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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I previously posted about helpful free e-books on the craft of writing, and promised to share any additional worthwhile books I read. I recently finished Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, and although it's not a free e-book, it is an excellent guide, and one I recommend checking out. I think the title may be unintentionally limiting, as this is not just a guide on self-editing, but a valuable resource for avoiding many common writing mistakes in the first place.

Published in 2004 by two professional editors (Renni Browne and Dave King), the guide teaches techniques that transform promising manuscripts into published works by taking the reader through the same processes an editor goes through. The book targets common mistakes and explains how to edit what you've written. The points are illustrated with an abundance of 'before' and 'after' example excerpts drawn from works of famous writers and/or books Browne and King have edited.

Below are brief summaries of the chapters and contents:
  1. Showing over Telling (How to use action and immediacy instead of narrative summary).
  2. Characterization & Exposition (Avoid pausing your story for description).
  3. Point of View (Through which characters' eyes does a reader 'see' your story?)
  4. Proportion (How to avoid undermining the essential story with minor details).
  5. Dialog Mechanics (What your characters say, and how they say it).
  6. How the Text Sounds (Is your dialogue realistic, or stilted and artificial?)
  7. Interior Monologue (What your characters think, and why it's important to reveal).
  8. Easy Beats (What are beats, and how to use them effectively).
  9. Sentence/Paragraph/Chapter Breaks (How to use white space and break up you work).
  10. Repetition (Why you should avoid it, and how it can sneak into your writing).
  11. Sophistication (Stylistic tricks and constructions to attain sophistication).
  12. Voice (Tips on attaining your own distinctive, strong, authoritative, writing voice).
The book also provides editing exercises in each chapter, and in the appendix, suggested solutions to those exercises, along with a list of recommended Top Books for Writers.

The two minor criticisms I have are that the authors could be less self-referential and the example passages could be shorter and more to the point, while still being effective. Not everything presented in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers will be new to you, but you may find fresh insight as to why certain issues are deemed problematic and the reasons behind why it's best to avoid them.

If using a selection from The Great Gatsby as an example of showing how certain passages can be improved is a turn-off, beware, for this happens. However, if you can approach this book with an open mind and focus on the words (and not the legendary baggage that comes with them), it can be a valid and rewarding learning experience as well as a handy reference guide.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pro Writing Aid & AutoCrit Revisited

Back in March of last year, I compared the online editing tools AutoCrit and Pro Writing Aid (PWA). Since then, there have been changes to both programs, so I thought I'd revisit the comparison with a brief update. If anything, the two programs are less similar than they were in 2013. Also, since 2013, I allowed my AutoCrit subscription to expire and signed up for the PWA premium version at $35 a year.

So even though I think the 19 reports available with PWA's free online version are outstanding, the premium package perks tempted me. For example, the premium version allows you to install the PWA tool directly into Word (and Google Docs), which allows you to edit within your document file (as opposed to cutting and pasting into the online editing screen). The PWA add-in appears in your Word toolbar and provides all the editing features of the website, without leaving the page, or toggling between Word and your web browser.

I also like the added feature to choose from suggestions for grammar and spelling issues. Click here to see the entire list of PWA premium package perks. At $35 a year, it's a pretty affordable upgrade, but while the premium additions save time and increase the tool's efficiency and flexibility, the core editing functions are all available in the free version. If you're considering using PWA, I would suggest mastering the free version before jumping to premium. Once you're familiar with the free PWA tool, judging whether the perks are worth the additional cost should be pretty clear to you.

The other noteworthy development from PWA is the new user guide available in pdf form. This instruction manual is a great tool for PWA beginners and an excellent resource for learning everything PWA offers. I recommend browsing the manual first if you have any interest in trying PWA. This will give you an idea of the output capabilities of the tool.

Regarding AutoCrit, the website and editing program were retooled this year to provide a more fiction-writer-focused experience. Back in June, AutoCrit offered me an online 'sneak peak' of their redesigned program, and I must say, I was intrigued by the changes and improvements. Check out their video to see the new AutoCrit (you can skip the first 2.5 minutes of promotional material if you're in a hurry). Two other new features in AutoCrit are The Writer's Library, which features articles on improving your craft, and the AutoCrit Support Center, which is available for getting help with the editing tools.

I recently ran some text through AutoCrit's free sample service and received a pdf report of the results. One interesting new feature allows you to compare your text to published fiction. AutoCrit compares your usage statistics for adverbs, passive verbs, cliches, generic descriptions, showing vs. telling indicators, redundancies, filler words and more against their published fiction averages. This gives you the ability to gauge how many of these grammatical liberties are generally acceptable.

The latest AutoCrit pricing options list the most affordable package at $5/month billed annually ($60/year) and allows you to process 1,000 words at a time. Personally, a 1,000-word limit is not enough for me, as I prefer to edit in chapter-sized chunks (or larger). You can crunch 8,000 words at a time with the Platinum package ($8/month, i.e., $96/year).

Although I'm happy with the PWA Premium package, and am curious about the new upgrades at AutoCrit, I'm still undecided on what I'm going to do when my current PWA premium subscription runs out. Ideally, I'd like to see shorter-duration, lower-cost subscription options from both. As a novel writer, I alternate writing and editing, and sometimes go months without needing a comprehensive editing program. So, even though I'm paying for an entire year, I'm really only using the tool less than half that time. For me, a one-month, or even 3-month subscription would be ideal. I mentioned this to AutoCrit during our chat, but I haven't seen it implemented (yet).

Disclaimer: I'm not going to repeat myself, but if you're interested in my opinions on self-editing tools, the subject is explored in more detail here.

Author Update: Not much has changed since my last blog post. While patiently awaiting my editor's final pass on Mirrors & Mist (due any day now), I've been polishing the latest draft and also outlining/storyboarding/planning book three. I'm getting antsy to deliver Mirrors & Mist to my beta readers.

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