Substantive Editing: Fleshing out Your Story

3 11 2012

In substantive editing (also known as developmental editing and comprehensive editing), the editor considers a document’s concept and intended use, content, organization, design, and style. The purpose is to make the document functional for its readers, not just to make it correct and consistent.

substantive edit deals with the overall structure of the publication:

  • Does it all fit together into a coherent whole?
  • Is the order of presentation logical (from the target audience’s point of view)?
  • Is all the necessary information included, and unnecessary information deleted?

Contrast this work with copy editing, most of which is rules-based and concerned with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style and the internal consistency of facts and presentation. Both types of edit are essential; they just focus on different issues. See my post Copy editing: What It Is and Why It is Important.

Why You Should Use a Professional Substantive Editor

Manuscripts need in-depth, comprehensive, substantive editing — the kind that deals with the nuts and bolts of organization and structure, of plotting and pacing, of characterization, of voice and tone, along with all of the stylistic elements and overall substance that go into creating a great read. Whether fiction or nonfiction, every book (or short story or article) needs the type of thorough going over that only a developmental editor can provide.

What Substantive Editors Go Over

  • Are the characters real, flesh-and-bone, multi-sided people? Does the reader know them once the story has taken off? Or simply know about them? Do they interact in believable ways. Does the main character grow and evolve?
  • Does the pacing fit the storyline? Different genres require different pacing, and it helps to work with an editor who understands the market and the genre in which you’re writing. Does one chapter flow into the next, building to a climax, making for a satisfying read? Does the book “fit” together? Does it have a cohesive beginning, middle, and end? Or does the plotline fizzle and sag, or leave huge holes that are never bridged?
  • Is there a point to the book?
  • Does the language sing? Is the writer telling the story, or creating, showing, evoking for the reader?

The very best substantive editors can not only pinpoint the problems, in all areas, but most importantly, be able to show you how to fix those short falls. An editor’s job is to help a writer to fashion the very best book it can be and create a great read.

Substantive editing is $199.99.  Contact us at carolyn@charleshenryediting.com

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