Thursday, October 25, 2012

Four Steps to Line Edits that are Actually Fun

I discovered a great way to do line edits yesterday. I’m so excited about the results that I needed to share (even though I am trying to wean myself from writing about writing).--But hey, if writers can't talk to other writers about the shiny, cool things that excite us in practicing our art form, who can we talk to? 

Here’s the process:

STEP ONE: First, I uploaded my completed manuscript into my Kindle. If you have a different kind of reader, you can probably do the same, although I can’t tell you how. I can tell you how for a Kindle, below.

(If you are curious, and decide to enlarge the picture to read the text, no, it's not my book. I don't know what it is, but it does sound interesting.)

How to upload your manuscript to your Kindle:

  1. Find your Kindle Email address by going to Your Account>Manage my Kindle on your Amazon account.
  2. Click on Personal Document Settings. That’s where you’ll find your Kindle email address. Mine has a version of “my name”
  3.  Your regular email address needs to be listed on the “approved personal document email list,” which you find below your kindle email address. If it’s not there, add it.
  4. Send an email, with the attached file "My Book for" to your kindle email address. 
  5. Go to your Kindle and download your book. It could take a minute or two, so be patient. This won’t work if you have a Kindle App. It goes only to your Kindle. Sorry about that.
It is so cool to see your book in an e-reader. You will see at a glance if some of your paragraphs take up the entire screen. That’s a clue that you *might* want to break some of them up, although that depends also on the market you’re targeting and your pacing goals for the passage. Maybe you want it to 
be slow.

STEP TWO: E-reader in hand, read your book into a voice recorder. This is essential, and half the beauty of this technique. It struck me that some people might feel a little shy about doing something like this. My advice: Get over it! Learn to love the sound of your recorded voice as you read the fruit of your imagination. 

As I read my book aloud, my brain just naturally and fluently corrects my sentences. It drops unnecessary words. It fixes incorrect prepositions. It gives me a strong sense of where I should keep proper names, and where I should substitute them with pronouns, and vice-versa. 

My voice pauses where a comma is needed, or if a long sentence needs to be split in two. It perks up my dialogue.  If I stumble over a sentence, that’s a red flag. Read a passage until you come to a natural break, which is probably the end of a scene. Or if the writing is craggy, it might be only a couple of paragraphs.

If it's particularly craggy, I will pause and give myself direction as I read. This sounds like the following examples: “Delete next sentence entirely.” “Delete the telling phrase and keep the showing aspect in that sentence.” “Insert or strengthen character emotional response.” “Less is more: eliminate the first response and keep the second.” “Out of order sentences: reorder according to SR (Stimulus/Response) blocks.” [The need to reorder sentences is a big one for me. I note the need, but do not attempt to make changes at this point.]

Sometimes part of a scene isn’t sufficiently digested. I hear AUTHOR VOICE instead of CHARACTER VOICE. My teenage protagonists are quite bright, but sometimes I put wisdom in their mouths that they (probably) have not fathomed. Or if they have, it’d be on a more subtle, subconscious level, and would not be expressed using the same words. When I read it aloud, the need for those kind of changes becomes obvious.

STEP THREE: Bring your manuscript up on the screen of your laptop or desktop computer. Turn on the voice recorder and listen to what you just read while also reading it on your computer screen. 

When you get to a part that your reading voice changed, highlight it. Don’t stop and change it yet. It takes only a second to highlight it, and it doesn’t break your concentration as you continue to listen to yourself reading your manuscript for overall narrative flow.

STEP FOUR: After you have finished listening to the segment, go back to your computer screen and look at every highlight. Sometimes it’s a single word. You’ll remember what you wanted to say instead, or if you don’t remember, just listen to your recording again.

You can always stop listening to the recording at any point, fix the problem and then move on.  Sometimes, an entire sentence or paragraph will be highlighted. Listen again to how your reading voice told you to change it. Wash, rinse and repeat as often as necessary until the passage sounds exactly as it should. 

This was such a fun discovery for me, a great help in my line-editing process.

It reminded me of the 1650 storytimes I performed for audiences over an eleven-year period, when I read many thousands of picture books to children and their parents. Picture books have an embedded pacing to them, and the reader's voice just naturally speeds up and slows down at certain junctures. 

The same holds true, or should, for longer narratives. If it can be read aloud without the reader tripping all over their tongue, it may not be publishable still, but not because of log-jamming sentence structures.   

I hope that if you try it, you will enjoy the process, and the results, as much as I do.


  1. That sounds like an awesome way to line edit! I'm definitely going to have to try it next time. :)

  2. What a cool idea! I'm totally going to try this. :)

  3. I sometimes use the Kindle text-to-speech feature to read my WIP to me, but it's not great at inflections, but useful for spotting mistakes.

    Moody Writing

  4. Wow. It's kind of elaborate, but I appreciate it. I imagine it works very well. Thanks for the great tip!

  5. Great ideas, Cathy! I have "Garage Band" on my computer, so I often use it to record myself reading parts of my story that don't seem to work quite right. It almost always helps me to identify the problem(s)! Great idea to listen to yourself while you read your manuscript on your computer.

  6. Great tips. I will share with my son who is a writer.


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