What is a line edit?

 

A line edit (sometimes referred to as a copy edit) addresses a manuscript line-by-line, putting right any little errors, removing repetitions, correcting mistakes in punctuation, and anything else required to perfect the prose. Sometimes, longer sentences might need breaking down, or too much description or talking might need paring back. Writing to a publishable standard is so competitive that aspiring debut authors need to be in control of these aspects - a line edit done by a professional editor should ideally only be light-touch in nature.

 

Part of learning to self-edit involves standing back from the script to assess it with a dispassionate eye. This is best achieved after a break of several weeks or (preferably) months, because time away from the manuscript allows the writer to see it with fresh eyes.

 

For a writer editing their own work, line edits can be quite intensive, because you've developed your script from scratch and so it stands to reason that it will need a lot of pruning over many months. This may include several thorough edits. For an editor working on a professional writer's MS, line edits are designed to put the final gloss on a MS before a final proof read. As a freelance editor, I've turned down requests to correct all the mistakes in a debut manuscript which has no punctuation, for example, because aspiring writers need to be able to handle these aspects of the craft for themselves. I've recommended websites, courses and classes to help. I mostly always include a short sample line edit in reports, to illustrate to the client which areas can be corrected (punctuation, if applicable) or trimmed down (perhaps too much talking or telling). 

 

Below is an example line edit designed to make the story spring off the page, and to put right minor errors:

 

ORIGINAL:

'Dead Beat' wasn't my kind of club. Despite the fact I'd dressed entirely in black and slicked back my hair, I knew I didn't fit in. The dance floor pulsated with black-clad youths and scantily dressed girls. Most of them looked high. Even the crowd standing round the edge swayed in time to the music like mannequins pulled by a single string. (If you could call it music. Goth death metal has never been my taste, especially when it's so loud it lifts your feet off the ground.) I pushed my way through the sweaty bodies and headed for the stairs. That's when I saw him. He was on the balcony, his back pressed against the rails.  

         The stairs were teeming with youths who made no effort to move. My progress was slow. Somebody slopped ice cold lager down my back, and slurred an apology. Once I reached the top, the crowd thinned out. The slouchy settees on the mezzanine level had been bagged by amorous couples. I spotted a threesome in one corner, their lean limbs entangled.  

         I guess he must've seen me emerge from the shadows. He shot away from the balcony, dropped his water bottle, and stood in the middle of the gangway with his mouth open. Forgive me for being critical, but there's something singularly unattractive about a guy who wears a parka and jam-jar bottom glasses to a night club.  

         'Jess?' he squinted. 'Hello Merv.' I thrust my hands deep into my pockets and stared.  

         What are you doing here"

         'Looking for you,' I said.

         "I have to take you in, Merv."  

 

SUGGESTED LINE EDIT TO IMPROVE CLARITY, PACE AND TENSION - remove unnecessary words and phrases, cut conversation where appropriate, remove telling so that showing is foregrounded (underlined), remove frequency of 'he said'/'she said', use speech marks correctly:  

  

'Dead Beat' wasn't my kind of club. Despite the fact I'd dressed entirely in black and slicked back my hair, [but] I knew I didn't fit in. The dance floor pulsated with black-clad youths and scantily dressed girls. Most of them looked high. Even the crowd standing round the edge swayed in time to the music like mannequins pulled by a single string. (If you could call it music. Goth death metal has never been my taste, especially when it's so loud it lifts your feet off the ground.) I pushed my way through the sweaty bodies and headed for the stairs. That's when I saw him. He was on the balcony, his back pressed against the rails.  

         The stairs were teeming with youths who made no effort to move. My progress was slow. Somebody slopped ice cold lager down my back, and slurred an apology. Once I reached the top, the crowd thinned out. The slouchy settees on the mezzanine level had been bagged by amorous couples. I spotted a threesome in one corner, their lean limbs entangled.  

         I guess he must've seen me emerge from the shadows. He shot away from the balcony, dropped his water bottle, and stood in the middle of the gangway with his mouth open. Forgive me for being critical, but there's something singularly unattractive about a guy who wears a parka and jam-jar bottom glasses to a night club.  

         'Jess?' he squinted.  

         'Hello Merv.' I thrust my hands deep into my pockets and stared.  

         'What are you doing here?'  

         'Looking for you,' I said. 'I have to take you in, Merv.'  

 

FINAL RESULTS:  

'Dead Beat' wasn't my kind of club. I'd dressed entirely in black and slicked back my hair, but I didn't fit in. The dance floor pulsated with black-clad youths and scantily dressed girls. Most of them looked high. The crowd standing round the edge swayed in time to the music like mannequins pulled by a single string. I pushed my way through the sweaty bodies and headed for the stairs. That's when I saw him. He was on the balcony, his back pressed against the rails.   

        At the top, the crowd thinned out.  

         I guess he must've seen me emerge from the shadows. He shot away from the balcony, dropped his water bottle, and stood in the gangway with his mouth open.  

         'Jess?' he squinted.   

         'Hello Merv.' I thrust my hands deep into my pockets.   

         'What are you doing here?'   

         'Looking for you. I have to take you in, Merv.'  

 

The wordcount is reduced, the speech is clearer, and the explanatory tracts have been stripped down because sometimes, in storytelling, less is more. 

 

For more information on Line Editing:

 

Try this blog here;

And this article here;

Or this blog here;

Try this self-help non-fiction book for general tips;

And this book also. 

28th November 2020

 

 

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