By: Dr. Dawn Field
“No words are too good for the cutting-room floor, no idea so fine that it cannot be phrased more succinctly.”―
The Big Questions
If you are in the process of writing a book or have completed a first or tenth draft, who helps you ask the big questions about your story structure and substance?
Who checks if…
- Your chapters all flow well?
- You need all your chapters?
- Your chapter endings are working?
- Chapter 3 isn’t too short to get all the emotions across?
- You couldn’t merge chapters 12 and 13 to tighten the story?
- The story should start later?
- You are missing backstory?
- You’ve included too much backstory?
- You have big enough plot points?
- Your ending is strong enough?
These kinds of questions all fall into the domain of developmental editing. So, the answer is a developmental editor.
There are five levels of story editing, from consultation on ideas down to the final polish of proofreading.
Developmental editors care about the story – the big stuff, in big chunks. How does it all work together? Do you have an excellent clincher at the end? Are readers satisfied all along the way, but especially after the last word?
A developmental editor will look at every aspect of your current draft and try to hone it further into a whole.
What a developmental editor cares most is the strength and shine of your literary elements. How well-developed are your ideas, and how well are these elements meshing?
Developmental editors will make most of their comments about characters and plot, the principal elements that make up your story. But it only starts there. Your characters and plot are the results of your choice of setting and theme(s). On top of this is the tone of the work, and tone is what creates the mood for the reader.
So how are you doing?
- Are your characters three dimensional and relatable?
- Do your characters work as a cast to propel the story?
- Does your plot make compelling sense?
- Is your setting adding to the story?
- Do you have enough conflict?
- Is conflict working to drive great dialogue?
- Do you have rich subtext?
- Have you sufficiently developed your theme(s)?
- Is the tone of the book loud and clear so that you offer tons of emotional impact?
- Is tone creating mood for the reader as intended?
The literary elements weave and wend their ways from start to end of your book. They are filled in with an array of smaller elements that are what gives great writing its style as well as substance.
A watchful developmental editor also checks for great, under-developed, or confusing patterns.
- Are you using a wide range of literary devices to keep the writing fresh?
- Is your voice as strong as you would like?
- Are you making things too easy on characters in general and need to work on tightening the screws?
- Do you have enough emotional impact? Could you be braver in delving deeper into difficult parts of your subject material?
- Are you always rewarding readers with a payoff to your setups?
- Do you have only the great kind of repetition, that which heightens the meaning?
- Are you continually shaking things up, so readers stay awake but planting enough signposts that it’s easy to follow the action and interiority of the characters?
In the end, finishing up a draft is about achieving unity in writing. You tie together a wonderful diversity of threads into a clear and compelling story that readers want to consume.
Unity means having just the right amount and number of transitions, sufficient connectivity between all the parts, and never too much so that readers are overwhelmed and can’t make sense of it all.
Unity is when everything you’ve chosen to pack in is all smoothed out. Anything that diminished the read has been removed or fitted in, and the whole is far more than the sum of the parts.
The key to excellent writing is to have only great stuff, which means removing the un-great. While this may seem obvious, a developmental editor can point out objectively what to cull, such as holes or tangents, as well as make suggestions for increasing the impact of your story through heightening techniques, such as verbal imagery.
You can also have another round of development by picking apart the story and thinking hard about all your fundamentals or writing your book synopsis.
Sometimes a conversation with a friendly-critique partner is just what you need to take your writing to the next level.
You want to do all your own checking for ‘the big stuff of story’ but sometimes what you really need is a fresh pair of eyes. You need a friendly reader who also knows a lot about the craft of writing. A good developmental editor offers you an objective eye, is a special kind of coach who can help you up your writing game, and in the best cases, turns into a huge fan.
In the end, it’s all about getting across what you really want as an author. It’s about fully developing your ideas into a polished story.
Need More Direction? I Can Help.
If you think you are ready for a profession developmental edit or merely want to talk about the process and craft of writing, I’d love to hear from you.
It can be a short story or a book, a piece of non-fiction, or song lyrics. I can read a page, a few thousand words, or the whole draft. We can talk about any topic, from ideas to structure to style and anything in between.
Or you can ask a quick question – I learn something from every writer in these exchanges.
I’m the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC, and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio: Dr. Dawn Field
Dawn Field is a book lover and scientist interested in what makes great writing.
She is the founder of Unity in Writing, LLC where she writes about writing, language and science and loves giving feedback and brainstorming with authors as a developmental editor.
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