Writing Wednesday: Line Edits

Writing Wednesday

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday, a biweekly feature where I try to troubleshoot an aspect of writing. This week I will be covering LINE EDITS.

Last time, we discussed structural edits, which I defined as “big picture” revisions, so we’ll move onto line edits,1 which I think of as polishing the book until it shines.

When working with an editor, you can have many, many passes on structural revisions—however many your editor or you feel is appropriate to get your book into “shape,” as it were. One pass might involve fixing large plot problems. The next might be tightening character motivation. And on and on until the overall book is where it should be.

Then we move into line edits. I think when people think of what editors do, they tend to envision line editing. Line editing involves moving from the macro-level to the micro-level: looking at the work not necessarily on a story level, but a sentence level. This is where craft comes in. This is where things like repetition, awkward phrasing, alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhythm all get smoothed and polished out.

But more than just polishing work on a sentence level, line edits also look at specific scenes, paragraphs, etc. Sometimes editors will move paragraphs around to better story flow, sometimes entire scenes will get merged into another, other times entire sentences will be excised because they’re redundant. The level of line editing depends on the editor, and it also depends on the writer. This is also where editors and authors can clash and butt heads. (An editor and author can clash and butt heads at every step of the process, but there’s something about line editing that feels a bit more personal.)

Now, when it came to my own personal editing style, I tried not to mess too much with the writer’s voice, although I would mark up scenes and paragraphs and move them around, explaining how I thought things read smoother and more naturally in the order I placed them in, etc. And again, it depends on the book. Sometimes my only comments during the line-editing stage were questions in the margins where I felt something was slightly unclear, or occasionally pointing out places where I felt the writing was awkward. Other times my line edits were a bit more substantial, pointing out that it would be more dramatic to end the chapter here or start the scene there.

The line edits for Wintersong were fairly light; I didn’t have to address much in the text before it was considered delivered and accepted.2 But that may have also been a function of the fact that I did a lot of line editing during the structural revision stage as well.

I’ve mentioned that writing is as much aural as it is verbal, and I do spend a lot of time fussing over a sentence. Not in the drafting stage, or even in the structural revision stage, but as a way to polish my own words until I’m happy with them. My own natural writing rhythm and voice tends to be overly long and complicated, packed with alliteration, assonance, consonance, and I am enamored of adjectives coming in threes. I do a lot of pruning during line edits, and I mean a lot.

The term “kill your darlings” is flexible enough to apply to many situations: characters, plot happenings, sentences, etc. I’m not particularly attached to any bit of wording or phrasing; I save all the pretty stuff in a file called “Orphans.” Because my writing can tend to the Baroque, my struggle is to tighten and hone as much as possible. So I examine every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every scene, every chapter, every act to see what can pull double duty. Do I need to say this here when I’ve already shown it there?

That’s all for this week! Next time we’ll be discussing COPYEDITS, a topic fresh on my mind since I turned them in for Wintersong last week. 

  1. I will make a note here: line edits and copyedits are NOT necessarily the same thing. I will discuss copyedits next time.
  2. “Delivery and acceptance,” or D&A, is a publishing term that exists in every contract, and is usually tied to a payment. Advances are generally broken into multiple payments: on-signing, on D&A, and sometimes on publication. When a manuscript is considered accepted, it means that the publisher has decided no more edits need to be done and that the manuscript is FINAL. At this point it will go to production to be copyedited.

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