10 Things a Developmental Editor Looks for in an Edit

  1. Is this a type of genre fiction? If so, does it conform to genre requirements/expectations? If it is genre fiction but does not conform to expectations, is the nonconformity a lack of understanding of the genre and the audience, or a deliberate literary effort designed to transform the genre? If the latter, is it effective? Authors often misunderstand genre conventions, so they end their romance with the hero dying. That’s not a romance.
  2. Are there any plot holes or inconsistencies in this ms?  If Maureen was kidnapped in Chapter 5, we expect to find out what has become of her by the end. A common problem is promising in the first chapter something that is not delivered by the bulk of the book. Another is plot events that aren’t foreshadowed: if the main character shoots someone we should at least know they possess a gun.
  3. Are the characters’ motivations clear and understandable? Are characters consistent in their actions? (If a character wouldn’t steal a quart of milk in Chapter 1, but he does in Chapter 5, have convincing changes occurred that would make this action believable?) Is the motivation sufficient for the action? Is it not believable?
  4. Is the core conflict compelling? (All fiction is, at heart, about conflict.) Or is it the kind of conflict that could be resolved if one character said to another, “You know, I have an evil twin”? A common problem is conflict that is not sufficient to sustain a novel, such as a simple misunderstanding. Conflict drives narrative. Characters must want things, and those wants must bring them into conflict with each other.
  5. Is the setting effectively conveyed? Here we need to be concerned with more than just visual description. Are there sounds and smells? If it’s summer on page 11 and winter on page 12, is this discrepancy explained?
  6. Does the overall pacing work? For example, if the story is a thriller, is it a fast-paced page-turner?
  7. Is the point-of-view consistent throughout? For example, if the piece is written in first person, does it include only information that that character could know? Does the ms include head-hopping, which is shifting from one character’s perspective to another in the same scene without a clear transition to the other character’s POV.
  8. Does the author provide sufficient backstory to explain the characters’ actions without resorting to info-dumping (overuse of exposition/a problem of show versus tell)? Info dumping—providing too much information in a big lump—especially at the start of the book is a very common problem for beginning authors, who sometimes try to solve it with “As you know, Bob,” explanations. These are situations where something that has happened in the past is described in a conversation that would never happen in real life.
  9. Does the narrative arc reach a satisfying conclusion? That is not necessarily a happily ever after, or even the conclusion readers are hoping for, but a resolution that resolves most of the questions that are raised throughout the story.
  10. Overall, does the piece work for its intended audience?

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