Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 22 comments
Because I'm an editor who writes, people frequently ask whether I edit my own work and if so, how.

Like most of you, I believe every writer should do some self-editing to ensure a piece is the best you can make it before seeking feedback from others. (I also believe that other eyes are essential, and that self-editing alone will generally not result in a manuscript that it is the best it can be. But that's a topic for another post.)

And like most of you, I also lean on expertise when I'm unsure of a rule: "when in doubt, look it up" is a core motto for editors everywhere. Below are a few favorite resources that I regularly turn to for help with micro issues--sentence-level editing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


I sometimes call this book by Renni Browne and Dave King "a portable MFA." It offers some of the best insights I've come across to make your work not simply clean, but also polished and sophisticated. In fact, one of the most helpful chapters is titled "Sophistication." In it, Browne and King identify a handful of small changes that can make passages sound far more professional: avoiding "as" and "-ing" constructions (which place action at a remove from your reader), ferreting out weak verbs, paring back exclamation points and italics for emphasis, placing literary devices appropriately, and removing unnecessary repetition.

Their insights on proportion--giving actions, characters, devices, scenes only as much page time as is justified--are extremely helpful, especially when you're approaching revision and not sure where to start. When it comes to honing your narrative voice, the authors not only show how to improve, but also explain why some techniques are so effective. If you've always wanted to do deeper point-of-view writing but aren't quite sure how to pull it off, Browne and King's chapters on "Point of View," "Interior Monologue," "See How It Sounds," and "Characterization and Exposition" will guide you expertly.

Browne and King also cover some core revision concerns including show/tell balance, consistent point of view, and well paced dialogue.


Woe Is I


Subtitled "A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," Patricia O'Conner's guide to basic grammar rules is, well, a lot more fun than you ever dreamed grammar could be. Her pun-filled chapter titles, like "Plurals Before Swine" and "Comma Sutra," lead chapters of no-nonsense advice full of funny examples and witty word play. Her special section called "mixed doubles" on homophones and other commonly switched pairings inspired my "Phonics Friday" series on homophone helps (which I hope are even a fraction as funny as O'Conner's chapter).

The material is grouped topically, though there's an excellent index if you need to find guidance on a particular grammar bugaboo. In addition to covering all the basics, from pronoun use, plurals, and possessives to verb tenses, modifiers, and punctuation, the book has several helpful chapters on frequently misused words and outdated grammar rules that need to be buried with that persnickety snob John Dryden and his ilk. And she clearly knows the sources of every outdated rule and why it needs to die--evidence aplenty to silence your uptight uncle who refuses to watch Star Trek because each episode opens with  Capt. Kirk saying "to boldly go" rather than "boldly to go" (the bogus split infinitive rule).

If you are a grammarphobe, this is one grammar book that will leave you giggling, not whimpering.



What resources have you found helpful for sentence-level editing?

22 comments:

  1. I'm a grammar-phile rather than -phobe, but the title of the third book has me giggling. :)
    Thanks for the recommendations, Laurel!

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    1. I'm a grammarphile too, which is why I love O'Conner's book so much. It's wonderfully snarky and hilarious, instead of dry and boring. :-)

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  2. Both sound good, but I really need the Browne/King self editing book. Thanks for the recommendations, these will both go on my wish list.

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    1. It's a wonderfully helpful book, giving both detailed explanations and lots of examples.

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  3. I have the first book and have found very helpful. I'll have to look into the second, even though I find my little Strunk and White answers most of my questions.

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    1. O'Conner's guide is far more readable and also less stodgy and dated than Strunk and White. You might find O'Conner a helpful update and a bit more fun. :-)

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  4. I actually have the self-editing book! I haven't looked at it in a while. You have so just inspired me to do so. Thx!

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    1. Great! It's definitely a source worthy of repeated re-reading.

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  5. Hey, I have that first one, and I've even read most of it. Super excellent resource. I need to get back and finish it, now that I'm moved in and all my family left town so I can be human again. =)

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    1. I ended up re-reading about half of it while working on this post. Hope you find some useful insights. And congrats on getting settled at your new place.

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  6. I have wanted to read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for a long time now. I wonder if I own it. Sometimes books just appear on the shelf and I have no recollection as to where they came from.

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    1. The library fairy perhaps makes visits? :-)

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  7. I read Self Editing a few years ago, but I often find I need to re-read books like these twice to get things to sink in. My current go-to book is Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass. Not so much editing, but definitily revising: digging into the guts of the story and characters.

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    1. I agree about the re-reading. And this short list is my favorites for sentence-level editing. For big-picture revision, I have yet other favorites I plan to blog about in a future post. I'd read Maas's Breakout Novel book a few years ago and found it very conceptual without enough examples to really cement the ideas for me.

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  8. I'd really like that self-editing book. I think I do a good job, but writers can always learn more, can't we?

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    1. I thought I did a good job myself until I read this book and realized how some very small stylistic changes (not errors per se) can have a very big impact. The authors have some exceptionally good tips about pacing built around sentence length and paragraph length, for example.

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  9. Oh, that Woe is I book sounds like something I'll gobble up from cover to cover---especially the outdated stuff. It will be fun to learn what I've been doing wrong. Thanks so much for these recommendations!

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    1. Grammar is lots more palatable when it's presented with humor!

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  10. The editing book sounds extremely helpful. Woe Is I seems like the perfect pick-me-up after finding out how much work I need on my editing! Thanks Laurel!

    Julie

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    1. You're most welcome. Both resources are very readable. Not at all dry.

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  11. I am my own worst editor. Why can I self-correct my errors so beautifully, so they disappear as my eye passes over them? I liked the information from a Portable MFA. Excellent.

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