When you set out to write your first book or start a new one, it may feel a bit like driving while blindfolded. You know where you want to go but aren’t so sure about how to get there. This is where developmental editing can be a huge help.

During the editing process, you’ll want to consider the various types of editing services that help polish and refine your manuscript prior to publication. The developmental edit is one type of editing usually performed in the early phase of writing, typically after the first draft is completed. This is a comprehensive edit that takes a “big-picture” view before providing the author with useful input and guidance. Check out this handy developmental editing checklist for lots of helpful tips to help you get off to a solid start.

What is Developmental Editing?

When launching a book project, few authors are blessed with an innate, crystal clear vision of properly formatting their story arc, developing their characters, or arranging their book. A developmental editor and beta readers can assist you with valuable writing support and guidance right from the outset. 

So, what does a developmental editor do, exactly? A developmental editor is the Grand Poobah of editing professionals. After giving your early draft a thorough once-over, a professional editor provides editing solutions to help you articulate and execute your book project successfully. Their job is to spot plot issues, like redundancy or confusion in the storyline, weakly drawn characters, plot holes, or structural problems, and offer recommendations. Following this guidance allows you to change course early, thus averting a major rewrite. 

The Importance of Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is vital for authors choosing the self-publishing route. Traditionally published books are subject to extensive content editing before finally making it to the press, so why should a self-published author believe they can cut corners and expect the same high-quality outcome? The truth is you’ll need at least that same level of editing intensity if you hope to compete in the bookselling marketplace.

Developmental Editing Checklist

Let this developmental editing checklist serve as a handy guide for fleshing out key elements of your book project:

Character Development

Are your main characters interesting, relatable, and believable? During the writing process, keep these tips in mind for creating memorable characters that are capable of experiencing personal growth or transformation as the story progresses:

  • Give them a name that aligns with their personality
  • Describe their appearance, including any unique features or flaws
  • Describe their personality traits in detail
  • Describe any psychological challenges they may have that might influence behavior

Plot and Structure

Creating a well-structured plot is the foundation of all works of fiction. The plot is what drives the story arc, and is punctuated with conflict, tension, and resolution. To craft an effective storyline include the following elements:

  • Exposition
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Denouement (resolution)


Dialogue is an intrinsic literary element that allows your characters to express their personalities, fears, and motives through speech. It is through dialogue that the reader forms attachments to the characters as relatable people to either be adored or disdained. Dialogue also functions as a relief from excessive exposition and narrative prose. To write realistic dialogue, consider these tips:

  • Capture each character’s unique voice when writing dialogue. Consider their personalities, regions of origin, cultures, and motivations.
  • Write as people actually speak in daily life, versus using a stiff formal style of speech—unless, of course, it suits the character, such as a professor or butler.
  • Avoid overuse of dramatic tones or exclamations
  • Remember that less is more, so don’t weigh down the dialogue with verbosity or mindless chatter

Point of View and Voice

The point of view or narrative voice you select for your book defines the perspective from which your story is told. In fiction, the most common points of view are first-person and third-person narratives:

  • First-person voice tells the story from a character’s viewpoint, such as, “I was shocked to learn that my daughter was secretly emptying my bank account.”
  • Third-person narrative, the most popular choice for fiction, is often referred to as the “He said, she said” narrative style in which the narrator describes the world, characters, and action to the reader. An example would be, “Trudging through the deep snow until her feet were numb, Suzanna finally spotted the cabin in the distance.”

Setting and Description

Whether your work of fiction is set in a one-room schoolhouse, a mental asylum, or a fantastical world, that setting provides the context that transports the reader into the very fabric of your story. The more depth and detail used to describe your setting, the more powerful the effect that setting will have on the overall storytelling. To create vivid settings that enhance your story, consider these tips:

  • Create a unique setting that gives readers a sense of discovery. Engage your imagination to turn even a bland, pedestrian setting like a business office into a rich backdrop for your plot to unfold.
  • Align your setting with your genre. Fantasy or science fiction allows you to create a make-believe world, while romance lends itself to familiar settings.
  • When deciding on a historical setting, do your homework. This allows you to create an accurate setting that reflects that particular point in history.
  • Access the nuances of seasons or time periods to paint a striking setting that the reader will want to “live” in. 

Self-Publish Your Work with Gatekeeper Press

While this developmental editing checklist offers the basic framework for tackling a book project, not every author will feel confident with the literary elements described and may have some big-picture issues. If so, you may benefit from the expertise of a professional developmental editor. Gatekeeper Press can be a great editing partner, providing support and guidance for the duration of your self-publishing journey. Reach out to us today online or by phone at (866) 535-0913!