5 Tips for Line Edits
Completing a full draft of a novel is no small feat. Neither is going on to complete rounds of developmental (or "story level") revisions until your plot, character arcs, setting, and worldbuilding are in tip-top shape.
However, now comes the next phase of your writing journey: post-developmental edits, also known as line edits.
What are line edits? This revision stage is about refining your sentences and elevating your diction to make them more dynamic and impactful, ensuring that the message and purpose of your book come across clearly and effectively. It’s important to note that when line editing, you are not meant to be overly concerned with grammar or punctuation; you’ll deal with those when you work on proofreading.
Line edits are about improving the style, tone, clarity, consistency, diction, and syntax of your manuscript so that readers will connect to and remain engaged with your book from beginning to end. In this post, we’ll offer some tips to make line edits as productive and painless as possible.
Put some distance between you and your book
To give yourself the objectivity you need to notice the manuscript's issues more clearly, set your book aside for at least a few days before beginning your line edits—longer if you can manage it. You can also try clearing your writer palette by reading something from a different genre or studying a craft novel. Do whatever works best to create some distance between you and your book. That way, when you sit down to line edit, you can do so with fresh eyes.
Start with the easy stuff!
Getting into the mindset of line editing requires some warming up, so tackle the easy stuff first. Replace redundancies, cliches, and other fillers— it’s simple to do.
Skim through your book and compile a list of filler words, cliches, and phrases you rely on too much. For example, do your characters “freeze” every time something alarming happens? Does your villain "sneer" or “chuckle darkly” every chance they get? Maybe one of your side characters "widens their eyes" on almost every page of the book.
Some common examples of cliches for you to eliminate would be: characters letting out breaths they didn’t know they were holding, or descriptions of internal organs in states of distress (e.g. bursting, pounding, or twisting). As for filler words, simply find and replace things like “just,” “very,” “due to,” and other instances of imprecise, unnecessary language.
If you're revising your manuscript in a word processor on your computer, you can simply open your computer’s finding box (Ctrl or Cmd+F), type in the words in question, and then replace each result with something more original! After completing this step, your critical eye will be warmed up and ready to continue line editing.
Slash the adverbs
Examining your word choice is a big component of line editing that allows your story, characters, dialogue, setting, and descriptions to become more vivid and unique. A great way to begin this process is by questioning the necessity of your adverbs. While it may seem as if they add important information compactly, you’ll find that removing adverbs actually creates opportunities to convey your character’s emotions more adeptly.
Let’s use the sentence “She ran quickly into the woods” as an example. After removing the adverb, this line can be revised to read, “She fled into the woods without looking back,” which offers a more gripping visual. The same thing can be done with “He hungrily ate the pie,” which can be developed into something more emotive like: “He devoured the pie as if it were the only food left on earth.” In both instances, each sentence is more effective without adverbs.
Slashing adverbs and infusing your sentences with more style will help you develop the muscular writing required for line editing.
Vary your sentence lengths
To make each paragraph more engaging, try varying your sentence lengths. If there are parts of your book that seem to drag or where clarity is muddled, try counting out the words in each paragraph; it’s a quick way to see where and how to create better flow.
Take this passage from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as an example of how sentence variation makes for a more gripping read:
See, that’s why I hate it when somebody dies. People do stuff they wouldn’t usually do. Even Momma hugs me longer and tighter with more sympathy than “just because” in it. Sekani, on the other hand, steals bacon off my plate, looks at my phone, and purposely steps on my foot on his way out. I love him for it.
Note the word lengths of each sentence (9, 7, 15, 24, 5) and how their variation allows your eyes to fly through the paragraph and absorb the subtext quickly. By similarly mixing up your sentence lengths, you will be able to imbue dragging scenes with dynamic pacing. That’s the magic of line editing!
Read your book out loud
If you’re at the point in your line editing adventure where you’re unsure if you can “see the forest for the trees” anymore, it’s time to shake things up. Give your eyes a rest by turning line editing into an auditory experience. Whether you’re asking a friend to read your book out loud, reading it to yourself, or utilizing a text-to-speech reader, your ears will catch what your eyes are starting to miss; listening to each of your sentences out loud will help you locate stubbornly unwieldy passages or places where your writing is still confusing.
Because line editing is hard, here are a few pro tips! If you need help spotting redundancies, cliches, and ineffective diction, ask new beta readers to give this kind of specific feedback. Have them note passages or sentences that feel jarring or confusing. If remaining objective as you line edit proves difficult, try revising chapters out of order or going through the manuscript backward. If you find yourself needing a change of pace, experiment with line editing on a different medium by printing out and marking up your book physically.
Whatever you do, make sure to take your time and line edit with the intent of making your sentences clear and powerful so that your readers will be able to connect with your characters, setting, and your story’s carefully-honed purpose as memorably as possible.