Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print

By: Renni Browne & Dave King

I committed to finishing this book over the weekend knowing it was the first step to editing my novels. Now that I’ve read it I have a better idea of where to start and where to finish.

In my backwards manner of doing things I was trying to edit on the sentence level first.

Here’s a quote from the introduction…

“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.”

While this book doesn’t map-out editing your novel in a step-by-step process, it does cover common mistakes made by novice writers, and some mistakes still made by best-selling authors.

Every chapter covers one topic, giving good and bad examples of writing, including works of great fiction. Sometimes leaving you with the intimidating task of editing excerpts from books like ‘The Great Gatsby’. Brown and King acknowledge the classics for what they are, but still point out that literary fiction has changed over the years.

Along with the exercises, each chapter ends with a checklist to use while editing.

The beginning starts out with the basics. Chapter One, Show and Tell, covers the first rule of fiction writing. This is something we’ve all learned in writing classes but Brown and King explain with more detail. I was able to find many things helpful in this chapter including R.U.E. or resist the urge to explain. I know I’m guilty of this. Here’s a good example from one of my novels.

“It’s obvious to everyone how much you care about Micah. There isn’t anything wrong with that.” She said trying to figure out why his mood changed so dramatically.


Chapter Two, Characterization and Exposition and Chapter Three, Point of View, are still more of the basics, but worth the time to read them. I picked up something new in each chapter.


Chapter Four, Proportion, teaches the delicate balance between descriptions, dialogue and action. While your characters may occasionally cross a room to open a door, you don’t need to write it out in great detail.

Bob stood, stepped over the dog with his right foot, then traveled three feet to the front door, while whistling the theme song to the Dukes of Hazard. When he turned the handle and swung the door open…

I think you get the idea.


Chapter Five, Dialogue Mechanics, covers portraying your charters emotions through dialogue, once again mentioning R.U.E. This chapter has some excellent examples of how and why not to use –ly verbs…

“Hurry up,” Tom said swiftly.

And some examples of lazy writing…

“You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.


Chapter Six, See How it Sounds, sticks to the subject of dialogue but in more detail. You’ll want to put the correct voice with the correct character. Reading your dialogue out loud is the major lesson in this chapter.


Chapter Seven, Interior Monologue, helps with formatting and thinker attributions. Here you get more in-depth with POV and narrative distance. Using italics and how to intermingle interior monologue so it blends and becomes unnoticeable.

The further I progressed into the book the more helpful it became to my editing endeavors. While the first half covered the basics, the second half covers style and voice.


Chapter Eight, Easy Beats, this is where the information became more valuable. We’ve discussed beats before but this goes into great detail on how, when and where to use them.


Chapter Nine, Breaking up is easy to do, helps with paragraphing. With good paragraphing you can increase the intensity of your words and the development of the story.


Chapter Ten, Once is usually enough, speaks for itself. Repeats, from phrasing, to mentioning brand names are covered in this chapter.


Chapter Eleven, Sophistication, helps turn your writing from novice to pro. One simple thing to watch out for is beginning a sentence using As or –ing

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.

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

These are both marks of an amateur.


Chapter Twelve, Voice, rounds the book off nicely by pulling chapters one through eleven together and making sense of it all.

This is great reference guide. I found myself tabbing pages as I read. The checklists are great and the exercises have answers in the back of the book for comparisons. I learn a lot just by comparing the before and after on all the exercises. You’ll also find recommended ‘Top Books for Writers’ in the back as well.

13 thoughts on “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print

  1. I’m reading this now and decided not to read your review too closely until AFTER I’ve finished it myself.

    But I definitely like it and think it’s useful.

    1. Honestly I don’t know. I haven’t seen Bell’s book yet. They didn’t have it in the bookstore so I couldn’t even flip through it. I may check it out at the library.

  2. I’m lazy lately with no motivation to learn more about writing. I just want to write when I feel like it and not worry if it’s worth diddly squat.

    I hope to get serious about writing again…some day…some how…some way…

    …or maybe not!

    1. As long as you’re enjoying it. That the most important part. I want to be able to read my novels and feel good about them even if I never write another one. Right now I don’t feel so good about them so I’m working on improving them.

  3. Sounds like a good one. I need chapter four. Mostly because in my efforts to prevent my writing from becoming one long string of dialogue, I went overboard. A friend of mine read some chapters last year and said, “They seem to be doing stuff all the time. It’s ok to have them just . . . be once in a while.” Of course, this didn’t mean have them sitting around talking all the time (um, made that mistake before) but that I didn’t have to show every step of the way. I’m trying not to stress about it this time around. It’s always easier to cut the extra stuff out than fret about it in the early draft.

    I completely agree about writing and editing requiring two different skill sets. It’s hard to compartmentalize, but once you do it makes it SO much easier. The writing part at least.

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