Thursday 14 April 2011

[Book Review] Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

The word 'editing' often strikes fear into the heart of a writer - we just want to get the words down, we don't want to start rearranging them afterwards. Unfortunately you won't get far in the writing world if you never edit your work. With publishing houses overstretched, there is less money available to sink into a book, meaning much of the editing will be done initially by the writer themselves. Indeed, if you're planning on going down the self publishing route, then you'll need to invest a heck of a lot of time editing your manuscript before you unleash it on the unsuspecting public.

Think of it this way - filmmakers make their films, 'writing' the story on celluloid. Along comes an editor and suddenly what they've 'written' has been altered. A good editor can turn a mediocre film into something exceptional - and the same goes for your writing. However, some directors have such an authorial vision that they do as much they can during shooting to ensure that as little editing happens as possible. Take Sir Alfred Hitchcock. He used a technique known as "cutting in the camera" where he only filmed what he absolutely needed in order to tell the story as it happened in his head. He gave the editors very little to work with as their job was essentially done, and his vision remained in tact. Editing your work yourself before you send it out to query or release it as a self-publishing endeavour works in the same way. See how it's not so bad after all?

Now, it is strongly advised that you get feedback from people who know what they're talking about - other writers (especially if they've been published themselves) are a good place to start, as is anyone who has to string words together for a living. Unless your mother, spouse or flatmate have experience editing, it's probably best not to ask them. So unless you can afford a professional editor, where do you start? Well, a book like this one can certainly help. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King won't teach you the mechanics of writing, but it will teach you what editors look out for, and how to avoid making the mistakes in the first place.

The book is broken into sections to help you target particular aspects of your work. Dialogue, pacing, point of view, voice and crafting scenes are all covered, along with other tricky spots you might feel you need help with. 'Before and after' examples are given to help you see how a passage can be reworked to say the same thing but in a much clearer way, and they even cite authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald to show how writing styles have changed over time. Each chapter ends with a checklist of things to do/not do, and a series of exercises designed to get you thinking like an editor.

It's not intended as a textbook for the craft of writing, and there are plenty of excellent books available for almost every aspect of writing that you can think of, but if you practice the techniques and pay attention to the red flags raised by the authors of this book, you'll probably find yourself writing better material from scratch, and requiring less editing at a later stage.

Highly recommended, both for new writers and experienced writers who may wish to review their approach.

Four blunt pencils out of five!


Carrie Clevenger said...

I do have this one and found it quite useful. I like that you're reviewing how-to books. We need more of those.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Well I figure there are lots of them out there, but how is anyone to know if they're any good?! Reviewing them also gives me a good excuse to actually work through them.

Sam said...

Great review, Icy. I've been looking at this book for a while and you've just helped me make up my mind...*adds to cart* Thank you!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Good! Even if you think you're pretty good at editing, this one gives you an editor's perspective on the whole thing.

Larry Kollar said...

That's good… an editor's perspective is what I need. I tend to write with one eye writing and one eye editing, but that doesn't mean I won't miss something!

Anonymous said...

I have this and it's THE editing book I use. No other has helped me understand the editing progress so well.

Magaly Guerrero said...

This is one of the very few writing books that doesn't bore me to death. I like the approach, the examples, and even the exercises. Very useful indeed.

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