Developmental Edit Done: the Road to Publishing

I have somehow, during this hectic mess that is my life, finished the major developmental edit on Night Demon. I always chuckle and wince when I see first-time authors depicted in movies. You see them write their manuscript and with a blissful transition between scenes they’re done. It is inferred that it took them some time, but that’s usually glossed over entirely. The impression is often that it’s easy as pie. Just sit down for a week or two and you can publish your novel. If only it were that easy. What you see the actor do is just the drafting of the manuscript. After that comes the lengthy revising of the novel until it is actually any good. Although the drafting phase is a monumental feat, your work as an aspiring author has only just begun.

What is a Developmental Edit?

A developmental edit is the first revision of a manuscript where you focus on broad story arcs, characterisations and continuity. Basically, if you need to change, redact or add on to the story you’re telling, this is where you’ll do it. You do this early since writing new text will likely introduce new grammatical and spelling errors as well as subpar prose. These are rectified in later edit phases. Having to go back and delete or change text you’ve already worked on to make error-free and the best reading prose you can produce, would be inefficient. So, contrary to popular belief, I am not hunting down and correcting grammatical mistakes during the developmental edit.

Major rewrites aren’t uncommon during a developmental edit. For me at least, a character’s personality, ambitions and motivations become ever more clear as I write. Once I’m at the end of the story I can better justify their actions in the beginning, which may have to be changed or tweaked to better reflect who they’ve become in the end. In a way, a developmental edit is also a “second pass” over the story told; changing things, adding things, removing things, so that the conclusions in the end make the most sense.

In theory, you could take your manuscript (once it’s sculpted to perfection) and tell its story through multiple mediums. You could use it to write a play, a screenplay, even a comic if you have the drawing skills needed. What makes your manuscript a novel comes later, during the line-edit. For now it’s “just” a story.

What Changed in Night Demon

When I finished the first draft a lot of ideas were already in floating around in my mind on necessary changes. I knew a number of my side-characters needed more characterisation. I also felt my inciting incident, that moment which really sets the story in motion, happened a bit too late. I wanted that moved forward. First thing I did was print out the entire document, read it and make notes on each opposite blank page. After that I went over all of these notes and organised them according to where in the story they take an effect. That created a to-do list to go through.

At the centre of act one is the relationship between my main character, Lilian and her best friend Elisabeth. In my first draft this was very lean. In fact, Elisabeth never made an appearance in the whole of act one. In the end it felt she was almost a McGuffin (a plot device present only for the purpose of driving the story). That wasn’t what I meant to portray. Elisabeth is a real person of flesh and blood and she means a lot to Lilian.

I also shuffled some scenes around so I could pull the inciting incident all the way to chapter one (so prepare to be tossed right into the thick of it!). This meant a lot of tweaking to existing scenes and deciding where they’d slot in, not to mention transitions between scenes no longer making sense. There is also a mystery plot snaking its way through the main plot and I wanted for all the little details sprinkled throughout the story to add up and make sense. Sadly this meant getting rid of a scene in which I set up a faithful encounter and change the setting completely.

After the major restructuring in act one was done, most of the work consisted of minor rewrites and additions to specific scenes. I took 4 weeks to complete the developmental edit and it added a good 10,000 words to the original manuscript for a total word count of 130,208. Although, I am thinking of adding a few small details here and there…, I’m not sure yet.

Work and Life in General

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! I only find the time to write on Night Demons in the weekends now, all my remaining time goes into work, work and work. Since I write for a living, I find it hard to concentrate on the letters on the screen at the end of the day. If only someone could give me “a small loan of a millions dollars” so I could concentrate on just writing on my book(s). But it is what it is, rent’s due and compared to the trials and tribulations of some people not too far from here, I can’t complain.

What does irk me is the Anglo-Saxon world’s obsession with race and privilege. My first exploratory foray into the query trenches has unearthed things I would hold as highly illegal where I live. Things like offering people a free pass based on their skin colour. As a continental European I may be more historically aware of where these paths will ultimately lead too, regardless of best intentions. I am hopeful, however, that common sense and a love for talent and meritorious writing prevails with most literary agents and publishers.

All this talk about work and writing begs the question: Stephen, do you get out at all? Touch grass, see a tree maybe? The answer is, my mum forced me to go to the hairdresser today.

What’s Next? Reading Pile & Line-Edits

Next on the agenda are line-edits. This is going to be so much despair fun! Over a hundred and thirty thousand words to ponder over and change to suit my voice and really get that prose as crisp as I can get it. As run up, I’m consuming books both old and new. I’m reading A Song of Ice and Fire front to back (I won’t wait for the Winds of Winter though) and the Age of Darkness series by Stephen Aryan.

I’m also contemplating re-reading The Lord of the Rings because why not and a selection of Stephen King. Did you ever notice the density of Stephens in the creative writing profession?

I’ll come back with another update after I’m doing with Line-Edits or if something else noteworthy happens.

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