There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Line Edits! And why you need them. November 13, 2013

Filed under: Publishing,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 7:40 pm
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All right, here is my much anticipated (dreaded?) line edits post!

I first heard about the existence of line edits via Leigh Ann Kopans’ blog, where she chronicled the publication of her first novel, ONE. I had never heard of them before that, but now that I’ve done them for both Coldness of Marek and Knights of Rilch, I can’t imagine having not done them. My novels would be far less stellar pieces of work.

If you read my post last month on revising for publication, I sum up one final revision you’ll want to do if you’re going to self-publish a novel. The next step after that revision is line edits. But line edits are also a great idea if you’re querying agents/subbing to publishers, because they’re just so nifty.

Most of the revisions and tweaks you’ve been doing up until you’re ready for line edits have been macro — as in, whole paragraphs being moved or deleted, if not chapters — but you’ve probably already done plenty of line editing in the middle of all that. Line edits are all about the phrasing, the word usage, the OVER-usage, the placement of line breaks, etc. These are different from copyedits. (Copyedits involve grammar and punctuation errors, as well as other little magical things that we mortal writers might not know about, and no matter which publication path you choose, you’re not the one responsible for them. Your copyeditor is! If you’re self-pubbing, get thee down and find thyself an excellent one.)

So. How do you go doing a full-on line edit? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Once your manuscript is in what you deem to be ready, publishable form, go through it line by line and question every sentence. Is it passive? Is it repetitive? Is the phrasing just right? Is there a better word for fleece, or did you really mean fleece? Did you start too many sentences with, “She” or “I”? Would mentioning the chair first be more powerful? Would it be more in character for Henry to say “I will kill you” or “I will end you”?

All these decisions are likely to make you half crazy, and I have a lovely, perfect solution for that as well. Employ your CPs. Are there any of them who are extra good at catching little line issues like this? Did they notice little things on their first pass? Great. Ask one of them (and I say one, because you can only use so much input on the line-by-line basis before you go insane, but there’s really no set limit) — bribe them, trade with them, pay them with cookies or favors — to go through slowly and laboriously and pick on every. Little. Tiny. Word. You can hire someone to do this, but the reason I say pick a CP is because you already know that they understand your voice and your writing. They’re not going to steer you wrong. Tell them you want ALL THE NOTES. You want them to be brutal. Remember, you’re releasing this novel into the wild. It needs to be nice. It needs to shine.

After you get those notes back from your trusted CP or beta reader or whomever, the ball is back in your court and it’s time to do your own line edit. Even if you did a picky edit before, it’s good to look at it again with fresh perspective. Take this:

I stepped inside the room. It was quiet — too quiet. “Jenna?” I whispered. There was no reply. Not even the sound of breathing, or the clatter of her stirring in bed.

There’s nothing really wrong with it. It’s all a matter of taste and mood at this point. I could do this:

I stepped inside. “Jenna?”

It was far too quiet. No Jenna. Not even the sound of her breath or the clatter she made when she stirred in bed.

Or this:

I stepped inside the room. The sound of my shoe echoed, then disappeared into eerie blackness.

“Jenna?” My voice almost startled me.

But there was no answer. Nothing besides thick velvet silence.

See what I mean? You can get more wordy, or less, cut down on the line breaks, or multiply them, etc. Is one of them better than the rest? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But there are all kinds of possibilities that you may never have noticed until you got all the little pieces worked out to the point you can be micro. Teeny tiny. It sounds like it will be hell, but I swear to you, this nit-picky pass is so very freeing you will get addicted to it.

And then? A final read-through. If you can find someone who can stand to listen to your whole novel aloud, I recommend reading it to someone, not just to yourself. Because you’ve read it so many times, there might be something you say aloud that causes the listener to go “huh?”, but you would have glazed right over it. Work this thing. Work it really hard…

When you’re done? SEND IT OFF. Whether it be to your agent, your copy-editor, a final beta reader, or a pile of queries, get that thing sent off before you have a chance to question the brilliant fire it just came through.

Of course, mix and match these steps as they work for you. I found that what I did with the two novels* I’ve released so far varied slightly, and I’ll probably do something a little different for my third book. Everyone has a different process, so don’t take any of this as gospel. Just use what you need, and happy editing!

–Rachel O’Laughlin

*I went through line edits with my longsuffering CP, Darci Cole, on both of my manuscripts, line-edited myself, and then asked my incredible editor, Rebecca A. Weston, to keep an eye out for anything weird that might have slipped through us both (not all freelance editors offer this, but mine does).

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Revising for Publication October 3, 2013

Filed under: Publishing — thereanddraftagain @ 8:42 pm
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Right on trend, I’m following Mara and posting a day late because I was apparently so engrossed in critiquing my CP’s manuscript that I couldn’t read my calendar. #headdesk

This post, and the next few posts of mine, will be allllll about revising and editing, so…grab some coffee. I know this will make you sleepy.

I am the world’s worst outliner. There, I said it. Phew. No matter how hard I try to outline, I always abandon it somewhere in the middle and just wing it. Of course, this makes for a crazy amount of revision. My CPs [and my editor] have waded through an awful lot of my crap and given me straight-up amazing advice, and I love them to pieces for it. Anyhoo, I don’t figure I’m the one to give you advice on how to outline, or how to write a draft. As much as I love drafting, I’m crazy spontaneous about it and don’t really have a rule besides “let your hair down and have a good time…oh, and freak out while you’re at it!”

When you first look at that beast you created and it’s time to revise, you’re probably going to be all “bleh…bleh…blarrrrrggg…” and want to drown yourself in still more caffeine. But you power through and whip that thing into shape, no problem. Send it to CPs. Revise according to their notes. Get it in the hands of some betas. They say it’s looking pretty good. You decide you can do better. You do a rewrite or another overhaul. Send to more betas. Let it sit for awhile. Implement more little tweaks. Read through it and, scared as you are, it just might be ready.

I’m fairly certain those who have an agent can just idly peruse this post with a bemused expression, because I’m pretty sure you’d have already sent in that third draft or what-not to your agent. This is that last, crazy madhouse revision that you absolutely MUST do if you are self-publishing. And of course, this can fall anywhere in your process, however it works for you. It just needs to happen after you’ve gotten a considerable amount of notes and implemented them. After your story is rock solid. After your character arcs are all in place and any unnecessary scenes have been trimmed. This is your last swoosh before line edits. (And yes! I’m doing a post on line edits next week.)

First, make sure your mood is right for this. You need to be confident in your story and know where it’s going. You’re almost done! This is exciting. If you’re depressed or having an off day, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT hack up your manuscript. Stay the heck away. You need to be in your best zone to do this. Maybe even knock it out in one lovely day with no other responsibilities so that you can feel empowered with it. I like to print off my whole manuscript and do this last revision with a pen, because after I’ve done it all on paper, then I have a moment to check myself as I do it in the document. And always, always save an old version before you get ruthless.

All right. Time for the nitty gritty. What you’re looking for:

Scenes that end too soon. Do they end strong? Do they give enough information? Is there mystery? Do they keep us reading forward? Check every single scene. Double check. If there’s even the slightest feeling that it’s weak, fix it. This might mean you need to move endings to the beginning of next scenes or move beginnings of scenes backward into the one before it. That’s okay. If it needs to happen, do it.

Scenes that are too long. This is something I do too much. I keep my characters rambling forward just a paragraph too long, because I think the reader needs to know something–but they would probably be much more interested if I just let them discover it. Cut, cut, cut those endings. Save them all in a file in case your line editor sees something missing and you need to recover some nuggets, but for the most part, those things need to be gone. Don’t cry. It’s okay.

Unnecessary dialogue. I’m a huge fan of using dialogue to tell the reader things instead of putting it in the narrative. Of course, you’ll already have eliminated places where the dialogue feels unnatural or wrong, but keep an eye out where it’s still lurking. (This stuff lurks and lurks.) Dialogue needs to feel real, and that could mean they talk about soap monsters once in awhile, but make sure it’s all necessary to character development and every bit of it is driving us forward.

Unnecessary description. Likewise, I find myself with whole paragraphs that don’t have much to do with the story, I just…I just…couldn’t part with them. You have to be cruel to these lovelies. No one is going to do it for you. If it hasn’t made one of your CPs dance with happiness, if it bugs you on bad days, if you catch yourself skimming over it because it’s boring…it needs to go. Get it out of there.

Anything that interrupts the flow. Anything, anything, anything at all. Characters introduced in a weird way. Info-dumps that may have been missed because they’re actually only a sentence long but gosh-darn-it, they’re still an info-dump. Imagine your book in it’s final, formatted state. Do you have a segway for everything? Do the chapter titles make sense? If the book is in parts, do the parts work together? Scratch things out. Move paragraphs. You’re invincible. Go go go!

As the publisher, you don’t have loads of professionals sifting through this. If you have a line editor and a copyeditor (and you better have a copyeditor), assume they don’t exist, because there will still be plenty for them to catch. At this juncture, it’s just you, baby. You and your utter, cold-hearted ruthless pen. Slice, dice, toss, reword, rethink, rearrange until that thing looks like a freaking bestseller. And you know what that means?

Wheeee! You’re ready for the scary land of line edits! YOU DID THIS THING!!!

–Rachel O’Laughlin