Three Dirty Birds Talk Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Keeping Things in Proportion


Welcome back to Chapter 4 of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Today we’re chattering about Proportion in your writing.

Kate: This section talks about how much time you should spend on different parts of your story, how much description you should do, how much detail to go into, and how that affects the way the reader perceives that part of the story.

Ana: One of the first things that’s mentioned is how it’s hard for writers to judge what impact your writing will have on your reader while you are writing. Again, this is why you need beta readers.

Kate: Oh, a good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. Or fine chocolate and Blue Mountain coffee.

Zoe: Yeah, the book doesn’t really mention beta readers, but the authors do give some tips on gaining some distance yourself before you read what you’ve written (though I think “waiting a few days” is probably not long enough).

Kate: No, I need a good bit longer to ‘forget’ this story that’s been inhabiting my brain for the past couple of months.

Ana: I do a first editing pass when the story’s still fresh on my mind. Mostly because my drafts are messy and I want to get the continuity errors and such ironed out. Then I do another editing pass after I’ve worked on something else for a while.

Zoe: I wait a few months between first and second, and a month or so between second and the slew of finals (which don’t get much of a waiting period between them, but by then I’m working off printed pages and changing fonts).

Kate: Kind of like at a wine tasting, I do my first drafts right after another, so that the details are still fresh in my mind, but then I put it aside for a bit and work on something else. A palate cleanser, sort of. :P

Ana: Sounds like we’re doing the same thing, Kate.

Zoe: I really can’t face my story for another minute after I’ve done the final draft. So anyway…proportion. The authors talk about the various ways stories get out of proportion, particularly in the first draft, such as including every movement of the character or going into great detail describing a technology or process or whatnot (usually one the author has a lot of experience with).

Kate: I Lol’d at the story about the three pages on how to kill and dress a beaver. I can picture the looks on their faces as they passed the end of the second one. o.O

Zoe: I just cringed, recognizing that that’s something I’d do. (Write it out in detail, not necessarily kill and dress a beaver. What have beavers ever done to me?)

Kate: It is easy to go overboard when you’ve done so much research, and it’s all so cool, and you really want to share that coolness with the reader. (And, to be honest, sometimes it’s a great way to hit daily wordcount. Oops.) But the important thing to keep in mind is whether this information will be important later in the story, and whether it moves the plot forward at all.

Ana: I tend to underwrite. Unless it’s NaNo. Then all bets are off. So anyway. I have a sticky note on the part where she talks about a seven hundred pages ms that was accepted at one of the major houses only to be cut down by… well, it doesn’t say, but I’m assuming a lot. My first thought was: how did that get accepted? And what does she mean ‘when editing wasn’t so rare’ at major houses?

Kate: Honestly, I got that second part, because I’ve been struggling with finding books by new authors that aren’t missing some major part of the story–reader connection. Even in major houses. I know, you have to expect a dud every once in a while, because everyone has different tastes, but I’ve been surprised at how hard I’ve had to work to find one I even make it to the half-way point on.

Zoe: Even not-new authors. You run into books where it seems like the publisher was like, “Eh, he/she knows what they’re doing. No need to pay an editor the big bucks here.”

Kate: Sometimes that’s what it feels like. Or that the world concept of the book was so interesting, they winked at the author’s lack of connection with the reader. It was interesting that the editor in the case of the 700 page behemoth asked her to cut out all the character building scenes, but never touched the sex scenes. Where did that idea come from? And why didn’t the author question it?

Ana: You honestly wonder why they wanted to turn it into a steamy novel? $$ And to a lot of authors getting published is all that matters, no matter how.

Kate: There’s that, but I think it could have been plenty steamy and successful, even with a more even-handed approach to the cutting. I mean, you tell the story you love, and you send it out the way it is, loving it the way it is. Why would you agree to so drastically change the tone and personality of it?

Ana: Because when an editor at a big house tells you it sucks, you believe them. Obviously. It’s no news that writers often suffer from low self-esteem when it comes to their writing.

Zoe: You’ve just gone through a bazillion hoops to get that point. You worry that if you don’t go with it, your book will never get published. Thank god there are alternatives these days.

Kate: Jeepers, you guys are scaring me. I had just talked myself back into NOT doing something in that R&R/Sword of Damocles.

Zoe: We’re cynical birds.

Kate: *sad chirps*

Zoe: I like how the second half of this chapter in Self-Editing comes around to telling you, once you’ve fixed your proportion problems, how you can use proportion as a technique in your story.

Kate: Me too. I love, love, LOVE hiding the important stuff in a whole bunch of other things. That’s the bad birdie in me, I guess. But I hope that, if people ever come back to reread the book, they’ll hit that point and giggle in anticipation, because now they know what it means.

Zoe: In their advice, they say, “If you have some plot development that you want to come as a surprise, spend less space on it before you spring it on your readers. Or you could spend as much or more space on similar plot elements to mask the really important ones.” Like Kate and G.R.R.M. do.

And their final point in this chapter is to let your viewpoint character guide the details. Write what would be important to them, what they would notice, in the situation they’re in.

Ana: This is one of the things I’ve always kept in the back of my mind after first reading this book some years ago. Solid advice.

Kate: This whole chapter is, as Ana says, solid. I’m liking this book very much.

Zoe: I’d worried that it would be kind of boring, covering stuff I already knew—and in a lot of places it does, but some of it’s a good reminder. (Actually, all of it’s a good reminder, really.)

Ana: This was the first book on writing that I read, so it wasn’t boring to me the first time. But, I can appreciate some of the information in it better now than I could back then, which goes to show that just reading craft books isn’t enough to learn. You really need practise too.

Zoe: And to crit and be critted. Lots of valuable learning in that.

Three Dirty Birds Talk about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 3



Three Dirty Birds are chirping over at Ana’s blog today!

Three Dirty Birds, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Chapter 2: Characterization and Exposition


Over at Zoe’s blog today!

Checking Out Publishers Part 3

fountain pen

This is going to be the weird part, because it’s the part where I argue both for and against having more than one publisher. I’ve already had this argument with myself, several times, and here’s how it came out.




Different publishers have different audiences. The people that read Dreamspinner may overlap with Loose Id, but not all of them. The ones who read Riptide may overlap with Samhain, but not all of them. Moving a book or books to another publisher gets my name in front of a group of people who might, otherwise, have been unaware of me.

Some books are better suited to certain publishers, whether judged by genre or amount of sex. I know, if I’m planning on something for Loose Id, there better be lots of hot sex, and sexual tension, or it’s not going to fit their brand. But I don’t always write high sex stories, and I have a few that are sitting on my hard drive because I’m wavering between jacking up the content, or hunting for another pub.

Some publishers are better at different genres than others, or have a decided preference for them. Riptide likes military and police stories, though they’re actively pushing to expand that range. Loose Id really likes scifi and urban fantasy, and seems to do well with it. Dreamspinner puts out a lot of epic/high/paranormal fantasy. Samhain seems to be strong in contemporary. I’m not sure about Carina–they don’t seem to have developed a brand for their MM yet. Siren does well with shifters and ménage, the hotter the better.

Working with different editors. I really like the Editor in Question, but I often wonder–just like moving to a different sports coach or teacher in school–if there are things that I could learn to do better with another editor. Notice I don’t say “in place of”, but in addition to. I’m not willing to give her, or my family at Loose Id, up.

Branding by publisher might make it easier for readers to see right away what they’re getting, just from the cover styles. Riptide’s covers are very different from Samhain’s, which are different from Dreamspinner, which are different from…you get the gist.  With so many people buying from places like Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, visual genre differentiation is important so readers don’t end up with a book that isn’t what they assumed it would be.

In the case of financial or sales issues, such as what’s happening with Ellora’s Cave and Musa, it means that all your eggs aren’t in that one basket.


It makes scheduling releases a little more complicated, since I’d be working with two or more sets of release schedules. Which happened last year, when my original release schedule had two books coming out within two weeks of each other. (Thank heavens, that changed.)

Editorial styles could get confusing. Particularly for the grammar bits and pieces.

If I want readers to buy straight from the publisher, since that keeps more money in my pockets and the pockets of the people who make it all possible for me, should I make it more difficult for readers to do that? As in, if one book they’re interested in is at Loose Id and the other at Dreamspinner, will they go through the trouble of setting up an account at both pubs, or will they just go to Amazon?

I know I have a good editor at Loose Id. The idea of going to another pub and not being happy with editing or other aspects of the process makes me extremely uneasy. And, since you have to sign the contract before you can even start editing, it’s like buying a pig in a poke. You have to take the seller’s word that you’ll be happy. (Though I suppose I could argue for a clause letting me out in the case that I’m really disturbed or upset by the editing. The issue there is that you don’t always realize what’s being missed until the reviews start rolling in.)

I’m still slightly on the ‘more pubs is better’ side, but I waver a lot. Currently, my plan is to try it out with one book, which has the potential to become a series. We’ll see after that. I’ve become a lot more cautious after the past year and I have no plans to scatter stories hither and yon over the internet.

Still not sure which pub to try first. :P

Three Dirty Birds Talk about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


The dirty birds are back, chirping about a new book. This time we’re tackling Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Kate: The first chapter talks about Show and Tell, which is a big thing that writers need to learn at the beginning of their career. Not just which one to use when, but to recognize when they’re using it incorrectly as well.

Ana: It’s probably the first thing you find in most writing books. And I recommend actually reading about this in a writing book, because when you get all your advice on this from the Internet, the Internet will tell you that telling is always bad. Always. You’ll go to hell for it.

Zoe: Yes, I liked the explanation of when narrative summary was a better choice than writing the information out in a scene. One important point they brought up was that it gives readers a chance to breathe, that it helps vary the “rhythm and texture” of your writing. Scenes are important, but one after another after another can be exhausting, and the reader can start to tune out if there’s no variation. Although really knowing when to use scene and when to use summary is an art you develop over time, through reading and writing and editing (and critiquing others!).

Kate: I like her explanation that in summary, you’re engaging your reader’s mind, and in scene, you’re engaging their emotions. Which brings us back to her comment that the first chapter is not the place for a lot of summary.

Ana: I wish a lot of beginning writers I critique would take this to heart.

Kate: I’ve seen a lot of potentially excellent science fiction and fantasy stories ruined by the big narrative summary of the history that brought us to this point. No, just…no. Engage me before you start throwing information at me.

Zoe: There’s also nothing more frustrating than going through four pages of a mundane, fully detailed scene only to have the thing you were actually waiting to see happen rushed through in narrative summary. I wish I didn’t have so many examples jumping to the front of my mind on this, but… *sigh* (And not just from beginning writers, either.)

Ana: So she gives an example of a book that was improved by having the events of weeks and months summarized in narrative summary instead of showing a few single scenes. I can’t help wondering how long that narrative summary ended up being.

Zoe: With a skilled writer, it could have been just a paragraph or two. You can get away with a sketch…but most people don’t even try to.

Kate: it’s a tough skill. I’m working on improving my command of it, but it’s a bigger challenge than it looks. Which is why you should practice it.

Zoe: Yes, you have to be able to pick out which events are the key ones, and then come up with something that encapsulates them. In an engaging yet tell-y way.

Ana: It’s something I considered doing with my last wip, where originally I needed a few weeks to pass where the characters could get to know each other, but it felt boring just writing it all out. It stopped the pacing dead, so I thought of summarising it. But then I ended up not doing it because I wasn’t sure I could do it right, or that it wouldn’t feel rushed… I ended up just changing the premise to avoid the problem altogether.

Zoe: That works! Browne and King also talk about not just scene vs. summary but the use of telling within scenes. This probably drives me away from more books than anything else, all the unnecessary telling when really the author should be showing me how the characters feel, think, and react. I don’t want to know that “she was scared.” I want to see her fear. I don’t want to know that she spoke “eagerly.” I want to see her tripping over her words or dropping things or whatever. Let me infer from that. Let me use my brain!

Ana: You know what really bothers me? Telling that follows showing. Like the writer does a totally fine job of showing me an emotion, only to name it again a sentence later just to make sure I really got it.

Zoe: YES! And when it precedes the showing as well. Don’t tell me what’s going to happen. Just show it.

Kate: It’s a good reminder. I’ve pulled quite a few things out of the latest revision, just because they reminded me about that. It’s not something I do anymore, but this is an older manuscript, and I hadn’t learned that yet.

Zoe: So did you guys do the exercises at the end of the chapter?

Kate: Eeeeh, kind of. I didn’t write anything down, but I looked to see what I would change. I think I was stopped by it because I was trying to stay within the same approximate wordage, and they don’t expect that. (This is a personal brain issue for me, and may not apply to other writers.)

Zoe: I skipped them because I do the same sort of thing so freaking often when I’m Amazon Look-Insiding books to read. (As you two, beneficiaries of my rewrites and rants, are aware.)

Kate: Some day, we need to talk about the benefits of reading bad fiction. Because I’ve learned a lot, skewering the Look-Insides.

Ana: If there’s new holes in my walls by the time I move out, it’ll be because of the Amazon Look-Inside…

Zoe: It’s more like a hole in my liquor cabinet here.

Kate: Ana just wants more windows. Me, I usually find I feel better about my writing. Even if I’m not always consistent, and some stuff gets past me, it’s good to know  I can recognize it, which gives me hope I’ll start recognizing it more regularly in my own. (Or, hopefully, discover that I’m not doing it as much.)

Zoe: I feel better about my writing, worse about the state of the world.

Ana: Yeah, that’s what the liquor is for.

(Early) Tuesday Tickle: Bite Me

The Dirty Birds had a scheduling conflict, so the first post on our new book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne, will begin tomorrow.

In the meantime, have a bit of young Glyn. I don’t know if this will make it into the book. still struggling through PTSD and not always making good choices, but this part’s a bit of a laugh, so I thought I’d share it.


“Get where, Gram? Are you kicking me out?” This would be the third time his family had dumped him on someone else.



“You’re going to Yale. Glynnie, you never go anywhere, you little house-mouse. No, you need to see the world. I’ve booked plane tickets since you don’t like travelling Underhill, and we’ll find you a house or an apartment or a swinging bachelor pad—whatever you want.”



“But, Gram…” He knew it. He’d gone too far with the C4 last week. Still, he could hardly regret it; it had been a glorious explosion, and one exterior wall had been small recompense for the spell Geneth had put on him the week before. Glyn still fought the urge to fall to his knees and bow every time his cousin came around—part of why he was hiding in the tree this afternoon.


Three Dirty Birds Talk Blurbs and Back-cover Copy


Over at Ana’s blog today!