I got asked some questions in prep for my Pitch Wars Instagram takeover that – honestly – are TERRIFIC topics, but there is no way in hell I could even scratch the surface on Insta.
So, buckle up… here comes a rapid fire blog post.
The question was: what is your approach to developmental edits.
The answer is: I have an approach?
Kidding. Sort of. The reality is, it depends. And you are gonna come to hate that phrase when it comes to writing advice.
I’m gonna come at this from the perspective of a crit partner or editor. It’s fairly easy to extrapolate writer perspective 😉 I’m also gonna assume we’re talking “developmental” as in, while the writer is drafting the work. And not as in, “fix this mess of a first draft” (more on that topic later).
Each writer is unique. I have one crit partner who tends to be very analytical and their early thought processes are rich in detail, but shallow in emotion. Another who is exactly the opposite. They each need something different.
Whether I’m writing or editing, the first question I have is: what is driving the character? What is going to take the character (and by extension, us as readers) from one scene into the next?
It’s fairly easy to write a whole bunch of scenes. But if there isn’t a narrative thread tying them all together? There’s not much of a story. Certainly not a compelling one.
It’s a series of questions: who is the character, what is their goal, what is their motivation, what is the conflict? (oh hey, more on that later, too!) And then, the big one, what end result do you want?
This is your story. Your world. You are the Lord High God/dess of this universe.
Where do you want the scene, or the book to end? What do you WANT your character’s results to be?
OK… now work backwards: what will get them there in a way that makes sense to both story and character. It’s. your world. You can change their backstory. You can make something happen that is the catalyst for change. You can build tension until the emotional explosion happens. What is the end result that you want?
Finding & Fixing Issues
One acronym: GMC
Goal. Motivation. Conflict.
Take a look at the whole story. At your main character’s arc. But also look at every scene.
The book is hard to find (and expensive) in print, but fairly reasonable as an e-book. (kindly ignore some of the dated references… including one that holds Mel Gibson up as a paragon of desirable manhood. Yikes.)
Here, too is another “it depends”. Because there are so many possible issues. But, based on what I saw in subs last year and this, plus what I’ve seen as a slush reader for another mentor, and as an editor, I can tell you most of them can be addressed by two things:
GMC and story beats.
Word count too long? Do your GMC. Did it already and you still think you can’t cut anymore because every word there is necessary? I promise you – it’s not. But you are too invested in the story to see where to cut. And that is expected! You wrote it! You need to be invested.
Saggy middle? Story drags? Takes too long to get started? Track your story’s beats so you can see where things are gumming up. If you’re spending too long in set up before getting to the meat of the story. Or you’ve got a lot of exposition or backstory that isn’t taking the plot forward. Hit up Jami Gold’s site for some tools there.
Now combine those two for a powerful one-two process that will get you through most issues.
But it takes practice. And lord knows I’m still working on seeing the issues in my own writing. That’s what crit partners are for!
Resources and Critique Partners
Hey, wasn’t that a nice segue? Yeah, OK, whatever.
I already hit on GMC and beat sheets. there are umpteen other craft books out there. Which one is right?
Simple: the one that helps you.
Not so simple, actually. Because you won’t know until you try. I’ve got a library full of books that folks swear by, but that left me flat. And a handful of ones I reach for time and again (Save the Cat Writes a Novel is one of my go-to faves).
As for crit partners… I apologize, I’m self linking here. Written way back in 2015, right around the time I first discovered Pitch Wars. And right around the time I realized that I wasn’t getting anything productive from the critique partners I was working with at the time. And my feelings there still stand.
I would add: if your crit partners are not challenging you, if all you’re getting is praise, or very surface level feedback – it’s time to move on.
A good crit partner will lead you to grow and improve as a writer. They will take you deeper into your own work than you’ve likely gone before. And they’ll spot things you miss, or didn’t think about, or didn’t think were problems.
How do you find them? By connecting with other writers! By trying a chapter exchange with a fellow writer. These days, literally every crit partner I have is somehow connected thanks to Pitch Wars… or distantly to PW via this FB group. (I’m no longer a member there since becoming a mentor.)
With apologies to Stephen King, I am not the “butt in the seat every day” kind of writer. But if that’s what it takes to write? Go for it!
I spent far too many years feeling wrong, or less than, or not good enough because I didn’t adhere to someone else’s philosophy, or couldn’t make it work for me.
So, this is what I do… it’s what works for me, but it’s not a philosophy. It’s simply a plan of action born of years of experience with possibly the most stubborn, ADD brained, over scheduled, can’t sit still person on earth. Ahem. Yours Truly.
I don’t set word count goals. I don’t require myself to sit at my desk every day (though when I’m drafting, that is usually what happens).
Instead, I set a broad weekly goal. It may mean: finish this chapter. Outline this story. Do this research. I try to keep it as broad as possible, and make it a weekly goal rather than daily.
Why? Because that’s what works for me. Because I have a job (self employed and work from home, but it’s still a job) and I have a household to run. And while some folks can do the: I sit down at my computer every day at 5AM… I can’t. I can try, but when I inevitably have a day I sleep in, or miss it and it’s 5:15, or… whatever… I feel bad. It screws with my head. I can’t get anything done. And then I get grumpy. And depressed. And I can’t write at all. And what was the point of this exercise? Oh yeah, writing! Well, shit.
Oh… and if you’re in love with the floofy butt? She’s here.