5 Unique Ways the Developmental Editing Process Differs for Fantasy Novels | UK Book Editor Explains
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Professional book editor in the UK reveals 5 unique ways that the developmental editing process differs with fantasy novels compared to other genres of fiction!
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Since working as a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK, I’ve worked with a large number of writers worldwide and gained experience editing a variety of genres, from romance and erotica to historical fiction, crime, and science fiction.
However, despite editing so many different genres and styles, fantasy will always be my favourite genre & specialty. Growing up with stories like the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and The Lord of the Rings has really helped me to escape from reality, and it’s always a joy to delve into a new magical world.
But during my time as a book editor, I’ve learnt that the developmental editing process in particular differs for fantasy novels more so than other genres. When I’m carrying out a developmental edit for other genres, I usually focus on the believability of the story, the length & structure of each chapter, the character development, the consistency throughout, the plot, the overall structure, and the subplots.
However, when I’m doing a developmental edit for a fantasy novel, the checklist is much longer and far more detailed.
Keep reading to discover the 5 additional areas that makes the developmental editing process different for fantasy novels!
1. The Magic System
In many fantasy novels, the characters can have various magical abilities and the story may be set in a magical kingdom or world, so a magic system automatically becomes a main part of the world-building process, even if the rules of the magic system are never fully explained to the reader.
While it may sound simple for writers to incorporate magic into their stories, there’s actually a lot of thought that goes into it just to ensure that everything’s consistent and clear with minimal plot holes. It’s not just about plonking a wizard or sorcerer into the narrative and hoping for the best, otherwise you risk your manuscript being hollow and reading like it’s underdeveloped.
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If I receive a fantasy manuscript that needs a developmental edit, there are a few questions I always ask throughout the process:
Are the characters born with natural magical abilities or do they need to learn magic as they grow up?
If they need to learn magic, how does this happen? (e.g., through a school, from their parents, simply with practise on their own?)
Who can use magic? Everyone or just some of the characters?
How do the characters perform magic? (e.g., bare hands, a wand, a staff, voice commands?)
Are there any restrictions on which spells or incantations can be cast?
What activities require the characters to use their magical abilities? Can magic solve their problems?
Is there anything magic can’t do? (e.g., kill people, force love, control other characters etc?)
How long do spells, incantations, and curses last?
Are there any laws and regulations around magic? Is there a government or monarchy that controls the legalities of magic?
Is magic accepted in society? If yes/no, why? If yes/no, what are the consequences of being or not being magical?
Is there some kind of dark lord or main villain who threatens to destroy the world? If so, how do they use magic differently to the innocent characters?
Aside from these questions, the magic system must always be consistent and adhere to its own logic, otherwise the writer has a lot to rewrite and fix, so I always look out for any inconsistencies that may lead to plot holes and readers asking questions.
For example, if a group of magical characters are able to teleport away from danger in a previous scene, but in a future scene, the villain corners them with no chance of escape, I’ll likely flag this up as an inconsistency that defies the logic of their magic system. As the characters are able to teleport in the scene before, what stops them from doing so in the new scene?
It may just be a case of explaining that teleportation needs a certain amount of time to recharge, and this particular issue would be fixed.
2. Fantasy Creatures
Creating a brand-new race of creatures for a fantasy novel can be tricky, and it’s so easy to just focus on their physical appearance, but many fantasy writers love to create their own species.
However, although it’s fun to create an entire race of creatures for your story, there are many questions that often need to be asked regarding their development during the developmental editing process.
For example, here is a list of questions I may ask when editing a fantasy novel that includes a unique race of creatures.
Will the reader instantly know which classification of animal each creature resembles? (e.g., mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians?)
Do they have their own language?
Where do they live? What’s the climate like in their world?
Are they a dominant or submissive race in society? What societal class are they in?
Is everyone equal in their society? If not, why?
What’s their main flaw as a race? (e.g., greed, corruptible, selfishness?)
What’s their main strength as a race? (e.g., compassionate, brave, loyal?)
Are they religious? If so, do they worship one main god or several like the Ancient Greeks? What happens to the ones who don’t worship?
How do they think the universe began?
What’s happened in their history? Which events should always be remembered?
How do they keep their world operating smoothly? (e.g., money?)
Is there a government or monarchy that controls their world?
What’s the main transportation system?
What food do they eat? What liquids do they drink?
How long do they live?
How do they measure time? With clocks & watches? The sun & moon?
How many days in their year?
This list of questions may seem extensive, but if a story is written well, it doesn’t have to be too difficult to include all the information. However, it’s important for writers to remember that info-dumping isn’t the way to do it.
For example, instead of telling the reader in a lengthy paragraph of exposition that male and female creatures aren’t equal for whatever reason, it would be better to include a scene that shows the inequality between the sexes. Rather than detailing their religious history through extensive narration, show the creatures worshiping their gods, making sacrifices to their deities, or attending churches to pray. And instead of writing lengthy prose about the government that rules the kingdom, perhaps the characters or creatures have a negative experience with the officials during the story.
These are just a few examples of how to delve into a fantasy world with unique creatures, but the most important thing to remember is: show, not tell.
3. Fantasy Setting
More times than not, it’s difficult to write a believable fantasy novel without a fantasy setting, even if the story is set in our world, so when I carry out a developmental edit for a fantasy novel, I’m always paying attention to the writer’s setting, especially if they’re writing high fantasy.
Here is another list of questions I consider when focusing on the writer’s fantasy world:
Will the readers instantly know whether the setting is in our world or a completely new one?
If they’re writing high fantasy, is their setting fully-developed like our world? Has the writer given the world a unique race of people, a society, cities & towns, transportation, governments or monarchies, careers & jobs, religions & faith?
Will the audience find it easy to imagine the setting? (e.g., most Tolkien fans can immediately envision Hobbiton and Mordor, and most Potterheads can imagine Hogwarts.)
If they’re writing low or urban fantasy, have they made it believable that magical people or fantastical beings have inhabited our world?
What’s the atmosphere like in each different setting? Does each setting have a distinct vibe (e.g., Hobbiton vs Mordor) or do they all merge into one and need more development?
Do diverse types of people or races inhabit different areas of the fantasy world? If so, does it make sense and work with the story? If not, would the story work better if each race were separated into different areas? (e.g., Hobbits in The Shire, Elves in Rivendell and Mirkwood, Men in Gondor, Dwarves in Erebor and Orcs in Mordor.)
4. Separating the Fantasy from the Mundane
The exciting part about writing a fantasy novel is that the writer gets to delve into their own magical creation and build it into a believable world for their readers...who wouldn't want that?
But at the same time, some writers get ahead of themselves and end up explaining everything, believing that their audience will want to know every minute detail because it's a world different to ours.
However, it's my job as a developmental editor to separate the sections better left out and the parts that should remain.
For example, if you're writing a romance novel set in our reality; perhaps London, you wouldn't need to describe your protagonist's morning routine, their journey to work, or the pleasantries they have with other characters, because...well, it's boring for your readers. They want to get into the action and learn more about your characters.
It's the same with fantasy novels. Just because you may have written a high fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom from your imagination, it doesn't mean that your readers will want to know every detail, such as morning routines, lengthy journeys full of fluff, or every single greeting or pleasantry in the manuscript.
It's easy to believe that your fantasy novel needs to be as detailed as possible, but really, is an elf's morning routine so different from ours that it needs to be explained? Do faeries or pixies greet each other in such a unique way that you need to describe their every pleasantry?
By all means, if your imaginary reptilian race shed their skin each morning as a way of freshening up, then show that. If your elven race always greets each other in their native tongue, show that. And if the goblin enemies in your novel sleep with their eyes wide open, show that.
But only show these things once.
If mundane activities, such as morning routines and greetings, are done differently in your fantasy novel, absolutely show your characters doing them once to help your audience get a clear insight into the world you've created, but only once. Your readers don't need to read about these things in every chapter.
So, although I would technically treat a fantasy novel like any other genre regarding mundane activities, the developmental editing process differs because of the fantasy genre - us editors have to be more careful when assessing which mundane scenes would be better cut and which ones should be banished forever!
As you may know, fantasy novels are usually longer than other genres, with the exception of science fiction, so developmental editors are often more lenient with advice about cutting the word count.
However, it's important to remember that developmental editors will only be lenient with a lengthy word count to a certain extent. For instance, if you have a manuscript that's over 150,000 words, your developmental editor will likely advise that you cut various scenes to reduce your manuscript's length.
But why does a fantasy novel need to be less than 150,000 words?
It depends whether you want to get a literary agent or self-publish your book.
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Many literary agents are unlikely to accept a fantasy manuscript over 120k - 150k for a number of reasons:
It's more expensive to edit and publish a lengthier novel, so most agents would prefer a shorter fantasy novel to represent.
Some literary agents may worry that a fantasy novel over 120k - 150k words will be full of fluff or unnecessary scenes, therefore giving them more work to do and more money to spend.
Unless an author is already established with a large fan base, many readers may feel intimidated by a thick fantasy novel on a shelf or online that's been written by a new author.
Point three also rings true if you self-publish your fantasy novel. Many readers are sceptical enough about reading indie books, let alone a really lengthy fantasy novel by an indie author they don't know. Plus, they may have the same preconceptions as a literary agent: is the lengthy word count full of ramble?
As a developmental editor, it's my job to help fantasy writers like you to reduce your lengthy word count and stay within the expectations for fantasy novels. Although all novels need to meet word count guidelines, fantasy books can sometimes be trickier to reduce.
So, there we have it – five ways the developmental editing process differs for fantasy novels! As mentioned above, fantasy is my favourite genre and one I specialise in, so if you have a magical manuscript that needs a thorough developmental edit, I would love to work with you! Click here to send me a message if you're ready for a developmental edit!
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!