I’m editing my novel, so I just read both of those books. I conveniently found this thread to tell you about them.First Five Pages (FFP)
– Very concrete. Do this. Don’t do that. Follow the rules and you won’t be eliminated from the slush after the initial reader reads your first five sentences, first five paragraphs, first five chapters. As Tanya pointed out, the early chapters are fairly simplistic. I was half way through the book and feeling like I was a goddess among writers because I don’t make any of those mistakes.
But the book builds to the more subtle mistakes that a writer can make -- mistakes that will force an editor to at least read the whole manuscript before determining it’s not for them. And if they’re going to reject me, I want them to at least have to work at it.
I definitely recommend this book for new writers. This is information writers need to know, and it’s laid out in a way that’s easy to absorb. I remember my spate of how-to reading when I started this writing journey. I had so much stuff I was trying to keep track of, I was overwhelmed. It felt like I would never be able to write anything while keeping all the good writing techniques in mind. (See my quote from Self-Editing for something that would have freaked me out as a newbie.)
The one danger is that the examples the author uses are so ridiculous that it could be easy for a writer to gloss over them, thinking that they don’t write anything that horrendous, therefore, they don’t have that problem. But there are more subtle ways to make the same errors.
For the more experienced writer, probably only the second part of the book is going to be useful. But the affirmation that you are already doing so many things right, makes the first part of the book worth reading as well.Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
– I will refer to this one forever. After the affirmation of my brilliance from FFP, this one brought me back to earth. Whereas the examples in FFP were easy to dismiss, many of these examples are from published novels. What’s the problem here? I don’t see a problem. If I can’t see it does that mean I’m making the same mistakes?
And if you’ve been thinking that you can get away with breaking some of the rules, the authors also quote some rather biting reviews that highlight mistakes in books. So you have to think long and hard…you may be able to get published with certain mistakes in your work, but do you really want to read those types of reviews about your work?
So in that sense, FFP is about making your novel publishable. Self-Editing is about making it perfect.
There are entire chapters in Self-Editing with subjects I haven’t read about anyplace else. These chapters alone make the book necessary reading:
But I don’t think I could have absorbed everything in this book two years ago. At the time, I was busy working out the problems that FFP points out. It would have been like trying to juggle too many balls at once.
Here’s a quote to illustrate:
“You can also use beats to vary the rhythm of your dialogue. Uninterrupted dialogue not only becomes disembodied after a while, it becomes exhausting. Like a piece of good music, good dialogue has an ebb and flow to it. Where you want the tension high…pare the beats down to a bare minimum. If you’ve just had two high-tension scenes in a row, let your readers relax a bit in the next one with some quiet conversation interspersed with pauses (signified by beats).”
: Not being very musical, my brain would have started to freeze as soon as the analogy started. I’m not a poet, I’m not a musician. How the heck could I begin to adjust the rhythm of a prose manuscript?
But now I feel I can tackle something like that with confidence. I’m not saying I necessarily have it right at the moment. But it darn well will be by the time I’m sending it out.