Line editing, by nature, requires the structure of your story to be solid and complete. Finish developmental edits first. It is not an efficient use of your time to perfect sentences that you may not need later. We’ve just wrapped up our series on developmental edits of short fiction. You can find them here:
We defined line editing in our initial post as working on a sentence level. It is digging into your craft to improve the clarity and reception of your manuscript.
These are some of the many questions line editing will ask:
Do the sentences make sense to a reader?
Did you use the right word for that scene’s mood, or does a different one have more impact? Do you need to make sure that you didn’t use overly long sentences in your fast-paced fight scene?
Everyone has a different writing and editing process. Some elements may cross over, but at the end of the day, use whatever method works for you. Let’s start off with some format elements that can benefit your line editing before we dive deeper into the process.
Change the format:
Some may suggest you even print the story out. However, if you are looking for zero cost to low budget ways to elevate your writing you can work around that.
If you have been looking at your manuscript on the standard 8.5in x 11in page that comes with word documents, and 12pt Times New Roman font, it may become difficult for you to start seeing any mistakes. This is specifically because the writer of the manuscript can go story-blind.
Story blindness is when you miss obvious mistakes, or subtle ones, in your own writing because you are overexposed to the material.
Change it up.
Use a smaller page size. Example: 5 in x 8 in.
Use a different font. Georgia, Courier New, even the oft-dreaded Comic Sans can make the manuscript look new.
It may also help to change the page color and font color.
When I write I use white font on a black page.
When I edit I use black font on a white page.
Read the story aloud:
This age-old advice comes in handy for a reason. When the material is read to you by another person or a device, you can’t add in the tonal changes to help push your meaning to the reader. And while you may miss a double word, the computer will read it it aloud. Notice the previous sentence used it twice.
If you aren’t comfortable reading aloud or listening to the computer speakers blaring your manuscript, there are options–and they come with headphones.
Microsoft Word and Google Docs both have text-to-speech features that can read your MS to you. There are also online programs such as naturalreaders.com, and ttsreader.com
Common Mistakes (and how to fix them):
While the above is a way to see your manuscript differently, let’s look at some line editing examples and how you can apply that to your own work.
Please note: This list will not be comprehensive. You may or may not come across these depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your own manuscript.
Too many words:
|For example, this is the process of using entirely too many words than the manuscript calls for at any given time, in a way that can cause run-ons.|
Cut the fluff.
How many ways can you find to rewrite the above sentence? There is no one right or best answer. Use the version that best suits your manuscript and *relevant era.
*Relevant era: Some line editors and copy editors will take the setting into account when marking up a manuscript. Certain time periods have slightly different grammar rules for authenticity.
Pronouns for clarity:
You may have come across a sentence like the following either in your own work or in another’s.
|He plunged the stake into his chest, and he screamed as black smoke poured from his gaping maw.|
Bare with the lack of imagination, but can you see how the reader may not understand that there is both a vampire and a vampire hunter in this sentence?
Bonus! Did you also notice that this sentence needed to be split? There is simply too much happening…
|Hunter plunged the stake into the vampire’s chest. The creature screamed, black smoke poured from his gaping maw.|
Gerunds and when they hinder plausibility:
While the advice may be met with staunch resistance, let me show you what editors mean when they say gerunds and past participle phrases.
Action scenes, or when speed is necessary, the past participle phrase seems an easy answer to make things happen quickly.
This is, by far, one of the most common errors I see when working with authors.
|Jumping up, he ran down the stairs and flipped the breaker.|
Our brains are hardwired to see these as chronological events. First this, then that. However, that is not what has been written. In the above example, the character is running down the stairs while jumping up–something that the author clearly intended to be two separate actions.
A quick fix:
|He ran down the stairs and flipped the breaker.|
Unless the character’s jumping is relevant, it’s not an important word. The reader will know that in order to run down the stairs he stood in some manner. Keeping or cutting the phrase in the sentence is a matter of personal taste.
Make sure that, if you are using a gerund (an -ing word) to start a sentence, it makes sense.
The right emotional word:
The character and their emotions are how a reader experiences a story. It is true that you can show emotions by describing the way a character feels, and how it affects their body and mind, but you also have to make sure that you have utilized your narration properly. This is not to say that you should be using telling words like “angry,” “happy,” or “sad.” The right emotional word means, to ask yourself “Is this the best descriptor word for my character’s, or my scene’s mood?”.
Which of the following examples sounds more like the creature is dangerous?
|Snow crunched under the weight of the creature as he trudged through the ice-laden briar patch. Wispy flakes of magic fell from his scaled skin and swirled in the air like campfire embers.|
|Snow crunched under the weight of the creature as he trudged through the iced-over thicket. Wispy flakes of magic fell from his scaled skin and swirled in the air like little fairy lights.|
We covered some common problems and solutions for line editing, however, you may have a more specific manuscript problem to address. Do you have any specific line editing questions that we missed? Drop them in the comments below.
Next Self-Editing Topic:
Next time we’ll continue our dive into prose and cover the big one everyone thinks about when they hear editing. How do you copy edit your own work?