Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory 2019-07-31T11:31:34+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 (where 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.

“I found the course extremely enjoyable and informative and am very happy to recommend it. The weekly course notes were of great help while the feedback was both encouraging and constructive.”
– John Romans

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.

“Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory has already proved to be a great addition to my editorial armoury. Sophie’s advice is detailed and practical. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course.”
– Nikki Brice

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 not 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.

“This course takes the vast, complex area of developmental fiction theory and breaks it down elegantly into manageable topics. You’ll look back at the end and wonder at how much you’ve learned. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Developmental Editing: Fiction Theory to editors, authors, or anyone with an interest in the craft of writing.”
– Cally Worden

“I’m so glad I decided to do this course. I have to say I deliberated for a while. Having been a proofreader for several years, I wanted to be able to offer more services, but wasn’t sure if this was the right step for me. However, I took one of Sophie’s other courses last year, so I knew her teaching style was friendly and engaging, and I decided to take the leap. The course has provided the heartening realisation that reading in the bath can actually be a job. It’s not magic and anyone taking the course will need to put in a lot of effort, but I feel I have learned a huge amount, I’ve got resources I can keep going back to  and have gained some really useful tools for developing my practice. Thanks Sophie!”
– Cathy Turner

How the Developmental Editing Course Works

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

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).

“Don’t hesitate! This course is excellent. The content is well-planned and the assignments are designed to help you apply and embed your learning. Sophie is very professional and great at giving critical feedback in a friendly and supportive way.”
– Catherine Walmsley

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: I’ll provide you with a selection of plot summaries of published novels. Identified the major plot points for each summary and answer a question or two about story structure. Complete as many or as few as you like!

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 one of your favourite novels (or something you’ve read recently). 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 one of your favourite novels (or something you’ve read recently). How important was the theme? In which ways did the author explore the main themes?

BONUS: Novels in a Series

In this additional mini module (new for 2019), I’ll take you through how to think about novels-in-progress if they’re part of a series, since this will affect the kind of feedback you’d give an author.

BONUS: Q&A Video

You’re free to ask me any questions about the course materials by email throughout the duration of the course, but once the course is finished, I’ll also invite you to ask me any lingering questions you might have – about the course materials or about professional editing in general. I’ll record a video of me answering your questions!

SfEP Upgrade Points

If you’re a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, it would probably interest you to know that this course is recognised by the upgrade panel and is worth 3 points! Pretty sweet.

“Sophie is a witty and reassuringly clued-up guide to the intricacies of fiction editing, and has made learning some intimidatingly tricky concepts both illuminating and fun. The course was well-designed, concise, and comprehensive. It has fundamentally changed the way I think about stories, and is well worth your time.”
– Graham Clarke


4th Sep 2019 (9pm BST)
COURSE STARTS: 11th Sep 2019
FEE: £299

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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 since 2011, with manuscript critiquing (a type of developmental editing) being one of my most popular services.

Questions and Answers

Do I have to attend the course in person?

Nope. This is an online course. I’ll email you the modules weekly, and you’ll email me your assignments for feedback.

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

Though we will look at how to assess a client’s work, we won’t look at the logistics of managing clients. However, I also run a course that teaches you how to work with developmental editing clients (Developmental Editing: In Practice), but this course is designed to come first because it covers what 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.

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 other 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 home 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 at least one book very well – perhaps you have a favourite you’ve read multiple times, or perhaps you’d like to use a novel you’ve read recently that’s fresh in your mind – because I’ll ask you to look closely at some of the elements of a published novel for some of the homework assignments (see above for details).

Hey, didn’t there used to be a private Facebook Group associated with this course?

Indeed there did, you eagle-eyed person, you! I decided that the Facebook Group wasn’t providing much additional value so have closed it down. I’ll recommend a couple of online editorial communities you can join, though, within the course.

Do I have to be from the UK to benefit from this course?

Not at all. Americans, Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Wakandans … everyone is welcome. Editing is a global community, and I won’t be addressing any UK-specific publishing conventions.

Do you offer refunds?

No, so please purchase mindfully. I like to think I’ve included enough detail for you to make an informed decision about whether this course is right for you, but if you’re still hesitant about buying, feel free to email me first.

Damn, I missed out on a spot! / I don’t have time to join this time around. Will you run this course again?

Yes, this course runs twice a year. The next time I plan to run the course will be September 2019. I recommend you sign up to the notifications email list so I can remind you when registration opens. The last three times the course has run, places have sold out within a couple of hours (sometimes much less) so I recommend purchasing your spot the moment registration opens to avoid disappointment. To put things in perspective, around 500 people are currently signed up to the notifications list!

Okay, I’m ready. Where do I sign up?

Check above to see when the course will run next! (Or to book your place if registration is currently open.)

“An excellent course for all those interested in getting started in Developmental Editing. The course materials were beautifully presented and easy to access and Sophie’s feedback was invaluable. Highly recommended.”
– Louise Pearce