The line edit is what it sounds like: going through the story line by line to make sure each sentence is crisp and clear. The key point of this part of the edit is to check for:
Grammar & punctuation
Three of the top items you're looking for in economic English are:
The Obvious, Obviously
We all think we know when we're stating the obvious, but it's actually really easy to miss because daily language is saturated with obvious phrases:
It was a dark night (of course the night was dark)
He shouted loudly (shouting is loud by definition)
She cried salty tears (what else would she be crying?)
She was swimming to stay afloat (you don't usually swim in order to drown)
These are the sort of things we just say automatically. That's fine, but when we start to write things down, space becomes precious. A good story should be filled with wonderful words and interesting curiosities. Don't waste space on blanks that most readers could fill in for themselves.
If the woman was crying milk, sure, tell me about it, or if the night's sky was on fire with the aurora borealis - that is something your reader would want to know. But just stating that the night is dark? That doesn't really move the story forward or excite our imagination.
Think of the obvious like eyebrow hair. Take a pair of tweezers and comb through your manuscript, plucking it out. It really hurts at first, because you feel that without those obvious phrases, there won't be enough of a sentence left. It was dark, he shouted, she cried and she swam may be a lot shorter, but length isn't the worth of a work. Aim for quality over quantity.
Now add the things we can't guess for ourselves.
I don't need to bang on about this, many more famous writers already have. Mark Twain really put it well:
"When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart."
This is really the essence of it. The shorter a sentence, the more punch it packs. Each adjective weakens the blow.
A good rule of thumb is: try your hardest to pick one, never more than two.
The mysterious, tall, blue, creaky door - is an abomination
The mysterious, blue door - is better
The mysterious door - is perfect
Like obvious things, there's a little panic button goes off in the back of a writer's mind as they start to trim back a sentence: will it be sufficient and meaningful if it's short?
Yes. Yes it will. Things will flow, meaning will be had, life will be good.
Trust in this.
Save your manuscript to a test file and try it. Go through, reduce all adjectives to no more than two at the absolute most. Choose the adjectives that don't say anything obvious or inconsequential. Only go for the ones that tell the reader something they couldn't otherwise guess, or that they might find particularly interesting, or the ones that sound really nice to the ear.
Go to town. Don't hold back.
Reserve judgement until the end.
The Little Words
The little words are the at, the, this, them, a, an, to, as and ifs of this world.
The joining words, though I like to extend it to longer words if they carry little meaning.
In the first draft of anything, we use too many of them.
Good writing is like whisky - potent. Each little word is a drop of water to that whisky. Whilst editing, you're looking to remove the water and distil a sentance that really packs a punch.
It's all about tightening up your prose.
It wasn't long before the doorbell was ringing. With a sigh, Emma pulled herself up off the sofa and went into the hall to go to open the door. Outside in the street it was looking overcast. It was probably going to rain within an hour or maybe within two. For now, she had to go and deal with the man who was standing in front of her in the doorway.
Makes for smoother reading after you cull the little words:
It wasn't long before the doorbell rang. With a sigh, Emma pulled herself from the sofa and went to answer it. Outside looked overcast and it would probably rain in an hour or two. For now, she had to deal with the man in front of her.
Nothing I chopped out of that story leaves anything unsaid. It's just taken us from point A (on the sofa) to point B (stranger at door) much faster, leaving space for more interesting things like secret government agents, an estranged father she hasn't seen in years, or an alien invasion.
Obviously, don't remove words that you need. If a sentence needs a conjunction (and/but) or an article (a/an/the) to make sense and to flow, then of course you should keep it, but always be on the lookout for unnecessary clutter.
It contains three short story excerpts, each in three paragraphs.
Go through them.
In the first paragraph of each story, take out anything that states the obvious.
In the second paragraph of each story, pick one, no more than two, adjectives (remembering the obvious rule).
In the third paragraph of each story, cull the little words and tighten it right up.