful way. It doesn't just tell you how it should be, it gives you the steps to get there.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2005

    The fiction editing 'Bible'

    Any serious writer needs to read this book--and apply the authors' advice. As an editor of fiction at a publishing company, this is my 'Bible.' I wish all my authors were required to read this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2004

    different from other writing books

    This book differs from the many other writing books available in that it focusses on line-level writing and provides a glimpse of how some editors think, what kinds of line-level writing they like and don't like. There is also a good chapter on avoiding repetition and on dialogue. For all other matters, you need to consult other books. If you've already done that and are ready to move beyond an intermediate level, you should get Advanced Writing: Fiction and Film.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2004

    If you write fiction, buy this book

    I discovered the first edition of this book only a few months before the 2nd edition was published. I wish I had found it earlier. The three elements I found most helpful: Interior monologue, dependant clauses using ¿ing, and dialogue beats. I¿m writing on a higher level. Thank you Renni Browne and Dave King.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2008

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