Tag Archives: grammar

Editing Focus 3: Line Editing

Sorry this is late in appearing, everyone…that’s what this annoying little thing called…”LIFE”… will do to a person.  O.o

So, I’ve been working on beta reading S.K.’s awesome new book, The Lords of Askalon (can’t WAIT for all of you to be able to read it!).  Beta reading for me is mostly line-editing.  However, since I generally only have time to do a once-over, I usually try to work in syllabic editing and at least some consistency editing (did you really mean “north” here???:).  But most of what I’m doing is looking at the mechanics of the writing, and making sure that the prose is as tight and vibrant as possible.  I promised to share with you my tips and techniques, so that line-editing can be a little less of a headache for you.  Here you go.

First thing’s first: whenever you’re going to do a significant edit on your book, SAVE A COPY OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.  You don’t want to experience the horror of slashing all of Chapter 9 and saving over your only file, only to realize…”Oh no!  I really wanted to recycle that one passage into another chapter.”  Save it as “MyAwesomestNovel_EDIT” or something.  Then when you’ve got it edited to perfection, save it (again) as “MyAwesomestNovel_FINAL” or whatever.  I’m obsessive about that.  Any time I make significant changes to my story, I save a revision document.

Scanning Edits

Okay, this isn’t really a step one, but it’s kind of a….macro-y sort of line-edit, so I’ll talk about it first.  One of the first things I’ll try to do when I start editing is It’s basically a sort of page-scan.  This means that I’m not actually reading so much as doing a sort of visual pattern search.

For instance, I’ll scan over all the dialogue on the page.  If I see too many modifiers, too many dialogue tags, I’ll start slashing them.  This is one of my personal banes — using too many adverbs (he said thinly/ flatly/ harshly/ sharply/ gently/ whatever-ly), or too many descriptive verbs (he snapped/ laughed/ demanded/ lamented).

My general rule — if I were to have a rule — would be to see no more than one or two of either of these things on a page, or per chunk of dialogue.  I prefer when action frames some of the lines of dialogue (He shrugged. “Who cares?”), rather than dialogue tags.  Then you can use context to identify the next speaker…except where you need to introduce a newcomer to the reader.  So:

Bob and Milo sat quietly for a while, constrained in uncomfortably close quarters.  Milo sighed and fidgeted.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea.  No. Idea.”
George glanced at them in the rearview of his Mini.  “Chill out, guys, we’re just going to grab some donuts!”

Now, that does the trick, right?  Right before the dialogue starts, we’re talking about Milo, so we can safely assume that he’s the first one to speak.  Then, Bob has to answer, because he’s the only other character we know.  But I can use an action frame to introduce George — and also to start solving the mystery of why Bob and Milo are feeling so uncomfortably constrained squashed.

So if I’m scanning the page and see several lines of dialogue that elaborate too much, I’ll start cutting.  I’m exceptionally brutal about this, because, as I said, it was the bane of my writerly existence for years.

ALSO.  Don’t be afraid of the word “said.”  It’s perfectly fine.  It doesn’t always need to modified, either.  I’d say…35% the time you don’t need anything modifying the dialogue.  25% of the time, just say said!  25% of the time you can use an action frame.  15% of the time you can use a colorful “speaking” verb, like “demand, snap, whisper” etc.  Anyway, different people have different preferences…just watch out for going overboard in any direction.  ALL of these are problematic:

“I went to the store today,” George said.
“That’s nice,” Bob said.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.


George frowned and slammed his hand on the door.  “I went to the store today!”
“That’s nice.”  Bob’s face lit with a malicious grin.
Milo squirmed, nervous.  “I went to the store yesterday.”


“I went to the store today,” George whined.
“That’s nice,” Bob sneered.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo announced.

But this is sort of better (if we can salvage this idiotic dialogue…):

George speared a glare at Bob. “I went to the store today.”
“That’s nice.”
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.

You get the idea.

Also in the scanning edits, I watch for snippets or phrases that might tend to get repeated overly-repeated snippets or phrases.  This includes phrases like: shrugged, frowned, shook (his) head, sighed, grimaced, groaned, etc.

Generally I don’t want to see more than one character doing any of these things more than once in any particular scene…or at least make sure that you give some solid distance between instances.  If everyone’s constantly shaking their heads and nodding, I’m going to assume they are Bobbleheads.  And yes.  This is one that I have to be extra-careful about, because I do it a lot.  It’s especially hard if you write in fits and starts.  If you don’t make sure to reread your previous few pages before starting again, you risk repeating phrases that you didn’t remember using.

Also watch for consecutive sentences starting the same way.  If you’re scanning a paragraph and see: “He…   .  He…  .  He…”, then you have a problem.  Even worse would be: “He was… .  He was… . He was…”  AGH!  Death.  Try to avoid starting multiple sentences with the same word/grammatical structure.  It gets quite annoying.

So basically, this step is just my eye scanning over the pages, looking for things that are visually….disturbing.   You’d be surprised what you can catch this way, which you might not when you’re actually reading.

Continue reading

Preparing to Publish: Editing

As S.K. said in her last blog post, we’re celebrating the month of September with an in-depth look at the publication process.  Now, I’m going to assume that you have a finished manuscript.  Your story is complete.  Your characters are well-rounded and you’ve inflicted on them all necessary challenges and sufferings for growth and all that good stuff.  Your plot makes sense, has a good arc, interesting climax and satisfying denouement.  Now all you have to do is polish it up and get it ready for the press.

So that’s where we’re starting.  In this series, we’re not going to tell you how to write a novel or how to develop complex characters.  Maybe another time.  We’re just going to make sure the book you publish is the best it can be.  In this article, I’ll give an overview of the different stages of editing many writers like to follow, then in subsequent articles we’ll go more in depth about each stage and give practical h0w-to advice.

So, what are the main stages or types of editing?  I honestly don’t like calling them “stages” of editing, as if you have to follow them in order and do them only once.  Usually when I edit, I’ve got an eye on at least two of them.  Maybe we should call each of them an “editing focus.”  And they kind of range from macro to micro, so that’s the order I’ll present them.

Focus 1

This may or may not be a kind of “editing,” strictly speaking.  You know how I just said you’ve got a nice finished manuscript with good characters and plot arc and all that?  Well, the first thing you want to do is take a good long look at that manuscript.  You might even want to put it away for a week or longer before undertaking this step.  But the idea is, you look at all the elements of your story and say, “Is this the absolute best it can be?”  Is that character as interesting as possible?  Is that plot twist too predictable?  Is this character a cliche?  Is there enough detail in the world-building to make the setting come to life?  Is there too much, making the prose dull and boring?  Is that chapter 10 where Egbert finds the stray kitten really necessary to advance the plot, however attached I might be to the scene?

Focus 2

This is what is commonly called or thought of as “consistency editing,” and it’s pretty much the most macro-y of the macro edits, technically speaking.  In this focus, you will be rereading your manuscript from start to finish.  Basically, what you’re doing is watching for errors in consistency in your story telling.  This can be something as big as the story arc or as small as details like eye color.  You have no idea how easy these are to miss, and how annoying they are to readers.

Focus 3

The next focus is what you’ll hear editors refer to as “line editing.”  I’m kind of torn about whether this Focus should be next, or Focus 4.  Focus 4 is more of a stylistic edit, so I like to put it last because it doesn’t make sense to do stylistic edits on prose you’re about to slash from the manuscript.  However, line edits can catch mistakes introduced by Focus 4, so….maybe the best way to think about it is that you will probably end up doing two stages of line editing — one here, and one at the very end.  More on that later, though.

For now, all you need to know is that line editing is where you take a magnifying glass to your manuscript, line by line, and look for anything that can structurally weaken your story.  You’re looking for language misuse, grammar errors, punctuation errors, spelling errors, and even things like mixed metaphors or overused phrases.  I’ve got some tips to make line-editing less of a headache…those will come in a future post.

Focus 4

This focus is something I’ve heard called “syllabic editing.”  Here you’re going to be paying attention to the flow and sound of your story — how it strikes the reader’s mental ear.  Often times with syllabic editing you will be looking at tightening up your prose, cutting unnecessary words (hence, syllables).  But I like to think it has a poetic purpose too, not just smash and slash.  Sometimes you’ll end up adding words.  Sometimes you’ll cut and rewrite whole paragraphs…or even entire scenes…if they just don’t flow the right way, or convey the right tone.  A lot of times you will be looking at better ways to say something, if the original phrasing is too  bland or passive.

At this point, after running through all of these steps and doing a final line edit, you will be ready to prepare the actual manuscript file for the press.  We’ll be covering that whole process in future posts, too, so never fear.  In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at Focus 1.

Crossing the Finish Line

You’ve typed the last sentence, added the last end punctuation. You sit back with a satisfied sigh and hit save. It’s finished…finally.

Isn’t it?

Not quite.

The editing process is probably the most arduous and time-consuming part of the craft of writing.  And indeed, as we all know, he who refuses to edit is a fool. But there’s a funny thing about editing. It’s like a singularity — a black hole. Once you get sucked in, you may never come out again…or, if you do emerge, it may be in a totally different place in writerly space/time. So how do you balance the necessity of editing with the dangers of becoming consumed by it? How do you know when you’re finished…really and truly finished?

Part of this depends on where you are publishing. If you write for a magazine or have an editor at a publishing house, then you can be assured that whatever you send will not be exactly what is printed. Editors will tweak.  They can’t help themselves. (I know — I was one.) With that understanding, your job as a writer is to send them something that meets the following basic criteria:

  1. It has NO grammatical mistakes…at all.  Zero.
  2. It fits within the parameters of the assignment.  Don’t submit a 2,000 word piece for a 500-word column.  Or a 750 page novel to an imprint that only publishes 300-400 page manuscripts.  Your editor does not love you that much.  I promise.
  3. It makes sense.  Your plot lines are logical, your characters consistent, your timeline flawless.

But what if you plan to self-publish?  How do you know when enough is enough?

In situations like these, a writers’ critique group or good friend can be invaluable. (No.  Your dog does not count.  He must be able to read for himself.)  Make sure you’ve met the three basic criteria above and then submit it to the group or give it to your friend for a read-through.  When we have lived within a story’s world for months (years?), we lack perspective.  We know our characters inside and out.  We know the plot so well that we mentally fill in any gaps…sometimes neglecting to fill them in on the page as well.  Your critique group can spot them and you can adjust before any of your readers suffers death by narrative fissure.  Once you’ve made the suggested corrections, do another read-through yourself.  If you still have any friends left after the first go-round, buy them a latte and ask them to read it again.  Make the final changes and consider yourself done.

Another option worth considering is to hire a freelance editor to go through your work with a fine-tooth comb.  This is especially worth investigating if you aren’t confident enough in your grammatical prowess to handle step #1 on your own.  Freelance editors can do anything from a simple proofreading for grammatical errors to full-blown editing (suggesting storyline adjustments, content changes, etc.) and everything in between.  The drawback?  You need cash to hire one.  (They don’t work for lattes.)  And the larger the project and more extensive your needs, the higher the price.  But it could pay big dividends if your brilliantly polished piece lands a solid contract.

There you have it.  It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.  Editing is necessary and should be undertaken with care, but it should not become all-consuming.  So take heart, writers, and do not fear the editing process!  Hold your heads high and cross that finish line with confidence!