Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
By Renni Browne and Dave King
Harper Paperbacks
288 pages
List Price: $13.99; Amazon Price: $9.00

On numerous occasions at the Internet Writing Workshop’s writing list there have been threads about the best books for editing. One writer always writes about his three go to reference books: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Synonym Finder, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

It should not come as a surprise when I admit that I own all three. I acquired The Synonym Finder and its been incredible. Concerning Self-Editing, it’s a marvelous book and it will help shape your fiction.

Self-Editing is divided into 12 chapters ranging from “Show and Tell” to “Voice” Each chapter has exercises and the writers have included an appendix with answers to these exercises as well as a reading list of other books on writing craft.

I’ve used this book, but not as often as I should. Now that I am reworking my novel, I have the perfect opportunity revisit these chapters. Although I’m pretty good with dialogue, I still need some points to make it crisper, to convey emotion through the characters words, and not describe how they are feeling. In other words, if you’ve properly set the scene that a character is astonished and says “You can’t be serious,” you can easily drop the “she said in astonishment.” For Browne and King adding this tag is lazy writing and point out:

When your dialogue is well written, describing your characters’ emotions to your readers is just as patronizing as a playwright running onto the stage and yelling at the audience. And when you explain dialogue that needs no explanation, you are writing down to your readers, a sure-fire way to turning them off. The theatergoer might or might not walk out of a theater when the playwright runs on stage; the reader who feels patronized will almost certainly close the book.

Chapter 11 focuses on how to make your writing more sophisticated by using some stylistic tricks. Browne and King give the “as and ing” construction example:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.


As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Although both phrases are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and ambiguously.  They write:

Both of these constructions take a bit of action and tuck it away into a dependent clause. This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant. And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Oh dear…

It’s advice like this that makes Self-Editing one of the better books on the market and a valuable one to revisit often (note to self: practice what you preach).