Content editing focuses on the story — characters, plot, tone, continuity, etc. Line editing consists of detailed notes on the writing, everything from word choices to sentence structure to paragraphs or entire sections that need attention. I provide both levels of feedback. Neither of these should be confused with copyediting, which is focused on grammar, punctuation and spelling. (More on the differences here.)
Editing should never involve wresting control of the work from the writer. I share the philosophy of John McIntyre of the The Baltimore Sun: “Editors, generally, are introverts. We work in anonymity, not being actuated by a vulgar craving for public notice. … Because we are not driven by desire for glory, we are happy to share what we know of the craft: to consult, to advise, to train, to mentor.”
When I read a manuscript, these are the main things I’m looking for.
Does the story begin “as close to the end as possible”, as Kurt Vonnegut advised? Does the narrative progress in a coherent way? Does it move at a pace that will hold a reader’s interest while also providing the details and background that bring the characters and setting to life? Is there a discernible beginning, middle and end? Are there peaks and valleys in the action that trend upward toward the climax?
Does the point of view from which the author is writing suit the story, and does the author adhere to it throughout? Is the writing style also suitable and consistent? How will the writing “sound” in the reader’s head? Do the writer’s stylistic choices seem natural, or arbitrary and jarring? Is the writer using words that are clear, direct and varied? Is the writer using too much passive voice or relying too heavily on adverbs?
Are the characters believable enough that readers will care what happens to them? Will they feel invested in the outcome of the characters’ (literal or metaphoric) journey? If the story is fantastical, is the internal logic sufficient to maintain the suspension of disbelief? (Related: Has the author spent too much or too little time on world building?)
These questions apply to both fiction and non-fiction writing.
I provide written and verbal feedback. Writing is a process, and my role as an editor is to contribute to the writer’s process. The writer is the driver and determines the destination; I offer navigation suggestions from the passenger seat.