Friday, January 18, 2013

Editing and jigsaw puzzles

A while ago, I read a book that brought home to me the difference between global editing and line editing, and reminded me of the importance of the former.

The book was well done at the line-edit level: a couple of typos, but nothing serious. At the sentence level, the book was coherent, neat, and professional.

But when I looked at the book as a whole, I could see problems with pacing and the building of the general plot arc. There were also many threads left hanging: Subplots that weren't developed. Intriguing themes that were introduced, but never reappeared, never became integrated into the main story. A lack of smooth transitions, a sense of disconnection between chapters. Even though the story was fascinating, it left me with a dissatisfaction that took me a while to understand. And then I realized it was this lack at the global level.

A well-edited novel is like a completed jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces interlock perfectly. Every piece fits, and no piece is left over. You can admire the whole image, or lift out a piece at a time to examine it. The book I'm thinking of had missing pieces, extra pieces, and places where the pieces didn't fit exactly. There were enough pieces so that I could see a picture, which was satisfying, but the gaps and asymmetry bothered me.

When editing is done well, it's invisible and thus difficult to appreciate--invisibility being inherent in seamlessness. A good story transports the reader so thoroughly that the machinery goes unnoticed.


  1. Excellent analogy. AND I'm a big fan of jigsaw puzzles. ^_^

    1. I am too, though I haven't done one in a while.