On Self-editing & Show and Tell

By Mayra CuevasDuring my first agent critique session, the critiquing agent recommended the book “Self-editing for Fiction Writers,” by Reanni Browne and Dave King. For this jewel of advice, I will be forever in her debt. To read more about the emotional roller coaster that was the first critique click here.“Self-editing for Fiction Writers” changed my outlook on self-editing. It’s a practical guide on how to polish your work using professional editing techniques. It provided suggestions on achieving fresh, active writing that is both confident and clutter free.Browne and King are veteran editors with decades of experience in the publishing industry. Browne is also the founder of The Editorial Department, a publishing consulting firm for writers.All twelve chapters were treasure troves of editing tools and guidelines. Among others, the chapters include show and tell, characterization, point of view, dialogue, beats and voice.This guide helped me see my manuscript with fresh eyes, and narrowed my focus on the areas that needed to be strengthened or rewritten.During the past month of May I worked on a new draft based on the comments and suggestions I received from my critique partner and two other test readers. After I finished that draft I set my manuscript aside, while I read “Self-editing for Fiction Writers.” After three weeks I was ready to begin re-editing my manuscript. I read the pages with new eyes and edited based on the suggestions of the book, the main one being “show and tell,” the first chapter.“Show and Tell.” A chapter I wished I had read before I began writing my manuscript altogether. It would've saved me countless rewrites.Browne and King explained that to engage the reader from page one the writer must show the story through the use of scenes where events are seen as they happen. This, they said, will give your writing immediacy and transparency.“You want your readers to be so wrapped in your world that they’re not even aware that you, the writer, exist,” they said.They recommended using narrative summary mostly to vary the rhythm and texture of the writing and give the reader some breathing room.“You don’t want to give your readers information, you want to give them experiences,” they said.New writers, like me, they said, have a tendency to describe a character’s emotion instead of showing it through action and dialogue. Instead, the writer should describe things in a way that the reader can feel the emotion for themselves.I found a lot of this in my own writing, motivated by the wish to make sure the reader understood what the character was feeling. There was a certain insecurity in my writing. The trick of a good writers, as I understood it, was that they show the emotions through action and expression, giving the reader room to interpret those actions and expressions, without telling them what they should be feeling at a given moment. A fantastic example of this kind of writing is Rick Yancey’s “The 5th Wave.” His prose is active and crisp. It provides a scene and gives room for the reader to own the story.Browne and King made it clear that there isn't a set or hard and fast rules to writing with this technique. “There are going to be times when telling will create more engagement that showing,” they said.“Show and Tell” TakeawaysFollowing, I have included a condensed list of my “Show and Tell” chapter takeaways:1. Convert narrative summary into dialogue.2. Rather than describe the effect something had on the narrator, describe the event or thing itself and let it have the same effect on the reader.3. Check for pages were nothing happens.4. Flesh out personalities using scenes.5. Show emotions, don’t tell them. Do you have any preferred self-editing techniques or books you would like to share? Leave your comments below.