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.