Developmental Editing: Implementing Your Plan

We’ve now gone through the six Primary Elements:

  • Character
  • Viewpoint
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Pacing
  • Setting

As I noted earlier, if any of these things have changed, they are likely to cause changes to the secondary elements. So we will do at least one complete editing pass to address any issues that may have come up in these areas. This kind of editing is often called developmental, content, or macro editing, because it deals with large building blocks of story.

We talked about writing your editing plan early on. Now it’s time to implement the plan.

Photo by Sanja Gjenero •
Photo by Sanja Gjenero •

If your problems involve Structure, consider outlining your book. You may not have written from an outline, but writing one after the fact can help you spot Plot, Structure, and Pacing problems. Reorganizing the outline is easier than reorganizing the whole book. Use the outlining feature of your chosen software, or an Excel spreadsheet, or 3×5 cards. Make one line or card for each scene, and make sure they’re in the right order.

Figure out which, if any, need to be deleted.

There are several ways to work your plan:

Sequentially: Edit each scene, looking to address all six elements at once.

Thematically: You may want to make one pass for Character, POV, and Setting; and another for Plot, Structure, and Pacing.

Detailed: One pass for each element in turn.

By Character or Plot line: You may want to do all of Heroine’s scenes first, and then Hero’s. Or maybe all the scenes about the primary plot line first, and then all the scenes related to the subplot. This can be a good approach if you plan major plot changes.

Which method you choose will depend on your strengths and weaknesses and the roughness of your draft. If you’ve decided to change from omniscient to deep POV, for example, that may take one pass all by itself, but some of the others could be bundled together.

Once you have a plan, dig into your manuscript and start editing. How long this phase takes is widely variable depending on the state of your manuscript, its length, how many things you plan to change, and how many hours per week you devote to the task. A professional editor can usually complete a developmental edit of a novel within a few weeks. Clearly if you only have a half-hour lunch break or an hour after work to devote to the task, you must adjust your expectations accordingly.

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