The Hulk: Lean and Mean Line Editing

Lean and Mean: Extreme Line Editing!

An interesting discussion (we think) for today: Tumblr user “madlori” has some line editing advice you might not like.

Firstly, before we dive into that, it’s important we clarify the difference between line editing and any other form of manuscript editing…

Line editing comes near the end of the writing process, before the copy editor gets their hands on your manuscript. The purpose of line editing, as opposed to proofreading or copy editing, is not to comb your manuscript for errors, but to optimize the language you use to communicate your story.

Line editors deal with the writer’s voice and the atmosphere, emotion, tone, and consistency of the story as well as clarity of meaning. Do your words evoke a certain picture, or are you being vague and over-generalizing?

If you tend to use certain words or phrases too often, a line editor will spot them. They’ll also tighten dialogue and reduce description, fix confusing scenes, pep up bland language, address poor pacing and rectify jarring tonal shifts.

Put simply: Line editors are assassins of the unnecessary. Line editing straddles the line between art and science – the focus is on the words rather than the story, but the individual targets are a far cry from mere spelling mistakes.

Employing a professional line editor is always a sure bet, but it’s perfectly possible to effectively edit your own work at a fraction of the cost, even if you’re on draft sixteen and the words are starting to swim across your vision.

This brings us back to madlori’s advice which, again, may prove unpopular. It is, however, a singularly useful piece of advice for aspiring line editors, and not to be tackled by the faint of heart.

What is it?

Write out your story again, line by line.

Thirty years ago, no-one would bat an eye at the prospect of typing out your entire manuscript over and over again. These days, we store our works in progress on disks and clouds, ready to be printed at a moment’s notice.

But one of the best things you can do for your story is to print it all out, open up a new file on your computer, and type it up from scratch.

Doing this forces you to evaluate each line as you move through the story, opening up the possibility of making deep changes “as they happen”. You’ll find yourself reformatting sentences, choosing different words, tightening up the flow of language, discovering redundant passages and anticipating the right pace for your story.

The logic behind this is if you have your document open and editable on the screen, you’re more likely to judge seemingly innocuous errors as “good enough” and let them slide. Doing this limits your options for making meaningful change. But when you rewrite your story as new, not only will you spot more opportunities to make it better, but it’s far more efficient to make those changes as you progress instead of trying to track them back and forth over an entire manuscript.

It will seem a Herculean task, but it’s worth it. Many authors swear by this technique, and doing it once makes you fearless. Adding it as a regular part of your writing routine will surely make you a formidable line editor.

If this sounds like something you might just try, but you’d like to get your line editing skills a little more finely honed with expert guidance before you take the leap, create a free AutoCrit account now and run your story through it first. Faster than you know, looking out for all the line editing essentials will be second nature to you thanks to AutoCrit’s accessible visual highlighting and informative breakdown of every area of concern.

(But don’t blame us if you find it so good you decide you actually don’t need to try madlori’s technique!)

The ability to perform your own professional-grade line editing is a superb power to have – saving you time and money on editing services, which you can save for the most impactful work: The developmental edit.



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