So you’ve FINALLY completed that novel you’ve been working on. After months, maybe years, of slaving over scenes, subplots, and character development, you have finally perfected your baby. There’s just one problem.
You’ve missed something.
Now you may be thinking that after all of the time you’ve put in, all the reading and rereading, writing and rewriting, headpounding and re-headpounding, you will have ironed out every last possible wrinkle in your story. News flash:
Shakespeare put it better than I ever could: “To err is human.”
That’s the long and short of it; you’re human. You’re going to make a mistake. It happens. And I don’t mean just a typo or a grammar error. Like it or not, there’s going to be something wrong with your story itself. The reason?
Everyone has blind spots.
As stated earlier, this is your baby. Sometimes, we all need some tough love. We need someone to show us what we can’t see. We need someone to tell us our baby is ugly. This leads right in to the first reason you need a developmental edit:
We Need Another Pair of Eyes
Writing is all about perspective. When we edit and critique our own work, we end up with a very narrow perspective of our writing. Having another pair of eyes gives greater insight into:
• Audience expectation
• Character development
• Story pace
You begin with the story already inside you, then you put it on paper. Simple right? Well, sometimes things get lost in the transfer. When I had a developmental edit of my book done, I was amazed to find certain key details missing from the actual written copy.
This is the blind spot.
You already know the story; odds are you’ve had it kicking around in your head for months, maybe years. You have the benefit of knowing how it’s all supposed to come together.
Your audience doesn’t.
This phenomenon of our brains subconsciously filling in missing details leads us right to:
One of the main reasons you need a developmental edit is so that someone can tell you: “Hey, dude. This doesn’t make sense.”
As stated earlier, you may have the whole of the story mapped out in your head, but sometimes it’s possible to leave out key information to connect Point A to Point B.
Suppose in the heat of your climax, the villain pops out of nowhere to ruin everything. Fine and dandy, but where did he come from? And wasn’t he supposed to have died in a fire? And where did he get an atomic weapon on such short notice?
These are the types of issues that a good editor will bring to your attention. A key point to remember throughout this entire process:
TAKE THE CRITICISM!
No one likes to hear their baby called ugly, but always remember that the editor is the writer’s best friend. (With the exception of caffeine of course). If your editor expresses some confusion with regards to the plot, it’s a safe bet that at least some of your readers will be confused as well.
Here’s where things can really start getting touchy. It’s one thing if there are problems with the plot, but now your editor wants you to change the characters?! Remember:
TAKE THE CRITISM!
I get it; these characters are like friends. You created them, you know how they tick better than anyone else. Why should you let someone else tell you how they should talk, act, think?
Well, similar to plot holes, sometimes as the author we can get too close. We can miss breaks in the characters’ pattern of behavior. We can overlook important details in their development.
We can have blind spots.
Potential errors that may come up in regard to characters during a developmental edit are:
• Unclear motivations
• Inconsistent patterns of behavior
• Lack of dimension
An important concept to be aware of is that of your audiences’ relation to the character. Sometimes your character and the audience just don’t “click”. A good editor can catch this. Not only that, they can point you in the right direction towards making your character more relatable.
This is a very fancy way to say you have unnecessary “stuff”. Needless explanations, pointless side characters, non-essential scenes; these all fall under extraneous info. Nothing bogs down the pace of a story more than useless sections of narration or dialogue.
But a developmental edit can help you with this.
A good editor has a quick eye for excess info and bloated scenes. Think of them like gym instructors, pointing out your love handles. It may be tough, but as always:
TAKE THE CRITISM!
A good editor can turn your bloated scenes into lean, mean, literary machines. Don’t be surprised if you’re told you need to cut down on your descriptions. Often as writers we can go overboard describing a scene or situation. Trust not only the imagination of your readers, but also the advice of your editor, especially when they tell you to dump extraneous information.
Lastly, one of the most important reasons you need a developmental edit is for good old-fashioned writing mechanics.
“Hold on,” you might be saying, “I thought this was different than a grammar edit.”
Not to worry.
You see, a sentence doesn’t have to be grammatically incorrect to be a bad sentence. It could be academically perfect, but creatively putrid.
That’s where the developmental edit comes in.
A good editor can flag lines of dialogue and narration that are:
• Out of place
• Poorly timed
Most importantly, a good developmental editor can catch sentences that are clunky: wordy, awkward, and lacking in flow. Clunky sentences can throw off the rhythm of a paragraph, page, even an entire scene. They come across like a flat note in an otherwise perfect song. A good developmental edit can have your writing flowing like music to your readers.
In the end, I personally consider a developmental edit an absolute necessity for any novel. You’ve put so much effort into your book already; go the extra step and let an editor help you with the finishing touches. Take the extra time to make your novel the best it can possibly be.
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.