Seven Edits part 6: Line Edit

Photo by sethoscope on Flickr

Some writers use the line edit for their first revision. I highly recommend saving it until late in the game. If you’re doing it right, there will be so many changes that will take place in the first five revisions that you will have quite a different story by the time you’re ready to do the sixth. With all the work you’ve put into it up to this point, it’s probably pretty smooth, and the worst of the line edit problems will have already taken care of themselves.

Word searches are your best friend on this edit (ctrl-f in Windows and Linux or cmnd-f in Mac).

  1. Do a word search for all your overused, underused, misused, clichéd, and pet words. Do a full spellcheck. Look for qualifier words, like “very,” “so,” and “slightly.” Look for exclamation points. Look for “ly” words. Look for words like, “big,” “little,” “small,” “fast,” “quick,” and any other super common adjectives to see if there are opportunities for metaphor, description, or unique phrasing.
  2. Clean up passive voice (doing some of these word searches will help with that a lot). Look for examples of telling and change most to showing. Find terms like, “I saw,” “He thought,” and “She noticed,” and replace them with the thing seen, thought, or noticed. These are almost always telling.
  3. Do another check for your most common their, there, they’res and too, to, twos. Make a note of the ones most common in your writing. Just be careful with ctrl-f searches to not make “change all”s unless you’re sure it won’t turn all “the queen bees” into “Queen Elizabeth bees” (true story). If you have the slightest question about anything, Google the question. Someone out there has answered it, and they’ve posted it online. If what they say doesn’t sound quite right, check more of the search results to get a consensus. Just bare in mind that “yahoo answers” and such sites aren’t authorities on the subject.
  4. Make sure paragraphs are indented properly.
  5. Make sure chapters have proper page-breaks rather than a bunch of “enters.”
  6. Make sure you have names of places and people capitalized, and species names lowercase.
  7. Run the official spell-checker. Put your place and character’s names in the dictionary to make it less painful—or at least click “skip all,” when it gets to those names.
  8. More often than not, the shorter way to say it is better. Tighten the wording so it doesn’t break flow.
  9. Look for things that pull a reader out of the story. Remember that you want your writing to be invisible. You want the readers to read the whole thing without noticing they’re reading it, because they’re so wrapped up in the story. A wordy sentence, a weird explanation, glitchy dialogue—anything that makes a reader have to read twice to get it (other than flipping back to look for clues they may have ignored) should be ironed out to make it invisible.
  10. Send your book to beta readers. This is the edit they’ll most likely focus on. Still, ask them to tell you if there is anything boring, unbelievable, or confusing—and ask for their favorite parts so you don’t edit those scenes out.

See all 7 Edits

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Suzanne Warr
Suzanne Warr

Excellent editing advice! I think word searches can be especially productive--you wouldn't believe the number of 'just's that I cut from my manuscripts. My one caution is that in all the editing, it's important to understand your voice and make sure you don't edit it out. That's especially true if a critique group pitches in to help. Of course, voice is no excuse for lazy or unclear writing...but I suppose that goes without saying.

Holly Hereth Kelly
Holly Hereth Kelly

Wonderful advice! I'm going to have to tag this article. I will be editing my MS soon. I don't want to forget anything. :)