Line Editing

Line Editing, also known as Stylistic Editing, is just what it sounds like – working over the story line by line. This is the first edit that a story goes through that involves examining the Writing Craft. In the writing process, everything up to this point has been focused primarily on the Fiction Craft.

This is a very difficult, very time-consuming edit. It is not something that can or should be rushed. All works should be put through a Line Edit. How many changes the editor will need to do will depend on the writer. Some writers are very good at the Writing Craft; others are not. All writers sit on a spectrum. It is the job of the Line Editor to make every writer look like a genius.

So what exactly does a Line Editor look for?

I am glad you asked. The short answer: everything having to do with the written word. The long answer is a list that is big, but in complete. I guarantee you that a Line Editor would look at this list and say, quite aggravated, “How you she possibly forget this very important thing?”

  • Clarification – A Line Editor will make sure that muddy meanings are cleaned up. A line editor may recommend some changes from the author, for example if the physical setting in a scene needs to be described.
  • Language and Vocabulary – Is the author using jargon that most readers may not understand? Is a teenager speaking in a way that teens do not talk? Are contractions and adverbs overused? For example: “He dashed quickly down the hall.” Quickly is not needed because a dash is considered a brief, quick run. Likewise, “He ran quickly down the hall” could be changed to “He dashed down the hall.”
  • Repetition – The line edit is the first line of defense against unnecessary repetition and unintended use of assonance and alliteration.
  • Reading Level – Is the sentence structure and word use appropriate for a wide audience? Most books are on a 4th – 6th grade reading level, making them easily approachable to a wide variety of readers. These comfortable levels allow readers to get into a story easily and enjoy the tale. Lower than this, and readers feel the author is speaking down to them or that the story is too simple. Much higher than this, and readers feel like the author is talking above them or being an elitist.
  • Voice – Is the voice consistent throughout the story? Even third person point of view stories will have a “voice” that the reader will hear. This voice should be consistent and separate from dialogue. The voice should not overpower the story itself, unless the narrator is a separate character. Finally, the voice should adjust slightly if the story shifts close point of views.
  • Pace and Clock – This is a tricky consideration because it is handled in two places – the Developmental Edit and the Line Edit. In the Developmental Edit, the author and editor examine the storytelling aspects to ensure that the concept of the story’s clock is present and that scenes are paced in a way that keeps the story moving forward – or slows the story when tension is needed. In the Line Edit, the writing itself is examined for pacing via sentence structure and word usage. A Line Editor may also ensure that linguistic cues are present so that the clock of the story is recognized and understood by the reader, even if only subconsciously.
  • Sentence and Paragraph Structure, and Transitions – Do sentences in a paragraph flow together? Are paragraphs structured properly? Are sentences structured properly? Do paragraphs flow together smoothly within the scene and do scenes transition smoothly? Are scenes grouped together adequately for chapters (in novellas and novels)?

These are the basic aspects of a Line Edit. For most things, the Line Editor will make necessary changes. Some aspects may require negotiation with the author, especially when it comes to rewriting sections for transitions and correcting voice issues.

I have noticed that this type of edit is often overlooked. It is easy to lay that at the feet of independent authors. So many works have flooded the market that it is easy to find and pick apart poorly written works. The sad truth is, independent authors are not the only culprits – and they are not the worst of them.

It is easy for a new author to overlook the importance of a Line Edit. Because it is so easy to become an author, with so many self-publishing options, many people get into independent publishing with little knowledge of the writing process.

Gone are the days of most writers being English graduates.

If those days really existed at all.

You may say “But I have right here on my website how important this kind of edit is! Anyone can find it!”

True. However, just as authors have to contend with being one of hundreds or thousands of works being published every month, so too do you, oh purveyor of wisdom on the internet, have to contend with being one of hundreds or thousands of websites present every day on the internet. Just as that author may never be found, or are found only rarely, so too with your site.

The Independent Author can be forgiven for not knowing about this type of edit, how to do it, or being able to afford it. Again, they are not the worst of the culprits.

The worst of the culprits are the publishing houses, whose editors, featured authors, and friendly agents will go about bemoaning the current state of the book market, and how “poorly written” so many works are. All the while, putting out works that have either not gone through Line Edits themselves, or have only had the most cursory glance by a Line Editor.

I could pull up some shady examples, but we have all seen them. The story may or may not be good, but the writing is deplorable. We look at the spine, and ponder “How can this come out of a publishing house? I’ve been told that the whole reason you get your book traditionally published, besides the marketing arm of the publishing house, is to have editors fix this stuff.”

When you come across that story and ask yourself if this author knows how to actually write – not tell a story, but just write. If you look at the story and say “Everything is spelled correctly, and the nouns and verbs agree. How can you do all of that and still have something that reads like drivel?”

When you find that, you have found a story that needs a Line Edit.

So, I hope that I have impressed upon you just how important this step is. Whether hiring someone to do this work for you, or putting on your editor cap and doing it yourself, do not skip this step. You cannot just go from the Developmental Edit to the Mechanical Edit without taking this very important and very vital step along the way.

And with that, I bid you good writing, everyone.


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