May 24, 2012

Don't Fear the (Prose) Reaper—Just Read This Book

I don't post many reviews of writing-related books, probably because there aren't many writing books I go out of my way to read cover-to-cover, but not long after I started reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by experienced manuscript editors Dave King and Renni Browne, I knew I'd be finishing this one.

Now, we are ALL—admit it—just a bit scared of revision. And when we aren't scared, we're perplexed and confounded. Where to start, what to look for; it can seem like a staggering task and it can feel impossible to get the necessary distance from our writing. Yet we're told, as writers, that we need to learn to love revision, that all writing is re-writing. If you're particularly unlucky (like me, some days), you end up in this sad little limbo where you can't stand your shitty first draft and you have no idea how to fix it.

Enter this book. I have to say that I've been meaning to read this one for, literally, years. It was on my Amazon wish list, and I finally bought a copy for my Kindle, and now I'm wishing I'd just bought the durn thing when I first browsed for it. What this book is not: It is not a manual for plot. It's not a how-to for making your story a good story in the first place. It doesn't tell you where to get ideas or how to tell if your story has a stupid premise and should be consigned to the scrap heap. It's not a how-to-write book.

What it does do is address issues of STYLE, MECHANICS, and CLARITY that commonly afflict first-draft prose, whether you're a beginning writer or an old hand. Want a clear, no-nonsense explanation of show vs. tell? King and Browne provide one. Want to know when to summarize something in exposition and when to show it through character actions? This book has tips and exercises to help you out. Dialogue and internal monologue, voice and style, pacing and proportion—the authors make it very clear what to look for, and each chapter includes ample examples from workshops and from real-life published authors. Each chapter also ends with exercises for further practice and a checklist of questions to consider as you run through your own manuscript.

This book really ought to be required reading for any fiction writer who is serious about revision and making your writing the best it can be in terms of overall spit and polish. I don't think I've taken a single writing class that ever laid out these issues so clearly—and, of course, the more practice and attention is given to such matters in revision, the better (I hope) we will get at avoiding and/or pinpointing problems in the future. If you're trying to get an editor's or agent's attention, you'd do well to read this book, but even seasoned pros could use a reminder now and then. For me, it's a must read—and I'll be turning to it again and again, I'm sure, since I'm neurotic like that. WRITERS: GO READ IT!

You can find Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne at an independent bookstore near you!


Carin Siegfried said...

As an editor myself, I have to say this book sounds like it's got excellent advice for authors. I'll look for it next time I'm at the bookstore to check it out, but your review is very flattering. All books need editing, and the cleaner it is before you get outside help (agent, editor), the more constructive that help can be.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Exactly! I think it'll be a huge help in that regard--cleaning up one's writing before an agent or editor looks at it.

I guess one potential caveat is that you have to be pretty realistic about your own writing for the advice to actually work--you can't look at your writing through rose-colored glasses and willfully "not see" the problems. Revision is the time to be humble! :)

Thanks, Carin, for stopping by to leave a comment.

tanita✿davis said...

And now, THANK YOU, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is stuck in my head.

(Rock out!)

Sarah Stevenson said...

Tee hee!

Maegan Langer said...

Oooo, I'm excited to read this!