Line editing is what most people think an editor does. I proceed sentence by sentence, sharpening and tightening prose so it gains its maximum impact. I originally established my reputation in New York trade publishing on the strength of my line-editing skills. This type of focused editing entails a number of intuitive tasks. For example, I look for passive sentence construction (“it is,” “there is”) and reconstruct sentences so they employ an active verb. In likewise fashion, I often break complex sentences in two, making a participle (“-ing”) into an active verb. Less vivid material will be cut, ranging anywhere from an unnecessary adverb all the way up to several paragraphs that are heading off on a tangent. Dialogue is reworked to make sure it rings true to the ear.
The line editing is supplemented by rewriting. While I don’t like to fix what isn’t broken, I will provide fresh ideas for overused words and phrases (“stare,” “shrug,” “pause” are common villains). That may mean the addition of a new character’s thought or physical reaction. For more in-depth information on my views on line editing, please see my article in Editors on Editing, Gerald Gross, 3rd ed.