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Great Writing versus Great Storytelling: Different Types of Editing for Different Issues

In order for a book to be great, two things are required: great writing and great storytelling. You’re not alone if you are asking, “Aren’t those things the same?” While they certainly go hand in hand, they are two distinctly different skills, and chances are you are better at one than the other. Great storytelling involves creating fascinating characters and an interesting and well-paced plot. Great writing is about the actual words on the page—the way you describe your characters, the sparkling dialogue between them, the detailed description of the scenery they live in, and the voice that you give your narrator. You can have a great story but uninspiring dialogue and flat sentences. You can have a beautiful description of the scenery that comes at the wrong time and stops the forward motion of your plot dead in its tracks. Without great writing, your reader will not be fully immersed in the amazing world you’ve created. Without a great story, even the most expressive, elegant writing won’t hold your readers’ attention.

So what do you do if you have a great story but are having difficulty expressing it the way you want? Or if you can write a beautiful scene but your handle on plot pacing isn’t as good as you’d like it to be? A good editor can help with either of these issues. If you need help with storytelling, a developmental editor is what you are looking for. A developmental editor (also sometimes called a content editor) will read your manuscript with an eye towards pointing out plot holes, recommending deeper character development, cutting from or adding to scenes to improve pacing, and other “big-picture” concerns. You will usually receive a revision letter from a developmental editor that identifies your strengths, points out areas of concern, asks probing questions about your intentions and goals for the book, and provides suggestions for improving many aspects of your storytelling. A developmental editor may also leave comments within the manuscript itself to bring your attention to the location of particular issues, and they may show recommended deletions within the text, but they won’t usually make line-by-line edits to your text. At this stage in the game, you are looking at larger issues and significant rewrites may still take place. There is no sense in perfecting that paragraph about a character’s childhood love when you may decide to eliminate the character.

If you have a strong handle on storytelling but the words on the page aren’t living up to the vision in your head, a line editor may be helpful. A line editor will edit your manuscript line by line to improve clarity, word choice, and readability. They will help you remove ambiguity and improve description, and ensure that you are saying exactly what you mean to say in the best way possible. Most line editors mark changes using Word’s Track Changes and Comments features. In some instances, they will make rewrites directly in the text, which will show up as deletions and additions; you can then accept or reject these changes. In other instances, they will suggest a more in-depth change or ask for clarification in a comment box. A line editor may also point out minor plot holes or inconsistencies in your manuscript, but this is not the focus of a line edit, and you won’t get anywhere near the detail on these types of issues that you would in a developmental edit. You should be confident in the story aspects of your book before hiring a line editor.

Most people will be more skilled in one part of writing a novel than the other. Whatever your strong suit, a talented editor can help you improve your manuscript and make sure it lives up to the vision you have for it. Even in the areas you feel most confident, a second pair of eyes is always helpful—authors are usually too close to the material to look at it objectively. So don’t go it alone! Find a trained, experienced editor that you click with and take your book to the next level! If you have questions about the developmental editing or line editing services I provide, drop me a line. I would love to chat with you!

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