So, you’ve hired or begged someone to go through you book and suggest line edits, and now you have a document splattered with suggestions. What do you do? This is exactly the situation I find myself in as I get Death Warden ready for submission this month. I’ve learned a lot through the process, and here are six tips from what I’ve learned:
1. Read the edited version before looking back at your original
I find a paragraph is usually a good chunk to deal with at a time. By default, I view the edits as if they were all accepted. Does the prose flow well? Does the voice feel right? Are the character actions appropriate? If something feels a little clunky, I’ll usually rework the edited version before going back to look at my original. After all, the editor stopped and changed things for a reason.
2. Recruit some help.
Even without looking at my original, I’ve found I can usually tell where things have been changed simply because I’ve looked at my own stuff so many times. A pair of fresh eyes (or two or three) to go through the edits with me is a real help for figuring out which version is clearer and sounds better.
3. Hunt for the reason, even if you don’t like the edit.
One thing this process has taught me is that I have a tendency towards long swaths of dialogue without much action. I received a number of line edits with things like “he shrugged” or “he scratched his ear.” I do–from time to time–use these kinds of gestures, but I prefer to avoid them as a matter of course. Most of these suggestions I rejected, and then tried to think of a more meaningful way to have the setting intrude upon the dialogue.
In other places, the edits were just wrong. Not grammatically wrong, but story wrong. One suggestion showed that editor thought it was an entirely different time of day and another completely confused what was going on. Both of these indicated I had a clarity problem that needed to be fixed.
All that being said, if the editor has stopped to make a change, it is because something feels off. Rather than charging forward, it is worth the effort to stop and ask why.
4. Read it out loud.
I remember this advice way back in elementary school. Before I ever handed in an essay, I would sit down and read it out loud. Language is sound, and while an edit may initially look good on the page, taking the time to read it out loud in the flow can identify clunky and awkward sentences in a way that just reading it over never can.
5. Look for patterns.
Part of the editing process needs to be about craft improvement rather than just fixing the existing work. I mentioned my issue with uninterrupted dialogue above. I also found I have issues with varying sentence structure. When you see the same kind of change occurring again and again, make a note of it. Now you have something else to look for in your personal edits BEFORE you send your next work to the editor
6. Trust yourself.
Books written by committee usually aren’t good—just look at most modern day textbooks. At the end of the day, this is your story, and sometimes you have to go with your gut. If something just feels wrong, it probably is.
I’m sure as my body of work increases, I will learn more and more from this kind of process. What are your tips for dealing with line edits?