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“Little Changes Have BIG Effects”: Line Edits

Last week, we talked about second draft revisions, and hopefully it usually goes first draft, second draft, line edits. But if necessary, we will repeat that second step over and over again until the shape of the story, the characters, and the overall pacing work.

Once we’re happy with the shape of the story and all the pieces are in the right place, it’s time to narrow our focus in. This is the step that takes the longest of any – at least for me – as an editor, because during this step, I literally look at Every. Single. Line.

I go through and look at each scene, each paragraph, and each sentence to see if the pacing works, if that line of dialogue really sounds like that character, are we sure that’s the right word there? Basically, we want to get the book as perfect as possible before we send it off and let other people look at it.

A lot of line edits are cutting things. When you’re going through earlier drafts, there’s a lot of moving things around and adding new bits that weren’t there to fill in holes. But here, we’re at the point where we just want to smooth out transitions and really focus on details.

For example, in How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo, there’s a scene where Jordyn leaves the bonfire and goes out into the woods to cry. In earlier drafts, she’s wearing a hoodie. But, at the end of that scene, Alex, who is super sweet and amazing, takes off his sweatshirt and gives it to her because she’s shivering. In line edits, we realized that there was no need for Alex to give Jordyn a sweatshirt if she’s already wearing a hoodie. So, Jordyn got a wardrobe change and is wearing a thin, collared shirt instead.

It’s amazing how changing one sentence can really make a difference in how a character is seen or how a relationship is unfolding.

Take Save Me by Jenny Elliott, for example. The book opens with Cara being knocked into whale-infested waters and David jumping in to her rescue. Afterwards, Cara takes a moment to reflect on the experience. In earlier drafts, she refers to David as “The guy who fell overboard with me” but during line edits, I suggested: “Maybe, ‘the guy who jumped in after me’? It would cast David in a more positive light. After all, even if she doesn’t know much about him, he’s still the kind of guy who would jump into freezing water to rescue a stranger.”

It was a small change, but it really helped to remind both Cara and the reader of how heroic David is.

As you can see, line edits are very specific to the individual book. I will almost always send them out in a track-changes document (although occasionally we have been known to actually scribble them all over printouts!). When I finally send them off, I’m always very excited, because the hardest part is over. From here on out, other people are going to be taking the lead.

Check back next week to learn about the next step in the editorial process!

And in case you missed the previous entries for this editorial series:

• “Don’t Panic!”: First Draft Revisions

• “Great Job, Let’s Do It Again!”: Second (and Sometimes Third) Draft Revisions

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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