(My new superpower revealed.)
Have you ever wondered about that mysterious part of a writing journey between story development and fixing your grammar? A magical place exists called line editing or substantive editing, in which an editor goes through your writing line by line to make your writing stronger, clearer, more elegant, with flow and rhythm and shine.
It’s rewording a description, switching a sentence around, eliminating wordiness, creating emphasis, fixing the tone, and trying to find the perfect word choice. It’s half technical and half creativity.
Simply put, it's a case of write what you mean.
And this becomes quite difficult when words have shades of meaning. "Cheap" doesn't have the same elegance as "affordable." "Scream" has a startling effect compared to "shout." It can be problematic to write "I reached out my hand to the side" which could mean anything but in the context it really means "I took my son's hand."
Writing doesn’t always get clarified and tightened properly through regular grammar fixes. Or worse, you don’t even realize you have a writing issue until someone brings it up. Like bad breath. (Shit. Does anybody have a mint? Or an editor?)
What do some of these sentence-level issues actually look like? And how does line editing help?
The Implausible Action Sequence
“Opening the door, I clicked on my seatbelt.”
I like to think of this as the rubbing your belly and patting your head game. There are some things you can do at the same time, and there are many things you can’t do at the same time.
First you open the door, then you put on your seatbelt. The change may seem insignificant, but the difference is characters who move awkwardly, and having seamless action.
Backing into the Sentence
“Running down the stairs, grabbing lunch, and opening the door, I smiled.”
This type of structure can be difficult for readers to get through. They don’t know who is doing all of these actions until they get to the end. And it feels like your brain is losing oxygen. This is a real clarity issue and messes with the flow of storytelling.
Objective Descriptions/Ambiguous Intentions
“He brought his arm up, with his palm open toward the front of the classroom.”
We aren’t aliens studying the human species on planet Earth. Maybe I am. But because I’m trying to blend in with the human race, I’d simply say, “He raised his hand in class.”
And this provides an intention to the action—he has a question. We don’t get that intention in the first example.
Again, seems silly, but I see it quite often in books. This issue puts a barrier between the character and the reader. Micro-actions feel murky and we miss the opportunity for rich characterization on the page (intention).
“I splashed water on my face. Then I put on my apron and got out the cutting board and knife. I took out the ingredients of lemon, fish, and herbs. Then I started heating up the pan. I salted and peppered the fish and sliced the lemon into wedges. Myra called and asked what she should bring. I told her a bottle of white wine. When the fish was prepped, I added a few sprigs of rosemary to the pan. Then I sautéed the fish. After two minutes, I flipped it.”
There’s a more elegant way to handle these lines. We need to examine what’s relevant for readers to know and what goes without saying. This issue lags the story pacing and may cause readers to lose interest. In the meantime, we should leave the turn-by-turn account to a GPS.
That’s why I’m offering a line editing service. It’s a beefier level of attention to your words that surpasses grammar editing and makes you a better writer. You can strengthen not only your manuscript but your skill—and take it with you for the next book. And the next book. And the book after that.
Because words aren’t just words. They orchestrate an entire reading experience.