Book Review: The Fiction Writer’s Handbook: Ten Minute Edits

The Fiction Writer’s Handbook:  Ten Minute Edits, by Dennis Hays

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Author’s Den.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

With the proliferation of self-published writing, especially fiction, there is a worthwhile place for guides to assist writers in editing their own texts, as is frequently necessary [1].  This is not a long book–it is under 60 pages and should not take someone a long time to read–but its advice for writers is well worth reading and applying.  Like many readers, the author is the sort of person who notices when words are repeated, and the alert reader will note that the writer frequently apologizes for having made some sort of crude reference, but only after having done so repeatedly.  This is not the sort of book that someone ought to read if they are squeamish, but it makes an effective and worthwhile book to read if one wants to be a better writer of fiction with more compelling stories that present fewer barriers to being appreciated by readers, and that is reason enough to appreciate this book.  The author is not here to be a reader’s sympathetic friend, but rather as a coach or trainer to help get rid of flabby constructions and ineffective word choice to help the reader improve his or her writing style.

This book is made up of a series of short chapters that provide examples as well as critique of common mistakes made by beginning (and more than a few experienced) writers.  The author begins by noting that this is a dynamic book that is being improved and so future readers will likely have seen a (slightly) different volume than the one reviewed here.  The author begins his work by explaining his purpose and making some comments about the world of publishing and oft-repeated advice to write with fire and edit with ice.  Some time is spent discussing story beats, building and releasing tension, and handling dialogue in a naturalistic fashion.  The author makes comments about painting characters and avoiding hackneyed expressions like really, very, unique, had, that, and just.  The author also makes comments on repetition and the structure of a story from its beginning to an end, treating the editing of a novel like a trainer looks at new contestants for a weight-loss reality television show.  This is a slim book that also encourages readers to make their own writing more concise and trim.

Given the way that this book avoids wasting time in delivering its points in entertaining fashion, it is likely that the author is a good example of the principles that he preaches.  On at least one occasion the author makes a humorous note that thinking about a given subject relating to editing encouraged him to go back to his previous writing and fix some aspect that was left in a less than ideal state.  The author clearly is well-read in fiction besides being a writer, and is likely the sort of person who edits the works of others as part of his varied writing-related work.  If you are a fictional writer and you want to improve your writing and are willing to look at your approach and style with a dispassionate perspective and with ice in your veins as you hack and slash at your beloved writing, this book has a great deal of value not only in being short and direct but also in being full of useful and worthwhile tips for improving one’s writing.  Although the book is aimed at writers of fiction, there are certainly points here that would be of value for those who write nonfiction novels or personal essays as well.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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