Piecemeal Editing, (or), How I’ve Been Spending My Time As of Late

missing-puzzle-pieceOne of the biggest editing problems for a novel-length manuscript is how to deal with making changes on reoccurring issues while maintaining continuity.

My answer – piecemeal editing.

What Is It?

While you will have errors-a-plenty on your first draft, by the second or third draft you should only have a certain amount of issues to fix. Therefore, if you only have a given number of issues, then you’re not editing the entire manuscript. Your only fixing small pieces, hence the piecemeal mentality.

***Please note that by issues I mean elements like character development, continuity, story arc, climax, clue dropping, and conclusions. I’m not talking about grammar problems or typos – save those issues for the line edit of your final FINAL draft.***

Steps for Conducting a Successful Piecemeal Edit

You might be thinking that fixing smaller pieces will make everything easier. After all, handling small chunks of your manuscript is far more manageable than tackling the entire beast. Unfortunately, your story doesn’t exist as a bunch of separate small pieces, it exists as a whole, and this is where piecemeal editing gets tricky.

How do you possibly tweak and change small parts without ruining the entire manuscript?

Step #1 Identify Your Problem Areas

If you have a reader, this process is way easier. If you are your only reader, then you’re going to have to give yourself some time to forget the manuscript you wrote and come back to it with fresh eyes. Ultimately, you want a list of ALL your major issues. Some of those issues may include:

  • Unclear character motivations
  • Character descriptions/mannerisms not consistently displayed
  • Not enough clues/clues don’t make sense
  • Reveal moments are too obvious or way out in left field
  • Too much info not essential to plot

Step #2 Break up Your Pieces

Some issues are super specific, but others are more general. When it comes to piecemeal editing, you really need bite-sized pieces you can handle. Read through your list of issues and find ways to break down those general issues into smaller pieces. For example, if you’re having problems with character descriptions, is that for all characters or only a few? If you are only missing details for a few characters, write out those character names. You want your list of issues to be precise, so you can focus on one small issue at a time.

Step #3 Find and Fix All the Way Through

findIf you have never used the find feature on your word processing program, now is the time. For those using Word, type Ctrl+F to bring up a menu on the left side of your screen. In that menu will be a blank space to enter words or phrases. Once you enter the information, the program will search through your manuscript and find every time you use that specific word or phrase. This makes it super simple to find character/group names quickly.

Now – take your list and work through one problem at a time.

Be warned, though, that whatever you change in one part of your manuscript will ripple out to other areas. So use the find feature to locate every time a specific person or incident is mentioned.

If you need to change a character’s mannerisms, for instance, use the find feature to locate the character’s name, then identify the establishing incident of the mannerism. Next, find every time in your manuscript that the character is mentioned. Obviously, you will NOT need to remind your reader about the mannerism every time you mention the character’s name, but it is something you will need to remind your reader about every so often. Thus, using the find feature lets you jump around quickly so that you can space out how often you mention this information.

This step will take you the longest to complete, because you have to repeat the process for every item on your list. Additionally, if you don’t know which words or phrases to look for, the find feature won’t be very helpful. For the items on your list that cannot be easily found, try to fix them as best you can, but circle those items on your list instead of crossing them off. Circling them implies that you have addressed the issue, but there may be a few spots that need more changes, which is what the next step is all about.

Step #4 Final Read Through

Give yourself some time between the piecemeal editing of step #3 and this final step – you want to be as objective as possible for this final read through. As you read over your manuscript, keep your list of issues nearby. Remind yourself every so often about the circled areas. If you come across one of those circled issues that has not been fixed, fix it and move on.

Sometimes fixing requires changing stuff from earlier on, so do what you have to do. When you do go backwards to make changes, start your reading from that earlier point. You may have to make further adjustments that you didn’t think about.

After you go through your entire manuscript and address all your issues, give it back to your readers to see if everything works out. Once they give it the green light, hand it over to your line editor and get ready for the publication formatting process.


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