Developmental Editing – What a Novel Idea: Part 1


My Novel Writing & Editing Journey…

I remember when I wrote my very first fiction book – over ten years ago. I was so proud of it. I must have produced about 50,000 words and I could not wait to unleash my ‘masterpiece’ on the world…🖋️

I did actually submit it to one publishing house (this is such a funny story – I might share it one day). I received a standard, polite rejection i.e. “…Keep writing. This story isn’t there just yet…” So, I listened to the advice and continued to write. I even got myself a bunch of writing and editing jobs at various UK based publications. It paid off. Today, I am a much better writer than I was 10 years ago. Although, hopefully, not as good as I will be in 10 years from now… We should never stop growing…

Anyway, the above-mentioned manuscript was the first draft of what could have eventually become a good book. Now I know what I didn’t know then – first drafts are not final products… First drafts are basically writers telling their stories to themselves… Books need to be edited – over and over again. Good writers are re-writers… This post is about what I have learned (so far) while developmentally editing my first novel.

If you’re after non-fiction editing tips – please read my previous post HERE.

Developmental editing is the very first editing level. As the name implies, it is meant to develop the heart of a story. It is about the big picture too. And, it is the most time consuming and labour-intensive editing level. Although, I find it to be quite creative and fun – at least, in fiction.

Most self-published authors do developmental edits themselves because paying someone to do them can be very costly. Plus, most editors in the marketplace are copy-editors. Whereas, those who provide developmental editing services usually do not do the work themselves. They just show the writer where their manuscript falls short and how it can be improved.

Personally, I would not even let anyone make arbitrary changes to my fictional story because it is my story and I am the only one who knows its core. With that said, I did hire an editor… So far, I have used some of her advice as well as a few suggestions by another storyteller whose professional feedback I respect. However, none of them made the changes. Both gave me ideas and showed me where the book (chapter one actually) was not working for them… Some of their advice rang true hence I embraced it and made the changes accordingly. I did touch on that in my other post titled,‘Creative Writing – Novel vs. Non-Fiction vs. Poetry.’

One of the observations my editor made was that my protagonist’s internal conflict was introduced too early and with too much emotional intensity. The reader hadn’t been given enough time to get to know or develop empathy for the character… In consequence, they could not feel nor understand her pain. To fix it, I was advised to take the reader back in time  which I did (with flashbacks). I spent some time introducing the character’s likable personality traits and her emotional motivations too. One suggestion was to take her back to her childhood which I did as well – watch my  brief book reading excerpt here – 1 min video.

I’ve been writing for over ten years and intuitively know when a story is missing something even if I don’t know what it is… yet. But I have not published a novel yet, so apart from working with an editor, I have been researching successful novelists and listening to their teachings on what to pay attention to – during the developmental editing stage. I recommend that you do the same.

Story structure is one of those important things… And, I realised that I needed to re-arrange a few chapters so that the inciting incident can happen when it’s supposed to. According to my brief research, it should occur somewhere within the first 20 – 30 pages of a novel. Right now, mine happens somewhere between pages 40 and 50. Hence, my plan’s to change the order of chapters three and four… It’s a good thing that, although subsequent events must make sense, they don’t have to be introduced in a linear order (again, that’s something that my editor reminded me about).

According to my understanding, the inciting incident is that point in your story (usually an external event) that sets the plot in motion. After it happens, your protagonist’s life changes and it will never be the same, at least not until their problem gets resolved or situation changes. I’ll just use an example we can all relate to now (sadly). If I was writing a novel about the pandemic, my inciting incident might be – a scientist releasing the virus (from a laboratory)… Its release (the inciting incident) causes many deaths, and the world in which my protagonist lives goes into a global lockdown…  

The verb ‘to incite’ means ‘to stir up’ or ‘to encourage’ – it comes from a Latin verb meaning ‘to move into action’… So, the inciting incident forces your protagonists to “spend the rest of the novel” trying to find their way back into the old or a new normal.

The inciting incident doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the above mentioned i.e. nobody has to die. It needn’t even be a negative one, but it should hook the reader by creating conflict, high enough stakes and unanswered questions that set the story in motion like never before. The inciting incident is a big topic amongst novelists. Most of them agree that it should happen asap because if it’s introduced too late readers might lose interest…

Back to my example, if I were writing a fictional story about the outbreak: prior to the incident, I would spend some time introducing my protagonists in their normal environment. But I might also want to leave some clues about the virus’ lethal power while foreshadowing the possibility of its unleashing on the unsuspecting world… All this should be done at the developmental editing stage, at the latest…

So, that is where I am with my novel, now – restructuring, adding, and taking away… And learning a lot, along the way… I am going to write more about my editing journey in part two and maybe even part three. If you’re interested in all that, please do stay tuned… One thing that remains certain about developmental editing is that it is not a novel idea at all. Every book needs it – although some need it more than others do… 🙂

Monika Ribeiro © 2020

 

Creative Writing – Novels vs. Nonfiction vs. Poetry


Creative Writing - Novel Writing
Creative Writing – Novel Writing

I’m a trained non fiction editor and journalist. I’m also a self-taught poet with two poetry books to my name. I enjoy locating problems with non fiction pieces and love seeing the fruits of good editing.

Non fiction writing and editing are relatively straight forward. They’re all about reality and research. You don’t have to remember made up characters nor look for creative ways to make things happen. In non fiction, things have already happened (most of the time). Your focus is on conveying your knowledge in the most interesting and factual way. Poetry and short story manuscripts are fine too. They’re relatively short and sweet (in the context of editing). You begin to see results relatively fast which encourages you to press on.

Fiction writing and editing though… That’s a whole ‘nother story…

The first draft of my novel is done. I’m thrilled about that, but first drafts are soooo imperfect. In my experience, most of the work happens between the first and the final draft of a book. Here are three things that helped me so far…

Planning My Novel (A Rough Outline)

I’m a pantser – not a plotter. Meaning: I let the story lead the way and allow characters to show me who they are and where they want to go. I figure stuff out as I go along. That’s just my natural inclination which is fine. With that said, I’m discovering that it is beneficial to plan my novel, even if it’s just a rough outline…

The average novel wordcount falls between 60.000 – 90.000 words. That’s a lot of words. It’s easy to lose the plot (literally and figuratively speaking). Again, collections of poems and/or short stories are different in that respect. Individual poems/stories should be connected thematically somehow. However, you don’t have to remember details of poem number two or story number three to nail the ones in the middle of your collection. Poems and short stories are standalones. Chapters of your novel – not so. They’re interdependent. You need to remember what your characters have gone through at the beginning of your book to be able to take them all the way through… to the end.

Ultimately, every project is about crossing that finish line. For an aspiring novelist, that line is the final draft of their novel. It’s about getting there a little faster. Writers are re-writers. Editing, re-writing, revising, re-writing, editing and revising some more are unavoidable… But, a plan can save one a few rounds of hovering over their manuscript. As they say, who fails to plan plans to fail.

Asking for Feedback

Novel writing is a new territory for me. I’m sure it will become easier if/as I continue to write fiction… However, to make this process a little smoother (now) I ask for feedback, every now and again.

You have to Be Careful Whom You Ask Though. Not everyone’s qualified nor responsible enough to speak into your story. The person/s should be competent and able to provide their observations in a constructive way. But then, there’s also the right and the wrong way to receive feedback. Be open-minded. Don’t be afraid of critical evaluation. Embrace what resonates with you. 

creative writingThe “critic” whose advice resonated with me the most is a former journalist/newspaper editor. Her honest feedback helped me acknowledge that I started my novel in the wrong place. I’m using the word ‘acknowledge’ because I kind of sort of knew that my beginning could be problematic. My main characters’ conflict was too intense, introduced too soon, etc. I think I might have been secretly hoping to get away with it… A competent, well-meaning critic will not allow you to get away with things. They’ll tell you how it is… So… Reiterating… Good feedback, however heart-breaking it may be, is your friend. Welcome it and… Start Your Novel in the Right Place.

As you may already know, I went back to the drawing board. And now, my opening is sooo much better. So much so that English teacher and bestselling author Desiri Okobia asked if she could use my first page for year 11’s creative writing lessons… Whaaaat? It’s a big deal – especially that this is my very first opening to my very first novel… I know I’ve digressed a little, but novel writing is a quest, so it’s important to Celebrate Small Victories…  

Letting IT Rest

Another thing that has always worked for me, with poetry and now with my novel manuscript too, is letting it rest for some time. If you’re working to a tight deadline, that may not be possible. However, if you can, leave your first draft alone for a month or even longer… Don’t edit, don’t re-write, don’t even re-read it. Distance yourself from your AAAMAZING story and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Bear in mind, once your emotions subside, the story might seem a little less aaamazing. It is a good thing though because now you’re able to see what needs to be changed… The opposite of that might be true too. You might come back to your manuscript and find that it’s good enough (first drafts never are though).

I know… Letting it rest might be annoying when you just want to get on with it,

or… like me… you’ve told the world,

“Hey! I’m writing a novel!”

And now, the world keeps asking,

“Hey! So, when’s the novel coming out then?

“Errr… Soon.”

Sometimes, “soon” is all there is to say… Personally, I prefer to take my time and produce an excellent piece of writing rather than produce something mediocre quickly…

There’s so much more to be said about this novel writing process, but I’ll end here for now. If you have just began or you’re thinking about writing a novel, I hope this is helpful…

Let’s write this novel, shall we? Yes, we shall! 😉

Please SUBSCRIBE HERE to receive the first chapter of my novel… soon.:)

.