Developmental Edit Example

The excerpts below are taken from an actual developmental edit we delivered to a client (displayed with the client’s permission).

Legal Detail

“Well, although I was not paid, it was legal work. So I think that’s also privileged information. You ought to just ask your dad. He can tell you.”

Technically, for privilege to apply, the work has to be paid. There’s a pretty easy way around this, though, which real lawyers use all the time if they want to do something for free—say, for a friend—but also want to make sure that the relationship is protected by privilege. And, more seriously, the lawyer can get into trouble with their professional body if they do legal work and then fail to make sure it’s protected by privilege by charging some kind of fee. So what they do is charge a dollar as the whole fee. Now the work is paid, the privileged relationship is established, and everyone’s happy.

. . .

Jerry Reacts to Mark’s Death

The phone rang abruptly, waking Jerry and Cindy. “Yes.” Jerry listened. “Okay. It will take me a minute then I will be at the front door.” He hung up.

“What’s going on?” Cindy sounded sleepy.

“Sheriff’s department detective. Said Mark Hamilton had been killed and he wants to talk to our guests. He’s outside waiting.”

Cindy sat up. “Killed?”


I recommend that you add a little surprise and distress to Jerry’s reaction here. He seems remarkably cool for someone who’s just been told that a guest of his has been murdered. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but I think there should be some. Just as an example:

The phone rang waking Jerry and Cindy. “Yes.” Jerry listened, then abruptly stood up. “What? Oh my God. Okay. I’ll be at the front door in a minute. I just need—I just need to put on some clothes.” He hung up.

That bit of surprise—suddenly standing up, and a little stammering—is all you need to get his emotional state across.

. . .

Tropes and Clichés

Could be Lewis lost it and on impulse hit the guy in the head with the first thing he found, a pipe, and the guy is dead. Just reflexes with no thought at all. I think they must have some forensic evidence that links him to the murder weapon.

I’m flagging this just to keep it always in our minds to watch out for clichés. Hitting someone with a pipe (often specified as a lead pipe) is a cliché. It’s the kind of thing that happens in movies from the 1940s and in cartoons, but that rarely happens in real life.

If the idea is that Lewis grabbed whatever was at hand, ask yourself how often you’ve seen a convenient length of pipe lying around that you could brain someone with. Plus, by falling back on the cliché, you miss an opportunity to do something creative. Here’s an example, but you may have a different way of doing it that you prefer.

Could be Lewis lost it and on impulse he hit the guy in the head with the first thing he found. A brick, a trash can—hell, an old toilet seat someone put out with the garbage. You can kill someone with a lot of old junk. So maybe he just reacted, a reflex, with no thought at all. I think they must have some forensic evidence that links him to the murder weapon.

. . .

Repeated Phrases and Wording

The expression “by all accounts” is used five times—often enough to be noticeable, at least to me it was.

In many instances it’s not needed, so it can simply be omitted. If this general idea actually does need to be expressed more than once, I’d look for an alternative wording, like “it was common knowledge.”

Similarly, the expression “big shock” is used three times.

. . .

Rick’s Characterization

I think that in the prologue, we need a little work to make sure that Rick doesn’t look too gullible. We want the reader to like him, and it’s easy to start disliking (or at least losing respect for) someone who seems really dim.

I would make it clearer that he’s aware of just how unlikely this offer is that he’s getting—that it’s too good to be true—and then describe him first resisting, but then giving in to temptation despite his better judgment.

And, once he decides to run because the situation has suddenly become threatening, he should be thinking about exactly this: Stupid, stupid! Man, I knew this was too good to be true. And then the cops show up and confirm his worst fears.

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