What is structural editing?

Structural editing, also known as developmental or substantive editing, is the initial level of the editorial process. It deals with improving the quality of content by making sure that it is properly structured and cohesive. Before starting the structural edit, it is essential to note that the manuscript is completed in order to get a full picture of the plot.

Smart Start Checklist

The structural editing process is done with a few basic premises in mind.

  • Check if the plot is engaging and flawless along with good character development throughout the story.
  • To make this process easy, write a summary that not only gives an overview of the storyline but also conveys what the readers can expect from the book.
  • Predetermine the theme and target audience of the book so that the editing can be done taking them into account.

Key components in the editing spotlight

  1. Plot

Firstly, the plot is one of the major elements that is focused on during structural editing. It is evaluated to make sure it is free of inconsistencies, plot holes or incorrect facts. Additionally, revisions are done to make sure that the novel has a clear exposition, rising action, climax and resolution.

  • The exposition or the beginning introduces the major characters and establishes the tone and setting of the story. It normally details an incident that triggers the main action of the story.
  • The middle or rising action is when conflict and tension build. It also includes the climax where the tension is at its peak.
  • Finally, the end or resolution ties up any loose ends in the plot and provides closure. It is the aftermath of the climax and includes the falling action.


  1. Structure
  • Overall Structure –

It is key to analyse the overall structure of the novel. The editor must look for areas that can be improved—removed, restructured or revised— to improve the flow of the story. Likewise, the theme or central idea of the book should be consistent throughout. The editor, once again, must pinpoint sections that can have more emphasis concerning the theme.


  • Trim unnecessary parts –

From a structural perspective, the story can be broken down into smaller parts but they must serve a purpose. At this level of editing, any scenes that are deemed to be unnecessary or deviating from the main arc of the story must be removed. By structuring the story in this way, the readers can fully involve themselves in the novel.


  • Weightage

It is important to make sure that each is given the weightage it needs—not more, not less. The story must flow at a steady pace. But this doesn’t mean that the number of words allocated to each scene should be the same. Scenes of conflict or importance can take up more words, provided it doesn’t drag too much.


  1. Setting

Next, the editor must evaluate the setting of the story. It must be detailed in a way that provides the necessary context for the novel.

  • Descriptive details –

Essentially, details about the atmosphere or character must not be simply packed in a paragraph or two; they must be presented in a more strategic way that doesn’t make the readers confused. Similarly, dialogues also need to be written in a natural and comprehensive manner. These are fundamental in making the story resonate with the audience. 


  • Character development –

A good story is one where the audience can see gradual but prominent character development. The characters must be well-developed and their actions should match with their motivations. To make this process easier, a list can be made before writing providing a character sketch. It helps the writer be consistence and serves as a template for the editor.


  1. Sealing the story

Similar to how the beginning of a novel should be intriguing, the end must be satisfying. The novel can end with a cliff hanger. However, it must not seem incomplete. It is up to the author’s discretion to leave the story open-ended but doing so must serve a purpose and must not leave the audience unfulfilled. A great novel book will leave a lasting emotional impact on the readers, making them feel what the characters in the book are feeling.

After a structural edit, the editor will give their final evaluation and critique to help the author revise the manuscript. In conclusion, structural editing is an art that helps authors deliver what they wish to their audience. By paying meticulous attention to the details, an author can craft a novel that compels their audience to finish the book in a single sitting.


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