“The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”–Zadie Smith
Write2Ignite’s 2020 Master class with Joyce Moyer Hostetter is only a month away. The Write2Ignite team has suggested checking out several chapters of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King as a way to prepare for the workshop. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the great insights this book has to offer.
So Here are 3 Helpful Tips from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:
1: Characterization and Exposition
As writers, we can be tempted to tell our readers everything we want them to know upfront. We want to make sure they have the information they need to enjoy our stories. However, if we try to stuff all those details into long paragraphs of narration, our readers disconnect. It’s better to let them learn about our characters and settings bit by bit. Giving information gradually draws readers in and allows them to make their own conclusions.
Browne and King suggest ways to reveal our characters naturally through dialogue and actions. When they come to discussing settings and world-building, they write:
“Bear in mind that this kind of background is really characterization, only what’s being characterized is a culture rather than a person. And as was the case with characterization, readers can best learn about your locations and backgrounds not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life,” (pp. 35).
Just as we want our readers to meet our characters, we want our audience to experience our worlds. Rather than simply explaining, we can reveal the setting and culture naturally through the eyes of our characters.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide how much time we should spend on certain events, descriptions, and characters in our writing. Spending too much time on unimportant details can mislead, bore, or even annoy our audience. Spending too little time can confuse or disappoint readers. The space spent on scenes needs to be balanced.
Letting our characters guide our decisions on what to focus on helps tremendously. Browne and King suggest, “You can avoid smaller-scale proportion problems . . . by paying attention to your characters. When you’re writing from an intimate point of view, your character’s interest at the moment should control the degree of detail you put into your description,” (pp.77).
3: See How It Sounds
One of the best reminders Browne and King offer is the value of reading your work aloud. Hearing a scene rather than just seeing the words makes problem areas infinitely more clear. Our eyes auto-correct in a way our ears simply refuse to. As Browne and King write, “The eyes can be fooled, but the ear knows,” (pp. 107). This is especially true for dialogue, considering that we’re used to hearing people speak. We know what people sound like, and so we can pick up unnatural rhythms when we hear them.
Browne and King go on to add that, “Reading dialogue aloud can help you develop your characters’ unique voices,” (pp. 107). They suggest reading all of the dialogue from one particular character and taking note of the patterns. Reading their words aloud can help us consider how they would say something; to get into that characters’ mindset. Much like an actor trying to determine how to play a role, we need to shape our dialogue to match the characters speaking.
Whether you’re planning to attend the Write2Ignite workshop or not, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is an excellent resource to have on your shelf. Browne and King balance their practical advice with engaging examples from books that handle writing techniques well (and some that handle them poorly). Each chapter includes a checklist of what to watch out for in your own writing, as well as exercises to help practice what you learn. The book is clear and easy to read, making it a perfect guide for new writers as well as a great refresher for experienced authors.
Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.