Things You Might Hear From A Developmental Editor

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developmental editor

Within the domain of book editing, a developmental editor will assess content and story structure. Go to one when you want to see if your story “works.”

The primary job of a developmental editor is to make your book more of what it is — to identify the essence of the story and make sure it’s really coming through. Developmental editing means working towards unity, when the whole of your story is more than the sum of its parts. Any part that diminishes the whole must be fixed or removed, and any holes in the story must be addressed and patched up.

A developmental editor will focus on the big parts of your story — your literary elements — including characters, plot, setting, and theme. They’ll help you fix these big elements and point out any inconsistent details to help make everything mesh seamlessly to produce an experiential read. Your goal, after all, is to immerse a reader in your tale.

A developmental edit should happen as early in the process of writing as you are willing — when you are still open to making major changes.

Here are examples of “high-level” feedback a developmental editor might give.

Characters

I think you have too many characters. Have you thought about reducing the cast? I’m just not getting enough time with your lead character to attach emotionally.

I don’t think you’d lose the essence of your story if you merged these two “friend” characters.

I’m not sure why you included this character as she doesn’t seem to push forward the story in any way. Can we discuss dropping her or elevating her role?

Authenticity and believability

I didn’t believe Character X would do this. She is too smart.

I didn’t believe that Character Y wouldn’t dive back into the river. Of course, he would try to save the woman he loves. You need to make him dive in or add a steel-trap reason why he doesn’t.

The scene where Character X refuses to testify seems completely inconsistent with everything she has done to that point. What’s her motivation? How can you allude to this trait earlier in the story?

I feel like you are holding back information in this scene. Perhaps the details are too private since it’s based on real-life events? The lack of emotional detail makes her actions seem inauthentic.

Plot

You need to beef up your inciting moment. Move it forward. It should happen around the 10% mark.

Your climax is unbelievably short. It’s not satisfying enough.

You should add a villain’s monologue. Readers will want to know why Character Y did all those horrible things.

Setting

Your setting is under-developed. Think of time and place as one of your characters. Use sensory language to describe the setting throughout the story.

Opening

I think you need a better opening. Yours starts too slowly and you lack a hook.

This book will be stronger if you link your opening to your ending.

Pace

This reunion scene is the most important in your story, yet it whizzed by. Try to imagine yourself at the event. How is the lighting? How does it smell? Describe the decor. What is Character X wearing? Use sensory language to develop the setting.

The car ride to the reunion is a transition scene, yet you linger on it for 13 paragraphs. Edit everything so the word count is proportional to importance in the story.

Your pacing is great up to the middle, you’re really developing the plot with every scene. Then you lose the terrific sense of forward momentum after the scene in the hospital. The story loses focus and the pace slackens.

Point of view

You are head-hopping too much. Is it necessary to do this to tell the full story? As it is, it is very distracting. Perhaps when you do change narrators, you do so only at the beginning of chapters?

Distractions

This chapter seems to have fallen out of the sky into the middle of an otherwise good book. Might you consider taking it out?

Length

This book would be terrific if you’d shorten it by a quarter. Here are some suggestions as to how to make the story more compact and punchier.

Strengthening and heightening

This scene could be so much stronger if you explained what Character X is thinking. She must have so many thoughts in her head — let the reader in.

Escalation

You seem to reach a plateau in Chapter 8. And then at Chapter 20, you jump too fast to the big event. Let’s work on escalation.

Etc.

Pretty much anything that jars a developmental editor during the read will be mentioned. In the end, all advice is about helping you fully develop your story to its maximum potential.

BookBaby Editing Services

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Filling The Holes In Your Story
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Dawn Field

About Dawn Field

Dawn Field has written 86 posts in this blog.

Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing. She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor. Her first book, Biocode, was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Contact her at unityinwriting@gmail.com.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This was great, thanks!
    As an editor and proofreader, so many clients think they are ready for a line editor, or worse, just a proofreader, and what they really need is a developmental editor.

  2. Thank you for this article Dawn. I’m a non-fiction writer. What role, if any, can a developmental editor play in a non-fiction book?

  3. Ms. Field:
    My manuscript is scheduled next month with my Development Editor, and I am nervous. Of course, my editor explained her development editing process, reading yours, so much like hers, left me with a jolt of confidence. Many thanks.
    Olga Oliver

  4. Dawn, I know sometimes editors come across writers that are not original English speakers; how do you cope when it comes to developmental editing in all topics you have discussed?
    My own comment: I must say I have learnt a good lesson. I’m encouraged to seek a developmental editor. I feared this a lot. Thanks, Dawn Field.

    • I love developmental editing for non-native speakers of English because I find they often have an extra creative take on English. It can work to one’s benefit. Grammar and such can be worked out — it’s the strength of the story that matters. The challenge, of course, is developing a rich and readable style that satisfies native speakers of English. Kudos for writing beyond your native tongue!

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