REVIEW Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

In this month's review, Miranda Moore, explains how Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King has helped her break some writing habits

Like many of you, I have a whole shelf of books on creative writing, covering everything from plot and structure to body language and mannerisms. Several of them I find indispensable. It’s a close call, but if I had to pick just one, I’d choose Renni Browne & Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print.

With reference to many examples, Browne & King demonstrate the hallmarks of good – and bad – writing. You may be further along your writing journey than me, but I certainly found myself guilty of many of the habits that commonly betray the novice writer. This book helps to expose those habits.

Extracts from well-known and less well-known novels demonstrate how paying attention to and polishing every paragraph pays off. Much of it may be familiar, but some of the material shed new light for me. Examples of before and after edits show how profound an impact one or two small tweaks can have; how a piece of writing can be transformed from feeling amateurish or hackneyed to professional and fresh – something of course we all know from working on our own manuscripts.

I found chapters Proportion, Easy Beats and Sophistication particularly illuminating. ‘Using proportion lets you manipulate your readers without their knowing they’re being manipulated,’ they argue. Too many beats – stage direction, gestures, etc – in a passage of dialogue can interrupt the flow and weaken the impact. Too few beats can seem sterile and unreal. In handling dialogue and interior monologue, ‘the sterling value’, they argue, ‘is unobtrusiveness’. And ‘It’s nearly always best to resist the urge to explain. Or, as we so often write it in manuscript margins, R.U.E.

The chapter Once is Usually Enough tackles repetition of effect as well as repetition of language. ‘Whether it’s two sentences that convey the same information, two paragraphs that establish the same personality trait, or two characters who fill the same role in the plot, repetition can rob your writing of its power…[We] often write a formula in the margin of manuscripts: 1+1=½.’

I’m not there yet (into print, that is), but this book can hopefully equip new writers with tangible skills to get that step closer. If nothing else, the artistic satisfaction of improving one’s writing is worth the cover price.

Header image: Sara Netherway  

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Miranda Moore worked as a journalist and editor in Scottish newspapers before turning to fiction writing. She was shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards 2017. 


Natalie Yates is Reviews Editor for Words & Pictures. Twitter: @eastyorknat

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