Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Writing Book Review - Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

There are three kinds of writing books.

  • Those that try to tell you how to get published. These books generally claim to have found the magic formula to get publishers to accept your book. The problem with this - as the blog entry I linked in my previous post pointed out - is that there is no magic formula.
  • Then there are those that try to tell you how to write in the first place. They tend to be a formula the writer found worked for them to get the words out and therefore assume will work for everyone. They won't but they will work for some people and at the very least they give insight into the creative process.
  • Then there are those that assume you have a functiomal first draft, but that being a first draft it's rather crappy and you want to make it better. These tend to be the most useful kind - in my opinion anyway.
"Self-Editing for Fiction Writers second edition" by Renni Browne and Dave King is the third kind of writing book. And in my opinion it is possibly the best of its ilk. The authors are not fiction writers but professional editors. They know their business and it shows. And when I say they are editors I don't mean copy-editors or proofreaders. The cover nothwithstanding this is not a book about grammar and spelling. It's a book about rewriting and I really, really like it.

The book opens with a chapter on "Show and Tell" which not only gives the best explanation of this fraught and confusing subject I've ever read, but also explains when it's not just okay but better to tell rather than show. This sets the pattern for the rest of the book. They give you the guidelines but also advise you that sometimes it's fine to break the rules they set out.

One of my favourite things about this book is that at the end of each of chapter there are exercises. They give passages containing the problems they've highlighted in the chapter and you get to edit it. Their answers are in the back of the book, but they also say no two people will edit a passage exactly the same way. Practice makes perfect and this book gives you practice before you unleash yourself on your own writing.

There are other books and websites where you can get some or all of this advice, but I have yet to see one that is as comprehensive and comprehensible in its explanations as this one. It's a book to keep and re-read regularly.

Very highly recommended.