Developmental editing, also called substantive or content editing, focuses on improving big-picture narrative elements in your writing. This kind of editing occurs early in the writing process. For fiction, developmental editing considers these aspects:
- Genre concerns
- Story structure
- Characters and characterization
- Narration, point of view, and use of narrative modes
- Plot and pace
- Mood and tone
- Style and voice
Examples of developmental editing
As a developmental editor, I give your manuscript a careful reading to evaluate the previously listed elements. Here are examples of the primary ones.
When I analyze the structure of your story, I look for, at minimum, a clear beginning, middle, and ending. For longer works (novelettes, novellas, and novels), I check for scaffolding such as three-act, hero’s journey, or eight-stage organization. (These are just a few; there are others.) Are all signposts in place and connecting material in proper proportion?
Plot and pacing
With plot, I check for a clear cause-and-effect chain from beginning to end, keeping an eye out for possible contrivances. Does the protagonist (and other important characters) have a clear story goal? Sub-goals?
While pursuing those goals, your main character must encounter meaningful conflict based on significant stakes. In your protagonist’s monumental effort to resolve conflict and attain their story goal, are the climax and resolution logical yet satisfying?
The pace between major plot events should vary yet steadily mount toward the conclusion.
Characters and characterization
Evaluating characters and characterization asks if the protagonist, antagonist, and secondary characters are well-drawn for their purpose. Are they believable and consistent, properly motivated to pursue their story goals through heightening conflict?
Does the main character learn and change through the course of the work, demonstrating their ability to resolve the conflict?
Narration, point of view, and narrative modes
Have you chosen the most effective narrator for your story (external or internal)? How about the most effective point of view for the narrator to relate the story events and action? I have an eagle eye for catching and correcting POV errors, mistakes that can distance readers from your story or prompt them to quit reading altogether.
Line editing more fully evaluates your use of narrative modes—dialogue, internalization (character thoughts and feelings), action, description, and exposition. But during developmental editing, I suggest how best to use these modes to narrate or dramatize particular passages.
Setting includes geographic location and time.
You should set your story in the only place it could happen.
Its sub-settings, such as your protagonist’s home or a dark alley where significant action takes place, should contribute to conflict by threatening your characters or constraining them from reaching their goals.
Time in setting refers to the time period during which your story events take place (past, present, future) as well as the time of each scene. To evaluate your story’s use of time, I ask questions such as:
- Does your story adhere to the limitations of the time period in which it’s set?
- Does your narrative progress along a defined timeline or, if told out of chronological order, are the time points for each scene clear and understandable?
- Is time revealed at the beginning of each scene so that readers understand the progression of scenes or any skips in time?
The cost of developmental editing
How much does third-party developmental editing cost?
Editing businesses usually advertise set per-word rates, sometimes with different prices based on turnaround time. On average, expect to pay $0.02–$0.04 per word (around $5.00–$10.00 per page).
The editing and proofreading service, Scribendi, does not offer developmental editing, only line/copy editing.
With Reedsy, developmental editing for an 80,000-word novel costs about $0.0252 per word, or $6.30 per page.
I do developmental editing for $0.018 per word, or $4.50 per page. See Current dark fiction editing rates.
The goal of developmental editing
The goal of developmental editing is to ensure your work is sound on a structural and storytelling level. As a developmental editor, I analyze the previous aspects of your story to identify missing elements or, if present, to determine whether they’re working.
A developmental edit may require you to restructure your manuscript. Usually, you will need to rewrite to address issues identified and resubmit for a second evaluation.
Only when your story is effective as it can be should you pursue line editing and copy editing.
What I do as a developmental editor of dark fiction
When a writer of dark fiction sends me their manuscript for development editing, I make notes as I read carefully. I evaluate and comment on most of the above elements and suggest options and improvements. I return the commented manuscript (change-tracked Microsoft Word) with a cover email that discusses my findings and summarizes my recommendations.
As a developmental editor, I will evaluate, critique, guide, and help you shape your work—even if you’re still writing it. After you produce a strong story, I’m available to further refine your writing with line editing and copy editing. Each step will bring you closer to the possibility of publication.