“The Story Grid is a tool, a method to check your work or to inspire a work. […] The Story Grid can make you learn a great deal about why you’ve written your Story in the first place. And that knowledge will be indispensable to making your work better. Not just a little bit, but to such an extent that you will find yourself re-energized to laser focus on what exactly your Story is and how you can make it the best it can possibly be.” (The Story Grid, p. 441)
I’m going to bet that most of you are here with that goal in mind: making your Story the best it can possibly be.
But what if you need help along the way?
And how do you know if you’re really getting better?
That’s where Story Grid Developmental Editing comes in.
There are many definitions of “developmental editing.” This article will:
- define what Story Grid Developmental Editing is
- outline deliverables and expectations
- tell you what the Story Grid Developmental Edit can do for you as a writer
- explain the process
- tell you when you should call in an editor
WHAT IS STORY GRID DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING?
Story Grid Developmental Editing (“Story Grid DE” herein) is a hands-on process in which a Story Grid Certified Editor works with an author as they are writing to provide real-time feedback on scenes during regular calls.
The main goal of the Story Grid Developmental Edit is to help writers complete a professional draft—one whose scenes, acts, and global story abide the five commandments of storytelling, and which meets and innovates the obligatory scenes and conventions of its genre. We call it “Story Grid to Done.”
If you have other writing goals besides writing a professional first draft, like leveling up a second or third draft after a Diagnostic, we can also coach you through applying Story Grid principles to meet your writing goals. More on this later.
Everything we do at Story Grid is to offer tools for writers to combat Resistance—that opponent of your creative work that tempts you to throw the whole manuscript away, or sleep in instead of getting up to write for weeks on end—by breaking the big problems down (write a book; edit your draft) into realistic, applicable tasks.
The Story Grid Developmental Edit is a collaborative tool to pull it all together.
Here’s how we do that.
DELIVERABLES OF A STORY GRID DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT
FREE CONSULTATION CALL
We will talk with you about your story, writing goals, and how to move forward. Consider this two Story nerds just talking about their favorite thing—Story. This is a good conversation to decide if the Story Grid DE is right for you where you are, and if this editor is right for you. You can set these calls up with several editors to feel this out.
ONE-HOUR CALLS WITH AN EDITOR EVERY WEEK
The core deliverable of the Story Grid DE is the time on the phone with a certified Story Grid Editor to assess your written work for the week, discuss any craft- or genre- related homework, and coach you through the next scene.
SCENE AND STORY FEEDBACK EVERY WEEK
Once you and your editor get a good global view of the story, you will start to write and turn in scenes. Your editor will read over what you’ve done for the week, and then give you their feedback during your regularly scheduled one-hour call. This will prompt the next week’s work, whether it’s scene revisions, writing that next scene, global story exercises or getting familiar with a genre masterwork to get you out of a rut.
We record the calls so we can just have a conversation about the work and not take up the time pausing to write down notes. Refer to these recordings later as you’re writing.
GENRE AND CRAFT RESOURCES
We’ll give you cheat sheets to your genre and other helpful PDFs, articles, etc. to build your tool kit. We’ll assign masterworks to help you innovate your scenes and get familiar with your genre.
HOW WILL THE STORY GRID DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT MAKE ME A BETTER WRITER?
SHORT FEEDBACK LOOP
Turn in scenes to an editor each week for review, instead of shipping out a draft and waiting for comprehensive analysis.
When Tim and Shawn spoke at the Tribe conference in 2016, they reflected on the great experiment of podcasting the relationship between a “struggling author” and a seasoned editor. When they signed on to do the Story Grid podcast, Tim’s agreement was to always turn in scenes for Shawn to review each week and to be honest with him and the listeners about the struggles he had faced getting it done. Shawn’s end was to review it and give Tim notes live on air for the first time.
Instead of turning in 100,000 words to an editor, and expecting detailed feedback on 100,000 words, the short feedback loop of having an editor look at a scene or sequence every week was helping him get better faster. Tim said, “My feedback loop has gone from a year to 24 hours.“ Meaning, Shawn tells him to write 1500 words and then he can find out if he’s getting better on those 1500 words.
Get help applying the Story Grid principles (that you hear on the podcast every week, read in The Story Grid book, and find in the archive of articles) to your own WIP.
Tim gets Shawn’s expert advice applied specifically to his work, and has the courage to share that with the rest of us every week in the podcast. We all get a ton of value out of Tim’s experience. Often an episode will unlock a problem you’ve been having with your WIP. But what if you need help locating and innovating a genre convention outside of the genres Tim and Shawn are working with? Or what if you just can’t seem to turn your scenes in a way that keeps the reader turning pages? This is something most of my clients have said they are looking for in Developmental Editing—weekly direction in connecting Story knowledge from their head to their work.
If you want to get better at a creative endeavor, put yourself in the position to get feedback—especially hard feedback—on a short loop. Criticism is much easier to take in small doses. Another great aspect of this short feedback loop is that by focusing on bite-sized portions we get to talk about what is going well with the story and what you’re improving upon. We love to talk about what WORKS!
ACCOUNTABILITY ON WRITING GOALS
We expect you to turn work in and take the editorial notes each week.
You want to write a book, but you’re just not making yourself do it. You may need some extrinsic motivation. There is no shame in that! This is the #1 thing my clients appreciate about the Story Grid DE. If it weren’t for the expectation of turning in work each week, they would be more likely to skip writing if it’s too hard. They would lose direction.
You set the writing goals; we hold you to them.
We give you specific next steps each week.
Staring at a blank page is intimidating and defeating for most people! How many times have you told yourself “I’m going to sit down and write tomorrow” without a specific plan? Your editor will direct you with specific next steps between calls, such as: “Write the global inciting incident of your story”; “Write the next ‘following the clues’ sequence”; “Revise this scene with an active turning point instead of a revelatory turning point to raise the value at stake.”
Don’t skip your calls.
Don’t skip turning in work because you’ve been beat up by Resistance that week. That’s OK! Let’s get on the phone and talk through it.
This is why our policy is to forfeit a call if it’s not made up within the week (barring emergencies, of course). We are serious about helping writers face the challenges of writing and working through them.
If you need to know you’re in good company when you want to quit and hide from your editor, listen to this aptly titled Story Grid podcast episode, “I’m Freaking Out.”
We will coach you through writing complete scenes that turn.
As you submit scenes, we will make sure they abide the five commandments of storytelling.
We’re going to make sure you can write a strong scene before you string together 60,000 words.
If your goal is to level-up your scenes, working with a Developmental Editor will pinpoint habitual issues within your writing.
BIG PICTURE STORY DEVELOPMENT
We will zoom in and out of the global view to direct your writing.
This is the typical Developmental Editing definition floating out in the industry: Focusing on and fixing big-picture Story issues. With a Story Grid Developmental Edit, we have curated a list of six core questions that we follow to structure your novel and keep the thread. Whenever you get stuck, we will refer to our macro guidelines.
We’ll take time in the beginning to establish these fundamentals of your story. The first few calls will be global story work.
We distill the core story.
Keeping you on theme is a critical asset of inviting a trained editor into your creative process. When Shawn and Tim were first developing his amateur first draft to a professional first draft of The Threshing, Shawn showed Tim what his story was really about—the catalyst to moving forward within a defined genre. You can listen to this experience on the podcast: “Getting Unstuck”
If someone were to ask you, “What is your story about?” you may sputter and give a long-winded synopsis of all your subplots, causing your listener to regret asking the question. Hire a trained editor to bring you back to the core story whenever you are getting lost in the weeds.
Lori Puma recently accomplished this with a client who had a 120k-word manuscript in need of a traditional DE. On this podcast, she shares how they simplified and found the essence of her story.
COMPLETION OF A PROFESSIONAL FIRST DRAFT IN 6 MONTHS
Story Grid to Done: Coaching a writer from ideation or amateur first draft to a professional first draft in 6 months
The goal here is to create a realistic expectation of the time it takes to write a guided first draft that works. This is client-driven, based on the writer’s mastery of scene work, grasp of genre, and commitment to getting work done every week. Story Grid Editors will set a game plan to best set you up for success.
Let’s break down what this means.
WHY SIX MONTHS?
If you need a deadline. If you tend to start strong and fizzle out, circling a date on your calendar in red may be the motivation you need to keep at and finish the work. With an editor, we can make a game plan within the six months parameter.
To set reasonable expectations of investment. Our services start at $500 a month and require weekly time commitments. If you are considering a Story Grid DE, you should be aware of the time and financial investment it takes.
It took Tim and Shawn 24 calls over the course of a year to complete Tim’s professional first draft of The Threshing. Story Grid Editor Lori Puma did the math for you. (Wherever you are, stop and give Lori a round of applause for boiling down two years of podcast episodes for us!) 24 consecutive weekly calls comes to roughly 6 months. Edited to add: These were 24 scene and sequence-writing calls, with 11 more meetings focused on global development and world-building before and during the process.
It’s OK not to finish in six months! If 6 months is not your goal, don’t worry about it. Just take it month by month. We also cannot force you to write a draft in six months. Your commitment to the work and progress determines the pace of this process.
WHAT IS A PROFESSIONAL FIRST DRAFT?
Maya Rushing Walker gave us a basic definition of a professional first draft:
- The genre conventions are (mostly) there
- Each scene has a beginning, middle, and end
- The global story has a beginning, middle, and end
We guide you to write a professional draft with weekly writing assignments and a week-long feedback loop. We can help you move from an amateur first draft to a professional first draft (or first draft to second, etc.) from the Diagnostic (manuscript assessment) to Developmental Editing (rewriting with an editor). Maya also covered the Diagnostic here.
If you want to skip the amateur first draft step, work with an editor like Tim does on the podcast every week.
Building on Maya’s definition, here’s what a professional draft looks like with a Story Grid Developmental Edit.
- Laser-focused on global genre
- The 15 crucial scenes are strong and satisfy genre expectations.
- The Inciting Incident, Turning Point Progressive Complication, Climax, Crisis, and Resolution scenes will be clear in each part of the book—the Beginning, the Middle, and the End.
- The same 5 scenes on the global scale will turn on the global value at stake. For example, the global Inciting Incident tells the reader “This is a Crime story” or “This is all about Status—the protagonist moving up in the world.”
- The novel meets the conventions and obligatory scenes of the global genre.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT OF THE PROCESS?
This is a client-driven service. The work you the writer do each week, including the questions and push-back of Resistance that come up in the course of the work, fuels the calls with your editor. It’s important that as you consider if the DE is right for you that you are willing and ready to commit an hour on the phone with your editor as well as regular writing time each week.
We start with the Editor’s 6 Core Questions. We will spend a few weeks setting up the foundation for the Global Story. Just be prepared to spend the time in this phase that your editor believes the Story needs. Establishing the macro road map—knowing where you are going—gives you the freedom to drive the open road. Listen to this two-part podcast series on the Editor’s 6 Core Questions in action: Part One, Part Two
Expect to nail down your genre(s) before we get going. I have clients who have messed around with a novel for years, but hesitated to commit to a genre (or subgenre), and thus the story never came to be. You won’t believe what making that genre choice early and checking it off your list does to clear up your mental space and spark your imagination!
Expect to do homework every week. This extrinsic motivator works great for a lot of Story Grid DE clients. This is the #1 things my clients value in the service: the accountability of doing the work. Again, the pace of completing scenes that work determines the length of time a draft will take. The short feedback loop is an essential part of Story Grid Developmental Editing, and to getting the hang of scene writing.
Expect to spend time mastering the scene. This was where Shawn and Tim camped out for awhile: teaching Tim to write a good scene. It’s the basic unit of story, yet it is very challenging! If you’re not thrilled with the scene, you should still turn it in to your editor on time. Again, we’re going to make sure you can write a strong scene before you string together 60,000 words.
Expect to read and watch Masterworks in your chosen genre. Sometimes you need to switch gears from the minutia of writing to deep-thinking through reading books like yours. We are creating a hefty database of masterworks and successful scenes to be able to guide our clients better. Expect us to turn a question back on you to seek out the answer through genre study!
Expect to walk through issues of Resistance. If you were to try on your own to complete a draft in six months, you may easily get frustrated with hitting the same wall over and over again, and it may cause you to quit. We’re here to try to convince you not to quit. If we can help you locate the issue within the scene work, or the global story, or the larger-scale battle with Resistance, you will be more likely to try again the next day.
Expect a next draft! A professional first draft will be lean, better than your first draft, and hit the important notes. Just because the scene works doesn’t mean the scene is final and innovated enough. Run this draft through the Story Grid spreadsheet, and see where it needs to go next!
WHEN SHOULD YOU HIRE A STORY GRID DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR?
SHORT ANSWER: WHEN YOU’RE READY TO GET THE WORK DONE.
The writers who come to the Story Grid DE have many different goals and are at various stages in their writing career.
|Stage of Novel Writing||Mastery of 5 Commandments of Storytelling|
|• Ideation to first draft
• Amateur first draft to Pro first draft
• Pro first draft to Second draft
|• No grasp of 5C’s
• Some grasp of 5C’s
• Mastery of 5C’s
• Mastered 5C’s and looking to improve in line-by-line writing
IDENTIFY WRITING GOALS
Ask yourself these questions before talking to an editor.
What is your goal?
If you just want to polish a single piece of writing that’s very different from wanting to invest in your skills because you want a full-time writing career.
What do you struggle with?
Are you looking for an editor to keep you accountable in putting words on a page? Are you looking for help mastering the scene? Maybe you want guidance structuring the protagonist’s Hero’s Journey or input on a strong narrative device for your story.
What stage are you at in your writing journey?
If you’re at the idea stage and need someone to help you keep your writing commitments to yourself that’s a very different thing than needing help polishing a story so that you can send it off on a submission.
Amateur first draft?
Go through the Diagnostic first.
Story Idea? Outline? Stuck in your Beginning Hook?
Pursue Developmental Editing.
THEN SET UP A CALL WITH A STORY GRID EDITOR.
Just talk about your story, your goals, and where you are.
During the free call, we like to give you the floor. We want to work with a writer who loves their story. How we engage with you about your story will probably lead you to picking the right editor for you!
Some editors offer specific services tailored to different writing goals.
Like I mentioned earlier, we coach you through implementing Story Grid principles to your work. If your goal is not to write a professional first draft in 6 months, talk to an editor about different strategies.
Some examples of other Story Grid services:
- One-off services reworking a 1500-word scene to master the 5 commandments of storytelling
- Plotting a novel using Story Grid (such as Story Grid Certified Editor J. Thorn’s podcast series, which starts here)
- Developing a strong Beginning Hook and launching the writer to finish the book on their own
ONCE YOU DECIDE THAT THE STORY GRID EDIT IS RIGHT FOR YOU, HIRE A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR.
HOW TO HIRE AN EDITOR
Story Grid can assign you an editor.
If you want Story Grid to assign you an editor, fill out this form.
Interview Story Grid Certified Editors personally.
If you want to interview Story Grid Certified Editors to find the right one for you, contact two or three of us directly and set up a free 30-minute call. Check out our websites for pricing and packages. Choosing from 19 editors may be overwhelming to you. Here’s what you can look for:
- Consider: What does an editor need to earn your trust? Is it important that they know your specific sub-genre inside and out? Or is it more important that you have an intuitive connection with them? Or do you just need someone who can help you go from [where you are now] to a [specific goal]?
- Genre. You can see in our bios and individual web sites that some of us prefer, and/or write specific genres. Some are writing the Story Grid Editions to specific content genres. Most of us are willing to work with any genre. You could start with seeing if someone has a knack for your genre.
- Specific services. If you have specific writing goals outside the “Story Grid to Done” service, see what the editors offer.
- Availability and Time zone. The core deliverable of our Story Grid DE product is the one-hour call every single week. Make sure not only your calendars line up, but also your time commitment!
We encourage you to get on the phone with us first. Don’t pay us until you get value out of that 30-minute call. We believe you’ll see the value in a Story Grid editor in 30 minutes.
RECAP OF THE PROCESS OF A STORY GRID DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT
My favorite imperative of Shawn’s from our certification workshop was, “Do not be a pedantic asshole.” Isn’t that refreshing in this industry? The Story Grid Editors are a unique bunch who are passionate about developing the writer, not just a single story. We celebrate the successes with you, spend our time combing through Masterworks on your behalf, support each other in our work through our way too many Slack messages, and work to make ourselves better students of Story.
We love what we do.
TAKE THE STORY GRID PODCAST AS A CASE STUDY
Still on the fence? Take the Story Grid podcast as our case study. What makes the Story Grid Developmental Editing service successful?
- Shawn is a pro editor.
- Tim is committed to doing the work every week.
- The short feedback loop between scenes written and editorial feedback helps him become a better writer faster.
- Direction on what to write next removes the hurdle of the unknown.
- Weekly calls to discuss his progress serves him better than nonspecific notes.
- Shawn and Tim brainstorm scenes and conventions from the Masterworks of the genre as he struggles to conceptualize and innovate.
- Using this model, the Story Grid Developmental Edit is a coaching and collaborative tool for the writer dedicated to completing a professional draft.
If you’re caught up in waiting for the perfect conditions, waiting for inspiration to strike, it may be time to invite someone into this path. If it matters that much to you to write a novel, having a conversation with someone every week who is committed to pushing you to realize your own goals is worth your time and money.
Special thanks to Lori Puma for her extensive input on this article!