Now that you’ve finished writing your novel, you might have some lingering questions about how all your story elements fit together. After all, you’ve been doing a balancing act between story arcs, character arcs, plot points, pacing, setting, and theme for the past several months. There’s likely to be something that needs a second look before you take a deeper dive into revising your story.
This is where a great developmental editor steps in and takes the wheel.
What is developmental editing?
A meaningful developmental edit for fiction takes a look at the foundation you’ve built for your story. When we do a developmental edit, we look at the following aspects of your storytelling:
In our story development process, we start with building great characters. No matter how in-depth your character building went in your developmental process, it should be clear on the page that each character is distinct, realistic, likable, strong (yet flawed somehow), driven to achieve a goal, and working to change within the story. This should appear on the page as though it’s happening progressively as you develop your story arc.
Dialogue is also a big part of how your characters get developed within the story. What your characters say—as well as what they don’t say—should always contribute to moving the story forward. And if action can tell the story better, then it doesn’t need to be explored in dialogue as much. It should also be concise, distinct from your other characters, and complement what’s happening in the scene.
With cozy mysteries, we also want to pay close attention to the amateur sleuth to make sure he/she is as strong as she can be. We might look at some of the following elements:
- Ability to solve the crime
- Strong enough reason to solve the crime
- Quirks and flaws that make the sleuth feel authentic
- Strengths and weaknesses that can affect how the sleuth solves the crime
- Motivation for sticking with the investigation
- Life experience that makes the sleuth ideal for solving the crime
If things move too fast in your story, it’s likely your middle and/or ending won’t be what it needs to be. Likely, if your story moves too slowly, you’re going to lose your readers’ attention. With that said, however, your pacing doesn’t have to be at a constant speed, but it should make sense for what’s happening in your story. For instance, if you have a romance that’s taking off pretty fast, it needs to feel authentic for the characters and the situation. For the same reasons, in a cozy mystery, you can’t discover a body one morning, then have DNA results back from the lab the next afternoon.
If this pacing isn’t right, your readers will not be happy. Oftentimes, readers—especially if they are loyal to the genre—know more about the genre than some beginning authors do. This is why writing to market is so important, but that’s another topic for another day.
In the cozy mysteries we publish ourselves, we have a blueprint we use to ensure the pacing for all the elements of the mystery is what readers expect. We’ll use this blueprint to help strengthen your story by highlighting any missing elements or elements that could be improved.
Have you done enough to integrate your setting in your story? This needs to be solid, both for the overall setting and for each location you put your characters in. On the other end of the spectrum, if your scene is more about the setting than the actual story, that can cause problems too. In many novels, your setting often will become like another character—a living, breathing thing that helps you tell your story well.
Where we see many new authors go wrong with this is when they give too much description of the surroundings as soon as the character steps into the scene. If those details are important, of course, they need to be there, but your readers will get bored if there are paragraphs of describing the setting without really knowing what’s happening in the scene. Pacing is just as important when describing your setting, and you can sprinkle those details throughout a scene so it doesn’t overwhelm your readers.
In cozy mysteries, we’ll also look at whether the setting is ideal for a cozy mystery or not. Though it’s not wrong to use an atypical setting in a cozy, you have to decide whether you’re okay with going against the grain or if you want to stick to the genre conventions of setting your story in a small town, as one example.
Making sure your story’s plotting is on point is one of the most challenging aspects of fictional storytelling. For this reason, we find it helpful to start with the story structure you feel most comfortable with, then plot out your story events to build on that foundation. It’s helpful to start with a story structure that shows you what needs to happen when. This will help with creating great story arcs, and it will also help you build great pacing into your story.
Though it’s much easier on you to get this done well before you start the editing process, a great developmental edit can help you ensure this part of your story meets or exceeds your readers’ expectations. The analysis you get in a skilled developmental edit can guide you to making the best choices for your story that align with the narrative you envision for your characters.
There are certain things that need to happen at certain points of a cozy mystery to keep our readers’ attention. For instance, where you place the discovery of the body is important to readers. Some authors put it in the first two chapters—or even on the first page—and some authors put it a bit later. However, you have to be careful not to put it too late in the story.
Cozy Mystery Theme
One thing that’s unique about cozy mysteries is that each novel or series has a theme that affects the entire story. Some examples of that include:
- Pets (cats, dogs, birds, etc.)
- Hobbies (books, knitting, sewing, etc.)
- Occupation (librarian, journalist, mail carrier, etc.)
These are what we refer to as the (mostly) invisible subgenres of cozy mysteries. Sure, there are a handful of cozy mystery subgenres, but these themes also denote the subgenre within the subgenre that can often be the bread and butter of your cozy mystery author career.
If your story is light on this theme, then we’ll work together on how to improve that.
Developmental Editing Services and Pricing
Basic Developmental Edit
Our basic developmental editing service only includes editorial comments on your manuscript that address any strengths or areas of improvement in the above story elements. You’ll receive your manuscript back with detailed editorial comments and resource links (if necessary) to help you guide you through any changes we feel you should make page by page.
Pricing starts at .035/word
Advanced Developmental Edit
In addition to receiving detailed comments on your manuscript, you will also receive a story blueprint that gives you a five- to ten-page action plan highlighting my analysis on each of your story elements. It will also include our suggestions for improving each of these story elements.
Pricing starts at .045/word
Premium Developmental Edit
You’ll receive the commented manuscript and the detailed story blueprint, but you’ll also get up to five hours of one-on-one video coaching. This video coaching can be used before you finish writing your manuscript if you need a coach to walk you through certain aspects of the writing process, or the hours can be used after you receive your developmental edit back. Many of our clients find the video coaching helpful after receiving their edits back because it gives them an opportunity to ask questions about the comments and suggestions. A third option is to save these for after you’ve revised your manuscript, and we can go over your changes together.
Pricing starts at .065/word
We know the pricing sounds a bit scary, but we don’t want to give you the impression that you’re always going to need to invest heavily in ensuring your story is developed well. As you publish more cozy mysteries, it’s likely you’ll craft your own developmental process that works well for the type of cozies you want to publish. However, these developmental editing services are at least important to consider for your first novel. Throughout the entire process, you’ll learn valuable lessons that will influence all the future work you do in the genre.