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What aspects of a manuscript does a developmental edit look at?

What aspects of a manuscript does a developmental edit look at?

A close-up of typewriter keys.

Image by Free-Photos, via Pixabay.

When I look at your manuscript during a developmental edit, I’ll give you guidance on two intertwining and interrelated levels.

Storytelling

First up, we have what I call the storytelling elements—the big-picture pieces that make up the overall story and character arcs. These are the aspects that I tend to focus on during a manuscript evaluation, which looks at your work with broader brush strokes than a full edit.

  • Overall pacing: does the plot progress at a pace which keeps the readers engaged?
  • Plot structure: does the plot unfold in a way that creates suspense?
  • Plot threads: do the subplots tie in with the central plot effectively?
  • Payoff: does the ending satisfy the reader’s expectations?
  • Point of view: is the story written from the most effective point(s) of view?
  • Narrative style: is the ‘voice’ of the narration consistent? Does the chosen style serve the story well?
  • Character arcs: do the characters grow and change throughout the novel?
  • Characterisation: do the characters feel ‘real’? Are their motivations and decisions clear and understandable to the reader throughout?
  • Conflict: do characters’ motivations and desires clash to create compelling conflict?
  • Stakes: are there personal stakes for the characters? Does the reader care about their struggles?
  • Worldbuilding: is the overall setting portrayed vividly? Does the in-world logic withstand scrutiny?

Writing Craft

In full rounds of developmental edits, I’ll also dive into the more technical level of on-the-page writing craft. These elements often overlap with the above storytelling elements and have a big impact on the reader’s overall experience of your novel.

  • Point of view: are the narrative boundaries maintained—e.g. are there any instances where information is given to the reader that the narrator couldn’t know? Is the perspective immersive for the reader?
  • Characterisation: is each character distinct in the way they behave and talk? Are emotions portrayed effectively?
  • Dialogue: does dialogue flow naturally? Are dialogue tags used appropriately?
  • Scene pacing: does each scene contain sufficient tension and plot/character progression to keep the reader engaged? Is there a good balance of description and action?
  • Setting: is there a strong sense of setting at the scene level?
  • Conveying information: does the narration use ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ appropriately and effectively? Are readers allowed to infer information rather than it being spelled out for them?


Note:

This list is intended to give an idea of the sort of elements I usually cover in my developmental edits. By no means are all of these criteria relevant to all stories.

I consider all aspects of storytelling and writing craft on a case-by-case basis, taking into account your creative vision. I am continually learning about different storytelling conventions and writing craft traditions (and subversions), particularly those that are systemically dismissed by and excluded from the Western publishing industry.


If you have any questions about the process of developmental editing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.