7 Tips for Developmental Editing

1. Resist the urge to copyedit while you’re conducting a developmental edit.

When you are conducting a developmental edit, keep your mind firmly focused on issues of structure, character development, holes in the plot, and other “big picture” developmental items. While it’s always a good idea to fix an error when you see one (e.g. adding or subtracting a comma), if you do this too much, you run the risk of losing both focus and productivity if you’re constantly switching between development editing and line editing. Try to conduct all sweeping developmental edits first, and then read through your manuscript with a fine tooth comb, chasing down smaller items like typos and errors in punctuation.

#amediting? Here's a tip. Resist the urge to copyedit while you're conducting a developmental edit. #85K90 Click To Tweet

2. When editing your manuscript, remember to think like an editor, not a writer.

If you edit with the mind of a writer, you’ll find it very difficult to cut passages of beautifully written text that no longer serves the story. An editor works with the writer on behalf of the reader. Enhancing and refining the story to the best of your ability (during an edit) is easier to do when you embody the motivations and skill of an editor – not a writer.

An editor works with the writer on behalf of the reader. #amediting on the #85K90 Click To Tweet

3. Keep the marketplace in mind when you edit.

It’s fun to follow characters down rabbit holes while writing the first draft of a novel but if those diversions lead you to places that might make your book difficult to sell, you may want to lift those wild goose chases out of your novel and set them aside for another day.

This often happens while “winging it” or “pantsing.” Often, a character starts to behave erratically or speak in a manner that doesn’t match his or her true nature but you write it anyway – following the character wherever they may lead during the writing of the rough draft. If that character leads you across the borders of your genre, you may need to pull back and edit to contain your character.

Check voice: does the tone of the novel slip into different markets? Humorous one moment, dark and mysterious the next? It’s fine if the tone changes to match the plot – but if the tone changes in a way that makes the reader wonder if they’re reading a romance or an angsty diatribe about dating life – you might be confusing the reader and disrupting their expectations.

4. Be constructive but don’t criticize.

Whether you’re editing someone else’s work or your own, provide help that is constructive and informative but doesn’t criticize or make fun. If you’re editing your own work, be tough but kind. Monitor the voice inside your head that’s evaluating the quality of the writing. You want to make sound editing decisions but you don’t want to damage the writer within.

When #editing - you want to make sound editing decisions but you don't want to damage the writer within. #85K90 #editingtip Click To Tweet

5. Gather a collection of tools to use.

Place highlighter pens, a notebook, index cards, yellow sticky notes, etc., within reach as you edit. Never assume you’re going to remember something as you edit – your mind may be so focused on the task of editing – it might not have room to also remember little tidbits or fleeting thoughts that enter your mind as you edit. Grab a pen, jot it down, get back to editing.

When working with sequencing issues, consider jotting notes on index cards that can be moved around and manipulated on a table or work surface before making considerable changes to the manuscript. Sequencing issues can be challenging to resolve when working with a document on the computer. Likewise, printing and reprinting large portions of the manuscript can become cumbersome and expensive. Index cards are small and flexible and will help you work through any thoughts you may have before conducting large-scale sequencing edits.

6. Maintain a list of things-to-do as you edit.

Working on sweeping “big picture” issues across a manuscript often results in moving chapters around, deleting or adding large sections of text, etc., which makes it easy to forget smaller editing items that are noticed or occur during the developmental edit.

For example, if you move chapter three into the chapter ten position, you’ll need to read chapters three through ten to identify story elements that need revising now that chapters are in different locations. For example, if two lovers meet in chapter three, but chapter three moves into the chapter ten position, you’ll need to establish a list of items to edit in chapters three through ten to ensure proper continuity of the two lovers’ storyline. It might help to read with a highlighter pen, highlighting text that now needs editing. Use the margins of your paper or the comment feature of track changes to indicate those lines that are now in conflict with the new order and new logic of your novel, now that chapters have been reordered.

#EditingTip: When conducting a developmental edit, maintain a list of things-to-do when it’s time to line edit. #85K90 Click To Tweet

7. Stay organized.

Back up your computer files and develop an organized system for naming the different versions of your manuscript as you edit. If you are needing to keep multiple versions of the manuscript as you edit, consider adding the date and time to the document’s filename to help you return to your most recent version. Keep a journal of completed editing tasks on a separate piece of paper to use as a backup reference (e.g. Monday, May 14, 2018 edit: deleted the bar scene; cut the sister character; began moving the inciting incident earlier in the manuscript).

#EditingTip: Keep a journal of completed editing tasks on a separate piece of paper to use as a backup reference. #85K90 Click To Tweet


Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from the first word to the first reader.

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