This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is developmental editing day.
Developmental editing is also called story editing, book editing, or book doctoring. It’s large-scale editing in which I make sure your book doesn’t have any lapses in logic, character consistency, plot plausibility, argument rationality, or tone. It means digging into the meat of your manuscript and finding where it can be better. Maybe you can get more tension out of a character relationship or you can make a stronger point by refuting an opponent’s argument. I make sure that scenes and sections are happening in the most effective order; that characters’ dialogue is organic, engaging, and consistent; and that the choices you’re making as a writer are the most effective for communicating with your audience.
Essentially, a developmental edit looks at the same things as a manuscript evaluation, except after I grasp the overarching idea of your story, I dig into each chapter, scene, and paragraph and comment on how to make each one more effective for the whole. I do very little on the sentence level unless something is repeatedly problematic (i.e., a character always uses words in a weird way or there’s a consistent tendency to grammatically obscure your point).
Developmental editing normally requires multiple passes. Because the fixes I recommend are larger, sometimes a change will either introduce new problems or uncover smaller issues that were hidden by the larger one. After you make your changes, it’s a good idea to run it past me again.
When Does a Manuscript Need Developmental Editing?
A manuscript needs developmental editing if you’ve received a lot of feedback that says something about the manuscript “just isn’t working,” and you want help making it work. Often copyediting and substantive editing will not help a story or argument that isn’t working on a larger level.
Developmental editing is also a good idea if you’ve gotten manuscript evaluation–type feedback and you want help applying it throughout your manuscript. If you want to work closely with someone who knows your work and understands your goals while you’re developing your story, initiate an editorial relationship and dig in.
How Can Authors Developmentally Edit Their Own Work?
Hiring a developmental editor is a big commitment: this type of editing tends to be the most expensive and it usually involves more passes than other editing types. So before hiring an objective eye, you may decide to use your own first so the editor you hire isn’t telling you things you could have figured out yourself. Here are some questions to ask yourself while you’re editing:
- Does this section/scene/chapter communicate my purpose to my audience?
- Would this paragraph/section/scene/chapter be more effective earlier or later? What would I gain from a change?
- How can I communicate this character’s personality better?
- Does this scene or section do double duty? (For example: In a narrative, is the scene showing character as well as moving the plot? In instructive nonfiction, is this section communicating new ideas and reinforcing what readers should take away from the book?) How could it be made to do double duty?
- Is this scene/section/chapter consistent with the tone of the book? (A humorous chapter could be great on its own, but farce in the middle of a tragic book may ruin the book’s effect on a reader.)
- Is this action consistent with the character I’ve created? Is it stereotypical or cliché?
- Is this bit of dialogue didactic or stilted?
- Is this a logical progression of the plot or argument?
- Does this element of the book support or erode my theme?
Many of these questions are hard to answer on your own because you will be close to your manuscript and might be blind to the problems. But the better your manuscript is when you hand it over to an editor, the more useful the editor’s feedback will be.
Other Editorial Services
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