Content editing is my favorite type of editing. I am always honored when a writer asks me to join them in the trenches of brainstorming—the planting and weeding of ideas. I enjoy supporting the writer as they gather the chaos of words that dance in their heads and make it into a story that others can enjoy. But you may ask, what is content editing, and why do I need it?
*Every editor may choose to do things a little differently. The world of editing is made up of freelancers, publishing houses, and small business owners that have their own style guides and preferences for editing and publishing. However, these are some tips and tools I have discovered, either from my own experience or from fellow editors, and have chosen to use with my clients.
What is content editing?
Content editing, also known as developmental editing, views your story with a large lens. It is sometimes called big picture editing. Instead of focusing on grammar, punctuation, sentence flow, etc., the editor and writer focus on the overall plot, subplot, characters, etc. The big lens approach vs. the little lens approach.
When do I hire a content editor?
Content editing can be done at any stage before copyediting. I would advise against using a content editor after a copyedit, since you have already paid to have an editor edit your manuscript line by line, editing grammar, punctuation, etc. And a content editor will most likely have you reorganizing and rewriting your manuscript. This may leave you with an empty pocket and less hair on your head. So, if you do choose to hire a content editor after a copyedit, the best thing to do is to let your editor know you already had a copyedit done. They may be able to help lessen the pain of having to reconstruct your manuscript.
The ideal time to work with a content editor is after your first draft (even if it is a very rough draft). The more you can give your editor, the better! However, some editors will work with you without a finished first draft. But keep in mind, content editing is the most expensive editing, so if you are trying to stay within a budget, another suggestion would be to create an outline and pay for an outline evaluation.
What are some tools my content editor may give me?
Outlines: Creating an outline can help eliminate writer’s block and make you feel less overwhelmed. It also helps you avoid major holes in your story. My favorite part of outlines is it’s a great reference while writing. Have a hard time remembering what you named your character’s second cousin twice removed? Or how old each character is? Instead of having to page/scroll through your whole manuscript, you can take out your outline as a reference, quickly check your character’s name and return to writing. For writer’s block, if you already have a story outline, it’s easier to fill in the gaps. The more in-depth your outline, the easier it may be when you sit down to write your novel.
Outlines are the most helpful when you are creating your first draft, but some writers are pantsers and not plotters (a plotter is someone who uses an outline to plan their story and a pantser is someone who plans the story as they go), so some writers decide to forgo the outline. If you are a pantser, when working with your editor, you can ask if you can give them a skeleton outline instead. A skeleton outline is a bare-bones outline of your story. This outline has you fill in your characters and the main events of your story. Outlines not only help the writer as they write, but it can help the editor give better feedback and understand how the writer wishes to tell their story.
Story or narrative arc: Story arcs are also known as “beginning, middle, and end.” There are different types of story arcs you can use, but they all follow the same ideas: Exposition/what does the reader need to know about the characters before going on the adventure, rising action/there is an event that happens to a character to raise the tension, climax/the greatest tension in the whole story, falling action/the effects of the climax in the story, and finally the resolution/tying all the loose ends. Read your favorite book, and you will find that, in one way or another, each story will hit these points. Story arcs are a great tool to help you create a well-rounded story with enough tension and adventure for the reader to keep turning the pages.
Character development sheet: These are a great tool when creating both main characters and minor characters. There are many different types of character development sheets you can find; you can even make your own. These sheets include questions about your character’s quirks, favorite things, background information, etc. It helps the writer create three-dimensional characters.
Feedback form: If you are hiring a content editor, you more than likely will receive a feedback form apart from your manuscript edits. Editors may choose to include a variety of things, depending on your story and what you may need help with. This feedback form may include places to expand, places to omit, plot holes, character inconsistencies, things that are working, and things to improve.
Book recommendations: I enjoy giving my clients book recommendations that are similar to the story they are creating. This is not my own idea, but a professor of mine in college would suggest books whenever we submitted our first draft of our short story. I found this helpful and chose to use it with my clients. It can be helpful to see what other writers are doing in a similar genre or topic.
How can you support the development of your story?
Writing takes time, especially when writing a novel. So, having a good foundation, in the beginning, can help the process go smoother. What if you do not have the money for a content editor?
Read, read, read, and then read some more. Read in your genre, read outside your genre. But instead of just reading for enjoyment, pay attention to the story arc, how the writer describes their characters, what works, and what doesn’t work. The best writing advice I have received is from reading my favorite books. You can also find writing craft books at your local library or articles and videos about the craft of writing online. But in the end, if you have the budget, a professional eye can always benefit your story.
I hope you find this information helpful and happy writing!