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

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

by Renni Browne, Dave King

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062012906
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/15/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 9,172
File size: 365 KB

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
BooksRMyFood More than 1 year ago
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.
Keziah More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you write you should have this book. It is very helpful.
JoWilliamsBooks More than 1 year ago
This was exactly the information that I was looking for in order to edit my book. The advise was clear, with good examples. Thanks
jn01 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
JMTJTC More than 1 year ago
“Far better to give your readers some hints and then allow them to fill in the blanks for themselves.” Genre: Writing How-To/Non-Fiction Number of Pages: 288. Two experienced editors give clear advice for how to edit your manuscript to get it ready for publishing. If you are looking for a great editing book, I highly recommend this one. It assumes you already have a somewhat complete manuscript, then walks you through how to make it better. It even includes checklists and exercises to practice. The best part is that they include good and bad examples for each category to clearly show how to do what they suggest. The topics include dialogue, exposition, point of view, repetition, interior monologue, and more. I highlighted and marked up my copy of this book. It took a long time to read it because I read it a little at a time as I was editing my book. I predict this will be one that I refer back to often throughout my writing process. This book is great for beginning and intermediate writers. It can be a great first editing book or one to add to your collection. I highly recommend it! Read the full review here:
wktarin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent; full of nuggets.
DonCapone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every new writer should own this book.
JaneSteen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are lots of writing craft books around, but this one has an excellent reputation among writer groups. I can see why. It's a thorough, yet not overwhelming, primer on how to look at your own work with critical eyes and edit the living daylights out of it. The authors emphasize that you shouldn't follow their prescriptions too rigidly (as, so they say, people tended to do with the first edition of this book) and thus stay on the fine line between allowing writers the freedom they need to be creative, and preventing them from making the most obvious mistakes that all--ALL--writers make, especially in the formative years of their writing. A shortish book with exercises that I didn't feel obliged to do before I moved onto the next section, lots of humor, and some gently funny cartoons to break up the text. Nice
ladycato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a highly rated editing book on Amazon, but even then, I was concerned that it would be dry or boring. I shouldn't have been. I can see why the ratings were so high - it is an excellent guide to honing technique, bit by bit. The thing that makes this book so compelling is that there are constant examples of mistakes or correct usage from both published and non-published stories. They covered a wide range of genres, too (I was happy to see an excerpt from a YA/sci-fi book I loved as a kid, Dogsbody). Those examples really made me actively think as I read; not just about the excerpts, but about how my own writing has improved and how I still make some of the common errors like having too many beats. The end of each chapters has checklists and exercises to further develop technique, such as re-spacing paragraphs or rewriting a few paragraphs of story from different points of view. The assignments are short and several can be done mentally; I fully intend to do some of these written exercises later.This was the perfect book to read while I'm doing my first round of edits on my latest Nanowrimo manuscript. I've found myself making a lot more deletions of excess words, and the result seems tighter already.
tbert204 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing fiction isn't hard, but writing good fiction is. Having a writing coach or teacher is the best way to go, but sometimes that's not possible. Self-editing is the best book on the market for those learning the craft. Read it as you as write. And then read it again. And again. The Show, Don't Tell aspect is critical to good fiction and probably one of the most difficult to apply on your own, but the chapter is easy to understand with great examples at the end of the book. Besides learning the nuances of good fiction, the book helps you understand the proper usage of beats, adverbs, dialog and such. It's well worth the effort.
michelleknudsen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There was a lot of useful information in here, and the checklists will be great to keep on hand during revisions. I thought the examples throughout were helpful and there were only occasional statements that I didn¿t quite agree with (e.g., their assertion that ¿only editors and reviewers really notice¿ things like dialogue that says one thing accompanied by explanation that says something different [p. 85:]¿that was especially jarring, actually, because of all the emphasis they placed on not insulting your reader by underestimating his intelligence. I know what they meant, I think, but the assertion still bugged me. But obviously that¿s just a tiny thing.). I wasn¿t sure what to make of the illustrations throughout, though. I didn¿t understand their purpose. They weren¿t funny, and in most cases the art seemed to have little if anything to do with the captions. They seemed inserted purely to break up the text, and I think they would have been better left out or replaced with something more relevant.
LynleyS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent tool for editing. I'd recommend it to anyone.
upstairsgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good reference with various techniques for refining your prose. Includes lucid discussions of showing vs. telling, and an excellent explanation of why adverbs don't help your fiction. I don't agree with every point the writers make about style, but all of the tactics they suggest are helpful. The book makes a lot of how helpful reading your work out loud can be, and it's quite right.
DWWilkin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having just finished another first draft of a novel, it was time to pull Self-Editing off the shelf for my third read of this trusty book.That I have it on my shelf and have reread it so many times is a testament to something, but what? it is truth of what we write. Through many examples, and exercises, which I will admit to passing on, the authors give us guidance in what we know to be on the lookout for. Things that we forget as we write and crank out that draft, letting our creativity spew before the other half of the mind takes over.They are not addressing our creative process, but our thinking process where we use our consciousness to refine what we first wrote. Here they talk to us about scenes, beats, dialogue. Tools that we as writers should look at it. Very often I have complex conversations between multiple characters and the authors address where I have problems, just as i know I have those problems.Its use is wihtout question. In this day of less editors of your work, you have to write a polished piece. This is a help.
jbrubacher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Should be set next to Strunk & White in the library of useful writing books.
archetype67 More than 1 year ago
Useful, clear -written advice on revision. Broken down into small bites, with good examples, it is designed to help one make the editing process manageable and to end up with a well-polished draft to send off to agents and editors.
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