Developmental and Structural Editing: What’s working, what’s not?

There comes the time when the book is ‘done’ and the revising stage arrives. How do you decide what to attack in the revision process? What questions do you need to ask of yourself and your novel? Here are guidelines to best-approach the developmental and structural editing stage.


Are they likeable?

Are they active or passive?

Do they complement the story or add extra baggage?

Do the characters seem to complement each other? (Can be in a negative or positive way)

Are their traits consistent and believable?

Do we know enough about them? (I.e. Are they 3D?)


Is the world you’ve created/place you’ve described convincing?

Do we want to spend time here?

Does it have depth? A presence?

Is the description of place organic and fitting?

Does it require fact checking?


Does it seem plausible?

Is it predictable?

Does the reader care about the outcome?

Is the reader satisfied with the ending and outcome?

Are there holes in getting from A to B?

Is the plot complex enough?

Is the plot too intricate?

Are the sub-plots fully realized and conclude in the end?

Does it use coincidence instead of thought out plotting?


Where does it lag? What can I cut? How can I make it tighter?

Do we want to read on?


Does it use too many adverbs?

Does it show or tell?

Is the prologue and epilogue necessary?

Is there head and POV hopping? Does it suit the novel? Is it smoothly executed if necessary?

Does the reader come away with a message? Does the reader come away with the intended message?

Self-awareness is the most important gift you can give yourself as a writer. The questions above are ones that agents look to be ‘fixed’ by the time we see your work.

Q: What questions do you ask yourself when editing?

Related post: My manuscript evaluation checklist

Image via Sydney Smith for the Globe and Mail

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

7 thoughts on “Developmental and Structural Editing: What’s working, what’s not?

  1. Carly, this is fantastic. As a freelance editor I work with a lot of aspiring authors, and to me the secret sauce is in the revisions. But self-awareness is the critical component in successful revisions.

    Do you mind if I copy your list for a “newbie author” handout I am preparing?


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