What is a line edit?

 

Line editing involves making changes to a manuscript at a sentence-by-sentence level. 

 

A thorough line edit can crank up the tension in your work, by making the prose punchy and to-the-point. The purpose of this is to improve the storytelling. Part of learning to edit your own work involves standing back from what you’ve written to assess it with a dispassionate eye, and to make changes which pull the reader in. The following line edit shows how this can be achieved. 

 

ORIGINAL before line edit: 

 

'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.' 

         We were lip-reading more than hearing each other, but Merv got the message. He began to back away, and slipped on a puddle of water that'd leaked from the bottle. 

         'Don't play hard to get,' I said, advancing. 

         'Leave me alone!' Merv whined like a schoolboy. 'How did you know I'd be here?' 

         I gestured towards the dancers. 'You're a creature of habit. If you don't come with me, they'll send somebody far more scary.' 

         Merv appeared to think about it, then he turned and ran. There was only one staircase, and he was going in the wrong direction. I stood and watched, waiting for him to bounce off the far wall before returning like a boomerang. When Merv ended up exactly where he'd started, in the same puddle of water, and fell over, I realised he was crying. His glasses were on the floor. One lens was cracked. I picked them up and knelt by his side. 

         'Merv, you can't fight the Unit forever,' I yelled in his ear. 'They know about you. They want you. Please, come quietly and there won't be any trouble!' I handed him the broken glasses. 'You're sat in the water. You're going to look like you've pissed yourself unless you stand up quick.' 

         Merv scrambled to his feet and backed away. I was three feet smaller than him and yet he was afraid of me. A teensy weensy part of me enjoyed it. 

         'I don't want to be like you, Jess,' he whined, sending spittle flying. 'I won't be forced to join something I don't believe in!' 

         'Mervyn,' I shouted, 'you have to join the human race some time! Hanging around bars stealing credit cards is not an appropriate use of your skills!' 

         'Neither is poking around in the minds of criminals,' he yelled. 'I know what you do in there, Jess! I know all about Department Thirteen!' 

         'They pay a wage,' I said. 'When did you last actually earn anything you could call your own? Come work for the Unit and you could take a flat on Riverside. You could smarten yourself up a bit... even get a girlfriend.' 

         'Look at me,' said Merv, his arms outstretched. 'Who would want me? I've got buck teeth and terrible eyesight. I haven't even kissed a girl yet! And I wear a parka!' 

         'Merv, the glasses are so last century,’ I said. ‘Have eye surgery. Visit an orthodontist. Buy some acne cream. Pump up a bit at the gym, and you'll get a girl.' 

         'I can't afford the medical bills,' Merv wiped his eyes,. 'Or the gym membership.' 

         'You can if you come with me,' I corrected. 'Voluntary recruitment carries a bonus.' 

         'And what if I don't agree?' 

         I shrugged. 'They'll get you sooner or later, anyway. Your choice.' 

 

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

 

'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.' 

         We were lip-reading more than hearing each other, but Merv got the message. He began to back away, and slipped on a puddle of water that'd leaked from the bottle. 

         'Don't play hard to get,' I said, advancing. 

         'Leave me alone!' Merv whined like a schoolboy. 'How did you know I'd be here?' 

         I gestured towards the dancers. 'You're a creature of habit. If you don't come with me, they'll send somebody far more scary.' 

         Merv appeared to think about it, then he turned and ran. There was only one staircase, and he was going in the wrong direction. I stood and watched, waiting [waited] for him to bounce off the far wall before returning like a boomerang. When Merv ended up exactly where he'd started, in the same puddle of water, and fell over, I realised he was crying. His glasses were on the floor. One lens was cracked. I picked them up and knelt by his side. 

         'Merv, you can't fight the Unit forever,' I yelled in his ear. 'They know about you. They want you. Please, come quietly and there won't be any trouble!' I handed him the broken glasses. 'You're sat in the water. You're going to look like you've pissed yourself unless you stand up quick.' 

         Merv scrambled to his feet and backed away. I was three feet smaller than him and yet he was afraid of me. A teensy weensy part of me enjoyed it. 

         'I don't want to be like you, Jess,' he whined, sending spittle flying. 'I won't be forced to join something I don't believe in!' 

         'Mervyn,' I shouted, 'you have to join the human race some time! Hanging around bars stealing credit cards is not an appropriate use of your skills[.]!

         'Neither is poking around in the minds of criminals,' he yelled. 'I know what you do in there, Jess! I know all about Department Thirteen!' 

         'They pay a wage,' I said. 'When did you last actually earn anything you could call your own? Come work for the Unit and you could take a flat on Riverside. You could smarten yourself up a bit... even get a girlfriend.' 

         'Look at me,' said Merv, his arms outstretched. 'Who would want me? I've got buck teeth and terrible eyesight. I haven't even kissed a girl yet! And I wear a parka!' 

         'Merv, the glasses are so last century,’ I said. ‘Have eye surgery. Visit an orthodontist. Buy some acne cream. Pump up a bit at the gym, and you'll get a girl.' 

         'I can't afford the medical bills,' Merv wiped his eyes. 'Or the gym membership.' 

         'You can if you come with me,' I corrected. 'Voluntary recruitment carries a bonus.' 

         'And what if I don't agree?' 

         I shrugged. 'They'll get you sooner or later, anyway. Your choice.' 

 

END 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 and stared.  

         'What are you doing here?'  

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

        Merv began to back away, and slipped on a puddle of water. 

         'Don't play hard to get,' I said, advancing.  

         'Leave me alone!' Merv whined. 'How did you know I'd be here?'  

         I gestured towards the dancers. 'You're a creature of habit. If you don't come with me, they'll send somebody far more scary.'  

         Merv turned and ran. There was only one staircase, and he was going in the wrong direction. I waited for him to bounce off the far wall before returning like a boomerang. Merv ended up exactly where he'd started, in the same puddle of water, and fell over. He was crying. His glasses were on the floor. One lens was cracked. I picked them up and knelt by his side.  

         'Merv, you can't fight the Unit forever. They know about you. They want you. Please, come quietly and there won't be any trouble!' I handed him the broken glasses. 'You're sat in the water. You're going to look like you've pissed yourself unless you stand up quick.'  

         Merv scrambled to his feet and backed away. 

         'I don't want to be like you, Jess. I won't be forced to join something I don't believe in!'  

         'Mervyn, you have to join the human race some time! Hanging around bars stealing credit cards is not an appropriate use of your skills.'  

         'Neither is poking around in the minds of criminals,' he yelled. 'I know what you do in there, Jess! I know all about Department Thirteen!'  

         'They pay a wage,' I said. 'When did you last actually earn anything you could call your own? Come work for the Unit and you could take a flat on Riverside. You could smarten yourself up a bit... even get a girlfriend.'  

         'Look at me,' said Merv, his arms outstretched. 'Who would want me? I've got buck teeth and terrible eyesight. I haven't even kissed a girl yet! And I wear a parka!'  

          ‘Have eye surgery. Visit an orthodontist. Buy some acne cream. Pump up a bit at the gym, and you'll get a girl.'  

         'I can't afford the medical bills,' Merv wiped his eyes. 'Or the gym membership.'  

         'You can if you come with me. Voluntary recruitment carries a bonus.'  

         'And what if I don't agree?'  

         I shrugged. 'They'll get you sooner or later, anyway. Your choice.' 

  

These edits increase the pace, which increases the tension, and keeps the reader interested. Generally, in fiction, fewer words are more effective than more words, so it's often a matter of trimming back. The scenes which writers can afford to expand on are high-point drama scenes which the reader wants to savour - but these are few and far between. 

 

I always include a short sectional detailed line edit in clients’ reports and coaching projects – if you can learn to line edit your own work strictly, then your writing will improve as a result, and your final product will be much more sophisticated.

 

Happy writing!

 

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. 

 

 

 

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