Chatting · Writing Advice

The Blurry Line: Between the Developmental and the Copy Edits

Line editing is an often misunderstood and surprisingly nebulous stage of the writing process. To make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of vocabulary, I’ve copied a common definition:

A line editor is attentive to the writer’s individual style (for that reason, the job is sometimes called stylistic editing) A line editor works line-by-line, tightening up sentence structure so the language is sharp and clear. They look closely at how a writer’s word choice and syntax contribute to the tone or emotion of a piece of writing. Finally, a line editor is concerned with the overall pacing and logical flow of a piece… Where line editors are concerned primarily with questions of style, copy editors are concerned with mechanics.

This description makes the process sound nice and linear. In fact, I fell into the same pattern when I wrote my earlier post on the complete start-to-end editing process for a manuscript, placing it after the beta-read, and before a professional copy edit. I thought of it as a dividing line between the unwieldy draft and the polished manuscript. I also wrote that post before I’d actually completed those editing stages on Storge. The information is still useful, albeit generic, and not pulled from personal experience. That’s why today I want to do a deep dive on just this one step, to clarify some of my older points and elaborate with my experience in editing Runaways.

The first thing to remember is that writers never obey definitions. After all, you have to know the rules so you can break them! The line editing stage is extremely nebulous at best. How long it takes and how many rounds you complete largely depends on the style and quality of your previous developmental edits, how long you’ve had to develop your writing style, if you’re comfortable in the mood and tone of the story you’re trying to tell, and your personality. Some people pay closer attention to details, others are impatient to fix issues as they arise and bounce between steps as needed. Both are totally valid ways to write.

When preparing a book to share with beta readers, eventually you reach a threshold where you have to decide “this is good enough.” In most cases, sharing the draft with readers means they will comment on the high-level issues with the story: all elements that fall under the developmental edit. Meticulously editing for style and tone could be a complete waste of time if your readers end up recommending that entire chapters need to be rewritten, reordered, or scrapped. However, if the prose is not polished enough, the clunky writing may be enough to distract the reader from the larger issues they should be focusing on, and diminish their enjoyment of the book as a whole. Most beta reader feedback is a combination of the two types, and so all the edits in between rounds of feedback become a combination of developmental and line editing. Once you get to a certain point in the story, the changes you need to make to things like the character arc or to clarify world-building are less in the form of scrapping-and-rewriting whole scenes, and more making subtle tweaks to word choice and sentence structure to convey a certain tone properly.

For a Runaways example, when Cecelia disappears in chapter 1, I wanted to portray the Teagan parents as good folks who are worried about their missing daughter, but trying to keep calm so they can find her, and keep Hannah from panicking. Most of my feedback said that the parents seemed too callous and unconcerned because a few lines of dialogue just hit off target. While that plot-point hasn’t changed, I altered the sentence-level structure so that Hannah perceives how her parents really feel and it adds to the growing tension of the inciting incident. Other scenes need to be rewritten completely in order to fix the pacing, such as the sequence of introducing Hannah to the Seelie Court. Some scenes are fine as they, but contain some clunky sentences, which my wonderful reader, Arva Bake, highlighted in yellow. This flagged the problem lines without changing the feedback on the story. Green highlight also told me where my delivery had an excellent impact, and red markup showed inconsistencies.

As I write the next draft, I’ll work my way through the feedback from the developmental to the line edits, before doing another round and starting the process again. In each new draft, my final step is to go through the prose with a fine-toothed comb and make the writing as clear and engaging as possible. This includes doing grammar and punctuation checks, which fall under the purview of a copy-edit. This is why I now refer to line edits as the blurry line between stages of the process. Resolving one issue often bleeds into polishing that section in other ways as well, and it’s impossible to draw a clean differentiation between them when you are doing edits yourself.

When both you and your beta readers are satisfied with the manuscript, then it is time to hire a professional editor, or several. When employing a professional, the distinctions between developmental, line, and copy editing DO matter. There’s often a significant difference in price tag for more intensive edits, and it’s recommended that you hire different people for each stage, to get fresh sets of eyes on the story with every change in focus. Understanding the difference between the three is important when discussing these terms in industry, and they provide us as authors with a helpful vocabulary to describe what elements of the story we’re focusing on when we self-edit. I hope this was a helpful guide for you!

If you found this post useful, please let me know what you think! Do you have any other questions about the editing process that I can answer? Next week, I’ll be travelling for a school conference, but I’m hoping to put up a short story for the Inklings Challenge! If the post is a few days late, that might be why. Catch me scribbling away on the plane while I don’t have any internet to distract me. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!


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Chatting · Writing Advice

My Beta Reader Experience

Last week, I announced that I’m putting my novels on hiatus for the semester. In case you missed that post, I’ll recap here: I know this will delay my publishing goals significantly, as I wanted to release Runaways shortly after graduation, but I think ultimately this is the better choice for my mental health and the quality of the writing.

For one, I need more distance from the story before I can edit with a clear head, and without the self-imposed pressure to rush, I’ll do a better job of cleaning it up. I also need money to pay illustrators and editors, and if I can save up for a year with my Real Life Adult Engineering Job, I’ll be able to afford more detailed and a larger quantity of illustrations, as well as several rounds of rigorous editing. Additionally, I need to focus this semester on getting good grades, applications, and networking, so I can find a Real Life Adult Engineering Job, and that’s eating a significant portion of my time. With what little free time I have left, I want to spend it with my friends before we all scatter to the winds in May.

But I figured this is a good time as any to go over my beta reading process in the hopes that you can learn from my experience! If you missed it, I’ve also put together a post about my full editing process, but today and next week’s post will do a deeper dive into the steps. A beta reader is someone who’s not familiar with the story who volunteers to give you their honest opinion of the draft. While your critique partners, alpha readers, or Designated Writer Friends might already know all the plot twists (or helped you come up with the plot twists), generally speaking beta readers go in with the basic knowledge any reader would have if they picked it up at the library. They don’t have to be writers. In fact, it might be better to have some who aren’t writers and won’t be looking for the behind-the-scenes craft. Here’s how I went about this step of the writing process:

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Chatting · Writing Advice

Free Templates: Outline and Edit Sheet

Hello my friends, and Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate! I had meant to share with you today an excerpt from Store, which explains the yellow rose symbol you can see around my blog and social media. This scene comes from chapter 12, and I had left off editing several months ago on chapter 10. Since I took a hiatus to work on Runaways, I needed to reread much of what I already completed in order to figure out what to do next. In the process, I started experimenting with a new method to stay organized. Storge is a hugely complicated read: painfully over-ambitious story, with 3 (and a half) subplots (if you count the Avian drama), and eight POVs, so I needed a new way to keep all the details straight and my old word doc list method didn’t cut it. I’m quite pleased with how my new spreadsheet works, but got so carried away in my analysis, and midterms, and hosting our family’s feast, that I never finished the scene.

But I’ve been talking about this incessantly on tumblr, so I’m not wholly without content for you today. I’ve created a blank version of my sheet, which is available here for you to copy and use for your own stories! I also created a blank version of the outline I use for brainstorming my stories. Both of these documents are shared by clicking on the links, and you will have editing privileges. Kindly don’t write in this document, make a copy, then leave the original blank for others to use! I explained how I use my brainstorming documents in this post and broke down the editing process from first read-through to final draft in this post. With the links out of the way, the rest of this entry will is an updated version of Step 3 in the editing process: the Developmental Edits.

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Chatting · Writing Advice

Tackling Tropes

Hello Hello! This post is going to be a little different from the usual Personal Process series, since this week it’s a special request from my good friend Katie Koontz. I interviewed her about her character Bolte for an earlier post, and when she asked me to cover character tropes, I wholeheartedly agreed! Today, I’m doing a deep dive into how tropes are used in storytelling, some fun ways to play with them, and offering a few exercises to think about how they impact your story.

Tropes as Tools: Definitions, and how they differ from cliches.

There are a MILLION definitions out there but for the sake of this article, I’m going to use the broadest term: A Trope is a storytelling shortcut or motif that conveys information to the audience. If you notice a pattern, plot device, symbol, or archetype in three separate pieces of media, it could be classified as a trope. In fact, even the Rule of 3 is a ubiquitous trope. Every piece of media has them, and they aren’t objectively good or bad, they just exist. Saying you’re trying to write without tropes is like saying you’re going to write without a font.

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Perfect Prose: “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury

Today I’m covering a short story that may already be familiar to my American followers from our high school English classes. Ray Bradbury is the author of many famous dystopian, science fiction and fantasy works such as Fahrenheit 451, and I was introduced to “The Pedestrian” as the primer for our unit on that book. While most English classes focus on analyzing diction and prose, and I could have picked any of the countless pieces I had to dissect over the years, I picked this one because I remember how vivid it was, and how it was the first time I really understood the way words could be used to draw somebody into a story. 10th grade was the year I started seriously learning about the writing craft and working on my own books, and this was the first time I really read like a writer. The act of being able to pick apart a story and learn how it works and then using that knowledge to put your own stories together is a valuable skill that I need to practice more, and it’s what I’m hoping to share with you by doing this series of reading recommendations. So let’s see what we can learn together, shall we?

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Chatting · Writing Advice

My Personal Process: Editing Your Novel

Most writers have a serious love/hate relationship with editing. Rereading your old writing is a special type of painful, but the process of refining the words into something beautiful can be thoroughly satisfying as you watch your skill with writing grow. I’ve been editing the first draft of Storge recently, so I am closely acquainted with that feeling, but I’ve figured out a method at works for me and makes the job a whole lot more enjoyable. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but I thought I’d share it in case you could learn something from it!

For context, when I say I’m editing the “first draft”, I mean I’m editing the first completed draft of the story. It’s the first full manuscript I’ve finished, not the very first set of words I put to page. I started several variations of the story before realizing I had too many plot holes and characterization problems to continue. Then I would quit drafting after few chapters to go back to the drawing board. There were a few reasons for that original block. First, Storge is a very complicated story and I didn’t have enough experience or skill to execute it yet. Second, I was still figuring out my own process and didn’t yet know that I needed a detailed plan in order to tell that kind of story. I think this draft is the 5th version, but it’s the only completed one, which means its the only one that really matters for the sake of this discussion. All of my planning and scrapped drafting ahead of time helped eliminate a lot of plotholes and teach me about my writing process, but it’s not what’s actually being edited today.

I’m also planning to self-publish, and so this guide is geared to that end goal. I do not know where beta readers and professional editors fit into the querying and traditional publishing process, so I’ll hazard a guess that it’s best to go with what the professionals say. Additionally, this process focuses on long novels, but it can also be used for short stories and other works. The steps just would take less time and require fewer cycles of double checking. I wrote this to be as cohesive as possible, but you can always scale it down if needed.

That being said, now what? I’ve got a finished manuscript – how do I even start making sense of this 110K word thing??

Continue reading “My Personal Process: Editing Your Novel”