1 April 2017

#Editing 4: Line Edit

Pilgrim of the Pool, the final novel in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy is finished. Except it’s not. And that’s no April Fool’s joke.

Having done Structural and Content edits, next up is the Line Edit. I prefer to use this label rather than the all-encompassing Copy Edit as it truly fulfils its goal. Now is the time my eyes bleed as I go through the typescript line by line. It will take longer than a week because I work slowly. Yes, it can be pressed into three days, but tiredness produces mistakes and working fast means I end up reading the story, not weighing the words which make up each sentence.

What am I looking for?
  • Syntax – narrative and dialogue shouldn’t read as interchangeable; neither should dialogue from different characters.
  • Sentence openers – we all have our foibles; mine is And, He/She.
  • Adjectives – too many or not enough? Readers want to experience the story, not take a description-by-numbers course. Two is enough, one might do. If it slows the action in a high-action sequence there shouldn’t be any.
  • Adverbs – overuse of words ending –ly is laziness. Choose the correct word. Walked forcefully equates to strode. I suggest doing a global search on a chapter to see how many are flagged. For newbies the result can be horrifying.
  • Colloquialisms – mine should not be on the page; the characters’ should. For this novel, my historical characters should not sound like my contemporary; neither should they sound stilted or laughable to modern readers.
  • Mixed Metaphors & Symbolism – mixed metaphors can turn a tense scene into a laughable scene; too many snow lay like a fat blanket and readers will do more than roll their eyes.
  • Repeated Words/Phrases in Close Proximity – repeats are useful for wracking up tension; used by accident they wreck the pacing.
  • Dialogue – should each be given plain, or is a dialogue/action tag needed to delineate who is speaking? Or is one needed to act as a pacing spacer?
  • Punctuation – is it both correct, and correct for the principal market? For instance, the American market  doesn't use semi-colons the same way the British market does. My trilogy might be going to the American market but it is a story set in the UK featuring British characters. The American market can lump it.
  • Spellings – the same applies. My Native American historical uses US spelling: favorite, color, etc, and I can get away with it because of its setting. If I was writing in a contemporary US setting the grammar would need to be changed, too.
  • Word Use – the same applies. I use that in dialogue and feel it’s okay, but I use it far too often for comfort in the narrative. An American reader would balk at any. Is there a rash of had had?
  • Spell/Grammar Checker – most authors have at least their computer’s spellchecker in operation, but these can’t be trusted for fiction where syntax and word contractions are manipulated for tone and atmosphere.
  • Length of Sentence/Paragraph – this will depend on the action/passivity/dialogue of the section. I ensure that each sentence doesn’t contain too many images or actions, or readers will feel as if they are juggling. I want them to juggle the motivations of the characters, not words in a sentence. E-readers usually take 150-180 words to a screen-page under normal usage. It doesn’t want to be a wall of solid text. I tend to split paragraphs more for an ebook than I do for a paperback.
  • Anything else – again my catch-all. At this stage it will be mostly items I’ve previously missed or have queried.
  • Automated Checker – yes I use one. Pro-Writing Aid is my choice; there are others. Notice that I use it last. It is my final flagger. Mostly it pulls up items I’ve made a conscious decision to use as aiding the tone or atmosphere of the novel’s delivery, but it will also flag items I’ve overlooked, which in turn concentrates my mind not to miss it next time. I play the same game with it as I did with the editors of my earlier magazine/novel length works: to produce fiction where nothing needs to be changed. It won’t happen, but it is a good goal to aim for.
Next week... I’m still on with the Line Edit so I’m not sure yet, but I’ll be back!

See also:
Editing-1: What does editing actually mean?
Editing-2: The Structural Edit
Editing-3: The Content Edit
Editing-4: The Line Edit
Editing-5: Line Edit Update


  1. I also use ProWritingAid, Linda, also as my last check and for the same reasons. I like the way you've listed the various aspects that need checking on the line edit. I'll be doing this in the not-too-distant future, after I've done all the other editing checks! Currently, I'm catching up on the ever-growing research that inevitably accompanies the scifi novel. The worlds of technology and science don't stay still for a moment!
    Good luck with the edit. Looking forward to reading the book.

  2. I missed anachronisms, didn't I? I'll add it in later, though I probably caught any at the Content Edit stage.

    Research checks: at least in a Historical the research stays the same, or only changes slowly. In the year it takes to write a novel a lot of SF research material can change. You must fear that you miss something, which a kind reader will doubtless point out loudly in three years time. LOL!

    Best of luck with it, and thanks for calling by to Comment.

    1. Ah, anachronisms; the pitfall ready for the unwary.
      Yes, writing for the future, uncertain at the best of times, carries the hazard that some brilliant technical advance will emerge the day after the book is published!