Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Editing Your Book, Part IV—Line Editing, the 500 Foot View

Learn the process of editing your book.
by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

There are four basic types of editing:

Developmental Editing
Substantive Editing
Line Editing
Copy Editing

Each type of editing offers an opportunity to look at a manuscript from a different place. Today, we work with Line Editing (LE).

LE is where, finally, you make it pretty.

Up to now, we’ve worked with global concepts: structure and character motivation and world building. And, you’ll probably continue to work with those points throughout each edit. Even at this point, you may realize that a scene will work better in a different location or that you need to beef up the conflict. Make changes as needed – it’s never too late!

But the focus of Line Editing is to literally look at each line. Is it the best it can be? Does it make sense? Do the paragraphs ideas flow in a logical manner? Are you using the strongest words in every sentence? Can you improve it in any way?

Here are additional things to consider during LE:

Syntax and Cadence
Do your sentences make sense?
Are they phrased in logical and magical ways?
Is the content of each sentence clear?
Does each sentence flow or do they drop off abruptly?

Best word choices
Strong verbs?
Power words?
Suggestion: Make a word cloud of a scene or chapter to better see what words are most prominent. Try a word cloud generator—there are several free ones out there. If you have a lot of weak words show up, you may want to re-evaluate some of them. Here’s a word cloud for the first two chapters of my YA historical. Zibiah and her best friend Rebecca show up just as they should, front and center. And, obviously, I need to work on the ‘even’s.

Awkward phrasing
Was, were, said, ly words, had, foggy construction, etc.?
Too many prepositions?
Prepositions that attribute to the wrong thing?

Word and phrase overuse
Throwaway words? Even, just, very, that, suddenly, then, etc.

Sentence construction
Alternate lengths and alternate construction depending on place in story?
Remember, in a place of high levels of action, short sentences can help raise the tension. In areas of lower levels of action, longer sentences can slow the flow and give the reader a little breathing room.

Showing vs. telling
Is each sentence in character’s deep POV?
Are your descriptions vivid and realistic?
Do you ‘attach’ description to a character so there isn’t an info dump of details?

Dialogue issues
Age appropriate?
Gender appropriate?
Realistic sounding?

Culturally accurate?
Minimal use—just enough to flavor the story?

Scene description
Use of all five senses?
Spread out or intimately connected to POV character?

Timeline consistency
Track timeline (day/date, time of day, specific details)

Fact checking
Is everything accurate?
Anachronistic problems?

Scene breaks / chapter breaks
In the correct place?
Do the breaks move the story forward?
Do the breaks leave the reader breathless so they’ll read more?

What else can you fix?

Remember! The strength in editing your story line by line is in getting the words to sound magical. You want to draw your readers in with your prose. Don’t try to sound like other writers—sound like yourself. In the words of the amazing Margie Lawson, “Flow trumps everything else”.  Understanding and correctly using all these ‘rules’ can make a difference. But rules can ruin a story by stripping the heart out of it. You want your voice to shine through.   

My suggestion is to make a checklist of your weak points and compare them to each page. Correct what you can. Tweak words or sentences that need polish.

It will take time to get it done properly. But it’s well worth the work.

Next month, we’ll finish with Copy Editing, last but not the least.

How’s your editing going? Do you have any tips you can add to mine? 


Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in good stories. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twelve years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. You can find her at or on Twitter @sarahsallyhamer.

I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on, from whom I learned the craft of writing. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. I'm bookmarking this post to use as a checklist for my next book. Love it! Thanks, Sarah.

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I'm glad you're getting good from the series!

  2. Realist advice. Like Cathy Baker, I've bookmarked this post in my reading list file as a resource worthy of keeping. Thank you for sharing, Sarah. Teach on!

    1. Appreciate the kind words, Carolyn. This is a great learning experience for me too!

  3. I keep looking forward to your posts, Sally. Another winner here. Thanks.

  4. Great, concise information. Thanks!

  5. Hi, Sarah! The editing process is one of a gazillion things that surprised me once my story was complete. I'd been an English teacher for 22 years, and my idea of editing was checking grammar, usage, and mechanics. I was proud of my "clean" manuscript. :) While waiting for the first round of edits, I attended an editing workshop at my first ACFW conference. Wow. I realized (for the gazillionth time) just how much I did not know! I'm bookmarking all of your editing posts. Thank you!

    1. So glad you're finding good stuff! I completely understand about just changing a word here or there and thinking you've edited the story. Not so! :) It makes SUCH a difference to dig in and rework what needs to be reworked.

      Good for you! Thanks for the post!

  6. Every editor who line edits my work finds more words I'm "in love with"...and they're right each time. Shows that it truly takes a number of people and fresh sets of eyes to produce a novel. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks, Richard! I appreciate the comment.

      I think, especially since so many people are self-publishing now, we HAVE to have other people edit our work. Used to be a professional editor vetted everything. Not now. So, we have to either hire someone or train ourselves.