Let’s be honest. When most writers think of editing, they mean grammar, spelling and the occasional sentence that has gone astray. Those are mechanical issues that are easy to evaluate. When our stories are reviewed we can’t wait to hear how much the “reader” loved it. If we expected mass rejection we would not have written the thing in the first place. No writer sits down to pen the world’s worst story. Chances are the story you have created is not the world’s worst. But is it the best? Does your vampire tale match up to Bram Stoker’s? Did you do a better job with the end of the world than King’s The Stand? Are reviewers going to hail you as the next Koontz? Without a Developmental Edit, the answer could be no.
I cringe at the idea. It’s my story, I know what happens and if you don’t get it, well then you’re just dumb. As the tale’s creator we have that luxury. We can be right or we can have a bestseller. Maybe you’re first at bat will be a hit. Maybe you have such inalienable talent that every component of your story is perfection. Maybe your book is in the right place at the right time. Those possibilities aside writing the best story you can isn’t a bad idea, but to do that, you need help.
I wrote, edited and published my first novel with just my wife’s direct input. She loved the story. Like any loving spouse she didn’t feel comfortable critiquing my work. She didn’t want to squash my dream. The first edition was okay. My five read throughs didn’t catch every mistake and I didn’t question the plot development. A few months later I asked a stranger to review it. Jim did more work on it than I had imagined. I was expecting a “I like it” or “hey this is good.” Jim, however was a lot more detailed and honest. I appreciated every typo he found. I became defensive over every thing else – for the moment. When I removed myself from the father-child relationship with my story, I began to realize that Jim was correct in most cases. I did have foreshadowing that gave away too much. I did have a few characters that were underdeveloped. There were suggestions that I just couldn’t consider, but I compromised on those.
Yes, I wanted honest feedback, but good lord Jim not that honest. What was interesting was when I asked others who had read the first version for their thoughts on these suggestions – they mostly agreed – my wife was among them. They had nothing but good intentions. They didn’t feel it was their “place” to critique my work – they were after all not professional writers or editors. True, but they were more important than either. They were the readers and the reader’s opinion is the only report card than matters. I drafted a second edition of You and Me against the World. I made a number of important changes including rearranging chapters. It’s a better book for it. The experience changed my attitude about developmental editing. For example, I have seen two reviews that state “it’s a page turner, but there are a couple of areas where it gets a little slow.” I don’t react with contempt to these statements, instead I wonder – “I wish they said where, I’d love to see what I did in that section.”
I’m not suggesting we let every opinion drive us back to the editing block. Reviewers have their own likes and dislikes. Some of these thoughts will be valid, some just a matter of style. As the writer however we must objectively evaluate the feed back and be willing to make the hard cuts. I wrote book two with that thought in mind. I didn’t get myself married to every word such that I would be too emotionally attached to change anything. What helped was I learned how to ask better questions of my first round reviewers (yes I have people who are willing to read unedited first run chapters). In the second book, I asked “did the tone and tempo feel the same as the first?” “Are the characters consistent?” “Did that section there make sense?” When I explained that honest input was critical even my loving spouse got on board. I rewrote one particular section three times because she didn’t like the send off of the character I killed. “You’re not making it as important as it should be?” was what she said.
A developmental edit is critical. Few of us can afford a professional service to work with, but that doesn’t mean we just skip the process. Find someone who is willing to help. Find two or three if you can. Even professional best-selling authors benefit from a developmental edit. Stephen King’s popularity is directly proportional to the growing lengths of his books. No one is going to tell him to cut a hundred pages, but in truth, somebody probably should. I read the original version of The Stand. Years later I read the “complete” version when his marketability allowed him to publish 1200 page tomes. The added pages were fun and interesting, but they didn’t really improve the story in any material way. The editors had been correct. The shorter version was more on point. I get it. A blog should be about 700 words. I’m lucky if I can keep mine under a thousand.
If you can weather the criticism then a developmental edit will make you a better writer. It’s a process. Sometimes it hurts. But it’s worth while. You’ll be better for it and your readers will get a better story. As writers we have two jobs – to tell a great story and to get better at our craft. We take small steps in a longer journey. Like writing smaller blogs. I took my first step – this one is 997 words.
Read the entire series – The 5 Mistakes I Made with My First Novel – Starting Here
See the 4th Installment – Cover Art- Every Picture Tells A Story