Sunday, April 29, 2012

Novel Editing Part II: Line-by-Line

This post is Part II of my novel editing saga. I posted earlier about Part I: Edit-by-ChainsawBut once you've eliminated the big stuff (Unnecessary side-plots, characters and backstory), what comes next?

The Pruning Shears

We've all heard of it. The dreaded  line-by-line edit. "Want to cut down the word count on your novel?" they say (in big scary circus voices) ... "Well then you'll need to do a line-by-line edit! MUHAHAHAHAH"

The problem is, they're right! Or at least in my case they were. While cutting the big things out of my manuscript saved me 5K words, doing a line-by-line edit saved me 15K!! IT WAS EPIC! I LOVED IT!

And it only took about 10-15 hours of work. Really not that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Set a Goal: Chapter quota
Some people set goals for themselves by page. I prefer to do this by chapter. I took the number of words I wanted to cut from the manuscript (10,000), divided by the number of chapters (20) and determined that I needed to cut 500 words from each chapter. This gave me some flexibility as to where I wanted to make my cuts. Note: I did not deviate from my goal. If by the end of the chapter, I hadn't made my quota, I forced myself to do another pass.

What to Cut: Helpful Questions
Now it's difficult to say what you're going to need to do when doing a line-by-line edit, because each author has their own writing style, their own quirks and strengths and weaknesses. But what I found helpful was to constantly ask myself the following questions while editing:

Over-stating: Did I just say that?
Sometimes you write a sentence and then think, ok, that was good, but maybe I can explain it better. So you write another sentence and another and another. And then you don't go back and cut the previous attempts.
Cut them!

Overstating Part II: Will the readers 'get it' without me telling them?
There's often a lot of room to cut words from action scenes. You don't need to tell the reader that the MC looked. If you describe what was there, they'll know she looked. She doesn't always need to walk on the path or the floor. Its assumed that if she's walking she's not going to be doing so on the air or in a bush!
See also: Janice Hardy - Get over over-stating || Janice Hardy - Repeating Yourself ||

Tighten-Up: Can I make this sentence a teeny bit shorter?
Unnecessary words often sneak into sentences without you even noticing them. A shorter sentence isn't always a better sentence, but it often can be! Especially if you're trying to cut words and clean up the text!

Purple Prose: Honestly, how purple can you get?
Purple Prose : Query Tracker
Description is great. Description is beautiful. But if you have twenty-thousand long-winded, flowery descriptions of the sweeping landscape, her turbulent emotions, his dreamy, brooding face face, his piercing eyes, his strong, lean hands, the way his hair etc ... well that's just a little boring isn't it? Besides your readers aren't going to notice that one sentence when it's buried in a mountain of other overwritten passages. So whenever you hit a passage of flowery description and you think "Ooh, now doesn't that sound particularly nice?" Stop. Red Flag. Ask yourself these questions:
  • How many adjectives do I really need? Wouldn't 1-3 be better than 9-10?
  • Did I just use an SAT word when I could have used a simpler one?
  • Did I just break up an action scene?
  • Is this imagery important to the story/plot? 
    • If it's important, does it stand out, or is it buried between other descriptions?
  • How many times have I used a metaphor or simile to describe something lately?
  • Let's be honest, did I just include this sentence to show off my incredible prose-writing skills?
Essentially, in the words of Arthur Quiller-Couch - Murder your darlings.

See also: Big Mistake #3 - Overwriting || Two Signs of Over-writing || Keeping the Purple Out of Your Prose || Purple Prose || 6 Signs of Description Misuse || How to Put Your Manuscript on a Diet

Next week, I'll be posting part III of my novel-editing journey: getting out the scalpel!

What about you? What do you struggle with when editing? What are your tips and tricks for doing line-by-line edits?

Note: As you might be able to tell I love links  : )   So, as always, please feel free to link to your blogs or other resources in the comments!


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog - I love yours, too!

    Editing is my favorite part of the process. I'm always amazed at how many unnecessary words I find. And I do that restating the same thought multiple ways things a lot. My problem is usually that I cut too many words and make my ms too short!

  2. These are some great tips, and not always easy to cut or eliminate if you have them...! I'm in the middle of editing right now, so the reminders are great!

  3. I didn´t realize you could cut so much by line-editing, I always assumed that was just minor tweaking. Really useful to know and the links are great!

  4. Great tips. I like the analogy of pruning shears and chainshaw.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...