Developmental Editing

Why Developmental Editing

The vast majority of freelance editors working today are copy editors. Which is fine and dandy-in its place. But a good copyedit isn’t the first step in the process of bringing a manuscript to publication. Nor is it the second or third steps. Rather, a hard going over for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., makes up the last step before going to print.

Long before that, manuscripts need in-depth, comprehensive, substantive editing — the kind that deals with the nuts and bolts of organization and structure, of plotting and pacing, of characterization, of voice and tone, along with all of the stylistic elements and overall substance that go into creating a great read. Whether fiction or nonfiction, every book (or short story or article) needs the type of thorough going over that only a developmental editor can provide.

So many elements make up a great book. And each of these needs hard attention. Are the characters real, flesh-and-bone, multi-sided people? Does the reader know them once the story has taken off? Or simply know about them? Do they interact in believable ways, or are they over the top, destroying verisimilitude? Does the main character grow and evolve without being a leopard who changes its spots?

Does the pacing fit the storyline? Different genres require different pacing, and it helps to work with an editor who understands the market and the genre in which you’re writing. Does one chapter flow into the next, building to a climax, making for a satisfying read? Does the book “fit” together? I.e., is it all of one piece? Does it have a cohesive beginning, middle, and end? Or does the plotline fizzle and sag, or leave huge holes that are never bridged?

Is there a point to the book?

Does the language sing? Or limp along in fits and spurts? Is the writer telling the story, or creating, showing, evoking for the reader?

A book is simply more than the sum of its parts. It’s its own entity — a new being that is formed by those parts, and something more. Something intangible. To fashion a great book one must make sure all of the individual elements work together in a synergy of words and emotions, painting pictures and evoking senses in order to put the reader smack dab into the story. To accomplish that, a writer must first create, then rewrite, then revise. And nothing in the world helps one do that better than working with an accomplished developmental editor — one who knows the pitfalls and problems, and can help writers navigate around and through the turbulent seas.

The very best substantive editors can not only pinpoint the problems, in all areas, but most importantly, be able to show you how to fix those short falls. No writer wants an editor to rewrite her book; that’s not an editor’s job. An editor’s job is to help a writer to fashion the very best book his can be. To bring out the gem from under whatever is burying its shine. To help the characters take off and be all they’re supposed to be as they interact through the events of the story. To make sure the arc of the story contains all of the elements that bring forth a great read. An editor’s real job is to teach the elements of great fiction and nonfiction, while doing all of the above.

And it takes a very fine touch to be able to accomplish this while maintaining the integrity of the writer’s own voice. That’s what makes for a great editor for your book.