Thanks to modern technology, storytelling now comes in hundreds of formats. In this age of change, developmental editors are needed now more than ever to shape content creation.
Video games. TikTok. YouTube. Instagram. Twitter. Blogs. The world thrives on storytelling. This has been true since ancient times when people carved hieroglyphs into stone walls and spent months or years copying books line by line. These days, storytelling is as easy as logging into an app and typing a few words, taking a picture, or making a video. In fact, our methods of storytelling are more diverse than ever before. But how can we best use the storytelling formats available to us to tell our stories? This is where editors come in.
In her 2018 article, “The Role of the Developmental Editor in Emerging Forms of Narrative,” Stephanie Argy from Portland State University reports the results of her interviews with five people working in different areas of publishing. She found that these people focused on various parts of developmental editing, including structure, narrative, and language, and how they relate to new narrative formats.
Structure refers to the method of storytelling. Editors must help authors understand the possibilities available to them such as telling the story through unconventional formats like video games or testimonials, showing more information through additional features like interactive maps, or experimenting with different formats with mixed media.
Narrative refers to story building and development. Oftentimes, editors must ensure that nothing in the story is contradictory and that the story flows well, though they may have to allow for future users adding to the storyline (such as with spinoff stories). Still, they can work to maintain a cohesive universe for the story in which certain rules are enforced and cohesiveness is preserved. In other situations, editors help shape character development. This is the case for many video games, including Fortnite. Game designers and editors work to develop backstories for the characters people can play as. This is important because making the characters lovable keeps people coming back to the game.
Language refers to the actual writing and its form. When there are multiple authors contributing to a particular story, language is something that has to be edited and shaped to ensure consistency. Language can also refer to content that shapes the argument beyond writing, such as through videos, pictures, maps, and more. Editors can guide language in such a way that everything builds towards some greater message.
So what skills should editors develop to best work with diverse kinds of storytelling? First, Argy recommends becoming familiar with many types of content and the possibilities of content creation. Rather than focusing only on revision, consider exploring various creation processes and methods of storytelling. By exploring format possibilities, editors can help guide content creation and utilize the full range of possibilities for storytelling. Second, look for opportunities to apply skills in different contexts, and advocate for the relevance of editors in various settings. Although people working with less traditional narrative formats may not initially seek out an editor, they may quickly see the value of getting professional help in shaping their narrative.
Are editors only good for polishing books and magazines? Definitely not. As Argy states, “Whatever form or forms stories may take, the developmental editor will continue to be the person who asks thought-provoking questions and helps creators become better acquainted with their own work” (2018, 20). As long as society creates content, editors are needed to help shape content to realize the full potential of storytelling.
To find out more about developing forms of narrative, read the full article:
Argy, Stephanie. 2018. “The Role of the Developmental Editor in Emerging Forms of Narrative.” In Book Publishing Final Research Paper, pp. 34. https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/eng_bookpubpaper/34/
—Susanna Bergeson, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY MATILDA WORMWOOD
Find more research
To learn more about editing for video games, consider reading Toiya Kristen Finley’s 2019 article: “Yes, Videogames Need Story Editors!” In The Advanced Game Narrative Toolbox, 160–178. Edited by Tobias Heussner. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1201/9781351014397-12.
To discover more about how to develop your editing craft, read Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s 2017 article: “The Craft of Editing.” Ecotone 13, no. 1, (Fall/Winter):5–7. https://doi.org/10.1353/ect.2017.0036.
To find out more about how to best work with authors, read Erin Nightingale’s 2020 article: “The Key to Understanding Authors.” In Editing Research. https://editingresearch.byu.edu/2020/06/08/the-key-to-understanding-authors/.