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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 8k - 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 FawkesEditing.com



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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