Book Mentions: Tinkering & Troubleshooting

Have these books have saved me, or ruined me?

After reading these most recent additions to my writing library, I’ll never read another fiction work in the same way again. Both describe and offer fixes for common errors in fiction writing. They’ve taught me to see my work the way an editor would see it, and now I look with a more discerning eye at the work of others. Sometimes I just want to drive the car, not listen to the noise of the engine!

What I really need at this editing phase of my manuscript are some tools to identify what to fix in the first place. In the meantime, these two works can help me put together my own checklist of things to check on or validate.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print (2nd edition) by Renni Browne and Dave King is chock-full of classic and modern examples that help build problem identification skills. Specific errors in the areas of showing vs. telling, interior monologues, point of view, proportion, beats, dialogue mechanics and more are demonstrated and corrected. I didn’t know that “Simon said” is more correct than “said Simon,” for example. And while I knew it’s good practice to break up extended dialogues with beats, I now understand there’s a right and wrong way to do it. I now understand why it’s so important to search and destroy the “as”s and “ing”s that weaken verbs and action. This book has also prepared me to fix the characterization, repetition and proportion problems I’m pretty sure I’ve got.

Troubleshooting Your Novel: Essential Techniques for Identifying and Solving Manuscript Problems by Steven James (2016) addresses some of these same mechanical problems, but presses farther into issues with story progression, characterization, narrative techniques, reader engagement, and style and finesse. Chapters on specific problems with plot, pacing, emotions, truth, trust, flashbacks and much more are descriptive and detailed, with plenty of questions to ask oneself about one’s own work. The level of detail in this book is a bit overwhelming. Reading it is a bit like eating a chewy loaf of German bread. Is it better to read (and, one hopes, absorb) all these principles and hope they surface during the writing process? Or is it better to write the story first, then identify specific problems before seeking out a fix? I’m not sure yet, so I’ll continue to chew through one chapter at a time.