Thursday, September 16, 2010

Craft Book of the Month: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I hold the second edition in my hands. The authors are Renni Browne and Dave King. In their introduction I read:
A word of warning: because writing and editing are two different skills, they require two different mind-sets. Don't try to do both at once. The time to edit is not when you're writing your first draft.
Great news. I love to create new worlds, new characters. But I'm not as strong on the editing side of things. This book is for me.

Week One: What I gleaned from Chapter One: "Show and Tell."

"Show, don't tell." This is the mantra of myriads of writing teachers. But, if you've ever puzzled over what it really means, or have struggled to make it happen in your own writing, hie thee to this chapter. It is brilliant.

The authors compare two versions of a scene from The Great Gatsby. One is narrative summary, the other is an immediate scene. The authors then go on to explain what scenes are, and how important it is to engage your readers:

You want to draw your readers into the world you've created, make them a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can't do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there.

They also explain what the uses of narrative summary are, and a caveat:

Be careful when self-editing not to convert all your narrative summary into scenes. Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing. Scenes are immediate and engaging, but scene after scene without a break can become relentless and exhausting, especially if you tend to write brief, intense scenes.

Finally, the authors introduce us to R.U.E. (Resist the Urge to Explain).

Instead of saying "Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust," describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves. You don't want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.

(Those last two sentences should be tattooed on every budding author's forehead. I'm making my tattoo parlor appointment today.)

Each chapter in the book ends with a checklist and some exercises. My fave on the checklist is this:

Are you describing your characters' feelings? Have you told us they're angry? irritated? morose? discouraged? puzzled? excited? happy? elated? suicidal? Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you're telling what you should show. Remember to R.U.E.

I hope I've made you want to go and check out this book for yourself. It's been very helpful to me in my revision.

(Next week's topic: Chapter 3: Point of View)

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