Wednesday, January 16, 2013

DYI Editing? robgirlbooks' Review of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers"

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
by Renni Browne & Dave King
288 pages
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks 4/13/2004
Hunted this copy down and found it at Half Price Books
3.5 Stars

This is the most definitive how-to book on editing I have come across. Most guides dance around absolutes. Don't do this if you can help it. Well, I can't help it! Self-Editing for Fiction Writers tells you straight up, Never do that. Just don't.

You start off with the infamous show and tell lecture and end with a thorough discussion on finding your voice. They earn 5 stars for the easy access layout of the book, for their great writing, and for integrating comics. They maintain the 5 star rating with their nifty exercises at the end of each chapter and corresponding answers in the appendix. This helpful tool made me feel like a legitimate student of editing. And they receive top billing for offering a valuable acronym, R.U.E-resist the urge to explain, which becomes the overriding theme of the book.

Here's where they drop all the way down to three and a half stars. The lessons, tips, and often flat out rules become cookie-cutterish. One of the beauties of the emergence of indie books is the unique quality of storytelling. 

Another reason their rating fell involves what I feel is outdated concepts, attributes for example. The authors have definitive nevers in this area. Never try to be clever with an attribute, stick to he said, she said. None of this he chuckled, she purred, he growled, she snarled. Current YA books knock this rule into oblivion and the readers seem to like the added emotion in the attributes despite the fact that Browne and King insist writers are dragging readers out of the story to show off their cleverness.

Lastly, and this is purely my reaction to reading the book, Browne and King put me into one of the worst reading slumps ever! I couldn't stop looking at all the rules my favorite authors were breaking. I understand writing and editing require two different hats, but reading is like breathing for many, and certainly for writers.

With all of that, the good and bad, this is a great guide. I had to go a little Zen with it, absorbing, learning, applying, and then unlearning. My vote is this is a valuable tool for any new fiction writer.


  1. Great review, Robyn. I love books or articles on a writer's craft. But most times you find lots of them contradicting each other. And that's why I've decided to fellow few of these sites which gives craft advise. I hate the confusion that comes when trying to learn something. And I hate books with the NEVERS - Never do this! Never do that unless you're Stephen King (or they say another popular author) Then it pains me that my favorite authors are breaking the rules, and you don't want me to BREAK it too?

    Sometimes I just forget the rules and follow my own voice and characters...

  2. Yes! I'm right there with you. I like the idea of forgetting the rules and finding your own voice.

  3. I get what you wrote even though I am not a writer or published author. I have trouble editing my own thoughts let alone try to convey them to others for general consumption. I applaud all writers for having a voice and being able to capture the audience's attention.

    1. Thank you Shan. I'll take all the applause I can get.