Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory 2017-05-19T11:52:56+00:00

Do you want to help authors improve their novels? And earn money by doing so professionally?

If so, it sounds like you want to start offering developmental editing services. If that’s the case, I can help.

What is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is the first part of the editing process. It comes before the copy-editing stage, in which you focus on the writing at the sentence level, helping the author clean up and tighten their prose. And it definitely comes before the proofreading stage, which is the final polish before publication.

A developmental editor looks at the story as a whole and figures out how it could be told better.

And I’ve created this course to teach you how to do just that.

The Crucial Trait Developmental Editors of Fiction Need

If you’ve been proofreading or copy-editing fiction for a while now, you probably have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good story – and a bad one. Even if you’re not already an editor and are simply an avid reader, you may already have that storytelling instinct. And you’ll certainly have that instinct if you’re a seasoned novelist.

But you don’t know how to translate that intuition – the feeling that something’s not quite right with this story – into useful information for the author. You want to be able to help the author tell the best story possible, but you’re just not sure how to advise them.

You know something’s not quite right … but what is it?

This course will help you move from an instinctual to an intellectual understanding of good storytelling.

And this is what will allow you to take what you know and apply it to novels in progress – it’s what will help you become a good developmental fiction editor, the kind of person who helps authors transform muddled manuscripts into sterling stories.

Who This Course is For

This course could be for you if:

  • You’re already working as a copy-editor or proofreader and want to add developmental fiction editing to your skill set
  • You’ve studied storytelling and literature from the perspective of a reader or writer and now you want to learn about it from the perspective of an editor
  • You’re intimidated by the idea of working with fiction at such a crucial part of the process, but you’re also excited by the prospect
  • You’re an avid, analytical reader with a love of literature and you want to learn how to turn your passion into something you can sell

This course probably isn’t for you if you’re not already wildly in love with literature and are curious about how it works. The above traits will all stand you in good stead on your path towards becoming a developmental fiction editor, but more than anything you need to love reading.

Is that you? Then read on to find out how the course works.

How the Developmental Editing Course Works

In this 4-week guided course on developmental editing, I’ll provide you with comprehensive written modules and weekly assignments, which I’ll give you detailed feedback on.

My goal is to teach you the absolute must-knows of good storytelling so you can take what you learn and apply it to manuscripts in progress (a different skill to reading an already-published novel that doesn’t require any more editing).

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Week 1: Introduction & Common Basic Manuscript Issues


  • A thorough exploration of what it means to conduct a developmental edit
  • Why reading is so important, and how to read analytically
  • Why you need to read fast, and how to do so without missing crucial information

Common Basic Manuscript Issues

  • The two main ways authors mess up their beginnings
  • Stylistic issues authors should avoid
  • How to help authors prevent narrative disorientation
  • What you need to know to help authors write impactful endings

Assignment: Read the extract provided showing the beginning of a novel. Analyse how effective it is (checklist provided for assistance) and write up a short report.

Week 2: Dealing with Tangled Plots & Saggy Middles

  • The difference between plot and story
  • Why you need to know the nuances of genre
  • How to analyse a three-act plot arc
  • How to recognise and make use of the eight basic plots
  • How to assess sub-plots

Assignment: Identify the plot points of the last three books you read and which of the eight basic plots they cover. Identify a sub-plot in each (if any) and analyse how it connects to the main narrative.

Week 3: Analysing Character & Conflict

  • The main reason novels lack drive
  • Why size matters (when it comes to the cast of the novel)
  • Not all novels need a villain – here’s why
  • Common dialogue problems to look out for
  • How to recognise and advise authors when they use clichés

Assignment: Take three of your favourite novels. Describe the main character, their motivations and how they have changed by the end of the book. Describe the main antagonist and how they create conflict for the protagonist. 

Week 4: The Common Thread – Meaning & Style

  • Why a novel might lack coherence, focus or emotional impact …
  • And how to help the author fix this
  • Understanding the relationship between reader, writer and editor
  • Things to consider about writing voice and style
  • Course summary and next steps

Assignment: Identify the thematic questions of three novels. How important was the theme? In which ways did the author explore the main themes?



REGISTRATION OPENS: Wednesday June 14th

START DATE: Monday July 5th


DURATION: 4 weeks

FEE: £199 GBP

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Who Am I To Teach Developmental Editing?

I studied English Literature with Creative Writing at UEA. I also hold an MA in Creative Writing, used to work for publishing-giant Pearson, and have completed in-depth editing training through The Publishing Training Centre and The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (where I’m a Professional Member). I’ve been running my own freelance editing practice for five years, with manuscript critiquing (a type of developmental editing) being one of my most popular services.

Questions and Answers

This course doesn’t look like it will teach how to actually work with clients. Am I right?

Well, in a way. I’ll be creating a course dedicated to working with clients later this year, but this course must come first because it covers everything you need to know before you can even think about offering developmental editing services to writers. In short, if you want to work with clients, you need to learn all this stuff first.

So what will you teach in the second course?

The upcoming course will serve as a natural follow-on from this one. While this course is about teaching you the theory of developmental editing that you absolutely must know in order to work with authors, the next course will show you how to put that theory into action when working with clients.

Will this course be useful if I want to learn developmental editing for non-fiction?

No. This course is exclusively about fiction. There may be a tiny bit of crossover, but for the most part everything you’ll learn will be applicable only to fiction.

Won’t I know this stuff already if I studied literature or creative writing at university?

You may understand what makes a good story – but you won’t necessarily know how to critique a ‘bad’ story or how to make it better. Literature and creative writing courses focus on storytelling from the reader’s and writer’s perspectives. This course teaches it from the editor’s perspective. It’ll give you the knowledge to analyse works in progress from an objective standpoint. And that’s a key skill if you want to be able to offer useful guidance to authors.

Can I do this course if I don’t have any background or education in literature or writing?

Yes. This course will cover the basics you need to know to get started, though you do need that passion for fiction we discussed. You may still need to expand your knowledge in specific areas after completing this course, but it’s a good starting point.

Can I specialise in a certain genre?

Absolutely. In fact, I encourage it. Separating yourself from the hordes of editors out there by promoting yourself as a specialist in a specific genre is a great way to attract clients in your chosen niche. It’s also a good idea because different genres handle different aspects of storytelling in different ways, so if you hone in on a specific one, you’ll be able to do an even better job of it.

Are there any additional expenses?

No. None that are required, anyway, though I will recommend some further reading to help advance your learning.

How much time will this course require?

You should set aside at least three hours per week for it.

Are there any other requirements?

You’ll need to know three books very well – perhaps you have some favourites you’ve read multiple times – because we’ll be using them to conduct analyses for some of the homework assignments.

Okay, I’m ready. Where do I sign up?

Check above to see when the course will run next!