Introduction to the Series
This is the first post in a series of articles reviewing the books and resources that helped me finish and publish my first novel. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!
In this post, I’ll review Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (First Edition) by Rennie Browne and Dave King. This book was immensely helpful as I edited my first book, and it also taught me a lot of helpful writing tricks that I now use when I draft.
(It’s worth noting that the second edition was out when I bought my copy, but the first edition was much cheaper, and multiple customer reviews assured me that the content is largely the same. I have links for where to purchase this book at the end of the post.)
Introduction to the Book
“Why self-editing? Because self-editing is probably the only kind of editing your manuscript will ever get.”
The opening two sentences of this book sum up its premise pretty well, as does the subtitle: “How to Edit Yourself into Print.” While hiring a professional editor is a great way to clean up your manuscript, not everyone has money for that in their budget. Or maybe you’re caught in a tight deadline and need to polish up your manuscript yourself. There are many reasons you may need to self-edit a manuscript, and it’s a valuable skill to have.
I published my first four novels on a shoestring budget, which meant I had no money to hire an editor. I did, however, invest time in learning how to edit well myself. This book was an important part of that process, as were a few other resources that I’ll cover in later posts. Even if you plan to hire an editor, it doesn’t hurt to learn about editing so that you can communicate well with your chosen professional and give them the cleanest possible manuscript to work with.
Let’s take a look at a useful lesson from this book.
Interior Monologue: A Helpful Lesson
One of my favorite lessons in this book comes from Chapter 6, Interior Monologue:
_______________ Excerpt from Chapter 6 _______________
“If you want your interior monologue to be unobtrusive to the point of transparency, get rid of what are, in effect, speaker attributions.
Had he meant to kill her? Not likely, he thought.
Had he meant to kill her? Not likely.
If you’re writing in the third person, you can just write your interior monologue in third rather than first person:
I always ended up killing them, he thought.
He always ended up killing them.
You can easily get rid of the “he wondered” locution by converting a short passage of interior monologue into a question (we call it the Q trick):
He wondered why he always ended up killing them.
Why did he always end up killing them?
I use these tricks all the time when writing, as they allow me to write a very close third person point of view that reads more like first person. The Q trick is especially useful. Here are two passages in Princess of Shadows that use the Q trick to smooth out third person interior monologue.
Third Person Interior Monologue: Alaric
The princesses chatted with each other, sparing only the occasional glance in his direction. He tried to pick out the girls from Santelle and Eldria, but it was no good. Princess Carina and Princess Merinda looked just like the rest. Hair color was the only thing that separated one girl from another. Why hadn’t he memorized their hair colors? He scanned the table. Blond. Various shades of brown. Raven black.
Third Person Interior Monologue: Lina
She jumped and flew through the air until she neared the seal. Her left arm tingled. She looked down. Her ring flashed with red light. Lina stopped. Why was the gem doing that? She hadn’t asked it to check for danger. Something must be very wrong.
The first draft of this passage read:
She jumped and flew through the air until she neared the seal. Her left arm tingled. She looked down. Her ring flashed with red light. Lina stopped. She wondered why the gem was doing that. She hadn’t asked it to check for danger. Something must be very wrong.
You don’t always have to write interior monologues like this., but it is useful to have as many tools in your toolbox as possible so that you can choose the best way to write a passage. Working through exercises like this increased my awareness of interior monologue attributions, and now I can choose whichever one I think best suits each scene. The best way to master these skills is to practice until you discover your own unique voice. (It took several novels for me to be able to do this without thinking about it each time, and I’m still developing my voice.)
Throughout this book, the authors provide practical editing tips to strengthen your manuscript. The first edition of the book was published in 1994, so the authors assume you need to self-edit to attract the attention of an editor at a publishing house. (I haven’t read the second edition, so I’m not sure if it includes self-publishing or stays focused on traditional publishing models.) Writers can now skip that step and go directly to readers, but that doesn’t mean they can get away with weak writing. Rather, they can now use self-editing to attract readers in a competitive marketplace, save the cost of hiring a professional editor while on a tight budget, or to give their editor a cleaner manuscript if they do hire one.
I read this book cover to cover multiple times while editing my first novel. Working through the exercises helped me strengthen my draft and also helped me learn how to avoid these mistakes in the first place in future novels. These days, my editing process is pretty minimal as I have learned how to write a cleaner first draft that avoids the poor writing habits that this book shows you how to eliminate. Taking the time to learn these principles has saved me (and my editors) a lot of time!
I like this book so much that I have given copies of it as gifts to other writers. It has a friendly tone, helpful exercises at the end of each chapter, and fun cartoons about the writing process. The content is very practical and geared toward editing your writing into a work that will attract the attention of readers and publishers. It is not literary or academic in tone and focuses on creating commercial fiction that is easy to read. The advice is down-to-earth and has the practical goal of creating a work of fiction that is strong enough to sell. The book also has exercises that will challenge you to do this with sample texts and excerpts from published books.
Where to Buy
Money Saving Tip
If you want a paperback, you can buy used copies of the first edition for only a few dollars. While publishing advice from 1994 is outdated, craft advice is still sound.
Currently, the second edition is available in Kindle Unlimited, so those of you with that subscription can get it for free.
This book is published by a major publisher and should be available in most library catalogs. Ask your library to get a copy for you.
I hope you found this resource review helpful. If you want more author resources, join my Author Resources Newsletter here. This is a separate list from the Royal Readers, where I'll share information that is just for authors.
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A. G. Marshall
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