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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

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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.

288 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 1993

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Renni Browne

3 books27 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 942 reviews
Profile Image for Taka.
687 reviews531 followers
August 3, 2008
Great tips--

As a writer, I winced at every amateur mistake they listed that applied to me. The book tells you how to write a story and edit it so that the reader can identify with the characters and enjoy the story.

It's not catering to the mainstream.

It's about the craft.

Sure, they cite many obscure and minor authors and bash literary giants like Melville et al, but frankly, many of literary giants come to their prominence not because of their story-telling talent, but often because of something else. Who could read, for example, Joyce's Ulysses and lose track of time in the same way you do when reading Harry Potter? And who can read it and understand it without guidance? I, for one, read it with a guidebook and enjoyed it, but decisively NOT in the same way I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner and other less literary reads.

So if some people criticize this book for advocating a dumbing down of your manuscripts, well, it may be true in some respects. But if you're going for the effect and resonance, I think, this is the way to do it.

And if you're telling a story, shouldn't it be exciting, fun, engaging?

Don't get me wrong, though. I love literature and I write literary fiction - whatever that means. But I've come to realize that I need to learn the basics of effective story-telling before creating something truly - in my own definition - "artistic." A story is artistic in my skewed definition, when it tells an engrossing story and tries to do something entirely new using a unique voice and language. It doesn't consist solely in abundant poetic expositions and descriptions; nor does it consist in strafing the reader with difficult words. It's about telling a unique, engaging story in a unique language and style. Experimental writing is totally cool as long as it contributes to the story in one way or another.

After all, it's every writer's duty, so I believe, to deliver something worthwhile for your readers who's taking their precious time reading YOUR story above all the others they could be reading.

So this book is a gold mine of awesome tips in shaping your story effective and engaging. It's something that every fiction writer should learn and incorporate whatever they like. And after that, it's up to the writer to impart their own unique style and voice into it.

Profile Image for Becka Sutton.
Author 3 books15 followers
July 22, 2009
There are three kinds of writing books.

* Those that try to tell you how to get published. These books generally claim to have found the magic formula to get publishers to accept your book. The problem with this - as the blog entry I linked in my previous post pointed out - is that there is no magic formula.
* Then there are those that try to tell you how to write in the first place. They tend to be a formula the writer found worked for them to get the words out and therefore assume will work for everyone. They won't but they will work for some people and at the very least they give insight into the creative process.
* Then there are those that assume you have a functiomal first draft, but that being a first draft it's rather crappy and you want to make it better. These tend to be the most useful kind - in my opinion anyway.

"Self-Editing for Fiction Writers second edition" by Renni Browne and Dave King is the third kind of writing book. And in my opinion it is possibly the best of its ilk. The authors are not fiction writers but professional editors. They know their business and it shows. And when I say they are editors I don't mean copy-editors or proofreaders. The cover nothwithstanding this is not a book about grammar and spelling. It's a book about rewriting and I really, really like it.

The book opens with a chapter on "Show and Tell" which not only gives the best explanation of this fraught and confusing subject I've ever read, but also explains when it's not just okay but better to tell rather than show. This sets the pattern for the rest of the book. They give you the guidelines but also advise you that sometimes it's fine to break the rules they set out.

One of my favourite things about this book is that at the end of each of chapter there are exercises. They give passages containing the problems they've highlighted in the chapter and you get to edit it. Their answers are in the back of the book, but they also say no two people will edit a passage exactly the same way. Practice makes perfect and this book gives you practice before you unleash yourself on your own writing.

There are other books and websites where you can get some or all of this advice, but I have yet to see one that is as comprehensive and comprehensible in its explanations as this one. It's a book to keep and re-read regularly.

Very highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jacqui.
Author 64 books190 followers
July 18, 2010
I am a big self-editor. I don't want a professional editor or even my writer's group to see my writing before it's as good as I can get it. I'm like that in all parts of my life. I clean the house before my house cleaner shows up so she never knows how messy I really am.

I have a long list of self-edits I go through (checking for passive, the use of 'was', repeated words, etc.), but I found a book I like called Self Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. It covers everything one should look at in their mss in three different ways:

* Each chapter covers a multi-page summary on how to do it
* Each chapter includes a checklist at the end to apply to your own writing
* Each chapter includes exercises to allow you to practice the skill if it's one that is difficult for you

When I first bought Browne and King's book, I read the entire thing. Not much new in it from what I already knew about writing (I have nine published books), but it did include everything I considered important to a well-developed story. Here's a partial list of the skills:

* Show and tell
* Characterization and exposition
* Point of View
* Dialogue mechanics
* Interior monologue
* Voice

Now that I know I can trust it, I go directly to the checklists, to make sure I'm doing each part correctly. For example, here's the Show and Tell Checklist:

* How often do you use narrative summary
* If there's too much narrative, convert some of it to scenes (that works well to speed up a plot and turn dull into dynamic. I love this item)
* Make sure there's enough narrative so you don't bounce from scene to scene
* Does narrative describe feelings? No good.

Overall, for the meticulous writer, this is a good book. My creative friends who want to write of the top of their heads and refuse to be constrained by protocols and rules--I'd skip this one.
Profile Image for Kelly.
274 reviews181 followers
September 11, 2020
I should have read this book seven years ago, which is when I bought it. I find non-fiction (and any story lacking the presence of aliens) difficult to focus on, though. Maybe I thought having it on my shelf, or the simple purchase, itself, would make me a better writer. I could look up at the spine now and again and say, “Yeah. I have that book. I’m a writer.”

I am a writer—anyone can be one of those. But according to this book, I’m not a very good one. Yet. I’ll get there, but it won’t be because I have such books lined up on my shelf keeping me company. Won’t be because I’ve read them, either. It will be because I kept writing, reading, recognizing my errors and working to fix them. Because I practiced.

I recently submitted a story to a publisher. To my astonishment and joy, they offered me a contract. Then they sent me four pages of first pass edit notes. Astonishment morphed into that squicky feeling at the bottom of my stomach and joy simply evaporated. I think I actually whined at my laptop. My editor referenced Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and suggested I read the first chapter. I looked up at my reference shelf and studied the row of shiny, un-cracked spines. Yep, there it was. Pristine, perfect and pathetically untouched.

I read the first chapter (the squicky feeling in my gut revolved a few times while I seriously considered replying to my editor, “Why for the love of all that is holy did you buy my story? It’s CRAP!”) and then I read the second chapter. Aliens had not made an appearance by the third, but I kept reading and the sick feeling moved through several recognizable stages along the way. Mountains and valleys of elation and depression. I also babbled out loud. “So that’s what that’s called. Okay, I can do that. Oh, my God, I do that all the time. Hey, I can do that. I do do that. I don’t do that. I’m good at that.” And so on.

Needing to read this book made it a more relevant and therefore enjoyable experience. The tone is not condescending and the advice is dispensed with good humor. There are plenty of examples to make every point and every chapter is followed by a checklist and exercises. The lessons are very clear; I understood the purpose of each chapter and I understood why certain things don’t work or how they can be improved. I didn’t put the book down and think, “Forget it. I can’t do this.” I put the put book down and wrote this review instead.

Now I’m going to print out my story and work through it from beginning to end, using what I have learned. No doubt, it will be a soul crushing exercise. But I feel prepared to tackle it.
Profile Image for William Aicher.
Author 24 books309 followers
December 27, 2017
My second read-through of this book. The first time I read it was when I started the editing process for my novel, A Confession. This read-through is while I'm editing my upcoming novel, 'The Unfortunate Expiration of One Mr. David S. Sparks.' As I read it the first time I found quite a few useful tips - especially for things to be conscious of in my own writing as I self-edited. And I firmly believe A Confession turned out all the better for it.

Now, as I edit my next novel, I've returned to this book - and am glad I did. Again I was reminded of a lot of things I need to watch for in my writing, things that are already making this next book considerably better as I go through the first round of edits. Sure, I learned quite a bit the first time through - and it's helped my first drafts require less work to clean. But still, after all the reminders and new highlights and notes from my last read-through, I've decided that with each book I release I'll be revisiting this little guide.

Of course, nothing in here is completely revelatory. It's a guide of a lot of the basic things writers should be looking at and editing toward to make their work stronger, more readable, and still retain a strong personal voice. Ideas such as show vs. tell, dialogue mechanics and how to use beats effectively ... but they're all important aspects of quality writing, and as I'm not an editor by trade, I find them easy to forget as I pour out first drafts.

If you're an author, or aspire to be one, I strongly recommend adding Self-Editing for Fiction Writers to your library. Whether you plan to submit to an agent or publish independently, your work will be all the better for it. I honestly can't recommend this book enough.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
256 reviews23 followers
November 4, 2018
I’m not a writer or an editor. I’m just a person who loves to read and learn, and I definitely learned a lot from this book. This is not a book on grammar but on writing fiction. Browne and King cover many topics some of which are: show vs. tell, monologue, beats, proportion, and repetition.

I loved the way the book was structured. Each chapter has several examples, a checklist, and exercises. What’s great is the examples and exercises build on the chapters before, so you are constantly reinforcing what you’ve learned. A well written, informative book. Highly recommend to both writers and readers.
Profile Image for Malin.
43 reviews8 followers
October 13, 2011
Even though I think there's a need for a book that explains the basic "how-to's" for beginner writers, this book had too many good "bad examples" and too many bad "good examples" to be objective. The authors seem to have their own fixed way of seeing good writing without making room for the stylistic variations that occur between genres. The give no leeway for different tastes either, and I'm afraid they'll force many new writers into boxed-in space. They do state that the old version of this book has caused just that, but unfortunately I feel they have not removed the authoritative voice - the "we have all the truths" view on writing - and therefore they will keep teaching writers the wrong way to edit. I.e. they teach writers to edit a story in a way that will make Browne and King like it. Luckily, not everyone in the world are Brownes and Kings.

In summary, the book does touch upon most problems that need to be addressed when editing but I suggest that you read their way of addressing them through sceptical glasses.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 10 books512 followers
September 10, 2015
UPDATED 5/12/15 ... Read it again. The margins are filled with notes. It is so helpful to read this while I am in the midst of editing my own novel-in-progress.


This is an absolutely terrific book ... page after page of suggestions ... great stimulus to thought about my novel in progress ... LEW ... http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/
Profile Image for Helen Power.
Author 10 books537 followers
September 2, 2018
This book was fantastic! I was worried that there would be too much focus on the mechanics of writing (ex. where to put commas, how to pluralize names that end in 's', etc.), but Browne and King truly created a different kind of book. They talk about how writers should show, not tell, in their writing, how to use voice and style, how to effectively use beats in dialogue, and many other tips and tricks that you can't get from a book on grammar.

Browne and King provide many examples throughout the chapters of common mistakes and how to fix them. There are checklists at the end of every chapter, which I fully intend to use when editing my own work. There are even exercises for writers to practice their editing, with answers tucked away in the appendix.

I recommend this to anyone who's working on editing a piece of fiction--whether it's short story or a novel.
Profile Image for Una Tiers.
Author 6 books376 followers
May 28, 2015
When I clicked I'm Finished, I didn't mean it. While I read the book, I know I will come back to it again because it has so much terrific information and observations.
My favorite is what they say about dialogue. :)
Profile Image for Ikram.
211 reviews1,280 followers
August 29, 2017

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in writing and/or editing.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,280 followers
September 5, 2016
I’ll start with the summary: This book has fantastic advice for any aspiring fiction writers. It is well-written, full of examples, and even comes with exercises (which I didn’t do). Definitely worth reading.

And now the review.

Any rules for art are bound to fall short. Art is distinguished from craft or other activities by its freedom from definite laws. Even the advice of an experienced professional will likely be contradicted by the advice of another, and it is almost certain that someone will disagree completely. Learning to craft a story is not like learning the steps to folding a swan out of a piece of paper. It’s far more complicated and open-ended.

Keeping this in mind, it seems that the task Browne and King set for themselves is doomed from the start. Experienced as they are, their opinions are just that—opinions.

But, damn, are they persuasive. The book is full of examples that illustrate their points, and it was rare that I found their edited version to be worse than the original. This even goes for their changes to a scene in the Great Gatsby. They have managed to take their years of experience editing thousands of manuscripts and crystallized their knowledge into a few guidelines. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but strong suggestions.

The basic advice of this book is simple: show, don’t tell. They extend this principle to every level of fiction writing—from dialogue to narration to plot—and demonstrate that showing tends to produce more compelling and engaging writing. In fact, at times it seems that they have a serious phobia of all narration.

Experienced readers will know that this obsession with showing is a hallmark of more recent fiction. A few pages of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville will illustrate this. The authors explain that, since the rise of television, readers have grown less patient with narration. They want action. An interesting argument, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. After all, nonfiction is now a more popular genre than ever, so at least some readers like expository prose. A more recent example of a book with much telling is Life of Pi, and that clearly didn’t hurt its sales. Nonetheless, I think it is a rule generally worth abiding by.

Like any advice on art, slavishly following the guidance of these authors will lead to wooden and sterile works. Additionally, no book like this, however well-written, can substitute for long hours spent both reading and writing. Instead, it is sort of like a garnish for the main dish. But it’s a sweet and tasty garnish.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books349 followers
October 14, 2012
The first thing I always want to know when I'm reading a book that purportedly teaches you how to improve your writing, especially if the intent is to be published, is "Okay, how many books have you published?"

However, this isn't necessarily a fair question. My own publication history is pretty thin -- basically, I have written a lot of roleplaying game supplements for a major RPG company. (See my author page for details.) My writing was generally well-regarded, but that's a rather odd niche and not at all like getting a book published. I have also written several highly regarded fan fiction novels, which I am never, ever going to link to from Goodreads. But as far as getting a real book published, well, I actually have most of the first draft of a novel completed, which is as much progress as I have made in years. So take that for what it's worth.

That said, I do a lot of critiquing on writers' forums, and I do believe that, just as one can recognize good art and bad art even if you can't draw or paint yourself, and you can tell the difference between a good singer and a great one even if your own singing ability is non-existent, it's possible for someone who isn't necessarily a great writer to meaningfully critique others' writing. I mean, if it weren't, then what's the point of writing book reviews on Goodreads?

So, I think I'm a pretty good "critter," in the parlance of writing circles, and I also fancy that I am at least a competent writer even if I have no published novels to prove it. Thus when I read "How to write books" I tend to be a bit jaded as I already know most of the standard advice. You see people new to the whole writing thing who need to be taught not to write about their characters gazing into a mirror at their own deep cerulean blue eyes which are like translucent limpid pools set in pale heart-shaped oval faces framed by fiery tresses of red hair like gold spun from Helios's forge, yadda yadda yadda, and less cringingly, you see people who need to be told not to use "saidisms" (e.g., "'Zounds!' he ejaculated excitedly"), how to maintain a consistent POV and not head-hop, and often on a more basic level, that yes, you really do need to master spelling, grammar, and punctuation, you can't just let your inner muse scatter commas wheresoever your fancy places them and leave it to your editor to clean them up.

I am, I think, past needing that kind of basic writing advice. (Which is not to say I never make mistakes or perhaps use an unnecessary adjective or three.) There are tons of good books that cover the rudiments of competent writing, but I'm past the "Needs to learn how to string together sentences that don't make readers cringe" stage and into the "Needs to write sentences that are actually so much better than everything else on the slush pile that someone will want to publish me" stage.

I found Self-Editing for Fiction Writers to be a concise package of a lot of this intermediate/journeyman-level writing advice. A lot of it was familiar to me, but there were enough insightful observations that I could apply to my own writing that it was by no means a waste of time.

Rennie Browne and Dave King are professional editors. They do a lot of editing for clients (aspiring writers) and they spend lots of time at writers' workshops, from which many of the examples in the book are taken.

They talk about showing vs. telling, characterization, POV, and narrative voice, dialog mechanics, exposition, and all the other things that go into composing readable prose. Their focus is what the title indicates: the skills you need to have to read your own work with a critical eye and see what works and what doesn't and how to fix it. Nothing can replace a good beta-reader or writing circle or workshop, but having seen manuscripts submitted to hapless online critique groups forced to read someone's retooled fan fic or novelized AD&D campaign, I believe this book could do a lot of good improving those drafts before anyone else's eyes see them.

And let Browne and King not be accused of being timid in their critiques: some of the exercises with which they end each chapter include editing the work of such notables as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lewis Carroll. Part of this is the emphasis on publishability in the modern day: they do point out that a lot of guidelines for what makes writing "good" is dependent on time and place. In the 19th century, you could use head-hopping omniscient third-person narrators, characters could ejaculate excitedly (you do know that didn't mean then what it means now, right?), and Melville and Hugo could interrupt their stories to spend a few chapters talking about whale anatomy or Parisian architecture. Nowadays, all that will get you a form rejection letter even if you write like Melville or Hugo. (Especially if you write like Melville or Hugo.) So there is certainly a commercial angle to this book, hence some of the negative reviews which smack of special snowflake writers who are sure that their work is so creative and brilliant that professional writing standards don't apply to them and what is this "professional" stuff anyway, isn't writing art?

Does this book encourage a certain homogeneity in writing styles? Well, the authors admitted that they did see signs of that as a result of their first edition, when they saw lots of writers showing up at workshops having bled their manuscripts of too much of their distinctive voice and style in an effort to conform to Brown and King's advice. So they try to address that here, but they are certainly aiming for the writer who wants to write a polished final draft that will get past the slushpile reader or the agent's "Reject" button, not for the writer who wants to Hone His Craft and create Art.

Along those same lines, most of the emphasis in this book is on word, sentence, and paragraph-level composition. The advice here is very good -- it's intended to produce readable prose. Broader topics like pacing, plotting, foreshadowing, tension, world building, character development, etc., are barely touched on. You need to read more books to go into those topics in sufficient depth. Those are the sorts of things you really need a critique partner or workshop to address, since no one can effectively "self-edit" their own work on a meta-level.

So, I highly recommend this book for anyone aspiring to write commercial fiction. Even if you are an experienced writer, and arrogant enough to believe you don't need any newbie writing tips, there is still a lot of good stuff here. I'm giving it only 4 stars instead of 5 mainly because I haven't read that many other books in this field and to me, 5 stars would mean it's absolutely a "must-read" and one of the best on its subject, and I can't say that for certain. However, I'd rank it up there with Strunk & White (which I think is a great and valuable book, though I agree with Geoffrey Pullum about many of its defects) as something that should be on your shelf, if not religiously adhered to.

One other reason for dinging Self-Editing for Fiction Writers a little from 5 stars is that it seems to be aimed exclusively at "literary" fiction writers. That's not to say that King and Browne's attitude towards genre fiction is hostile, and obviously to go into depth about the particulars of writing science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, psychological thrillers, etc., would require entirely different books, but it would have been nice to see more examples taken from some genre classics (or genre fiction workshop submissions) to illustrate that all of their writing advice still applies even if the characters are elves or aliens.

Anyway, notwithstanding my small criticisms, I'd say if you are a writer or would-be writer of fiction, you should read this book.

ETA: Funny how similar my observations in the above review, written close to a year ago, are to what I said about Thanks, But This Isn't for Us. Possibly if I'd read the latter first, I would have given it the higher rating, but I think in retrospect this is still slightly the better of the two, though they cover pretty similar ground. The main difference is that Jessica Morrell's book is more geared toward genre fiction, while Browne and King are aiming more for literary writers. (Their advice is equally applicable to genre writers, though.)
Profile Image for Mary.
146 reviews81 followers
July 24, 2014
This book has helped me out the absolute most with my craft. If you are writing anything then I recommend four things:

-This book
-The Writing Excuses podcast
-On Writing by Stephen King
-The Emotion Thesaurus

But I think this book helps me the most with actual craft. So if you're looking for books on how words interact with one another and how to do it well. Read this book. Front to back and back to front.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
254 reviews47 followers
March 28, 2015
I have skim-read this book at least three times since carefully reading it two or three David Mitchell books ago (maybe ten Stephen Kings ago?). This week, I reread previously marked passages. It was so thought-provoking I “finished” the book, even though that had not been my intention.

The first time I read it I had countless revelations. Did I even pay attention to the difference between narrative summary and a scene then, never mind their uses? Did I understand that third person POV was a continuum, never mind which characteristics placed a piece of writing on it and where? Did I know what a beat was? Did I?

First, let me assure you that there were and are insights left for me to gain because of the high quality of the book’s content, not because of any defects in my noggin or its use. After so many revisits, I was left this week with points easy to ponder but hard to actualize in my writing, such as ways to get readers to experience character emotion rather than just know it as information, such as how to maybe begin to judge the optimum amount of details to include at various times, such as being careful not to let beats become unnecessary commentary on the dialogue.

Another aspect of the book that did not hit me until now was that there is some repetition. The repetition, however, is marvelous. It reveals how the concepts overlap. I was too busy processing to notice this before, but yeah, there are similarities between developing characters and detailing culture (setting) and even writing exposition in general. I see it better now, at least for a few hours. Another example of how concepts overlap is that the old adage “show, don’t tell” has applications to dialogue that I do not always keep in mind either.

So, somehow, we must understand and study many of these concepts as distinct entities while simultaneously whipping them into one, synergetic bombardment, or we fail, I mean, or we rewrite (and reread and reread and rewrite and rewrite...

I wrote this two or three years ago:

I've just reread this, browsing through it quickly to refresh my memory. It's very good and I am very grateful that someone recommended it to me. You'll probably reread it too. It is impossible to read once because its contents resonate differently after more and more writing practice. I took away a lot from it the first time I read it but there is just too much good advice in it to keep in mind all at once. When I reread it, I kept thinking "Oh, yeah, try to do that." Or I thought: "Am I doing that? Am I getting that effect?"

Great, great book. Someone in my writing group referred to it today. Again.

Profile Image for Brandon Miller.
105 reviews37 followers
December 18, 2018
Seemingly any time you ask an industry professionals for a craft book recommendation, you can count either King's On Writing or this unassuming little volume. That being said, I had high expectations. (And they were not met.)
The content of the book wasn't bad. I underlined or took notes on just about every page. There were even a few true ah-ha moments. Nothing truly revolutionary, though.
To compound the problem, the organization was not up to par. One chapter (with a witty and terribly unhelpful chapter title) would touch on so many subpoints with such subtle transitions I had to slow my reading pace and check every new paragraph for a topic shift.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Brown and King showed a particular inability to choose examples from stories (published and non-published) that were clean or uplifting. Between the heavy language, the slap-you-in-your-face blasphemy, and the sexual themes, this book isn't something I could recommend to a friend even if it had the helpful content to warrant such recommendation.
In the end, this book could have been a flat 1 star of not for the super helpful "editing checklists" at the end of each chapter which I will be referring back to in the future.
If you are looking for a good overview of fiction writing, Go Teen Writers is still the most helpful craft book I've ever read, and it touches on nearly everything his book does, without demanding a sacrificed conscience or slowed reading speed. (And that stands whether you are a teen or not.)
Profile Image for Steven R. Kraaijeveld.
502 reviews1,765 followers
October 20, 2018
Browne and King offer a number of helpful suggestions to keep in mind while editing your work, although even the best of them should be taken with a grain of salt. I was struck especially by how time-bound the conventions of writing are, or at least appear to be from what B&K now consider successful techniques (by some of their criteria, much of the writing of Wodehouse and Dostoevsky is disastrous). I don't read contemporary fiction—are all writers nowadays really modeling their novels after Hollywood scripts? How tragic.

That brings me to the problem that I had with the book, which is that it is primarily catered to fiction writing for detective novels, thrillers, YA stories, and so on. There were a great number of examples (mostly from works in those genres), which I generally skipped—not necessarily because of their sources (although, truth be told, I am not even slightly interested in reading John le Carré), but mostly because in 90% of the cases I felt like I didn't need to be shown-instead-of-told.

Anyway, I'm not working in the genres that were best represented in the book and to which its suggestions are most readily applicable, but B&K nevertheless gave me some useful general tips that I'll keep in the back of my mind while I'm going over what I've written.

p.s. Can we return to late 19th/early 20th century literature, please?
Profile Image for Dona.
610 reviews88 followers
July 17, 2022
To sum this text up, SELF-EDITING is an efficient, organized process for correcting and beautifying your manuscripts, to ready them for the publishing markets. How I ended up using this book after reading it was that I turned each chapter-end checklist into editing note cards that I then applied, step by step, to every manuscript I sent out to journals. I find this book's subtitle funny-- How to Edit Yourself Into Print-- because in using this book-turned-editing-note-cards, that's exactly what happened with my efforts. I went from piling up the rejections, to starting to see some paid acceptances. No, getting a story in the Saturday Evening Post doesn't make me anything fancy. But any writer will tell you, the first sales matter.

My endorsement of this text does not in any way mean that I suggest you shouldn't hire an editor at any time during your writing process. Editors can be incredibly helpful to writers of all kinds. In fact, as an editor with a graduate degree in English and Creative Writing who works for writers who would like to hire me for editing, I think it's safe to say I see the merits of both self-editing and hiring out your editing work.

Finished 2020
Recommended for professional prose writers, especially short fiction writers
Profile Image for Matthew.
102 reviews3 followers
March 7, 2008
When people talk about books that changed their lives, they usually talk about novels. The power of fiction is incredible and stories like "The Lord of the Rings" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" resonate for decades. But if someone asked me what book changed my life, I'd have to point to "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers." Yes, I'd immediately be branded a super-dork, but this book transformed my work like nothing before or since.

For ten years, I'd been struggling with "Show, Don't Tell." Everybody said it, but nobody explained it. "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" took my hand and guided this dumb little pup through example after example, telling me exactly how to improve my writing. The difference between my before stories and my after stories is remarkable. This is one of the only books I recommend to people who ask me about writing. It's clear. It works.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 36 books446 followers
June 7, 2014
Really nice collection of pitfalls. Sure to relieve any young writer, either because they have new eyes with which to view their manuscript, or because there are many mistakes they are glad not to have made.
Profile Image for Owen Townend.
Author 4 books5 followers
August 24, 2023
A focusing resource for writers who lack confidence in their editing instincts.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers highlights the aspects of storytelling that your average reader doesn't look for but feels as they turn the pages. Browne and King know how important it is to keep the writer's influence on a plot as subtle as possible and offer ways to ensure that characters tell their own tales.

Useful topics covered in this book include how to shift narrative distance effectively, maintaining lexical consistency in description, making sure that a character's internal monologue isn't overburdened, tactical use of conversational 'beats' and the positives of keeping some white space on the page.

Each chapter ends with exercises featuring text passages that contain faults to fix, which is a canny way of instilling good writing practice while it's fresh in your memory. That being said, I didn't always agree with their final edits, which seemed a little brutal at times.

My only other complaint was that I didn't find the cartoons that punctuate chapters funny or really pertinent to what was being discussed.

Aside from clumsy humour and questionable reinterpretation, I am very glad to have picked up Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and recommend it to anyone dreading going through their manuscript alone.
Profile Image for Dr. Block.
Author 151 books371 followers
March 8, 2021
This is one of those books that you have to read at the right time in your life. If I had read this ten years ago, I would have said, "Very helpful. I'll be sure to remember this when I finally become a writer." Now that I've published a few dozen books, I read this book and thought, "This is the Holy Grail. This book is absolutely amazing."

I guess, what I am trying to say is, if you want to be a writer or if you already are one, READ this book. Then, read it again at least once per year until everything inside its covers have been integrated into your being. Great stuff.
Profile Image for Will Once.
Author 8 books110 followers
November 8, 2014
Let's be honest here ... the publishing world is awash with very poor books.

For every book that is published, there are 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 that never make it. They either can't find a traditionally publisher or they are self published and sell only a handful of copies.

And behind every single one of these books is a huge dollop of pain and heartache for the author. They had such high hopes of fame, fortune and glory and it just didn't happen. The slush pile can be a very gloomy and lonely place.

If you find yourself in that position, there are several things you can do. You can throw your hands up in the air and decide that you "can't write". You can boil with indignation and frustration that an ungrateful world doesn't recognise your undoubted genius.

Or you can try to get better at writing.

Usain Bolt didn't break the world record the first time he ran 100 metres. Michel Roux (senior or junior) didn't cook to 3 star Michelin standard when he made his first omelette. You are almost certainly not going to write a best seller at your first attempt.

How do you get better at writing? By listening to the people who know what good writing looks like - professional editors and publishers.

"Self editing for fiction writers" is one of a number of books that explain how to get the basics right. It won't guarantee that you will have a best seller, but it will stop you from making those basic errors that plague 99% of first drafts.

It is very clearly written with lots of good examples and exercises. Anyone who followed the ideas in this book would increase their chances of being published significantly.

My only reservation in recommending this book is that I don't want my competition to know about this stuff. Only kidding ... this is gold dust.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 113 books563 followers
April 10, 2012
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.[return][return]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.
Profile Image for Kim.
Author 26 books150 followers
May 14, 2008
This book came recommended to me so I bought it and then didn't have time to get to it until it came recommended once again. I took it on vacation with me for six weeks and worked on a chapter a day. This worked out great because it gave me time to absorb the information and do the exercises at the end of each chapter.

It's definitely filled with practical advice any new writer needs to know. If you're more experienced, don't let that sway you. We all need reminders from time to time. I saw things in my own revisions due to this book and found it very useful
Profile Image for Gail.
1,072 reviews356 followers
July 19, 2016
Some solid advice in here but a little heavy on the exercises (which felt like they made up half the book and which I never took the time to complete). I feel like 75 percent of the content is geared toward someone who is a totally newbie, but still gleaned a few tips to apply to my own writing.
Profile Image for William Prystauk.
Author 6 books287 followers
June 17, 2019
There are great points to be made in this work, but the book seems to be geared towards people who "want" to write instead of those already committed to the craft.
Profile Image for Kirtida Gautam.
Author 2 books125 followers
May 7, 2022
If you plan to pursue the career of a novelist and you haven't read this book, you are kidding yourself. You are not serious about your career. As simple as that.
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