Developmental Editing is the biggest Russian doll
of the profession of editing: all other aspects of editing nest within. So says Scott Norton as he describes the various aspects of Developmental Editing in his book on the subject. Developmental Editing can be defined as a set of tools which assist authors to overcome obstacles in the writing process and maximise the appeal of their writing to prospective publishers. A Developmental Editor will draft a blueprint for the author or publisher which shows how the goals of the project will be accomplished.
Most important are the aspects to do with realising an achievable vision for a book project. An effective proposal may need to be shaped before a manuscript is written. This proposal will contain a central concept, the author’s special take on a subject. It will specify how the book will meet the needs of the target audience and address how it will appeal to that audience in the marketplace. On the other hand, a manuscript may have already been written, in which case it could be the job of the Developmental Editor to find a unifying concept buried within it. Related to these tasks is the job of finding a convincing, original and relevant thesis in the manuscript to captivate the audience.
A Developmental Editor may also be called upon to untangle the narrative or expository threads, to find clarity in a story. Norton argues that templates for storytelling are embedded in our brain. Are there thematic links which resonate in the memory of the reader? Even an abstract theory is a human story with real experiences at its core. Just as a hero must overcome a number of obstacles to triumph in a story, an idea must also overcome a number of opposing arguments.
Then there are the aspects of pacing, transition, voice and display. Pacing is adjusted in Developmental Editing by paying attention to scene building (slows pace) and plot summarizing (quickens pace). A natural rhythm should prevail, rather than an artificial one. And the Developmental Editor should always be sensitive to the work of the author. An effective transition can be geographical, temporal, intellectual, spiritual, and of varying degree. The most important are placed in the beginning and end of each chapter.
It’s important to harmonize the voices in a manuscript; to modulate and integrate styles used. This work aids in respecting and refining the single, mature voice which the author may have developed or be developing. Author attitudes towards the subject, audience and self, towards the world of ideas, and towards society are expressed by his or her use of tone, rhetoric, mastery over abstraction and use of irony.
Finally, much of the usability and attraction of a book can depend on various display features which, when used effectively, provide a map and guide for the content of a book. These features include subheadings, epigraphs, art, illustrations, tables, maps and lagniappe.
Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers, Scott Norton, The University of Chicago Press, 2009.