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Developmental Editing of Fiction: Beginning


August 2, 2023

78 seats available

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SKU: 250230


"Developmental editors are detectives and solution finders." —Val Mathews, instructor
Important Information About Our Self-Paced Courses

Self-paced courses are undertaken by the student at their own pace. No instructor feedback is given, although models are provided in the lessons. All self-paced courses include at least one live Q&A session, held via Zoom. Students will have one year to access the course site. More information about how our classes are conducted is available here.

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This self-paced course will launch on August 2, 2023. Pre-register now for one year of access beginning on that date.

Developmental editors (DEs) are all about the big picture. They assess how a manuscript hangs together as a whole, how a story moves and unfurls, how characters drive the story forward. If a manuscript lacks focus, DEs will help the writer find it. If an author lacks confidence, the best DEs inspire, challenge, and cheer on the author. And above all, DEs are the author’s collaborating partner—they hone the writer’s unique voice and make the author’s vision their vision.

This self-paced introductory course covers ten learning modules and is presented through videos, readings, fun activities, and editing assignments. The lessons explain and illustrate concepts and offer opportunities to practice your learning. Answer keys will be provided for each activity and assignment.

This course is meant for anyone who wants to help authors shape their stories, develop their storytelling grit, and conquer the boring in their manuscripts. It covers the basic knowledge every DE needs to know to start working in the industry.

Module 1: Introduction to the Craft of Fiction. We’ll cover the basics of good craft, including showing more than telling and weaving backstory rather than dumping. In this module’s mini activities, we’ll edit a passage so that it “shows more than tells” and practice writing to an author about backstory dumps.

Module 2: Introduction to Craft continued. We’ll continue to learn basic craft, including head hopping, inner and outer dialogue, dialogue snafus, and how to bring a story to life with action beats. In this module’s mini-activities, we’ll learn to spot point-of-view errors and fix dialogue issues.

Module 3: Plot, Threads, and Beats. We’ll discuss plot (how and why a story happens), narrative threads (dropped, lost, or broken), and structural beats (inciting incidents, turning points, etc.). In this module’s mini activities, we’ll create a list of our pet peeves when we read fiction and how we might address them if asked to edit a manuscript that included them. We’ll also research beat sheets online and become familiar with the different types.

Module 4: Scenes and Structural Integrity. We’ll address structural integrity and scenes (the building blocks of the storytelling world). In this module’s mini activity, we’ll create a list of valuable and impactful craft articles we can use as additional reading material for our clients to help them revise their manuscripts based on our suggestions.

Module 5: Scope Creep and Developmental Issues. We’ll discuss what fiction developmental editing is and what it’s not. Then we’ll address how to prevent “scope creep,” when a developmental edit careens into a line or copy edit. In our first major assignment, we’ll read an assigned short story, create an overview (summary), and dig deep into the story’s strengths.

Module 6: Diplomatic Comments and Queries. We’ll first discuss the developmental editor-author relationship—and how to nurture it. Then we’ll learn how to write diplomatic and professional comments in Word’s sidebar. In this module’s assignment, we’ll identify one craft issue from the assigned story and explain how that issue may impact the reader’s experience. Then we’ll offer the author one or two solutions to the problem.

Module 7: Pacing and Narrative Movement. We’ll focus on how to edit for pacing and narrative movement. In this module’s mini activity, we’ll create a developmental editing checklist to help us stay on task during a developmental edit.

Module 8: Character Development and Point of View. We’ll dive deeper into character development and point of view. We’ll discuss character flaws, arcs, and goals, including ethical and legal issues. In this module’s assignment, we’ll continue to evaluate the assigned short story and then write diplomatic comments and queries via Track Changes.

Module 9: The Editorial Letter. We’ll learn how to write a full editorial letter, which is the heavy lifter of a developmental edit. We’ll also be introduced to in-text comments and an editorial color-coding system. In this module’s activities, we’ll read another assigned short story (which could easily be an opening chapter to a novel) and begin to prepare for the final assignment. Finally, we will revisit our pet peeves from Module 3 and examine how our approach to addressing them may have changed with our newfound knowledge of the craft of fiction.

Module 10: Character Development and Reader Empathy. In the final module, we’ll continue to discuss character development, focusing on character agency, motivation, and reader empathy. We’ll also consider how we can give our clients challenges. We’ll bring everything together in the final assignment and prepare a developmental editing package (editorial letter, in-text comments, and queries). 


This course is open to students at all levels.

Val M. Mathews teaches courses in editing for the University of California Berkeley Extension, Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and the Editorial Freelancers Association in New York City. She also works as an editorial consultant for CRAFT Literary and Masters Review, two well-established online literary magazines, and has worked as an editor for traditional publishers. Val earned an MA in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University and a BFA from the University of Georgia. Fun fact about Val: She’s been an FAA-certified flight instructor for over 25 years, and in the past, she flew Lear jets for a living.

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