Exploring Line Editing: What is Line Editing and Why Do You Need It?

POSTED ON Jul 16, 2019


Written by Shannon Whyte

You’ve done it! You’ve completed a draft of your manuscript, and you’re well on your way to becoming an author

However, you’re savvy enough to know that the first draft is simply the start. You’ll need to do some book editing to strengthen your story and your prose

So you work through your draft and address big picture issues with plot, story arc, or character development

Yet something still isn’t quite right. 

Perhaps the main character’s motivation is unclear. Maybe the villain’s monologue at the end of your book goes on too long, reducing the story’s tension instead of building it. Perhaps the overall flow seems off.

Line editing can help!

Whether your goal is to self-publish or traditionally publish, line editing helps strengthen your story and ensures that your unique voice shines. It enables you to gain clarity about your writing skills—your strengths and weaknesses—providing you with new insights to use when crafting future manuscripts.

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What is Line Editing?

Line editing focuses on how you are communicating your ideas by analyzing the construction of your writing closely, usually line-by-line.

It examines the building blocks of your story—sentence construction, paragraphs, pages, and scenes—to ensure these components are working together. The process makes your writing tighter and your manuscript stronger.

It helps strengthen your story’s flow, clarity, and voice, exploring questions around your writing construction.

Some questions that line editing focuses on are:

  • Does this sentence add to the reader’s understanding? 
  • Is this sentence slowing down the pacing of the paragraph? 
  • Would your character use these words? 
  • What is this paragraph adding or is it redundant? 
  • How can you shorten this scene to get to the action quicker? 
  • How can this paragraph be rewritten to show the action instead of telling?

During this process, you’ll examine individual words and sentences to ensure they’re adding to your overall story. You’ll also look at each paragraph to ensure sentences flow together coherently and paragraphs are working together to build your scene. 

Also, you’ll need to cut everything that slows your story’s pacing, is redundant or confusing, or doesn’t fit the voice of your story, no matter how well the sentence, paragraph, or scene is written. 

Although some copy editors also take on the task of line editing, line editing is less concerned with technical grammar rules, although these may be found during this stage of editing. 

When Should You Line Edit?

Line editing should occur after your book or story draft is completed and all developmental editing is done. 

You should line edit when your past proofreading for errors, since line editing is about focusing on how your story is told through creative content, language, and writing style.

Contrary to popular assumption, line editing does not focus on addressing errors in writing as far as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and more.

What is the Line Editing Process? 

Line editing is usually is completed in a specific order. First, you'll want to write your manuscript. Once it's written, you can conduct a thorough line editing.

A typical editing process involves four stages, and each stage is dedicated to a specific type of editing.

What are the different types of editing?

# 1 – Developmental editing

This first stage focuses on bigger picture issues such as overall story structure and arc, characterization, and plot holes. These broader issues should be addressed first before pursuing other types of editing.

#2 – Line editing

A thorough line edit will explore the manuscript at a more micro level than the developmental edit. It will examine how individual paragraphs and sentences flow, issues of clarity and redundancy, the coherency of scenes, and clarity of the author’s voice. It’s common to go through multiple drafts of a manuscript during the line editing process to make sure the writing style is just right.

#3 – Copy editing

Copy editing focuses on the technical aspects of writing—grammar issues, tense issues, word choices. This stage looks at the mechanics. Style guides and dictionaries are the tools copy editors turn to during this stage of editing. 

#4 – Proofreading

This is the last stage of editing. Proofreading finds formatting issues and spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes that were missed in the earlier editing stages. It adds the final polish to the document.

All the stages of editing should be completed before querying agents to publish traditionally or before self-publishing.

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Why Should You Complete Editing In Stages?

Editing, like writing, is a craft. It’s more than just a series of rules. There is an art to editing that can be learned with practice and patience. 

To fully unlock the power of editing, you need to follow the stages of editing in order. This approach will ensure that you’re addressing problems in logically and not wasting time fixing sections that ultimately get removed. 

Besides, trying to catch all of a draft’s errors in one read-through quickly becomes overwhelming. 

You miss errors and make editing mistakes, which is why you shouldn’t rely solely on self-editing your book.

As the writer, you run the risk of getting so caught up in what isn’t working that you lose sight of what does. You risk feeling as though your manuscript will never work, and you give up.

Approaching editing as a multi-stage process helps you edit in a systematic, logical sequence. It keeps the process contained. This helps you edit more effectively and efficiently with less risk of becoming overwhelmed.

3 Tips To Help You Line Edit Your Own Work

Once you’ve completed your first draft and the initial developmental edit, you’re ready to start line editing.

But how do you begin?

Where you start is up to you. If you know from your developmental editing pass that specific passages, scenes, or pages need tightening, begin there. Alternatively, simply start on the first page and work through to the last. The choice is yours! 

Line editing your own work can feel awkward at first, but these three tips can help you find errors. 

#1 – Record yourself reading your story out loud. 

You can do this passage by passage or read your story all at once. Play back your recording a little at a time, stopping to make corrections as you go.

Listening to your story can help you identify inconsistencies, jarring words or sentences, and issues with the story’s flow that are missed when reading silently.

#2 – Leave your computer behind and go old school. 

Print out a paper copy of your story, grab your favorite pen (it doesn’t have to be red), and start marking and making notes.

This more tactile technique can provide just the shake up your mind needs to find those passages that need improvement.

#3 – Try using different colors to highlight various problems. 

Vary the color of your editing marks based on the type of error. This approach will help you identify types of writing issues you tend to make.

For example, use red when marking extraneous words and purple for weak verbs. When you go back through your story, you’ll have a better idea of what skills you should work on in future stories to improve your craft.

You could also switch colors based on whether the problem impacts the story’s flow, clarity, or voice. It all depends on what you want to learn about your writing.

Color Code Editing

6 Fixes to Common Problems in Line Editing

Line editing is like being a detective. You develop a hunch about what’s working and what isn’t. Then you use your hunches to get to the source of the problems and ensure the heart of your story shines through. 

The more you line edit, the easier it becomes to find the culprits.

To get you started, here are six fixes to common problems encountered during line editing along with examples and hints to help you find the bad guys.

#1 – Cut unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs to improve flow, clarity, and tension. 

To find extraneous words, read your sentences out loud, looking for any word or phrase that jars or interrupts the flow of the sentence. If a sentence reads awkwardly, read the sentence multiple times, removing words to see if the flow improves. 

What Is Line Editing

#2 – Restructure sentences or paragraphs to improve clarity and flow. 

Consider whether the sentence or paragraph moves too slow or is too choppy. 

Hint: Keep a close eye on clauses, especially dependent clauses, as they can often lead to confusion. While reorganizing the information can help, you may also have to cut phrases, clauses, or sentences.

#3 – Eliminate weak verbs. 

Weak verbs make it difficult for the reader to get into the story and feel the action, tension, and experiences of the main character. To find weak verbs, search for adverbs—often your -ly words. Then play with the sentence. Identify what action you are trying to evoke and grab a thesaurus to replace the weak verb.

Weak: The boy ran quickly down the hallway.

Fix: The boy raced down the hallway.

Line Editing Word Choice

#4 – Remove redundancies that slow down the story flow. 

Your readers are smart. They don’t need to be given the same information multiple times. You risk slowing your reader down and taking them out of the story. They may even stop reading entirely!

Hint: If you’re experiencing deja vu as you read your story, you have duplicate information that needs to be cut. Experiment by removing repetitive passages. If you don’t miss the information on re-reading, then leave it out. If you feel that nuances are missing, try rewriting the section to incorporate the critical material.

#5 – Ditch cliches. 

Unless it’s a character’s quirk, cliches—overused phrases or platitudes—can cause a reader to check out of your story faster than greased lightning.

Hint: Not sure if a phrase is a cliche? A quick Google search will help. 

#6 – Check dialogue flow and believability. 

Dialogue passages that drone on or include extraneous details also cause a reader to bail on your story.  

Hint: Do you find yourself skimming the dialogue? Is the dialogue simply rehashing information that the reader already knows? Cut it or rework it to get to the point. Also, check to see if it’s something the character would say. Don’t have a modern teenager using slang from the 1980s unless being retro is a quirk of the character.

These are only some of the problems to look for when line editing. As you address these issues, you will notice improvements in the flow, clarity, and tension of your story. Your readers will stay engaged and be eager to see how it all ends!

Should You Hire A Line Editor?

The answer depends on your skill and experience as a writer and the ultimate goal for your story. 

If you plan to publish your book, then you will definitely want to make room in your self-publishing budget for a professional editor.

You may want to hire an editor if you’re early in your career, struggle with self-editing, or you feel your manuscript isn’t working. 

A qualified, professional editor can give you great insight into your writing. An editor can provide you with a better understanding of areas to improve and how to strengthen your writing skills. 

If you plan to publish your story, hiring an editor ensures a more professional and polished story.

If your goal isn’t to publish, then hiring an editor is less necessary. But whether you decide to hire an editor or not, it’s essential to develop strong editing skills throughout your writing career. 

As you acquire more editing skills and learn from your errors, you’ll write cleaner first drafts. The editing process will be more efficient, especially if you end up self-publishing more books in the future. You will become better at the craft of writing.

Use Routine Line Editing to Improve Your Writing Skills 

A thorough line edit will help eliminate problems with story flow, redundancies, inconsistencies, and structure issues at the sentence and paragraph level.

It will ensure your voice and story flow shine. As a result, readers will get swept up into your book.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing children’s books, nonfiction books, fiction novels, or eBooks – line editing skills will improve your writing no matter which type of work in progress you’re creating. 

The process of line editing also provides you with solid insights into your writing strengths and weaknesses. It highlights aspects of your writing that you can work to improve, making drafts of future stories better from the start. 

Editing is a critical component of writing and a writer’s best friend. It’s imperative to take your time with the editing process. Editing ensures that readers have the best version of your story that will keep them engaged and coming back for more.

What are some of your line editing tips or questions?

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