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Monday, January 24, 2022

How I Write a Chapter-by-Chapter Document

Hi everyone! As most of you probably know, I work as a freelance editor. One type of editing I do is content (or developmental) editing. It's an edit that focuses on what the story is, and how the story itself can be made stronger--this means focusing on things like worldbuilding, characters, plot, structure, theme, etc. (In contrast, a line edit focuses on the way the story is told on a line-by-line level.)

Any content edit will include what's called an editorial or critique letter, which is what it sounds like. It's a feedback letter explaining the strengths and weaknesses of the story with some ideas of how to improve it. I already did a post on how I, personally, approach critique letters

And today I wanted to talk about another document I started adding to my content edits a few years ago. I call it a "chapter-by-chapter document" (yeah, I know, really clever name 😉). See, after a couple of years of freelancing, I started to feel like, for a lot of stories, a critique letter wasn't deep enough or specific enough.

Don't get me wrong--I've written some long critique letters (my longest was nearly 15k, though most are between 7k - 11k). As I tell my clients, they will be however long or short they need to be. 

But sometimes, I wanted something more specific to each chapter--and trying to give feedback on chapter after chapter in a critique letter, which focuses on overall, general, big picture things, gets elephantine pretty fast. At least for me.

So I started giving feedback on each chapter in a separate document, to include in the content edit, alongside the critique letter. That way, it's easier for me to talk about content more specifically--on a chapter level. I occasionally get questions about my chapter-by-chapter document, so figured I'd explain it a little more in a post (and eventually add a link to my editing services back to here, so people can read about it in more depth). 

The process is rather simple.

As I read the manuscript, I may occasionally leave content-related comments in the actual document. 

Then, at the end of each chapter, I write 1 - 3 paragraphs about my experience reading it. This, of course, includes giving feedback on the content. It's sort of a hybrid of a reader response and my editorial compliments and criticisms. I'll be honest, a lot of times, it's more than three paragraphs, but it of course depends on the story and what it needs. Sometimes it's just a few lines. Unlike my critique letter, I don't have any kind of evaluation questions or categories of feedback or anything like that. I just give whatever feedback my experience entailed. 

I also started adding a short summary of what happened in the chapter--this is written specifically for me, so I can look back and recall what happened when.

Here is a sample of what this all looks like:

Chapter Four

Summary: Amelia sits and thinks about her last dinner appointment. She meets up with Georgie, and they make preparations for their next job.

At first, I was a little unsure of the opening here. It started with a character just sitting and thinking—this is typically considered a no-no, because nothing is happening in the present. It doesn’t have immediacy or any action. After that, though, Amelia decided to meet with Georgie, and it all got better. I was glad to see them start taking significant actions toward the goal. Maybe cut the opening scene and get straight into them working together.

I really enjoyed spending time with Georgie and Amelia—their interactions were pretty entertaining. I liked that we are getting to learn about Amelia's family history, and I think this is a good spot in the story to do that. I also liked that there was kind of a sense of mystery with it.

Unfortunately, I feel like there isn't a strong enough reason for why Georgie and Amelia can't be together. What is keeping them apart? And what's at stake? I'd love to have that earlier in the story.

The length of the chapter-by-chapter document is not included in the length of the critique letter. These are two separate documents. I don't keep track of any word counts for my chapter-by-chapter documents, but you can plan on at least one paragraph per chapter. So, it usually ends up being longer than my critique letter. 

My content edits give you three types of feedback:

- small comments while I'm reading the document

- paragraphs of feedback after each chapter

- and a letter about the overall story after I've read the whole story

With all that said, I do cut the comments and the chapter-by-chapter document by request, but I generally recommend the writer gets at least the critique letter and chapter-by-chapter doc, because I always have chapter-level feedback to give. 

And that's it! Pretty simple, right? 

If you are interested in my services, you can learn more at


In Memoriam 

I was going to mention this last week, but didn't quite get myself together. As some of you may have seen, recently best-selling author and writing teacher David Farland passed away. And as some of you know, I worked for him at his house for over six years, before I started freelance editing. Dave had a gift for believing in others and always encouraged them to follow their dreams. I find peace in knowing he touched so many lives, and the lessons he taught me will live on through me as I teach other writers--will live on through all of us. His influence in the writing community will be felt through generations. I still remember what he said when I told him I was quitting to work for myself, he said it felt “like the end of an era”—because I had been there so long. Now I think a lot of us feel like it’s the end of another era.

To be frank, it has been hard for me. But I know it has been harder on his family. A GoFundMe has been set up on his behalf. Please consider visiting it here.

10 Years? 

Incidentally, I couldn’t remember the exact date I started working for him, and decided to dig up the first email; turns out it was exactly 10 years ago! That means today marks 10 years working in the industry! While there are some things I haven’t yet accomplished that I would like to, I’m proud of what I have done over the last decade—and I know the next decade will (probably) be even better! (And I guess that means later this year, this blog will turn 10 as well!) Thanks for sharing the journey with me—whether this is your first day here, or you were here since the first day. I hope you are finding success on your own journey. 

1 comment:

  1. I like your chapter analysis. That's a good way for me to check if I've established a goal and stakes in each chapter.


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