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Monday, February 18, 2013

Editing...Editing...Editing--Part 4: Line Editing

Picture Credit: http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/
This is Part 4 of a 4-part blog series about editing your work. In this blog we'll cover line editing.

In Part 1 we discussed the first steps of content editing, which should be done before line editing.

In Part 2 we began a discussion on balanced writing, a content editing process I learned from my editor Clint Johnson.

In Part 3 we finished the discussion on balanced writing, and in doing so completed the discussion on content editing.

Now you are ready to begin line editing! I won't pretend this is the most exciting thing to do in the world. It's not. But it needs to be done. And just think, after all the work you've put into your book, you are almost ready to send it out!

#1 Search for "Was"

At some point you have probably heard to never use "was." It is not true that "was" is of the devil and should be banished--good luck writing a novel without using it. The problem is it tends to be overused. Another thing you might hear is that if you use "was," then you are using passive writing.

  • "Was" CAN be a symptom of passive writing (The ball was thrown to Sally by Fred). 
  • GENERALLY active writing is better (Fred threw the ball to Sally). 
    • One notable reason a passive sentence may be desirable is when you want the emphasis to go to the object being acted on (in this case, the ball) instead of the character performing the action (in this case, Fred).

But remember, not all passive writing uses "was" and not all uses of "was" indicate passive writing.

Another complaint with "was" is that it is boring. The idea is that you don't want writing such as the following:

  • Sally was tall. Her eyes were blue. She was pretty. But she was shy and self-conscious.

Boring, right? That doesn't mean it can NEVER be used, but be very careful with it. If you want to throw in a "was" statement like that for emphasis at a certain point, go for it. But generally you can give those ideas without making such bland statements.

Another time you will find yourself legitimately using "was" is appropriate to use to indicate time frame:

  • Sally was already standing when Fred walked into the room. 

If you changed the sentence around to avoid "was," you'd change the meaning:
  • Sally stood before Fred walked into the room.

Suddenly makes the fact that Sally stood up somehow connected to Fred.

With that lengthy explanation of what you are looking for, search your document (preferably using the search toolbar to avoid extra reading) for uses of "was" and make sure you really want to use that word.

#2 Search for "That"

"That" is a perfectly respectable word, but as with "was" it can be overused. Do you really need it every time you use it?

#3 Search for any Other Problem Words

Get to know yourself. Do you mix up "then" and "than"? What about "to" and "too"? Do you ever refer to people as "that" instead of "who"? Learn what your specific weaknesses are and search for the problem words you have.

#4 Read it!

Print your manuscript off and just read it out loud. You have already spent so much time staring at a computer screen that it's time for you to see it in a different format. It's amazing what you'll notice by just changing the format and reading. When you find mistakes, mark them and move on. You want to keep the flow of reading, so plan on coming back to them when you're done. My favorite thing to do is to load my manuscript on my Kindle to read at this point. Then I don't have to pay to print it out, I can easily make notations, and I spend so much time reading "real" books on my Kindle that it feels like a book to me when I do that. Pick a way that works for you, but dedicate enough time to reading it that you don't spend too long on this step--otherwise you'll loose a sense of the flow that you are going for.

After you have finished your first reading, go back to the computer and make whatever changes need to be made. Then print it out again (or at least print out the pages that you have changed).

#5 This Time Go Slow

Read through the manuscript again out loud. Go SLOW. Consider every sentence and paragraph. Is there a less-confusing way to say it? Do you have pet phrases that you repeat too often? Can readers clearly see who every pronoun (he or she) is referring to? Are there any unintended puns ("I fell into the river," he said dryly.)?

This reading will probably take 2-3 times longer than the reading in step 4, but you'll catch a ton more mistakes. After you're done, go back to the computer and fix the problems again.

#6 Read Looking for Adjectives and Adverbs

Once again, you are going to need to re-print your manuscript for this step--you are beginning to see one reason I love my Kindle by now.

An adjective is any word describing a noun (person, place, thing, or idea). An adverb describes a verb (action).

Look for and evaluate all of your adjectives and adverbs to see if any can be left out without changing the meaning. Most of these extra words were probably dumped when you did your content editing, but they have a way of sneaking into these final stages. If the adjective/adverb is necessary, is there a less-cliche way of saying it? How distinctive is it? Do you use the same ones repeatedly? Do you ever need comas separating a list of them (This is ALWAYS a warning sign)? Can you get rid of some of them by strengthening the word they are describing ("whisper" instead of "speak softly")?

Go back to the computer and make any changes you found to make.

#7 Read Backwards

No, I'm not joking. Print out your manuscript again and read it one sentence at a time starting with the last sentence of the book. When you become involved in the story, you will miss things because you are so certain that it's right that your brain inserts words that are not on the page.

One time I had my editor and a friend who was reading my manuscript for me both point out a sentence that didn't make sense to them. I read and re-read the sentence but couldn't see what they didn't like about it. Finally, I changed it completely. A second friend, who was slower with the changes she recommended, pointed out the same sentence. I finally asked why she didn't like the sentence and she read it out loud to me. I left out a very-necessary "had"! All those times reading it, and I did not see it.

Reading backwards will help because the sentences will each stand on their own. It is the best way to do deep evaluations on your grammar, punctuation, and syntax. This is probably the least-fun editing round you'll do, but remind yourself that you're almost done.

Once again, go back to the computer and fix whatever changes you found.

#8 Last Reading!

Re-print your manuscript and read it again just for pleasure. As much as you can, pretend that you are not thoroughly sick of reading it. Pretend it is a new book on your shelf and this is the first time you've read it. Again, you will want to read it out loud. You have made changes as you've gone through, and this time you have to go back to making sure you still have the flow.

If you have an electronic devise that will read to you (like a Kindle), I recommend having it read while you follow along. 

#9 Give the Manuscript to Editors

Your editors may be family and friends. Great! Or you may have a professional editor that you use. Fantastic! Whatever your technique, pass your work along before you try your luck with an agent or attempt to self-publish. No matter how thorough you are, you will have missed things that other readers will catch.

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