Book Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I wanted to write a post on realistic dialogue, so I started by grabbing my Bible (ie, dog-eared copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers) and realized just how often I quote this book. I figured I should probably plug it before I go any further.


This book is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far on editing. Here’s why:

It’s relevant. Each chapter covers an area of writing that authors struggle with: show and tell, characterization, point of view, dialogue mechanics, voice. There are twelve chapters altogether, and from this sampling you can see how helpful the topics are.

It’s user-friendly. In other words, the chapters are short. Lame, I know, but when I’m reading non-fiction, particularly on a topic like editing where I not only have to understand what I’m reading but also figure out how to apply it, I can only take in so much at a time. The chapters are just the right length for me to read one and mull it over before moving on to the next.

It has checklists. Woot! Lists! Right now, there are three different lists on my kitchen counter (grocery, Home Depot, events for this week). Lists make everything easier, and the checklists in this book are no exception. Each chapter ends with questions you can use to edit your own writing. For instance, here’s the first bullet in the characterization checklist: Look back over a scene or chapter that introduces one or more characters. How much time, if any, have you spent describing the new characters’ character? Are you telling us about characteristics that will later show up in dialogue and action? And this is just one bullet of four for this chapter. The checklists are so helpful that I created a master list by compiling them all into a Word document. (This was back when I had no life.)

It’s credible. The authors, Renni Browne and Dave King, have both been professional editors for years. They know what they’re talking about.

Editing used to be a frustrating, where-do-I-start, how-do-I-know-what-to-look-for process for me. Now I’m able to methodically edit one chapter or scene at a time. It has made things soooo much easier.

There are only a few resource books that I consider vital to my writing. This one’s at the top of my list. Check it out.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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9 Responses to Book Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

  1. Becca says:

    Elements of Style–another must-have. 🙂

  2. Marcia says:

    I have to echo pj. I’ve read this, and seeing your post reminds me it’s time I read it again. Thanks.

  3. Pema says:

    I definitely will keep that book in mind. Editing is the hardest and easiest part for me – everything’s already written, but it seems like there’s so much you have to keep in account – detail, voice, dialogue… 😉

    This book will be a help, right alongside my Elements of Style.

  4. Becca says:

    Oh yay! Our first award!!

  5. Tabitha says:

    I’ve flipped through it before, but now I’ve just ordered it. You’re so right that this is a must-have for any writer’s bookshelf. 🙂

    I’ve just passed on the Brillante Weblog Premio award to you guys because you’re just awesome! Check out my blog for the details.

  6. Becca says:

    lapillus, I have the same problem; making a master checklist really helped. It was long, at first, but I trimmed out the stuff I don’t really struggle with and it really helped.

    Christy, let me know how it works for you!

  7. Lapillus says:

    I own it and have found it to be a great help. I just wish I could plaster all the words to the inside of my brain. I can’t seem to keep any of it in my head for long but on the flip side of that, I’m always referring back to it!

  8. C.R. Evers says:

    ohhhhhh! now this sounds like a book I could use! I’ll have to check it out!

    Thanks for the tip.


  9. PJ Hoover says:

    You know, I love this one, too, and I’m about due for another reading of it! Thanks for the reminder!

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