When most people think of editing, they think of corrections to spelling and grammar (proofreading) or fussing over whether the Democratic Presidential nominee is Hilary or Hillary Clinton (copy editing). But editors don’t just “nit pick” over small errors. They look at the bigger picture, how the story works as a whole. Combining objectivity with a passion for story, they can advise authors on how to make their stories better. This type of editing is known as developmental editing.
While I do offer proofreading and copy editing, developmental editing projects really get my juices going. Developmental editing is the line where writing and editing meets. You need to know how stories to do it. I’m going to be doing a developmental edit on a book soon and here are three things I’ll be advising the author on.
How well the story works
When you’re writing, you can feel as if you’re trapped in a maze. You’re so lost in the story that you can’t find a way to the end. Developmental editors hold out the ball of wool that you can use to find your way out. They will tell you if your characters are convincing and if the world you have created for them is vivid enough. They will alert you if your point of view isn’t consistent, or if your dialogue sounds wooden. They’ll also give you a sense of which events are central to the story and which are not.
How to shorten and lengthen
Some writers feel as if they’re drowning under the weight of words. Others may feel they are scrabbling for them. Developmental editors are objective, so they can tell you which scenes to cut and how to tighten your sentences. If you only have a scrap of an idea and you want to make it into a novel, developmental editors can give you tips on how to expand: for example by weaving flashbacks to the past into a contemporary story.
Whether you’re mad or not
When authors come to developmental editors, they are either muddling through a first draft and want to reach the end, or at the point where they need to decide whether to publish or not. These are delicate stages in an author’s life, and it’s easy for them to doubt themselves and wonder if they’re nuts to want to continue. Developmental editors will help them make that decision. I will give a verdict on whether the story has merit or not, and what the author needs to do to bring the story to fruition. Whether they tell an author to go ahead and send in that submission or go back to the drawing board, it could be just what an author needs to hear.
Have you ever used the services of a developmental editor, or a critiquing service? How has it helped you advance your writing?