Line Edits: Applying the Elbow Grease to Your Story

Applying the elbow grease

Line edits can make or break your story. Skip it at your own peril. Here are my quick tips and tricks on how to polish even the toughest manuscripts.

Line edits mean exactly what it sounds like – going line by line through your story until your prose is shiny and clean.

In a content edit, we cut big things: whole chapters, characters, paragraphs, tossing anything that didn’t further the plot. In a line edit, you get your nose down in the words themselves.

Cut weak, imprecise nouns and verbs.

Watch out for -ly words and long strings of adjectives.

CAVEAT: this doesn’t mean you can’t do these things. By all means, don’t cut out ALL the -ly words and ALL the adjectives.

Just don’t write things like “The tall, redheaded, young, nineteen-year-old girl-child luxuriously shook out her bouncy, springy, naturally curly ponytail.” The girl took down her pony, okay? Enough said.

Take out filler words.

  • Usually
  • Really
  • Totally
  • Kind of
  • Sort of
  • Practically
  • Almost
  • Quite
  • Had
  • Just
  • Like
  • That

Watch out for repetitions. My writing partner, Stefan was kind enough to point out that in the novel draft I’m working on I had EIGHTEEN throat references in three chapters. Yeah. That. Don’t do that. Change it up.

Keep an eye out for sad cliches. Don’t be one. You’re a writer. Do better.

Mixed metaphors have to go. If it doesn’t float your boat, throw out the baby with the bathwater. It won’t work for an editor either.

Clean up your tenses. Floating in and out of past, present, and future will make a slushreader crazier than you can say “I forgot my basic rules of grammar.”

Make it beautiful. Rearrange. Rephrase. Reorder. Make your words work for you.

If you want me to line edit a story for you, head over and tell me about it.

Here are some extra resources for line edits.
line edits resources for writers

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Second Edition), How to Edit Yourself Into Print by William Morrow – an excellent tutorial in how to polish a manuscript.

line by line - line edits resources for writers

Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing Sadly this one is only available in paperback, and it might be out of print as well. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s a terrific resource to have on your bookshelf.

Have a question about line editing? Looking for a critique swap? Head to the forums and find what you’re looking for.

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