What Is A Big Picture Edit?

Last week, I did what I call a big picture edit for a client who wanted two short stories evaluated. Big picture edit is the writerly term that I like to put on it, but officially this kind of editing is called developmental editing. Developmental editors differ from proofreaders and copy editors because rather than zero in on spelling, grammar and other details, they look at the whole story. They give in-depth evaluations of the overall story, the bits that work and the bits that don’t. Authors can then use their feedback to drive the story forward.

Developmental editors will help you develop your story.
Developmental editors will help you develop your story.

What aspects of a story do developmental editors look at?

Storytelling Techniques: Developmental editors focus on authors use the building blocks of story: character and how they interact, settling and plot. They will tell you whether the point of view you have used for your story is convincing, whether your dialogue sounds natural and what you can do to give your story momentum. For example, I may tell an author that there needs to be more conflict in their character interactions, or that the story needs a defining event to make it more interesting for readers.

Technical Points: When I do a developmental edit, I don’t correct spelling, grammar or sentence structure, but I do highlight consistent errors that need to be corrected. They will also advise on layout issues, such as the correct way to lay out dialogue. I will comment on how effectively the author uses language overall and flag up instances where authors over-rely on certain words, or choose words that aren’t appropriate to the context of the sentence.

When should I go for a developmental edit?

It is not a good idea to go for a developmental edit until you have at least edited your first draft yourself. Any earlier than that and the editor’s input may interfere too much with the development of the story. There are two reasons to use a developmental editor. One is if you feel you’ve done all you can with the story, but it’s still lacking, and you want to know how to take it to the next level. The other is if you want to assess whether your story is ready for publication or not.

What are the benefits of a developmental edit??

A lot of authors use a team of “beta readers,” who read the manuscript and give their feedback. This is certainly useful, but the problem is that a lot of the time, these beta readers are known to the authors. A developmental editor will give you a totally unbiased opinion. This is particularly useful if you’re not part of a writing community and the only person who’s seen the manuscript is yourself. The developmental editor will also have a lot of professional expertise which the beta reader may not have, and your story will benefit from that expertise. Using a developmental editor will ensure that your precious story is ready to go out into the world.

Have you ever used a developmental editing or critiquing service? How useful did you find it? Do you offer these services yourself? If so, how do you approach it?


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