While there are several different types of editing, and each serves its own important purpose, Line editing is the one authors most often sacrifice when budgets and deadlines are tight. But it’s also the edit that helps you refine your voice and polish your prose. Working with an editor on line-level revisions can help fast-track your growth as a wordsmith, but it comes with a high opportunity cost, from both a time and money perspective. My Line Edit Lessons group here on Patreon offers an affordable way to improve your craft on that fussy—yet ultra important—line level.
Understanding why some lines work better than others is crucial to growing as an author.
Romantics in my Line Edit Lessons tier (and above) will get monthly walkthroughs of manuscript samples I’ve edited. And I don’t just talk about the changes I made. I also highlight where the prose shines and what the author did well. Positive feedback is just as important as critical, so understanding why some lines work better than others is crucial to your growth as an author.Line edits can be complex. The techniques editors use during a line edit pass run the full spectrum of story work—from characterization to world-building to grammar, and even dipping into to formatting now and then. That’s far too much to cover in this intro, so I’m going to focus on something more fun.
For today’s sample lesson, let’s work on saving your heroes from their own angst. Check out the examples below for some discussion on how to avoid unnecessary (and often unintended) drama.
“She felt her insides turn to stone.”
There are two potential improvements we can make to this line, but first it’s important to think about the surrounding context of the scene. Since I don’t know anything else about this specific situation, my questions for the author would be:
- Did her insides actually turn to stone? That’s a possibility in a story with magical elements.
- If she’s feeling dread (rather than a physical transformation), is it your intention that her character come across as melodramatic? Occasional use of phrases like this are generally fine, but when too many metaphors are packed into a scene or story, they can come across as overly dramatic.
- How deep a storytelling perspective does the target audience prefer? The word “felt” adds a layer of filtering between the storyteller and the reader that might be ideal for some writing styles but will leave fans of “deep POV” wanting more.
In a story or scene, the surrounding context would provide more clues to direct our revisions, but just as a quick example, here’s a potential alternative phrasing:
“Her stomach tightened.”
This is a believable physiological response to feeling dread—which implies “dread” without actually saying it—and this revision removes the filtering verb “felt”.
“Turning, he ran to her.”
This phrasing is what editors call an ISA—Impossible Simultaneous Action—and it’s one of my biggest personal pet peeves. ISAs are so pervasive in modern fiction that even many of the big-name successful authors use them, but make no mistake. ISAs are a stylistic crutch, and learning to identify, revise, and (eventually) avoid them altogether will make you a stronger writer. I plan to dedicate some serious time to exploring ISAs here on Patreon—how to recognize them, why the punctuation matters, the best ways to rephrase for the biggest story punch, the subtle nuances between the correct phrasing and the tempting shortcut, etc—but for this sample post, the most important takeaway is why they are “impossible”. (I would argue that they are sometimes “implausible” more than impossible, but that’s a different discussion.)Let’s start with the present participle. That’s the -ing word or phrase that often opens a sentence.
“Turning, he ran to her.”
In this case, our participle is “turning”. Placed at the beginning of the sentence and followed by a comma, the participle (or participial phrase, if it’s more than one word) acts as an adverb that modifies either the first verb or the entire sentence. In this case, “turning” modifies “ran”, which (because… grammar) means he is literally turning in circles while he runs toward his destination. Try to picture that. Go ahead, I’ll wait. =)
It’s a funny visual, right? That’s the sort of oddity I picture every time I find an ISA. The trick to spotting them is to ask yourself, “Can these two things logically take place at the same time?” Once you learn to spot them, you’ll see them everywhere in the books you read. So, how would I rephrase the ISA above? Everything is context dependent, of course, but here’s a potential revision:
“He turned and ran to her.”
Or, if we want to preserve some of the energy of the original, we could get creative with the phrasing:
“He turned. And ran straight into her arms.”
The second sentence is technically a fragment—it doesn’t have a subject—but line editing isn’t always about perfect grammar. A good line edit infuses emotion and gravity into a scene and leaves the reader yearning for more.
Words matter. Be careful how you use them. Write with purpose.
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