Developmental Editing vs. Line Editing

developmental vs. line editing

Many people come to editors with a rough idea of their strengths and weaknesses, but when it comes to the jargon of what level of editing they need, they may not have the vocabulary to express it.

While every editor has their own description of services and what is included, here is my take on the two main editing services I provide – developmental editing and line editing. I do offer proofreading as well but consider it a separate service altogether.


What is Developmental Editing?

A developmental edit is often very involved and looks at the big picture, as well as any nuances an author might miss in their own review of the manuscript. While many quick fixes to your manuscript may allow you to check for characters’ names or other basic problems, a developmental edit takes it a step further and looks at the “why” and “how” of the characters’ motives, their descriptions, and other aspects of writing.

My process with developmental edits involves the following:

  • Analyzing manuscript content to suggest and implement structure changes
  • Identifying plot holes, theme, premise, symbolism, tension, pacing, character development (motivation, inconsistencies, etc), inconsistent dialogue or tone, etc.
  • Recommending solutions to identified problems
    • Examples: Plot improvements, structural analysis, dialogue or action or description/prose needed to further the story.

Sometimes, developmental edits reveal major plot problems or instances where the plot falls flat or needs to be fleshed out. Like with any type of edit, however, the editor is merely a sounding board. It is up to the writer to make the suggested edits and may involve multiple conversations to smooth out any wrinkles uncovered in the review process.

I live in the Show Me State, and as a Missourian, I’m often skeptical. I bring this skepticism in my editing because that critical eye benefits writers and challenges them to think outside of their writing in such a way that allows them to improve.

Are developmental edits right for me?

If you have been working on your manuscript but feel like something is missing, or have had people tell you they sense something is missing, a developmental edit may uncover the problem.

However, like any part of the editing process, you need a thick skin, and this rings true with developmental edits. You may have to do a major overhaul to your work, and so if an editor recommends developmental edits, it’s worth considering how much time and effort you’re willing to do to make your story great.

What is Line Editing?

Editors are, by nature, picky. Line edits bring out the pickier side of editors because the process is very close to the manuscript. In other words, while the “big picture” story is important to editors in line edits, the finer details are tuned in this step in the process.

Line edits are a little more basic than developmental edits and involve the following general processes:

  • Editing for spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax
  • Suggestions to sentence structure and word choice

Line edits are not proofreading, but they should involve looking at the sticky details that make a writer uncomfortable, such as the tone a character uses to speak versus another character or a homophone used incorrectly.

Are line edits right for me?

If your writing is tight and you work with a number of critique partners or beta readers, then a line edit may be a better fit for you. You’ve already identified plot weaknesses and have adjusted your action sequences, dialogue, and other major problems, line edits may be something you could benefit from doing before you seek out a proofreader and publish your manuscript.