Completing the draft of a story is a great achievement. Yet ‘Now what?’ often follows. Developmental editing is valuable for enhancing your manuscript (and your writing skills in general). Comprehensive developmental editing helps you:
1. Catch flaws and enhance your work
Copy editing tidies up errors, clunky phrases, dulling repetition such as tautology and other elements of SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar), formatting and style.
Developmental editing differs in key ways. It delves deeper into many more of the ‘larger picture’ components of stories.
A keen editor will spot and help you improve flat characters with thin motivations, for example. Or poorly structured scenes that are weak yet may be improved fast.
The best editors enhance the effects of a story by making perceptive, engaged suggestions, down to titles.
See, for example, this discussion where editor Robert Gottlieb shares how a simple change of title added suspense for the first several chapters of a book.
2. Learn from insightful conversations
A truly useful element of developmental editing is that you may pose direct questions to your editor.
With a good editor, a simple question such as ‘What do you make of this character’s actions and motivations?’ may spark illuminating discussion that unlocks pathways through your story you hadn’t before imagined.
Conversations arising out of the editing process often reshape thoughts on passages that have not yet been given feedback.
There’s a ripple effect where the insights shared change for the better how we approach the rest of the story.
3. Elevate to publishable standards
Getting a book to a publishable standard of polish involves multiple stages of editing.
Developmental editing is crucial if you have interesting, creative ideas but lack the experience with balancing elements of story such as narration, action, dialogue, description and suspense.
In one instance, a book may have so much detailed description that pace starts to drag. In another, dialogue may dominate the narrative so much that characters begin to read like disembodied heads talking in a vague and inky void.
Experienced editors detect when this balance is off. The best developmental editors give feedback that is thorough, actionable and serves to help your story become the best possible version of itself.
4. Find solutions for an impasse
Often there are places in a story where you aren’t sure how to link different threads up.
At other times, a character’s full story arc is clear in your mind, but you’re not sure how another’s will pan out.
Whenever there is an impasse and you’re close to the text, it’s harder to see a way forward. Sometimes conflicting feedback from first readers only leaves you feeling more lost.
It’s like Martha (who obtained a manuscript evaluation in late-2019) says:
5. Build and sustain motivation
Critique forums are sometimes frustrating. Sometimes members are not at each other’s writing level, or have wildly differing genre interests and style preferences.
A professional developmental editor, however, does more than tell you whether or not your work is to their personal tastes. They are skilled in giving honest feedback that both acknowledges your achievements while helping with the distance still to go.
It’s encouraging and motivating to receive feedback from a professional who is committed to helping you elevate your craft. The confidence you gain through a supportive, collaborative editing process is something you will carry forward to future writing projects.
6. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses
Being a writer does not necessarily mean we’re fully aware of our own strengths and weaknesses.
We might think we are brilliant at description, for example, only for an editor to say our description is florid and excessive for the genre we’re writing in.
A big part of the learning component of developmental editing is learning where your real strengths and weaknesses lie.
Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you to work consciously at improving your craft until your writing is balanced and effective.
7. Collaborate when you want
One of the advantages of developmental editing over, say, a manuscript evaluation, is you can start working with a developmental editor before you’re finished a first draft if you prefer.
Whether you enjoy precise guidance as you write or prefer to write multiple drafts and only then begin the editing process, a developmental editor will help you tell a more compelling story.