Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Editing Your Book, Part 1

By Madelle Morgan

The editing of Caught on Camera, a New Adult romantic comedy, is complete. In a series of posts I'll describe the three stages of editing that made this book the best it can be before it's indie published in September 2016.

Stage 1: Developmental Editing

I submitted the first draft of the 58,000 word contemporary romance to my story editor, Lillian Chow. Lillian studied romance writing before she focused on screenwriting, so she has an excellent understanding of the conventions of the genre.

Lillian's advanced screenwriting training developed expertise in story structure and visual storytelling. I asked Lillian two key questions on today's topic.

1. What is developmental editing, and how is it different from line editing and copy editing?

Developmental editing, also known as story editing, structural editing, or content editing, analyzes story elements to develop a great story well told. Line editing is what I call "wordsmithing" paragraphs, sentence structure and word choice to improve clarity and flow. Copy editing corrects problematic grammar, spelling and punctuation.

As a developmental editor, I care that your characters' arcs, conflicts and relationship evolution are engaging and believable. I dig deep into your plot, subplots and conflicts to elevate your story. My questions and suggestions are aimed at making your story even more emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

Specifically, I analyse these elements:
  • Story structure and intertwining of the "A" Plot and the Romance Plot (client provides the scene chart)
  • Goals and motivations of each main character
  • Intertwining of plots and character arcs
  • Rising stakes and consequences of not achieving goals
  • Theme(s) and subtext
  • Clarity, connectivity and consistency
  • Story questions and hanging threads
  • Opportunities for motifs, symbolism and subtext
  • and more...
2. How does your screenwriting training contribute to developmental edits?

Screenwriters write a concise, amazing story in 90 - 120 pages, so each story element must be pared to its essential power and tracked to ensure it performs to the max. Furthermore, movies emphasize visuals over dialogueSHOW rather than TELL. Sound familiar?

Developmental Edit of Caught on Camera

Lillian provided a summary of her story analysis as well as comments within the manuscript. She pointed out where the motivations of the characters were weak or unexplained, where their behavior was not in character, or where the stakes were too low for the character's reaction to be believable.

Lillian identified the story's tensions, such as the HOPE that Rachel will pull this off versus the FEAR she'll ruin the wedding, and marked sections where the emotional conflict needed to be heightened.

Continuity errors creep in when time elapses between writing sessions. Lillian noted that Rachel's poor eyesight magically improved in certain scenes. She brought to my attention unanswered story questions; e.g., What did Rachel do with the gift certificate?

My working theme was Deception Leads to Heartbreak. Lillian identified another theme of How far would you compromise your ethics to achieve your dream/goal? I subsequently shaped the hero and heroine's internal dialogue, dilemmas and decisions to reflect that theme.

I intended the bouquet to be a motif (it's on the cover!) Lillian pointed out that cameras were also a recurring motif. Duh, the word camera is on the cover too! Lillian commented that a cracked smartphone screen symbolized the break in the relationship. What do ya know? It never occurred to me. Apparently my subconscious is pretty smart about motifs!

Lillian's notes triggered my fine tuning of the character arcs of the protagonists. In the rocky transition to becoming the best person she can be, Rachel often regresses to acting like the star struck chambermaid she was at the beginning of the story. I needed to illuminate the internal character changes underway. Lillian suggested a screenwriting technique: Show that Rachel is willing to take risks that she wasn't willing to take at the beginning.


A developmental edit will identify story elements that are missing or need work, but it will not rewrite the story for you. Not all suggestions will fit your author vision, but they will focus your attention and spark ideas.

An objective analysis of your story is priceless, even if the report sends you into a dark room to curl up with a box of chocolates and a handful of tissues. Then it's time to get to work. Swallow your pride and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. A professional analysis of your story is a roadmap for writing the second, improved draft.

Think of it this way. Ask a friend or partner to tell you how you look before a big event, and he's going to say you're perfect. Ask a stranger, and she'll tell you that, while your dress is nice, your teeth are stained with lipstick, your panty line is showing, and your heels are scuffed. You'd be grateful to know the truth before stepping out in public, right?

Developmental editor Lillian Chow can be reached at lilliananeditor@gmail.com.

In the next post I'll describe how I polished the second draft before turning the manuscript over to a professional copyeditor.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!


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