Friday, April 24, 2009

Line Editing :One

Writing can be so much fun. We have the thrill of creating something out of nothing, and when our muse is friendly the words just flow.

After that, comes the tedium of editing and line editing. In the first edit, we look for major writing issues: characterization, plot, pacing, and structure. In line editing we focus more on details of the prose.

Here are some things to look for:

Repetition of words - in a scene with a car, how many times did you use the word car? Circle the word every time you see it, then go back and change some, take others out.

Circle the character's name. Can you substitute a pronoun for some of them, a noun for others?

Circle the word "said" - can the dialogue stand without it? Can a character action take the place of an attributive? "Sit down," Mary said, motioning to a chair. "Sit down." Mary motioned to a chair.

Clauses used in the wrong place – WRONG: He saw a vase of flowers on the counter that was right in the center. RIGHT: He saw a vase of flowers in the center of the counter.

Subject/verb agreement - words between a subject and verb do not change the number of the verb. EXAMPLE: The beauty of the garden - the roses, irises, petunias- is a sight to behold.

Action/motivation not in the right places. WRONG: He jumped, startled by a loud bang on the door. RIGHT: Startled by a loud bang on the door, he jumped.

Qualifiers - rather, very, little, almost, pretty. EXAMPLE: At the sound of the door opening, she almost lost it. BETTER: Hearing the creak of the opening door, she forced herself not to whirl in panic.

Weak words - as, while, since, somewhat. WEAK: As Fran raised the cup, she... BETTER: Fran raised the cup and...

Next week we’ll talk about more things to look for in line editing. Keep in mind that this is not proof reading. That’s another process, and one that is my least favorite thing to do. In the meantime, have fun going through your manuscript and line editing.

Wait. Did I really say that? That’s like saying have fun cleaning the cabinets.


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

Bookmark and Share


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great timing! I have just finished hacking out unnecessary scenes/content and plan to continue with line edits soon. This comes in handy!


  3. I enjoy line editing during the writing process. Since my inner editor wants to be known, I usually go back a few pages and check what I did the day before.
    That said, when it comes down to the nitty gritty and I need to exam every word in my manuscript, that's when I hate the process and almost hate the book.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. That is really great advice. I'm going to bookmark this page. I need to work on my stylistic variation a bit more.

  5. Excellent advice, and I'm also in the midst of a hack-n-chop of my latest. I'm most guilty of the "As" brigade: "As she turned, she noticed." Something I have to turn an eagle eye on.


  6. Actually, editing can be made more fun by using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It takes out the tedium of *finding* all the problems.

    I love it because it saves me TONS of editing time...which means more writing time :-)

  7. Thanks for the tips.

  8. Cleaning the cabinets can be great fun - expecially if you haven't done it for a while, you may find long lost treasures.

    Line editing can also be fun - taking bland sentences and making them pop always brings a smile to my face. Does that make me extra strange or just regular strange?

  9. In regard to "Circle the word "said" - can the dialogue stand without it? Can a character action take the place of an attributive? "Sit down," Mary said, motioning to a chair. "Sit down." Mary motioned to a chair."

    Here is a comment I received from a fellow writer:

    First, it seems like you’re overusing verbs, and have gone out of your way to avoid saying “he said “she said.” Instead, the dialogue is littered with verbs, many of which are inappropriate and unnecessary. “He said, she said” are words that are “overlooked.” By that I mean, they don’t slow the dialogue down. The way your dialogue is now, one gets tripped up by the verbs, and it slows down the reading."

    I prefer to avoid "said" and other speech verbs, but this person seems to feel my text would be better if I used "said" and then write an action.

    I'm confused.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook