Self-Editing For Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King

by Rebeca on April 4, 2010

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave KingSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
By Renni Browne and Dave King
Harper Paperbacks
288 pages
List Price: $13.99; Amazon Price: $10.07

At the Internet Writing Workshop’s writing list there have been several animated emails going back and forth about the best books for editing. One writer always writes about his three bibles: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Synonym Finder, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Since I am a bibliophile and love all sorts of reference books, it should not as a suprise when I admit that I own all three. I actually got The Synonym Finder and its been incredible.  And I agree with this particular writer concerning Self-Editing. It’s a marvelous book, and it will help shape your fiction.

Self-Editing is divided into 12 chapters ranging from “Show and Tell” to “Voice” Each chapter has exercises and the writers have included an appendix with the answers to the exercises, as well as a reading list pf other books on writing craft.

I’ve used this book, but not as often as I should. And now that I am rethinking my novel, I have the perfect opportunity revisit these chapters. Although I’m pretty good with dialogue even I need some points to make it crisper and to convey emotion through the characters words and not describe how they are feeling. In other words, if you’ve properly set the scene that a character is astonished and says “You can’t be serious,” you can easily drop the “she said in astonishment.” For Browne and King adding this tag is lazy writing. Or as they point out:

When your dialogue is well written, describing your characters’ emotions to your readers is just as patronizing as a playwright running onto the stage and yelling at the audience. And when you explain dialogue that needs no explanation, you are writing down to your readers, a sure-fire way to turning them off. The theatergoer might or might not walk out of a theater when the playwright runs on stage; the reader who feels patronized will almost certainly close the book.

Chapter 11 focuses on how to make your writing more sophisticated by using some stylistic tricks. Browne and King give the “as and ing” construction example:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.


As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Although both phrases are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and ambiguously.  They write:

Both of these constructions take a bit of action and tuck it away into a dependent clause. This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Guilty as charged!

It’s advice like this that makes Self-Editing one of the best books on the market, and a valuable one to revisit often (note to self: practice what you preach). Now for those who have finished manuscripts, get editing with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: