Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (review) by Renni Browne and Dave King

One of my Internet contacts recommended this book to me some time ago, and said something along the lines of, “If you read one book on writing, make it this one.” So I did. There are loads of books out there on writing, but I was drawn to this one by its compactness and because it is for fiction writers.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have heard people talking about point of view, show and tell, and any number of cryptic-sounding titles for parts of writing style. This book explains these terms clearly and concisely, along with a bunch of other things no serious writer should be ignorant of.

And you know what? It’s effective. After reading through the whole book and cheerfully ignoring the writing exercises at the end of each chapter, I went through my current manuscript and began spotting things in need of significant change. This happened on the large scale, such as restructuring entire scenes to keep the action moving. It also happened on the medium scale as I targeted narrative paragraphs that would work better as dialogue. It worked on the small scale too, as I began feeling the urge to axe adverbs from inappropriate locations.

I’m sure the writing and editing exercises provided are a very effective method of learning by doing. For me, I just didn’t get that far – after absorbing the theory, I was able to practice on my own material. No doubt I will return to this manual again and again to answer questions that come up in the course of my writing. I can actually see the improvement in my style after one quick read through. How much more can be accomplished if I could internalise these principles?

It is a very technical book, and perfectly designed to assist the writer who has a complete first-draft manuscript. If I’d read it before beginning to write, it might have scared me off being an author. But having completed a first draft (well, actually, it was a third draft, but whatever!), I was able to recognise most of the technicalities described, differentiate between a good scene and a bad one, notice overall imbalances and take the right steps to rectify the problems I found.

The principles you’ll learn here are universal ones that apply to any kind of fiction: how to gain an objective perspective on your own work, how to unstiffen your dialogue, how to break up long passages, how to add action, etc., etc.

All of it is illustrated very effectively with examples of varying lengths, so that you can see exactly what is meant. Before and after shots of particular paragraphs show the editing process, and sometimes you even get three rounds with the same piece of writing to show how it was made the best scene it could be.

So please allow me to pass on the advice from my buddy. If you only ever read one book on writing style, make it this one. It’s easy to absorb and instantly effective, and your writing may never be the same again…


Nugget of Truth

Growing up in the 50's and 60's I enjoyed television shows like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Why did these popular shows capture the attention of so many? Because the writers of those shows took real world experiences and gave them a twist that took viewers into another dimension. The journey provided thought-provoking themes from being the last man on earth, travel to other dimensions, lessons on being careful what you wished for and some shows even shined a light on the fact that preconceived ideas led viewers like me to conclusions and often to a deeper realization that what I believed steered my judgment to the side of error in this new realm where things weren't always as they seemed.

These TV programs looked into possible future scenarios that often showed greed and hunger for power still existed. Episodes like Twilight Zone's "To Serve Man" showed humans willing to blindly follow an alien race known as the Kanamits because they promised to be nothing but helpful to the cause of humanity. Not until humans stepped aboard the Kanamit spacecraft did they realize they were nothing more that an item on the dinner menu—and then it was too late.

Biblical speculative fiction offers these same tantalizing themes today with updated technology and an additional element. The thread that connects biblical spec-fic to the real world is not to just what people think, but connects somehow, somewhere to biblical truth. Human nature remains the same through the ages. The only hope to change that is intervention—God's intervention. With biblical speculative fiction how He intervenes is what makes for the interesting story.

Twilight Zone and Out Limits entertained yet left us pondering what if, Biblical spec-fic entertains and leaves the reader with a nugget of truth to ponder within the realm of what if.

Donna Sundblad


Something Different

Today I had a conversation with Daniel I. Weaver. Among different things we talked about the impact of our writing. Think about it. How many people would be okay with reading horror, but may never have darkened the doors of a church. How many would be willing to sit down and read a fantasy or science fiction novel with the Guild's stamp of approval, but never pick up a Bible.

We have a media that can reach people in a whole new way. There are people out there that would never be affected by the outreaches of a local church. Cynthia said herself that she's had an easier time getting Light at the Edge of Darkness in secular bookstores then in Christian bookstores. Even Sue Dent Blogged "Never Ceese - officially in a Christian Bookstore?" Almost as if it was a surprise.

Even if we aren't accepted in every Christian circle, I'm glad to be writing what I write. I'm glad to be a part of a great group of people that are going outside of the box to reach souls for the cause of Christ. I love to see new ways of outreach, and when I read the follow post I thought of the guild. And I just had to share this with you guys.

UpStream Ministries - Tattoo Artists

I don't normally swoop in and talk to young people I don't know. Swooping makes them nervous. But while I was in West Virginia last week, I had one afternoon to learn what a local church could do to reach the young people of the community. So I swooped into several places, just to see if the young folks in the community were different than anywhere else in the US.

My first swoop came as I was driving toward the Super Walmart in Cross Lanes WV. I saw 4 young folks smoking outside the newly-opened tattoo parlor, Bloodlyne Studio. Business was slow. Tall pasty-whiteman shows up with a notebook in his hand. They got nervous.

Ben talked little and kept his distance. His hair that was not black was dyed red- Koolaid red- and his silence made him seem more menacing. Once he learned that I was talking about church stuff, he went inside. I wanted to press him. I like quiet people. They have the best stories. But he was clearly not happy with my swooping.

The others relaxed once they knew I was not selling anything and were happy to talk. Tim, raised Morman, complained that he had had religion "crammed down his throat" all his life. He claimed that every little old lady doing street evangelism targeted him as a the most-likely candidate. He said he hated being "preached at." I suppose that he tried to shock me by saying that the only church he would attend was one that looked like a strip club and bar combined.

I laughed and countered politely that perhaps what he hoped for was church that engaged his senses (appropriately, of course) and felt like a celebration with good friends. He agreed, but said "it would have to have a live band." Ashley with close-cropped hair and bright eyes said she'd been to a church that had a live band.

"They had drums and guitars and a bassright up there on the stage." She had liked that church, but it was out in the country past several small towns I did not recognize. I said lots of churches have live bands now. They were surprised. Andy piped up at this point and he told the story of being invited to a church cookout by a pastor. He arrived with a friend at the pool hosting the cookout and was told by members of the church to go away.He tried to explain that he had been invited by the pastor. They did not believe him and told him and his friend to leave. Andy did.

"I wanted to meet people. They didn't want to meet me."And he has never been to a church since, except to hear his friend preach once or twice, but he doesn't feel safe at church. He feels judged and looked down on. He said that his problem with church was that they "exploited the negative behaviors of other people outside the church to their advantage...to make themelves feel better than other people."

A customer arrived, cigarettes were finished and break was over. We shook hands and they headed inside. After just a few minutes at the Bloodlyne Studio, it was clear that traditional church strategies will never reach Ashley, Tim and Andy. It will take something different. They believe in God, but they don't believe in church as they've experienced it. I wanted to start a coffee house or some small group to talk about tattoo art or anything that they would show up at just to get them engaged and talking and building relationship. I wanted to apologize to them all on behalf of the churches and Christians that had hurt them. I wanted to explain that they were not alone in their frustration with church as they knew it, but that new expressions of worship and Christian community are developing that they would love.

Swooping will not work with these kids. They need someone to stick. Someone who will show up regularly. Who will leave the safety of the church and love them well. Someone who will have them over for dinner,who will admire their artwork and not be shocked that they are sinners and in need of a Savior. Someone who will not judge them based on hair or tattoos or language, but linger with them long enough to see the cracks in their lives where Jesus can leak in.

They need something different. Something outside the safety of a church. I believe the Lost Genre Guild is that something. I believe that Light at the Edge of Darkness is that something. In fact, I believe the group that we need to reach the most are those that are standing at the edge of darkness, but haven't yet embraced the Light.

So let us shine our Light into the dark places that those before us haven't dared to venture.