Intro to Line Editing

A training video for fiction writers

Psst! Apologies in advance for the poor audio quality! It's definitely not up to my standards, and I'm working on cleaning that up before I release the full virtual workshop. So no worries! <3 Thank you for understanding!  

(If the audio quality bothers you too much to listen, click below to read the transcript, or mute the sound and watch the captions.)

Read the video transcript (click to expand)

So let's focus back in on what we're going to be learning today. Line editing is one of the most difficult skills to master as a fiction author.

And the only way to learn how to line edit is just to start doing it. But choice paralysis is a real thing, if you have spent more than five minutes tweaking a single line. As an editor, that is something I had to learn to get past.

When you're so deep in the zone that a comma placement can throw you into mental gridlock, you need a touchpoint to help you make those decisions quickly, so you can move on.

And the Elev8 technique will help you do just that. That touchpoint that helps you make those quick decisions is our why.

WHY do we care about line editing? What is even the point?

Well, just like when you're writing a story, you need to understand your goals before you start making any editing decisions. And there are many ways line editing can help you grow as an author, but our focus must always be on the reader.

How can we serve our readers in ways that also support what we need as creators? And that's why we care about the top three goals of line editing.

So let's look at them in increasing order of importance. The easiest of the three line-editing goals to achieve is reducing mental strain on your readers, to edit for cognitive clarity.

If you want to keep readers engaged in your story and avoid DNFs (Did Not Finish reviews), you must keep your words and phrases simple. It doesn't matter how beautiful and flowing your prose is if someone has to reread the same sentence twice or even three times to understand it. The reward they get out of reading that sentence must be greater than the effort they put in to read it. That's what I mean by cognitive clarity.

The second most important goal of line editing is to create an immersive reading experience. You want readers to feel like they are in the scene, part of the action, dialed into what the character is thinking, feeling, and experiencing. That emotional depth is what hooks them into reading until they can't keep their eyes open.

Our #1 goal anytime we approach any line-editing decision is to make the scene more compelling. Compelling prose lives at the intersection of cognitive clarity and emotional depth.

Whenever you think about a revision you want to make, ask yourself:

Will it BOTH make the words easier to read AND add emotional depth to the scene? If the answer to both is yes, then you can make that change with confidence.

So now that we understand why it's important to line edit our work, let's talk about how you should approach line editing your practice scene. This is where the hard part starts.

Because an effortless seeming HOW takes a lot of actual effort. The six biggest line level mistakes I see most often are:

  • Telling the reader something about a scene rather than showing it in authentic ways;
  • Letting your personal voice bleed over into your on-page characterization;
  • Using a tone or feel in a scene that doesn't match what your target niche audience wants or expects;
  • Writing complicated sentences or flowery phrases to make your words sound better;
  • Using the same sentence structure too often;
  • Or repeating the same words or phrases too often.

Now you might be thinking: "Okay, okay, wait, some of that's copy editing, right? What is the difference? How do I know when something is a line edit versus a copy edit?”

The difference between line editing and copy editing is an important distinction to understand, because you should not be trying to line and copy edit in the same pass, especially if you don't have another copy edit planned for after you finish those line edits.

Now I know not everyone agrees with this approach, but the reality is that line edits introduce errors, even for professional editors. And you will see that in my example edits.

So the simplest way to ensure that you release a quality book is to plan for a separate line editing and copy editing pass. They do not have the same goal. So line edits should always come first.

The biggest difference between the two is that copy editing enforces a set of rules that ensures readability and meets the general technical expectations of readers.

We use an industry standard like the Chicago Manual of Style to make grammar and punctuation decisions, because we don't want readers to get distracted by what they perceive as mistakes.

We copy edit to AVOID snagging a reader's attention, but the whole purpose of line editing is to elevate the reading experience.

And that does mean calling attention to specific words and phrases. There is some crossover between the two, and it mostly falls in the area of repetition, specifically of words and phrases. But all the revisions you make in line editing should:

  • enhance your personal writing style,
  • build an immersive story world that readers can sink into,
  • and establish a sense of trust that you (the author) understand what they (the reader) need on an emotional level.

If that sounds deep, it is.

And that establishment of trust is why learning how to line edit quickly and efficiently is so essential, but also so difficult.

The Elev8 technique walks you through eight distinctive stages that will help you transform your rambling, drafty words into concise, compelling prose.

And here are those eight stages. Earlier, we talked about the six biggest mistakes that I look for when I line edit a scene. Those are stages 2-7 on the Elev8 list. All we need to do to round out the full technique is a place to start and a way to wrap it up.

So in Stage 1, we'll prep our scene by highlighting all the words and phrases that stand out in our initial readthrough.

Then we'll work through each of the six types of common mistakes, and I'll show you examples of revisions in each stage.

And finally, we'll finish up our line edit with a sanity pass to clean up any errors we introduced in the previous editing steps. And you can download my fully edited example scene for a whole new perspective on what decisions to make while line editing and why.

Learn the Elev8 Line Editing Technique and practice on one of your own scenes.

The Elev8 Method online workshop is coming in early 2023!

The Elev8 Method: Learn to Line Edit Like A Pro presentation slide cover

You are going to LOVE the full workshop! And I can't wait to share it with you.

And the most exciting part is that because this workshop will be virtual and divided into bite-sized chunks that respect your personal time and energy, you can work through it at your own pace, in the comfort of your own space. 

Save your seat on the waitlist and be one of the first to know when it's live!

*This will subscribe you to my email list, if you're not already one of my VIPs. But no stress! You can always unsub if you don't like my style. 

Becoming one of my email VIPs opens up even more opportunities for trainings and other free resources for your writing journey. Can't wait to see you in the Elev8 Line Editing workshop!

[This method] gives me 

a feeling of control.

~ author Laura Russell