In part III of my series on developmental editing, I look at a crucial but often overlooked step in the process: research. As a former academic and college writing/research instructor, I understand how daunting research can be. But if you want to develop your work to make it the best it can be, you’ll need to zero in on spots that need research and hit the books, or more likely the web, before moving onto the next round of manuscript edits.
In order to explain when to research, how to know what needs research, and why to make editorial decisions based on research, I’m listing 3 circumstances that might arise during developmental editing that will require you to stretch your research muscles.
You’re writing historical fiction
Research, if you haven’t already, the language you’re using. Did the words your characters use in dialogue mean the same thing then as they do now? What was common slang or jargon during that time period? Word meanings change and evolve and because of this, historical writers need to be careful.
But language is not the only thing in need of research attention during the developmental editing stage. For the historical writer, science and medicine can be a fire swamp of dangers (did you see that Princess Bride reference?). For example, did you know that radium was considered healthy in the early twentieth century? Products were created using radium and marketed as medicinal. I’m not even kidding. Kinda wish I was because reading this book, while informative, was pretty heartbreaking, too. It’s changes in how we understand the world that make research during the developmental editing stage of the writing process necessary.
You’re writing nonfiction
Nonfiction requires a ton of research before you even write one word. But writing is a slow process and the speed of information in a digital world is not. In other words, more information on your topic may have been published since you transitioned from the research to the writing stage of your project. So, while your manuscript is in the hands of your reader, you have time to see what other information you can learn, adding to your understanding of the topic and enhancing the scope of your book, essay, or article.
You’re writing for a specific popular genre
Are you a children’s book writer? A thriller or mystery author? If so, you’ll need to know what’s being published in your genre. And while you may have researched this, like the nonfiction writers, before you put fingertips to keyboard, now is a good time to check back in with the market. Have any new books been published? Are they like your own work? If so, use the developmental editing stage to differentiate your book in important ways that will make your work stand out on the market? Or, you can use these newly published books as comparison titles in your query letter.
Research, Research, All the Time
You may have noticed that I’ve not restricted myself to discussing research only during the developmental editing stage in this post. That’s because while it will help you strengthen your work during this stage, research is really a task that can and should be done throughout the writing process.
Lots of folks think of research as something that belongs in the pre-writing stage, and they’re not wrong. It’s best to research the genre you want to write in before writing for that genre. Or, if you’re writing historical novels or nonfiction, you need to research the time period or topic (she says, pointing out the obvious).
But research in the later stages of the novel, particularly during developmental editing, can be crucial as well. In many ways, this research can be more pointed, more focused than pre-writing research. After having written a draft, you know so much, and the gaps in your knowledge are clearer. Additionally, readers may have provided questions or feedback that help identify gaps you didn’t know were there and mistakes you didn’t know you’d made.
Use all of this–your greater understanding of your weaknesses as well as reader questions and feedback–to guide a very specific research plan. When your second draft is tighter, more accurate, and more valuable because it’s chock-full of information, you’ll be glad you did, and your reader will thank you, too.
Do you guys have any questions about research? I’d be happy to answer them!