Written by Sarah Yoon
Finishing a novel douses you in excitement and satisfaction, followed by irksome reminders of the work that looms ahead. At first you tuck that last feeling away—celebrate while you can, right? But eventually you must confront the facts: this scene is scrawny, that character is boring, and the last chapter lost all grammar sense.
Before you get into each detail, you’ve got to step back and grasp the big picture. This is the first step of the editing process: understand your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses from start to finish. And I’m not thinking about grammar or even prose. I’m thinking big. Plot arc big.
The developmental edit is all about perspective. To start things off right, wait before jumping into an edit. Give yourself space. Read a few books from your genre, and then throw in a few that you wouldn’t normally explore. When you engage in others’ storytelling, you come back with a more objective viewpoint.
No matter what you do, it’ll be far too easy to be sucked into the details, devolving into subjectivity and bias. That’s why it’s incredibly important, at some point in your manuscript’s life, to hand it off to a trusted reader, whether hired or volunteer. Other readers have an entirely different perspective of your work and will surprise you with different interpretations, emotional reactions, and big-picture edits.
As you work through the first draft, pay attention to 4 main elements:
- Launch Point
A launch point is sometimes called a lede or a hook. Writerly advisors will generally tell you to start a story as late as possible to create a more dramatic in medias res. This sucks the reader into the story without those unnecessary pages about the weather or the city’s drainage system. Sure, those elements may become important later, but you can weave them in throughout the story. After reading your first 30 pages—approximately 8 thousand words—ask yourself: When did the action begin? When were character goals/conflicts introduced? Does each scene move the plot forward? If the story starts getting interesting around page 10, you should consider cutting it down.
This is your time to find out if your characters are genuinely rounded. Often new writers fashion their main characters after themselves and add quirky side characters for extra color. The problem with this approach is that you probably consider yourself to be normal. Average. Which means that your main character will be a bland version of yourself.
See the problem? If your protagonist isn’t interesting enough to root for, you’ve got some work cut out for you. Check if your main character has strong personal drive—a goal that he or she must attain—and then layer more details from there. You’ll know that your story is parched when your the main character watches the story from the sidelines. It may hurt, but if you’ve an interesting enough side characters, you can cut your main character entirely. Whatever you do, make sure that every person has believable goals, unique psychology, and personal preferences.
- POV (Point of View)
The basics of POV start off with 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, but it gets more complicated as you move forward. For an effective POV, you need consistency. If you choose 3rd, which is the most pliable of the three, a few options lay before you: limited omniscient, omniscient, and objective. The key is to choose one and stick with it. Often the temptation is to slip into limited omniscient, where the narrator hears the thoughts of one specific character, and jumps between characters without a clear reason. Be intentional about whose thoughts your reader interacts with. If you must switch between characters, do so between scenes for a smoother transition.
- Plot and Pacing
When reading through the text, be aware of the interaction between action and reflection. Is your story methodical in a dreamy, coaxing way, or in a dull plodding way? Is it exciting in a gripping heart pumping way, or is it like a roller coaster with faulty breaks and dynamite strapped underneath? No matter what mood you want to set, you need a balance between tension and rest. Get a feel for how the plot flows. If you need a visual for your story’s big picture, consider mapping out your own plot diagram to check if you’ve created a satisfying arc.
Want to learn more about when to hire an editor? Keep reading and find out!
If you’re in need of an editor, feel free to contact Sarah Yoon for rate and service details.