WIR #33: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Self-Editing For Fiction WritersI've had Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for some time now and I've never read it. Time to remedy that. I've one or two other books on editing and I've not read any of those, either.

Although I'm in the midst of reading several other books, I'm also in the midst of editing a novel and will soon be in the midst of editing a short story. A book of this sort should be a great help, I would think.

I've read some of the reviews at Amazon about this book, and I'm quite surprised at some of the things said. As an example, one reviewer (who gave this book one-star) wrote:

If it was possible to give this book zero stars, I would do it. Or, the first-ever negative-star book. How do they explain, for example, how many best-sellers, including Harry Potter, Steven King, among others that have adverbs.

I left the following comment in response:

Regarding adverbs, on page 160 of the first edition of this book, Browne and King write, "When you use two words (a weak verb and an adverb) to do the work of one (a strong verb) you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power. There are exceptions, of course, as there are to every principle in this book."

So, tell me, please, where Browne and King give a wholesale condemnation of the use of adverbs? The OVERUSE of adverbs has been condemned since at least Mark Twain, if not earlier.

Also, if this is your only complaint about the book, one-star is a bit of an over-reaction, wouldn't you say?

I have to wonder how many negative reviews of books are the result of misunderstanding or misreading a passage. It's quite clear from the two sentences I quoted in my comment that Browne and King do not advocate the wholesale deletion of adverbs from a manuscript.

For my money, the following comments by editor/author Sol Stein and novelist Lawrence Block are invaluable:

My students — including the published novelists — ought to read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers once a year, the Show and Tell chapter even more often.
— Sol Stein, author of The Best Revenge and president of Write-Pro

Specific, pertinent, entertaining advice from two real pros. I recommend it highly.
— Lawrence Block, author of Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Stein is an incredible editor himself and Block is a fabulous novelist, and I absolutely value their opinions far more than that noted above. In fact, only an amateur would hold the opinion of that reviewer.

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