[Tipster] What Is a Developmental Edit?

developmental edit Jan 07, 2022

You've probably heard these terms: 

    Developmental edit
    Line edit
    Copy edit
    Proofing

Today, I want to explain what a "developmental edit" is.

Believe me, you want a developmental edit. It's arguably the most helpful of all the types of editing.

The 4 Components of a Developmental Edit 

If you're writing longform (an article or monograph or a book), you may need someone to help you with the big rocks of writing a longer piece:

1. The thesis. 

Every article and book has a thesis. You can't write without one. Or, rather, you can, but you'll struggle to complete the project. Another phrase for a "thesis" is "big idea." Every piece of longform has a single idea that governs the writing.

A developmental editor will work with you to identify your thesis. It must be sharp, crisp, and narrow.

You should be able to write your thesis in a clear sentence. Specific is good, general is bad.

2. The narrative arc.

Every article or book takes the reader on a journey. That's true whether you're writing nonfiction or fiction. You start in one place - and end in another.

A developmental editor will help you wrestle with the beginning and end of the arc. Obviously, as you write longform, the narrative arc may change. But you need to start your writing project with the story arc in mind.

And have a destination in mind. The end must be emotionally satisfying to the reader.

3. Overall structure 

Blogs are quite easy to write. There is little structure. You open with a statistic or an anecdote - and 800 words later, you've wrapped up your point.

But with longform, structure is critical to creating a sense of flow for the reader. Structure helps the writer create and sustain tension.

Again, this is true with nonfiction and fiction longform.

A developmental editor helps you map out where you want to take the reader.

If you're writing a memoir, for example, which scenes should end up in the first chapter?

4. Chapter structure. 

There are few good books on structure.

One of the best is "Draft No.4" by John McPhee. He is a long-time New Yorker writer, and his book has some great insights about structure.

The reason for so few books on this subject, I believe, is that each piece of longform is so unique.

There are some general principles (for example, an inductive approach to the subject or a deductive approach), but there seems to be a natural flow that comes only as the writer agonizes during the writing process.

What should come first? What should be second?

A good developmental editor can spot flaws in the structure of a chapter, help you move items around, and recommend adding stories, for example, to buttress your point.

Find Some Ideal Readers! 

You can see that developmental editing is crucial in making progress on your writing project.

If you don't have a professional to help you, use readers to give you feedback.

These readers should not be your daughter, your boyfriend, your mum, or anyone who wants to make you happy.

You need a real, ideal reader. Someone whose brow will furrow and say, "I have no idea what you're doing here."