Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review On-The-Go and More!

Generally I prefer to avoid exclamation points, but I figured the one in the title is justified this time. I've decided to start a new segment of the blog: "Book Review On-The-Go." Instead of reading a book and the presenting you with a review, I will provide updates on my impression of the book as I read it. On the whole, I'm a busy reader with four magazine subscriptions (one weekly, one bi-weekly, two monthly, all of which I read extensively) and usually a couple books going at the same time. Therefore updates might not be as frequent as I'd like, but maybe this will speed me up.

The first book up for an "On-The-Go" review is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I had seen this book mentioned and praised on other blogs, and seeing how I'm editing myself at the moment, I decided to pick up a copy. An intro and three chapters in, I'm not entirely impressed. In general, I find their advice and explanations to be over-simplified. Occasionally they'll strike a chord and I'll have one of those, "I haven't thought of it that way before" moments.

Browne and King have a nasty habit of taking a classic like Lonesome Dove or The Great Gatsby and suggesting 'better' ways certain passages could have been written. Maybe this is to make the young writer feel less over-shadowed by the greats. Maybe this is to simply use well-known examples. Or maybe this technique rose from over-grown editor egos. (Disclaimer: I love editors, have served as one myself, and believe many great journalists and writers had brilliant editors.)

Chapter One, "Show and Tell," focused exactly on what you might think it. You've got to show the read what's happening rather than tell it to least most of the time. Of course some narration is necessary. This is their point. It's a great chapter to open with, because it's a problem we all deal with and definitely something that beginning writers might not even think about. If you've taken any creative writing classes you're not missing much by skipping this.

Chapter Two, "Characterization and Exposition." It's almost a continuation of chapter one and therefore its logical successor. Again, minimal help here for those who've had training, but it did hold some nuggets. The writers do a good job of stressing that characters should be defined and described mainly through their actions, rather than an introductory narrative description.

Chapter Three, "Point of View." Browne and King stress that the only points of view that need to be discussed or even considered are first, third and omniscient. I have always been taught that you should find a point of view (first, second, third) and a distance (how omniscient) and stick with it all the way through. Sure, there are great examples where authors broke this rule; Faulkner did it in As I Lay Dying, where each chapter was presented from a different character's perspective. However, these editors seem to say that as long as you don't get too confusing or intimate with one POV than another you can jump around. Sounds dangerous to me.

More general details and brief chapter reviews to come.

On that note: I have completed small revisions for the second draft of "Red Truck." But, having read it over a couple times and discussing the few others who have also, I have decided to re-write the whole thing in third person rather than first. I've only dealt with the intro couple of pages and things are already looking up. This story might have a future after all.


  1. I've seen some interesting variations on POV lately... One YA novel (Schooled) I read flipped POV with each chapter, from the main character to his classmates to the principal to the social worker. Each chapter heading clearly identified whose POV we were now in, and each character had a unique voice (mostly), so it made for a unique way to provide different perspectives on the story.

    Another novel, Daisy Chain (excellent), stayed firmly in the main character's POV. No switching for the entire novel. Since it's a bit of a mystery, and the MC can't know absolutely everything that's happening, I'm sure the author was at times tempted to write from another perspective. However, I think the novel is stronger by the way that she stayed firmly with the MC, giving us everything from his perspective.

    So, I would say that POV has to suit the novel...

  2. So true. No matter how you define POV or how crazy you use it, all that matters is that it fits the story.