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How to Self-Edit–Book Review

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

by Renni Browne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am big on self-editing. I don’t want a professional or even my writer’s group to see my mss 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 all forms of ‘to be’, 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 I’ve been involved with), 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 knew I can trust it, I went directly to the checklists, to make sure I was 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 one)
  • 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 off the top of their heads and refuse to be constrained by protocols and rules–I’d skip this one.

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12 thoughts on “How to Self-Edit–Book Review

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    • You may certainly ask:

      he was having difficulty editing a story to include structure and nuance, so I recommended the following:

      Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. – a basic reference guide for story structure and not very helpful save brushing up on the basics.

      Between the Lines by Jessica Page Morrell – I recommended this one because it gives action items to try in stories and helps heavy handed writers pace themselves a bit more.

      Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein, PH.D. – This is a good book for filling out characters with quick traits that are true to life. By way of example: the book gives character traits of an alcoholic, the family of the alcoholic, and adults who had an alcoholic parent. While I don’t think anyone should live/breath this book, it’s nice to pick up a trait or two for a story.

      The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – I don’t know if this one is any good by anyone else’s standards, but I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. This book gives a more…let’s say…mythological framework in how to write or understand stories.

      Sorry for such a long reply, but I think if anyone can evaluate and give feedback on the books I’m reading, it’s you.


  9. This is an outstanding post. I was just recommending a book to a friend concerning self editing, but I wasn’t aware this one existed.

    I find books which give actionable items work the best for me. If nothing else I can be sure to at least cover a checklist or set of bullets and be much further along. Likewise I can incorporate intelligent checklists with my own home grown sort.

    Thank you again for making me aware of this book.


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