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Why Developmental?

Do you need a developmental (also known as structural) edit?

Well, my short answer is YES. Whether you’re a first time novelist or a seasoned author. Always yes. Here’s why.

  • You don’t want to get to your final editing stage or beta reading stage before realizing there are huge plot holes or characterization problems.
  • It’s too hard to see gaps, inconsistencies, or points that just don’t make sense when you’re the one who wrote it, unless you leave it alone for about five years and then read it with fresh eyes.
  • While friends and family can give you feedback, most people aren’t used to reading critically. Finding the problems and seeing ways to fix them is a skill that just doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and hasn’t been practiced. If friends or relatives who read your manuscript do see issues, it’s often completely foreign to them to know how to pinpoint the source, let alone come up with and effectively communicate ideas for improvement.
  • On a related note, friends have a hard time being objective. They’re likely to read your work and think, “Wow! You wrote all this! It’s like a real book! It has a plot and characters and so many words! I could never do that—good job!” They’re not reading it with the same eyes as they would read a book they picked up at the library. And even if your friend has that ability, it can be hard to know how to express those opinions without the fear of hurting your feelings or making a ton of work for you. Or maybe they’re just not confident in their opinions. It’s intimidating to think of how much work has gone into writing this and then have to say, “Well, the whole second half kind of fell apart,” especially if they don’t feel like they have a clear idea of how to fix it. Nobody wants to crush an author’s dreams.
  • Your manuscript will be a whole lot easier to line edit if it’s already structurally sound. It’s distracting to try to edit a manuscript that has major problems. I have a hard time not pointing out the issues I notice, but if I do then I know the author will have to make major revisions, which will end up necessitating another full or partial line edit before the final proofread, which will cost you more.

So what exactly is a developmental edit? Well, you could think of it as serious alpha reading. And alpha comes before beta.

Different editors all do it a little differently, but mine consists of two parts. As I read your manuscript I make comments in the document itself—mostly asking questions that come to my mind or pointing out glaring inconsistencies. I also write up a 6- to 10-page critique describing the strengths and weaknesses I see in each chapter. I try to be detailed and clear so you know what works and what doesn’t and why, and I make suggestions on how to resolve each issue. After the chapter-by-chapter feedback I summarize the strengths and weaknesses of your plot, conflict, characterization, themes, dialogue, setting, and narrative voice, followed by a list of the issues I see as your top priority in revising.

Here are some examples of the kind of comments you might find in a developmental critique. (These are comments I’ve made to several writers, and issues I’ve seen in a lot of self-published novels, so if any of my authors are reading this, don’t think I’m calling you out!)

  • Your main character comes off as fairly self-centered. Give him some more likable qualities. Maybe he could joke around with another character, or have something he really loves to show a more joyful or dedicated part of his personality.
  • Spread out your character’s backstory. It slows down the action when it’s all in one place and nothing is really happening.
  • Make sure to show emotions instead of just telling them. We can infer those emotions for ourselves, and readers will be more drawn in by little gestures and changes in tone of voice than they would be by the narration simply stating how the character feels.
  • Great job on your dialogue. It flows naturally; it’s snappy but not unbelievable, and it moves the story along while developing characters.
  • The romance jumps a little too suddenly from friendship to intense love. Show that progression with one or two more scenes of romantic tension.
  • Give a little more internal rationale for this character’s decisions, especially when he {fill in bad decision here}. I see where you’re going with it, but readers won’t sympathize with him enough if we’re just mad at him.
  • This scene doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. If you love it, try adding a conversation that moves the plot or relationship forward, or shorten it drastically. Otherwise you might need to take it out and add that little bit of info into the next scene.
  • I love the description of the city. It’s fascinating but not too long.
  • Your readers are left in the dark a little too long about {insert important plot point here}. It gets frustrating to not know if we’re supposed to understand what’s going on, or if the protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on either.
  • Excellent plot twist—not what I saw coming at all, and it deepens the suspense so well.
  • Condense these two chapters into one. There’s too much time spent describing {whatever}, and we really don’t need that much detail about their breakfast. Just jump back into the action.

Even though as a writer you may find the feedback hard to swallow at first—thinking of all the work you’ve already put into it and seeing how far you still have to go (or fuming that anybody would say such heinous things about your baby)—you’ll be so much happier with the end result. You’ll also find that many of the revisions are easier than you’d expect. It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can make a character more likable or a situation more believable.

I also emphasize that I’m always available during revision for clarification, brainstorming, or general complaining about the woes of writing. Because I’m really not here to be mean, and I am so excited to see a manuscript improve.

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