A Review of ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King

In my continuing quest to study up on the top of writing and editing, I read this book. I think this is one of the best nitty-gritty, how-to guides I’ve read. The authors do not faff about with personal anecdotes, which I appreciate greatly. Instead the book talks about topics like characterization/showing-telling/exposition in depth, and from multiple angles. It discusses common pitfalls beginner (and not-so-beginner) authors fall into.

My favorite part of this book was the fact that it provides solid examples of before-and-after paragraphs during the editing process. For example, in the show-don’t-tell section of the novel the authors provided a messy, unedited section of writing, and followed it up with the same section of prose but after it had gone through various stages of editing. Consistantly providing these hands-on examples really emphasized some of the more nebulous points the authors were trying to make.

This book DOES NOT cover topics like character arcs, pacing, structure and the like. This book is all about the micro-level editing. Topics included are:

  • Showing and Telling,
  • Characterization and exposition,
    • Covers topics such as integrating character history into text in a subtle manner.
    • Encouraging the author to focus on making character actions reflect character history
  • Point of View,
    • 1st Person vs 3rd Person vs Omniscient
  • Proportion,
    • Aka “Don’t spend three pages talking about something unimportant.” Surprisingly useful.
  • Dialog Mechanics,
    • this chapter focuses on making your dialog as smooth and elegant as possible, not clunky and expository
  • Dialog Sounds,
    • whereas this chapter on dialog focuses on making your dialog sound like words actual people would say
  • Interior Monologue,
    • Thinker attributions, italics, first-person subsections in third-person novels- that sort of thing.
  • Action Beats,
    • This chapter is all about breaking up your dialog by having your characters do actions in between vocalizations. There are subtle compexities therein.
  • Breaking up Clunky Prose,
    • Breaking up large paragraphs into multiple small paragraphs, breaking up large chapters into smaller chapters, trimming down the excess dialog
  • Repetition,
    • A big one for me- there’s no need to say something twice. Say something once, and trust your audience to understand it the first time.
  • Sophistication
    • trimming out unneeded adverbs, varying up sentence length, using minimal exclaimation points… the list goes on.
  • Voice.
    • The authors provides sound advice on finding your own, unique voice, and making it better. That advice isn’t proscriptive, one-size-fits-all, but instead helping you begin a journey of finding your own path. Probably the best words written on this topic I’ve read.

Suffice it to say, this is one of the best nonfiction books on the topic of writing I’ve ever read, and is maybe the best I’ve ever read. If you are an aspiring author, editor, or wanting to break into the industry, check it out. I especially suggest this if you are a self-published author. It’s a good nuts-and-bolts book on editing. I read a library copy of this, and I liked it so much I’m going to buy a copy of this for my personal collection for me to refer back to.

NOTE: I’ve read some other reviews, and they suggest that the formatting of some of the text in the book is poorly formatted on digital. I read paper, and did not have that problem.

STARS: 4.75 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

GRADE: This is a very good book, especially for indie authors.

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)



Nonfiction, Writing, self-help, self improvement, how to, education, reference

Similar books I’ve reviewed:

  • None

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None

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