Ah, the line edit: one of the least favorite duties of any writer.
As off-putting as it may be, the line edit is, nevertheless, the point at which your rough first draft starts to present itself as a cleaner, more involving and enjoyable reading experience.
But line editing isn’t just one single task all by itself. Rather, it’s a venerable smorgasbord of jobs – checking for errors in grammar and punctuation, tracking down passive voice, investigating overblown dialogue tags, weeding out redundancies and repetitive phrasing…
The list goes on and on.
Using a grammar checker and editing tool like AutoCrit is a helpful way to ease the editing process, especially when it comes to line edits. AutoCrit analyzes your manuscript to identify areas for improvement, including pacing and momentum, dialogue, strong writing, word choice and repetition. For an in-depth explainer of AutoCrit’s free and premium versions, check out our full AutoCrit review.
Here are the top three line edits you can perform to get maximum benefit in minimum time – so you can have a happier time crafting that second draft.
Now, let’s make that writing shine with these editing tips.
1. Swap out adverbs
This is a cornerstone of any creative writing tuition, and for good reason. Adverbs – those modifiers we often fall back on to try and pack some extra information into our prose – are a crutch that you would do well to leave behind.
You can immediately lend greater weight to your words, and create a smoother reading experience, by substituting the vast majority of adverb combinations for a single stronger verb or adjective.
For example, you could say something was extremely loud. Or, perhaps, it would be more powerful if it were to be deafening.
A person or thing might be really big. Or maybe your reader might feel more intimidated if that person or thing were gigantic instead.
There’s a huge range of possibilities when it comes to getting rid of adverbs, and almost every substitution is guaranteed to elicit a far greater response in the imagination of your reader.
Weeding out adverbs also has the beneficial effect of making your passages leaner, meaning simpler management of pace and cadence (a benefit for you) and more effortless reading for your audience. So it’s a win-win!
2. Eliminate filler words
One of the easiest tasks during any line edit, eliminating filler is a process that shouldn’t be skipped.
Filler words bog down sentences, belabor paragraphs and pad out pages entirely unnecessarily. This makes your writing take much more attention and mental effort to read than is justifiable.
The last thing you want is for a reader to realize they’ve just waded through two pages of prose and gained next to no worthwhile information. Yawn!
Some of the most common filler words to look out for are:
Check your writing to see if instances of these words can be removed without lowering comprehension. If the sentence works just fine without them, the filler words can go.
This step makes for a simple big win during the editing process – because even if you don’t make use of editing software, it’s still easy to perform a manual search inside any modern word processing program and be on your way to a perfect economy of words.
3. Investigate sentence starters
Sentence starters are quite an uncommon factor when thinking about your line edit – but the impact of taking them into account can be magnificent.
Check, in particular, for sentences that begin with a pronoun, character name or conjunction.
When describing the actions of a character throughout a passage, it’s often tempting to start with the character name before progressing with he/she did this, then he/she did that, and continuing along the same path.
This can lead to unintended repetition, as the actions arrive staccato:
Greg opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He blinked slowly, trying to clear the fog from his vision. He looked to his side, where the alarm clock read a quarter past seven. He rolled onto his side and groaned. Here we go again, he thought.
When you pay attention to how sentences start, it makes you think more closely about alternative constructions that might be smoother to read, more interesting in terms of rhythm or that could offer more opportunity to build setting or character.
Let’s say we’d read that example in our first draft. There’s a lot of he starting sentences there, so it could definitely do with a bit of modification:
Greg opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Groggy, he blinked a few times in an effort to clear the haze from his vision. Once he could focus, he turned his head to the side and glanced at the alarm clock. A quarter past seven. He rolled onto his side and groaned in futile defiance. Here we go again.
How a sentence starts can dictate how it will end and/or limit what it may contain – the stage is set in the beginning, so take some time to look at your sentence starters as anchor points for information. Are they causing you to lose opportunities for a more involving, imaginative read?
At AutoCrit, our investigations into a wide range of bestselling novels afford us unrivaled insight into their construction. Here are some statistical readings from various titles that show the percentage of sentences within the manuscript that begin with a pronoun or character name.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: 48.85%
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin: 45.66%
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin: 46.60%
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin: 46.11%
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin: 41.74%
The Martian by Andy Weir: 42.85%
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins : 40.05%
The Next Always by Nora Roberts: 52.34%
Pet Sematary by Stephen King: 49.20%
Misery by Stephen King: 45.85%
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: 45.39%
The numbers are remarkably similar, with it being a rarity for a successful, published novel to contain more than 50% of sentences beginning with a pronoun or name. Do your stories follow the same trend?
The first edit of a first draft can be a rocky time, so prioritize these three line edits for your next manuscript and feel your confidence rise more quickly than you’d expect.
Do you agree with our top choices? Share your most impactful edits in the comments below.
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