5 Reasons You Should Get a Developmental Editor

Developmental editing might be a scary thought for many writers. It’s the type of editing where a great many changes are suggested, and the red marks on the manuscript could look terrifying. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your novel, and now you are handing it over to someone who might tear it apart. Have I scared you even more? Here are five reasons to set aside your fears and embrace this type of service.

1. Developmental editors see things you can’t see

When we write, especially when we are passionately writing (which most writers do, right?), we tend to not notice things that could trip up a reader. This is not about grammar errors or punctuation issues—that’s the copyeditor’s job—but rather it is about plot lines, character development, scene flow, and how it all fits together. Story arcs make sense to those who write them, and we may think “How can anyone NOT follow this?” But your readers may struggle with plot holes you don’t see. They may not connect with your characters that seem so real to you. It is important to have someone point these items out to you and suggest how to fix them, especially if you are self-publishing. The last thing you need are negative reviews to drag you down.

2. Developmental editing can save you from potential heartache

Published authors, whether self-published or by traditional publishers, know the importance of online reviews. The more reviews received, the higher your book ranks, and the higher the chances of getting sales. But even if you get tons of reviews that bring you to that featured status due to algorithms that only look at numbers, those looking to buy your book are going to actually read those reviews, especially the negative ones. Those reviews are there to stay, and I have seen writers suffer from such reviews because they chose to self-publish without consulting an editor. Making sure your story is truly the best it can be is worth the cost to minimize negative feedback and encourage the positive.

3. Editors are objective

Writers may be worried that they will be judged by others, particularly when someone like an editor is analyzing their story so deeply. Editors are human and may naturally have their personal opinions, but a good editor will keep their opinions to themselves and focus on you and your work. Any opinions conveyed should be from the standpoint of an objective reader and not from what the editor thinks it should be. After all, the story is yours, it came from your heart. But getting objective feedback and suggestions are crucial to making sure that what you have works for readers, and editors are trained to do exactly that—objectively.

4. Red marks are not set in stone

All those red lines and comments in your manuscript are suggestions and only suggestions. You can reject all of it if you want. But before you click that “Reject all” button, read the comments carefully, over and over and over. Put the manuscript aside for a few days, then come back and read them again. I guarantee you will be surprised at how helpful those comments are. If your editor has suggested that a scene should be moved elsewhere, try it and see how it turns out. If they say a character is not well developed, that they didn’t connect with them, do some character development exercises to give them a boost. And if the editor suggests clarifying something that you think makes perfect sense, remember that your readers are not in your head and need more help than you might think.

5. Developmental editors are advocates for your readers

All of these points tie in to one important fact: developmental editors are the best advocates for readers. Though beta readers and manuscript evaluators can provide valuable feedback for low cost or even for free, they often do not give you detailed suggestions on what needs work or point out specific bits that work well and how to best utilize them. A beta reader might say, “This scene was confusing,” but say nothing more, whereas a developmental editor will explain in detail why it is confusing and use their expertise to suggest ways to make it better. A manuscript evaluator might say, “Your characters are wonderfully developed, and I connected closely with them,” but a developmental editor would tell you why they are great and how to use your skills to improve other parts of the story.

If you’re still nervous about investing in a developmental edit, whether it’s because you’re worried about how many red marks you’re going to see or because the cost doesn’t fit your budget, a professional manuscript evaluation is the next best option. You won’t get the detailed advice that a developmental editor would provide, but you can get a professional reader-advocate to tell you where your story is and where it needs to go.

The Benefits of Changing Point of View

Many times when that great story idea hits us writers, we know exactly how we want things to go. We know who our main character will be, if we want it in first or third person, where it will take place, and likely some side characters too. Then we start putting those words on paper, everything flows, we’re proud, excited, feeling awesome.

But what happens when you change any of those beginning ideas after the first draft?

When I was in college, the advanced writing course required students to participate in the “steeplechase” writing exercise. In this exercise, writers are to follow a set of twelve steps, writing a different section of the story based on each step. I won’t list them all here, but I will discuss two of the steps that completely changed a story I wrote—for the better.

First Person or Third?

After the first step of the steeplechase, which is just writing a section of the story as you normally would, step two is to switch the POV from first to third, or vice versa. My story was originally in first person, so I changed it to third. Depending on your main character, this can either be a minor change or a drastic change in voice. In my case, it went from the voice of a fifteen-year-old girl to that of a neutral adult narrator.

Big change. Look at a story you’ve written and think about what would happen if you were to change that point of view. Would it completely change the story from what you originally planned? If so, is that really a bad thing?

For my story it was a tremendous upgrade. But the POV changes don’t stop there.

Who is the Main Character?

Step four of the steeplechase asks the student to write from the point of view of another character. Any secondary character that might have a chance to progress the story through their eyes would be a fine choice. I had a character who was somewhat of an anti-hero and played a significant part in the story, so I chose to write from his point of view, in the third person. Before long, I knew I wanted this POV to be intermingled with that of the main character. Both would drive the story together.

In your writing, pick another character in a scene and start writing through their eyes. Let that character’s voice and attitude drive the scene, then take a step back and analyze the scene’s new direction. Is it a direction you might want to continue? If not, consider it a great exercise in character development. But you might be (pleasantly) surprised at the results.

The Final Outcome

You may find that making these changes will not benefit your story, maybe even harm it. And that’s okay. But forcing yourself to write from a different angle not only makes for excellent writing practice, but also opens the mind to other opportunities. Perhaps next time you get a story idea, try this again and see the results. My story, which went through the entire twelve-step steeplechase exercise, is now told entirely from the point of view of the anti-hero in third person, and I am more passionate about it than ever. Change can be wonderful. Embrace it.

Writing a Character of the Opposite Sex

In one of my writing classes in college, my least favorite teacher of all time told the class that it was not possible for anyone to successfully write in the point of view of the opposite sex. I said hold my drink (not out loud, of course). The novel I then focused on for the class workshop starred a male character, and though told in the third person, the story focuses on his thoughts, feelings, and actions. The reader sees everything through his eyes.

How can I, a female, possibly be able to fully and accurately develop and write from the view of a male character? How can any man possibly depict a woman’s point of view? It’s well known that our brains work differently, that we see many things from different perspectives, and I’m sure we form our thoughts differently as well. Good character development comes in part from getting inside the head of the character, but unless we’re like that guy from the movie What Women Want, that’s going to be a bit difficult.

Or is it?

Analyzing Those Close to You

Most if not all of us have close friends or a significant other of the opposite sex. These are people we likely know more deeply than we would an acquaintance. Rather than try and compare them to you, focus on what is unique to them as a group. What mannerisms do you notice among those of the opposite gender? Consider both body language and dialogue. What stands out? Make your character do some of these things and see if they fit.

People Watching

As something that typically comes naturally to writers, try watching those around you. Sit in a public place like a busy park or mall and take note of what you see among those of the opposite sex. Many people act differently when in public, so take note of the differences. How do they sit or walk? How do they communicate with strangers? This may not get you into their head, but being able to describe these things will aid in character development.

Read, Read, Read

The easiest way to get into the head of someone different is to read character-driven books. Search out books that are told from the point of view of the opposite sex and read them. You might say that you read books all the time with characters like that, but you need to read like a writer, not just sit back to enjoy the story. Analyze the character and how he or she was written, making sure you get a clear picture of who that person is and what makes them that way. Be sure to choose a variety of books to review to get a clear picture of different types of people.

Get an Expert Opinion

Once your story’s first draft is complete and you are in the market for an editor, try finding one that matches the sex of your main character. Not only will you get an opinion as to whether you have succeeded in depicting your character, but he or she can provide expert advice on how to tweak it, if necessary. A story like this will benefit greatly from developmental editing.

As for my closed-minded, old-school teacher? She never commented on my male character being wrong and she gave me an A in the class. Moral of the story: You can do it.