Self-Editing Tips: Developmental Edits

So, I recently finished a rewrite of THE PILGRIMAGE. This is the draft I’ll be revising in a few weeks, and I figured I’d share some self-editing tips, both for my own reference and for yours! In case you didn’t know, I edit stories. I’ve learned a lot through editing other people’s stories, as well as tons of workshopping in my university program.

When you first start revising a book, you must start with developmental edits.

Developmental edits are concerned with the skeletal issues with your story: plot, character, and structure. (Theme is also included, but that can be tweaked through every stage of edits.)

Here are some of my tips for doing your own developmental edits!

Do a cold read-through and make notes.

Before you even start revising the story, read through it and make notes on plot, character, and structure. Don’t do any edits yet—instead, see where you have plot holes, where the conflict lessens, and how much you’ve characterised your cast.

Pin down your story as either plot-driven or character-driven.

Knowing the priorities for your story will help immensely. A plot or action-based story will necessitate different focuses than one based on the characters. To figure out which one your story is, ask yourself the question, “What is my protagonist’s goal?” If it’s something personal, your story is character-driven. If it’s something external, your story is plot/action-driven. For example, if the goal is “Successfully navigate high school,” then it’s personal: it deals with just the protagonist. But if the goal is, “Successfully save high school from demons,” your story relies on action. Character and action will both be important, but at this stage, you need to figure out which one will help you plot out the conflict.

Consider beta readers or critique partners.

Feedback from outside sources is invaluable for revising your story. You know the story in a way that’s completely different to your peers: there’s more in your head than on the page. I highly recommend taking on a few beta readers and critique partners to help give you opinions on character, plot, worldbuilding, stakes, conflict, etc. Sensitivity readers are also recommended. They look for specific problematic content that you can’t experience in your identity.

Resist the line edits!

Developmental edits are for the big picture. Who cares about your typos or sentence structure right now? It’s hard to avoid tweaking details in order to feel like you’re making progress to the finished draft. However, you must consider the broad strokes of your story before you look at the finer, smaller elements.

Breathe.

You can get through this. Your story was drafted over a period of time where you were inevitably growing. You need to remember that you changed as you wrote the story, and you’re working to get it to the best quality you can in the present.

Look into editing resources.

Other writers have written about their processes, and it’s always helpful to find more information on how to do it!

KM Weiland has a wonderful 15-step self-editing process she uses for her fiction.

“How to Self Edit Your Novel” from Fantasy Scroll has suggestions for your self-editing (and has a differing point of view to my list, with their first suggestion being typo fixing!), and also includes more resources and references.

Now Novel has a handy infographic for self-editing.

The book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has been highly recommended to me. It’s on my TBR!

And finally…
Contact your editor.

If you have hired an editor to help with your project—which I also recommend—keep in touch with them while you work on your edits. I strongly recommend hiring an editor. Beta readers and critique partners are helpful, but they often look at your story through a reader’s point of view. While this is helpful, experienced editors have a more intimate knowledge of craft and the skills to impart that knowledge to you.

I wish you the best of luck in self-editing and making it through developmental edits! It can feel like your story is a pile of trash and has lots of problems, but you can fix them and make your story the greatest it can be. (I’ll have to remind myself of this when I get to my own novel in a few weeks… *gulp*)

3 Comments


  1. Congratulations!!!! 🙂 Even though I decided not to write a book anymore (specifically, a fiction novel), I really liked reading these tips.

    I always made the mistake of editing sentence structure as I read through. Ugh! That actually left me so distracted, and I didn’t think of kicking the habit either.

    I was also very protective of my work and I didn’t want anyone to read it. You’ve definitely got a good approach. And I think as a writer, or even as a creator of any kind of art, you need to subject yourself to some feedback and criticism. I think you have learned a lot from editing work too, so I trust your words here 🙂

    Reply

    1. I’ve trained myself to avoid making edits to sentence structure and wording! I also got very distracted while I did it, and it made me very critical of my writing because I wasn’t addressing the bigger issues. Feedback is crucial to writing. Nothing exists within a bubble!

      Reply

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