Big-Picture vs. Small-Picture Edits [Editing 101]

big pic edits

Welcome to Part 2 of our Editing 101 series that we’re launching on our blog for the week! Today we’re discussing the difference between big-picture and small-picture edits. The way we usually go about describing the difference between the two is by using a ‘house’ metaphor.

The ‘big-picture’ edits are the foundation of the house–the cement, the bricks, anything that constitutes the wider, overall scope of the home. Just like construction workers, writers begin with the basis–with the foundation–of the novel, and work their way up from there. They need to begin with the larger structure: the plot, namely, followed by setting, characters, etc. Once the ‘house’ (aka novel) is built, you can then begin focusing on ‘small-picture’ edits. These edits come once the novel has been edited thoroughly for the bigger stuff (i.e., plot, voice, etc.); now, the construction workers are gone, and the home-owners can begin to think of things like: What colour will the garage be? What colour will the curtains be? For writers, this would translate to things like: Am I using the correct tense consistently? Are there too many adverbs? Am I too descriptive or not descriptive enough? These are smaller things–though important things–to look out for in your manuscript.

You may notice, too, in your smaller-picture edits, that you’re using too many unnecessary dialogue tags (i.e., “he said” or “she said.”) Sometimes it’s not the dialogue tag that’s the problem, but rather, that you’re using the wrong tag in the first place. Did he exclaim his point? Or did he ask his point? Most of the time, it’s best to just use the word “said” if anything at all, because the word “said” is considered “invisible.” A lot of the time, readers skip over the word “said” as if it doesn’t exist. It serves to only show the reader which character is speaking.

It’s important to not write a first draft focusing on the small-picture edits (like the dialogue tags, adverb choice, etc.) because most of the time, that first draft is cry-worthy and will inevitably change. You might not think so when you’ve finished it, but something important every writer should do before the editing stage is to let the book sitIf you let the book sit, you’re going to find SO many more errors than you would have if you didn’t. Often, in an edit letter, these bigger picture edits are the focus. Your editor would point out what’s not working plot- or character-wise, because those are paramount choices to your manuscript; adverb choice won’t kill your manuscript, though it’s something to look out for!

Any dedicated writer will let their book sit a while before they dig back into the “writing hole” (aka the cave–or office–writers work in with only a cup of coffee and a fandom-esque T-shirt to survive). So if you’re an aspiring author, remember: Editing is one of the most important things you can do after you write your novel. First, let it sit. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes and work you way through those big-picture and small-picture edits! We can guarantee you that your manuscript (and future beta readers!) will thank you for it.

Thanks for reading Part 2 of our Editing 101 series, and until next time,


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