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Seton Hill University WPF
Writing Popular Fiction for the masses
Reading Journal Entry 2: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers 
17th-Feb-2009 07:57 pm
Blind MAg
Okay...here it is.

IMHO, there are two things you have to do as a writer.
1. Read "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers"
2. Take it with a grain of salt.

Browne and King keenly narrow down many of the mistakes most writers make in writing fiction--er, no wait, let's try again. Browne and King discern the major transgressions made by fiction writers.

This is just a tiny example of how this book can help transform your writing into a powerful expression of word-smithing. From tried and true rules such as Show Don't Tell and Resist the Urge to Explain to the more elusive ideas of sophistication and voice, Browne and King cover it all. They use concrete examples to illustrate their points, even going as far as to re-write the classics. (Not that re-writing "The Great Gatsby" is all that challenging).

Each chapter covers one major blunder and how to avoid it. In addition, the chapters build upon one another and cover increasingly more difficult concepts. I found the chapter on proportion to be the most helpful. As a writer of epic fantasy, I am always tempted to go off into the wilds of narrative summary for page upon page, without any consideration for my poor reader who just wants the small victory of finishing a chapter. I came away from this chapter realizing that, even though I love epic fantasy, the hundreds of pages of "and then the elves blah blah blah" is always the stuff I skip.

I remember skimming the LOTR trilogy, scanning over the history to get to "the good stuff"--battles with elves and men and giant spiders, huge eagles, dark nasty baddies, riddles and consequences, conflicts in the dark. I probably read only about 100 pages of the entire epic. My bad.

I also found the tips on engaging the reader through direct action, and investing them early-on in your charas through emotion and connection to be invaluable. I definitely recommend this book to everyone who hasn't read it.

And, now a warning: shortly after reading this book, I began to panic. Not only was I making a lot of these mistakes, it seemed that my style and voice were intrinsically linked with these hack errors. OMG! Panic at the disco, right? So, I started re-working EVERYTHING--to the point where my voice got smothered by mechanic technicalities.

And then, my girlfriend (who is just finishing an MFA in 3D art), told me something that was just as invaluable as the book: "Learn the theory, but don't let it turn you into a machine." In other words, when you break the rules, do it deliberately for effect, not because you're a hack writer. Make a conscious decision to stray from the theory because it suits your purpose, and most importantly, be prepared to take the consequences...and the praise.

That is all.
Comments are welcome.

18th-Feb-2009 01:47 am (UTC)
The most wise timons (Tim Esaias) often tells students at some point during his modules that everything he is telling them is to *help* them, not to slow them down in the process of writing the first draft.

It's great stuff to keep in the back of your head, and essential stuff to apply when in revisions, but it should not stop you from writing. Keep writing. Get the first draft done, then you can go back and apply all that you've learned.

Your writing will improve anyway. You'll end up unconsciously applying what you've learned, to some extent. I know that my later pages are more together than my beginning pages.

And thanks for posting this here! It's nice to see this community having some activity. Perhaps I should post my reviews here as well... and we can get some chatter going.

18th-Feb-2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
Definitely post your reviews. I'm only on LJ once a week but I always check here. It'll be good to have some discussion on the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly from our reading lists. Wish someone had warned me about "The Crystal Cave"--tedious beyond all hope.
Anyway, happy writing!
18th-Feb-2009 02:21 am (UTC)
I'm reading that book as we speak, and think it has some pretty good advice. I agree that just reading it helps absorb some of the advice, I can't think about it when I'm in first draft land, I can get hung up on "had" and "was" and it totally throws me out of the book.

Oh yeah, my one complaint: I don't find the cartoons funny at all...
18th-Feb-2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah I hear you! I also didn't like how they picked the absolute worst example to illustrate every time--it was a bit of overkill. It might have been helpful if they discussed breaking the mold a little. I'm always wary when someone says "Never ever do this"--y'know?
18th-Feb-2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
I admire you for being able to sit down and read through a book like SEFFW. It can be hard to absorb information from a book like that. I find craft books most helpful when a specific issue comes up in my writing that the book addresses. So now that you've read it through, let it percolate in the back of your mind so that you'll know where to look when you need something specific from the book. Ann and Kristin are both right on the mark there.

As for that "never, ever do this" advice, I agree that rules can be broken to good effect. But as someone who spent a lot of years as an editor, I can say that the "never, ever" frame of mind comes from seeing the same issues over and over again until your eyes cross. :) A lot of writers break "rules" without knowing what they are, and that's a problem. It's when you know the rules and choose to break them that interesting things may happen. It's like something I read once about Picasso or Pollock (I forget which); we trust the artist because we know he can draw like Ingres.
25th-Jul-2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks, just ordered this. :)
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