Editing by Troy

Development and line editing for new and experienced authors

There is an old rule in journalism that despite the need to edit your own work, one should never rely on their own editing. Normally, in print journalism, an editor would edit for content and length. Did the journalist’s work have a lede (a fancy way of spelling “lead”)? Was it written in inverted pyramid style, and was it the right length to fit in the hole on the newspaper page or magazine spread that it was slotted to be in?

Book editing has a different thrust. Before and during the writing process, an author can use (most authors usually need) a developmental editor. When I began writing my historical fantasy series of novels I thought I could go without, and quickly learned otherwise. I was too close to what I was writing. A fresh set of eyes, from someone who understood the craft of storytelling, was needed.

My own writing experience

When I began writing my Cup of Blood series, I had a good idea of where I wanted to take the story, so I wrote an outline. Then I started plotting out scenes on index cards. Different parts of the book got different colors of cards. I even found a set of gel pens in different colors. These allowed me to color code even deeper.

I transferred and expanded the outline onto the index cards. My desk was a veritable rainbow of plotting and characters when I spread those cards out. In the upper right corner of each card, I marked a + or a to show whether the status of a character shifted from positive to negative, or vice-versa.

Then I began writing. You know what they say, the best-laid plans… those with the best of intentions…

I wrote and wrote. More scenes than I had plotted on those cards flowed from my keyboard. The story seemed to be drifting farther and farther from my outline. My characters began letting me know that they had a different story in mind. Where my character and her story began and ended didn’t change. Much. But in between the first and last of my rainbow of index cards, something changed. A lot of things changed.

All of those little + and symbols didn’t mean anything anymore. My scenes had changed. They had grown. Some had disappeared. A lot of other scenes had crept into the story.

The story had gotten bogged down. I knew I needed help and began pestering my daughter, my wife, and finally my friends to read the books (by then it was two volumes) and tell me what I was missing. I needed to figure out what I wasn’t getting quite right to make the story move. I knew it was off somehow, but I wasn’t sure how. I needed help.

My friends and family were too nice to tell me they didn’t want to read the work in its early stages, but they all found excuses to avoid reading my work. After questioning a few of them, none of them knew enough about story design. They just wanted to read a GOOD story. They didn’t want to have to figure out why my story was good, but not good enough. They were not story-nuts like I am. They didn’t want to see behind the curtain, and figure out pacing and characterization, status change, and all of the craftings that writers and editors need to understand to make the stories work well. They only wanted to read a finished story that was good.

After a while, I realized that a lot of the extra scenes I had written were just the backstory. I was writing events so I would know what had happened in between the important scenes that made up the real story. These scenes were similar to recounting a trip to the grocery store or hanging out with a friend over a beer. They related the events of the story, but they didn’t grow the story or the change the characters.

I began cutting. I began re-writing. Being my own development editor taught me a lot about the process of story crafting. I delved back into what I had studied about story crafting when I was working on my Master’s degree in journalism. I added more books on story craft, plotting and editing to my bookshelves (both paper and ebook).

Writing and editing are both learn by doing crafts. I’m all the richer for having pushed myself to write through and create a two book story arc for my historical fantasy series. Yes, I hired an editor (not my family members) to help me by performing a detailed line edit with a light development edit on my books. Remember the rule of journalism?

Never rely on your own editing.

You’re too close to your work. You’ve written and re-written. You know what you deleted. You know the context and the backstory. Your development editor will help you see what parts of that are just that. Backstory.

A good line editor will help you find the places where you know the backstory but don’t give your readers enough to understand. Or, they’ll find where your exposition is too much, and your story drags.

Never rely on your own editing.

This has been a long-winded way to explain why any and all authors should consider hiring at least a line editor. A second set of knowledgeable eyes looking at characterization, scene structure, plotting devices and plot flow can help authors make their work better. Are the scenes that need to be there for the genre present? Does each scene shift the characters someway?

Line Editing

… is what comes after Developmental Editing.

Developmental editing is looking at the story construction and it’s underlying framework.

Line editing is looking at the writing itself, and how it is used to create the story built on top of the story’s framework from the developmental edit.

What about Proofreading?

What most people think of when they hear or use the term “editing” is actually proofreading. In journalistic terms, it’s also called Copy Editing. This is when you look for those red lines under the words on the computer screen.

I seem to be really really good at duplicating words. (See what I did there with really?)

If you read one of my manuscripts before a proofread, you’ll find lots of duplicated words. I suspect this is my brain trying to slow down to let my fingers keep up as they type. But then my brain stutters, repeating a word, so my fingers type the same word again again. (That one was on purpose to illustrate the point.)

In today’s world of high-tech, you can spend some time yourself with the proofread. Or pay a college student to proofread for you. Or find a professional proofreader. I personally use Grammarly (it’s active as I type this now).

So, what do you do?

I work with authors when they have at least an outline, preferably most of a manuscript.

I learn about the story they want to tell. I read their work (outline or manuscript) and look at the underlying story structure, the characters, the shifts in each scene. The author and I discuss back and forth what works, what needs to be tweaked, changed or scrapped and redone. Not just what, but why.

This is the part of the process that has to be done right. The story has to have structure, even in non-fiction. The characters have to change and grow (or fade). A developmental editor is a shepherd through the author’s process of pulling the story from idea to completion.

Sometimes, a story structure is already in good shape and only needs line editing to spiff up the writer’s work. During a line edit, I work to find ways to, as Stephen King says, delete the unnecessary words while maintaining the author’s style and voice. In a line edit, I pay attention to writing techniques like using sensory details to draw the reader into the setting. I look to see if the writer is using enough status details, and in the right places, to paint their characters and settings as three-dimensional beings and locations. A good story isn’t just read, it’s felt by the reader. It’s experienced by the reader.

All of the line editing is done with the track changes features of MS Word. You, the author get to see the work, the changes, and the comments. You then accept or decline them as you see fit. Hiring an editor to put a second set of eyes on your manuscript at this stage serves to help you tighten and finesse your craft.

My areas of interest

My primary focus of study while earning my Master’s degree in journalism was on long-form narrative non-fiction. I studied the works of John McPhee, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Eric Larson and others. Instead of a thesis, I embedded with a political campaign and wrote a 25,000 word long-form narrative of the experience.

For fiction authors, I have read extensively in fantasy, urban and paranormal fantasy, science fiction and historical fantasy. My favorite authors include Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, Robert A. Heinlein, David Eddings, Barry Hughgart, and many others.

Developmental Editing

How much does this cost?

My hourly rate is $20 per hour.

Remember: editing, especially development editing, goes far beyond just reading your work and looking for ways to delete unnecessary words. I’ll look at each scene and track character growth, scene shifting, emotional and status changes. I’ll spend time making my own notes and adding inline comments to the manuscript or outline. I spend time chatting with you about your story.

This includes more than just the time to read your work. I look at each scene and track character grown, scene shifting, emotional and status changes. I’ll spend time making my own notes and adding inline comments to the manuscript or outline. I spend time chatting with you about your story.

A 100,000 word manuscript for Line Editing + simplified Development checking should take about 40 to 50 hours.

I can get a good idea of a price ceiling for your project, based seeing the outline, and knowing the word count of the manuscript.

If you’re interested in taking your story telling up a notch, whether in the developmental or the line editing stages (or both), use the contact form below to email me about your project. If you’re looking for a line edit, I’d be happy to provide a sample edit on a single chapter (up to 2,000 words) so you can see what kind of line edit I’ll perform.