Transcripts

 

Self-Editing -- What Can It Do For You?

 

With Rennie Browne

Renni Browne is the co-author of the very well written and useful, ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’. She has given lectures and seminars on self-editing around the country, and currently works for The Editorial Department, the national book-editing company she founded 22 years ago. You can take a look at the company at its website: www.editorialdepartment.net . At this time, she is writing a book on dialogue with her son, Ross Browne.

 



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

mary rosenblum

I'd like to welcome you all to our regular Professional Connection interview.

 

Tonight we're talking with Rennie Brown, the co-editor of the excellent 'Self Editing for Writers'.

 

I have to say, Rennie, that this is the best book on self editing that I've ever read.

 

You're very clear about HOW to do things.

 

And as an instructor, I know how difficult it can be to explain something like dialogue or pacing!

 

Welcome!

Rennie Browne

Thank you!

mary rosenblum

We're delighted to have you here. So did writing come first, or were you an editor before you were a writer?

Rennie Browne

I've been an editor for 43 years. I was first a writer when I co-wrote Self-Editing for Fiction writers eleven years ago.

chatty lady

Hi! There is so much more in her book than the title shows. I learned more about 1st person, 3rd and omniscience in it than anywhere else.

mary rosenblum

I agree, Chatty Lady. It's well worth careful reading!

minky

What is the most common mistake made when editing?

Rennie Browne

The most common mistake I see, Minky, is to miss places where you've explained things to the reader.

mary rosenblum

Do you mean explaining as in telling the reader rather than showing us what is going on?

Rennie Browne

Yes, and there are so many subtle ways of doing this.

mary rosenblum

There are indeed. In my opinion that is the most important skill to acquire as a new writer -- a good 'show, don't tell' style. Do you agree?

Rennie Browne

Yes, I do. Because it's so easy to choke off the reader's imagination by telling....If you enlist the reader's imagination you get his or her involvement in your story at a much deeper level.

mary rosenblum

Personally, I think this is what makes prose 'interactive'. We join the author in creating the world we see.

minky

I find that the comma rules are different for many people. So what are the best rules for commas?

Rennie Browne

Be more sparing with them than you're probably inclined to be. Modern punctuation tends to use a lighter hand...And don't hesitate to string short sentences together with commas in dialogue occasionally...It conveys very effectively the way people speak.

chatty lady

How important do you think "beats" are and can there be too many in a scene?

Rennie Browne

"Beats"--the little bits of action that aren't dialogue in a dialogue scene--serve to break up the dialogue and can help serve as speaker attribution. But too many can make dialogue choppy and busy.

arfelin

Could you explain what a run on sentence is?

Rennie Browne

A sentence that runs into the next one without a period...Sentences separated by commas, as I suggested for dialogue above, are run-on sentences.

annie

What about semi colons? Someone once told me that writers shouldn't use them at all in fiction. Are they necessary?

Rennie Browne

A semicolon is a rather heavy form of punctuation, so fiction writers are best advised to use them very sparingly.

mbvoelker

Can you talk about pacing? Especially about providing time to catch your breath after and intense or action-heavy scene? How can you find the balance between wearing a reader out with non-stop intensity and having dull interludes between action scenes?

Rennie Browne

Readers definitely need a chance to catch their breath after intense scenes, but who says breathing space has to be dull?...Rich texture in the form of characterization or narrative summary can be a pleasure. As for striking the right balance, the best

 

aid to finding it is to read your work as if you were the reader, not the writer. Does the proportion feel right to you? Are you bored or engaged by the differing elements of the story? Your reactions aren't going to be so different from your readers'

senicynt

Hi, Would you give us an example of when you would use a colon versus a semi colon?

Rennie Browne

You need a colon when you are presenting a list of some sort, a semicolon when you are linking two complete sentences and can't construct the sentence so as to do without it.

mary rosenblum

We all have grammar questions once in awhile. What do you suggest as a good desk-side reference for answering these questions?

Rennie Browne

Strunk & White THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. And it's available online.

mary rosenblum

That's what I use, and I find it to be very clear and easy to use. I haven't tried it online, yet! Mine's almost falling apart.

bingocliff

Why self-edit if you have a computer?

Rennie Browne

There's just no comparison between the human brain and the computer variety.

mary rosenblum

I agree. I find that the grammar checker provided with MS word is frequently wrong. It misreads your text.

larry mathews

Could you please give an example of comma versus a semicolon?

Rennie Browne

A comma is a light break in the flow, a semicolon is a heavy break.

minky

My most valued tool in editing is when I allow my computer to read back. Is there any other way to catch those errors?

Rennie Browne

Proofreading, carefully and thoughtfully!

mary rosenblum

For those who had a 'creative writing' public school English education

 

where grammar was neglected, are there any options?

 

Do community colleges offer English classes for adults? That sort of thing?

Rennie Browne

Community colleges do indeed offer English courses for adults. Strunk & White can really help. And reading good books and noticing their grammar can help.

mbvoelker

A comment -- for those whose education in grammar was neglected for some reason -- there are many excellent self-teaching resources available from homeschool suppliers.

minky

I have panic attacks over errors and wonder how damaging it is to have small errors?

Rennie Browne

It's damaging. HOW damaging depends on how strong your story and characterization are.

chatty lady

There is a book out there called: Essentials In English by Hooper, Gale, Foote and Griffith in its 5th printing that helps me a lot.

mary rosenblum

Rennie, when is the best time to edit your manuscript?

 

Should you wait until the final draft?

Rennie Browne

After you've finished your first draft. Writing and editing draw on different parts of the brain, so it's best not to try and do them at the same time. Let your first draft flow, then begin the editing process.

mary rosenblum

In other words, turn off the editor until the story is solidly written down?

Rennie Browne

Absolutely. If you edit while you write, you'll have this little voice in your head that's saying "something's wrong here...." That interferes with the creative process of plotting and characterizing.

wendyk

Do novels need to be as tightly written as shorter pieces?

Rennie Browne

Every word needs to count, as with, say, a short story. But in a novel you have room for tangents that add richness to the plot that you wouldn't allow in a short story.

minky

What things do we look for when editing besides spelling and grammar?

Rennie Browne

Proportion, point of view, handling of interior monologue, characterization and exposition, beats, dialogue mechanics, repetition, and voice.

bingocliff

Do not editors edit your work, if it is accepted?

Rennie Browne

Some do, but it's rare. In today's market, if your work needs editing it's likely to be rejected.

mary rosenblum

Rennie, maybe you should tell us what an editor actually does?

Rennie Browne

An editor tries to bring the work to its fullest potential. Overall, for starters, but it can get down to bringing each sentence to its fullest potential.

mbvoelker

Could you elaborate on beats? I'm not certain how you are using the word in this context.

Rennie Browne

Beats are the little bits of action that happen in a dialogue scene--lighting a cigarette, fiddling with a curtain, looking out the window. They are brief, and they break up the dialogue.

mary rosenblum

I've heard them called 'action tags', too, and tend to use that label for them

 

since they often identify the speaker.

 

What impresses an editor most about a manuscript?

Rennie Browne

Several things: characters we really care about, an engaging story, writing that is professional not amateurish--these three would be at the top of any list.

larry mathews

Should an individual use an outside source, for editing?

Rennie Browne

If you can afford it, by all means. Be careful whom you choose, though. Not everybody in this field holds to a high standard of ethics. But the trained eye of a professional editor amounts to an invaluable shortcut.

mbvoelker

So these beats you mentioned before are not related to dramatic beats or comic beats -- the bits of action or humor that build suspense or comic tension then?

Rennie Browne

Well, good beats can certainly be humorous, build suspense, or build tension, comic or otherwise...They can also add to characterization.

gerald

Could you give us a brief run down on proportion as applied to a fiction piece?

Rennie Browne

That's a large topic. But briefly, what you spend the most time on is what needs to have the biggest payoff. If your proportion is out of whack, you undermine involvement in your story.

wendyk

What should we consider when handling interior monologue?

Rennie Browne

How much do you want? How close are your narrative voice and your character's voice? (How intimate do you want your interior monologue to be?)

minky

When discribing a person, usually you have a list with comma, such as she was tall, skinny, etc. How do you add in more exposition? Such as ...but not that she felt that way?

Rennie Browne

I don't follow the second sentence.

mary rosenblum

I think that she is asking how you use commas, if you want to join a phrase

 

of exposition with a list of descriptive attributes.

 

Such as she was tall, skinny, and old, but she didn't feel that way.

Rennie Browne

I would do it exactly the way you have.

chatty lady

What is the difference between a writer's voice and their literary style?

Rennie Browne

Every writer has a literary style, for good or ill, but not every writer has a literary voice. Voice is inimitable, a unique, authoritative flavor endemic to a particular writer's work and no other's.

mary rosenblum

So in other words, if someone can read your work and know immediately that this is YOU, then you have a strong voice?

Rennie Browne

Yes.

mary rosenblum

Rennie, what are the most common problems that editors encounter?

Rennie Browne

Writers who explain things to their readers. (This is just like the answer to the questiion about what is the most common mistake in editing.)

mary rosenblum

Again, we're back to show, don't tell!

 

What is the most important thing a writer can do to polish their manuscript before sending it off?

Rennie Browne

Self-edit thoroughly, and more than once.

mary rosenblum

What about trying to portray dialect?

Rennie Browne

Do it with the lightest of hands. The very occasional dialectically spelled word will stand in for lots of them. Try to convey dialect with rhythm of speech, cadence, and word choice instead.

minky

What is the easier way to determine whether you tell or show?

Rennie Browne

Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers!

chatty lady

When do you edit too much? LLfriday says she can be very critical!

Rennie Browne

You've edited too much when you get to the point where you question everything and have no clear line on where to go. Put the manuscript aside for a few weeks, then go back to it and try to read it as if you are the reader, not the writer.

larry mathews

I edit , then edit, send it off , then find a mistake. Is this common? Or is it just me?

Rennie Browne

It's common. I doubt that any writer catches every single mistake.

minky

What are some questions to ask yourself about the scene?

Rennie Browne

Does it BUILD? Does it reach an arc, a high point of tension or satisfaction. Once it's reached that arc, does it close out quickly?

minky

I love using my thesaurus to look for more exciting words.

mary rosenblum

Is this a good practice, Rennie?

Rennie Browne

If you find it helpful, Minky, it's probably a good practice for you. For other writers it might be a bad idea, leading to artificiality.

mary rosenblum

What about using foreign words in your story. What is the best way to handle that?

Rennie Browne

With restraint. Throw in one occasionally where the meaning can be deduced from the context, but don't go overboard.

mary rosenblum

What about paid editorial services? If someone chooses to use one, what kind of cost are they looking at?

Rennie Browne

This depends on what the service does for them. At The Editorial Department, our preliminary report (a seven- or eight-page report) costs a page. Other services cost more.

mary rosenblum

So writers figure your hourly wage as you work on editing your ms!!

chatty lady

As far as foreign words go, don't you want the people who read your story to UNDERSTAND what you write and to avoid sounding artificial?

Rennie Browne

You do. That's why I said use them in a context where the meaning can be deduced from that context, and use them very sparingly.

kplano

I know that you use quotation marks for words that the character speaks out loud, but what about when you want to portray his thoughts? It seems I find inconsistency when I try to answer this by reading different authors.

Rennie Browne

NEVER use quotation marks for thoughts, it makes you look amateurish. Thoughts are not spoken and don't require quotes.

mbvoelker

Could you discuss editing to enhance characterization?

Rennie Browne

There are dozens of ways. Editing your dialogue, your proportion, beats, interior monologue, manipulating your point of view, and many others can all enhance characterization.

llfriday

I believe that we tend to be artificial when we try to impress.

Rennie Browne

The trick is not to let the artifice show. There's a great deal of artifice to writing.

mary rosenblum

Want to elaborate on that, Rennie? What do you mean by artifice?

Rennie Browne

Maybe artistry would be a better word. But when you get down to it, we're manipulating readers all over the place without (if we're good) letting them feel manipulated. Dialogue isn't a transcription of speech, it's an artificial representation that FEELS

senicynt

Wow, at that rate of pay for private editing all your profits go to production cost.

Rennie Browne

like real speech (if we're good). It manipulates the reader into believing that real speech is taking place.

Rennie Browne

Editors don't get rich.

mary rosenblum

Getting back to the mention of using a Thesaurus earlier, I have a question about natural voice versus artifice.

llfriday

I realize that, I just mean that using words that are strange to us will certainly show. Is it not best to be yourself?

Rennie Browne

It depends on your style and voice. I certainly don't think any writer should strain for effect. The strain always shows.

senicynt

As to thesarus usage: I remember a story where an obscure word was used twice. It was akin to having an anvil drop on your head!

Rennie Browne

I think it's important not to use an obscure or exotic word twice.

mbvoelker

I don't use a thesaurus to find a fancier or more exciting word. I use it to find the precisely correct word. Its the closest thing there is to a dictionary where you can look up the meaning you want and find the word for it. :-)

Rennie Browne

That sounds like exactly the right way to use a thesaurus.

mary rosenblum

Rennie, you have been very informative.

 

I think everyone has learned a lot tonight, and I want to thank you for taking time to be here.

 

What are you working on now?

Rennie Browne

A second edition of Self-Editing for Fictiion Writers, which will be out in 2004.

mary rosenblum

Great. I recommend Self Editing For Fiction Writers to all new writers.

Rennie Browne

I'm also line-editing a novel for The Editorial Department.

mary rosenblum

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! Will there be many changes in the new edition of your book?

Rennie Browne

Some additions, some updating of examples, some editing for small changes.

mary rosenblum

Thank you all for coming, and have a very good week!

 

See you all back here in two weeks for our visit with Patsy DeClue!

 

Good night, all!

 

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