To create a truly great piece of work, there are many aspects of the craft of writing to take into consideration. Learning the skill of copyediting and line editing is one of them.
There are many different stages of the editing process and when traditionally published you will work with a copy editor, line editors, proofreaders and even sensitivity readers. So, I’m afraid, it’s not as simple as checking your work just the once!
In this article, I will be explaining what line editing is, how to line edit effectively, and the differences between line editing vs copy editing.
Unless you have worked as an editor, understanding the different stages of editing and why they’re important can feel like a minefield. With so many editing terms floating around it’s hard to know what you need to implement, or when you need the help of a professional editor.
So let us start with the line editing process.
What Is Line Editing?
One of the most common questions I’m asked as an editor is “what is line editing?”
Starting the editing process can be incredibly intimidating, especially when you have no idea what it requires.
Firstly we need to break down the terminology of editing services:
In most areas of writing, be that fiction, non-fiction or even article writing, there are five major types of editing.
- Developmental Editing
- Structural Editing
- Copy Editing
- Line Editing
- Mechanical Editing/Proofreading
Most of these editing terms are fairly easy to understand, but the two that get confused more than most are copy editing vs line editing.
Line editing, in its most simple definition, deals with the editing for purposes of flow, style and readability of the manuscript. It’s literally looking at your manuscript line by line.
Contrary to what many believe, line editing does not include grammar, spelling or punctuation errors.
Don’t get me wrong, you will be looking so closely at your sentence structures that these will most likely become glaringly obvious, but you don’t need to worry about picking up on all typos during this sweep of your manuscript. There’s a reason why proofreading is left until the very end!
Instead, when line editing (either by you or a professional line editor, if you are working with an editor via your publisher or one you have hired) will look at your word usage, the overall readability, the flow and prose.
Clunky sentences will be polished, run-on sentences will be tweaked, and all those words you were not sure really fit will be interchanged for shiny new ones.
This is where you truly polish that diamond.
Line Editing Vs Copy Editing
If line editing focuses on flow, creative content, and writing style, what is the difference between a line edit and a copy edit?
A copy edit is much more technical. It’s the editing process where you focus on editing text looking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors as well as consistency and continuity in regards to name spellings, location spelling and so on.
Proofreading your writing at the very end will also pick up on any stray typos that may have occurred during the editing process.
Copy editing is mechanical and looks at the standard and expected edits, your line edit is much more subjective. It’s about polishing for beauty rather than polishing for performance.
Line Editing Vs Developmental Editing
Developmental Editing is an editing process that happens earlier in the writing journey, focussing on the big picture; pacing, structure, continuity, and character development.
This is a stage of editing where you make sure your character arcs are tight, the relationships on the page make sense, and where those who enjoy working to ‘beats’ will ensure they are hitting the beats at the right points in the novel.
There’s no point focussing on what words work best and where, if your chronology and plot are all out of place. So story first, then word choice.
How To Line Edit
My first piece of advice in this section might seem a little left field but bear with me. With each wave of edits, try using a different medium.
This is one piece of advice, given by my favourite writing mentor (Alison May) and it has stuck with me ever since. If you normally read on a laptop, print out your pages and do this edit on hard copy. Or, send it to your Kindle or iPad.
Or better yet, read it backwards!
At this stage, you already know that your book is developmentally sound having completed your developmental edit. So read a page at a time… but from the back of your book. This will force you to look at each line and paragraph individually without getting sucked into the story once more.
When doing a line edit, the best thing to do is first make a list of all the areas you should be focusing on:
Can your dialogue be tighter? Does it read naturally? Can you cut some of those ‘extra’ words to make it read/sound more convincing?
Check your action on the page. This is extremely helpful when it comes to sex scenes, for instance. Do you have too many arms in the scene, (trust me this is entirely possible!) or do the transitions in the action make sense?
Could those sentences be shortened to pack a bigger punch? Does the cadence of the sentence pull you through the scene or stop you short?
Extraneous Or Overused Words
EVERYONE has a tick. A word they overuse in every manuscript. Use the ‘find’ function to discover how many times you lean on it (top tip, you can nearly always delete ‘just’ and many ‘that’s’).
Check for repetition. When writing your first draft you often don’t notice it. Have you told your reader the same thing in four different ways to make sure they get your point? Try to remember your reader is more intelligent than you give them credit for; you only need to tell them something once.
Line Editing Tips
If you are choosing to do your line edits yourself, here are a few ideas to help you complete this editing process as painlessly as possible.
- Editing/reading in a different format (even if that means simply changing the font style and colour to trick your brain into thinking it’s reading something new).
- Give yourself space between your last edit and your copy edit. Set aside your manuscript for a few days, a week or two if you can cope. Your brain needs time to breathe before you read those words again so it can see them with fresh eyes.
- Try reading your work out loud. How do those words sound when they hit the air?
- Or better yet, get someone to read it to you. (Microsoft word now offers a read-out-loud function.) Sometimes the emphasis someone else puts on certain words will make you realise that sentence doesn’t quite work as well as you’d intended.
- Ask for help! There are many professional editors out there that do this for a living and would be more than happy to assist. If you feel overwhelmed then ask for help. Writing may be a solitary job, but it doesn’t mean we have to struggle alone.
Equally, There Are A Few Things You Should Try Not To Do:
- A thesaurus can often be your best friend… but don’t overuse it. Sometimes simple works best, and if you have to look up a ‘better word’ in a thesaurus, maybe it’s not the word that’s wrong. Look at what it is you are actually trying to say.
- Don’t over analyse. Trust yourself and your reader. Remember the repetition comment – your reader is often more intelligent than you give them credit for. Trust that your writing is strong enough to get your point across without over-explanation.
As you can see, the process of editing can be broken down into smaller pieces. It makes the whole idea of that scary edit feel much less daunting. Remember, you can’t eat an elephant whole… you need to take it in small bitesize chunks, so embrace the different stages.
Breaking down the writing process into small and very deliberate steps will also give you the distance you need to edit your manuscript with less emotional attachment and from a much more clinical point of view.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Line Editing In Writing?
Line editing is a stage in the editing process where you focus solely on the flow, style, and readability of the manuscript.
This does not include grammar, spelling or punctuation errors.
What Does Line Editing Look Like?
Put very simply, a line edit looks like a lot of red-pen on the page. It is a stage of the edit where you look at every paragraph of your novel and make sure that it moves the story forward, and that the tone and voice are consistent.
At the end of this edit, you will have a manuscript that feels rounded and almost complete.
Do I Need To Employ A Professional Editor/Professional Line Editor?
Hiring a developmental editor/editing services can be incredibly helpful to those who feel they need an extra set of eyes to ensure the flow of the story, but by the time you get to the line edit, most writers feel more than comfortable enough to tackle it themselves.
Get Your Red Pen Out!
Now you know how it’s time to get editing. I hope you have found this article helpful, and that you’ve learned what it takes to get your manuscript sparkling. The editing process needn’t be painful. In fact, if done right, it can be a lot of fun!
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