If you've ever started poking into online information about editing, you've likely discovered that the job descriptions for editor are myriad, and they differ from situation to situation. Some make sure all the content lines up and the plot works; some ensure that all the commas are in the right places. Some verify your data, while others make sure you're suitable for publication.
But when you get right down to it, there are only 2 types of editors:
- "Big-picture" editors who focus more on the forest than on the trees.
- "Little-picture" editors who focus more on the trees than on the forest.
Content editors, for example, are the first type. This is also the type of feedback you usually want from a beta reader. Does this plot work?
Line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders are the second type. The technical aspects are their forte. Are my mechanics right?
A good editor of any type will have crossover in what they see, like a copyeditor who catches that your villain speaks like the heroine in one scene. That's a detail catch, but it's based on the big-picture analysis of who your characters are. The content editor who says you should study dialogue tags is catching a little-picture issue.
But every type of editing is skewed towards the forest or the trees. The skew might be slight, but it'll be there.
Acquisitions editors, for example. Acquisitions editors often don't edit at all but just make executive decisions about acquisition. They can lean either way. Both sides of editing will usually be important to them, because they're trying to find a piece to accept. They ideally want to find something that'll fit their publication or company as-is.
But what if an acquisitions editor needs a piece, nothing in the slush pile is ideal, and the choice is down to two pieces? One that's a little weak on the plot (forest) but that she couldn't put down for the beautiful prose and grammar (trees), and another that's missing a comma or two (trees) but that she couldn't put down for the compelling story (forest)?
Some acquisitions editors will prefer one, some the other. That's to be expected.
Because editors aren't the only ones like this. Some folks enjoy a movie or a story as a whole, while others enjoy them for the details.
Consider your average book review that's left on Amazon, which answers "Did you enjoy this story?"
A big-picture answer could be "I loved how Joe Blue always made lemonade from his lemons!" or "Suzie Maye was so annoying, but I couldn't help but love her anyway!"
A little-picture answer might be "I loved the poem headings to every chapter" or "That scene where Joe had to fish Suzie Maye from the semi filled with whipped cream made me cry!"
Neither type of enjoyment is better than the other. They're examples of how we're all different.
It probably doesn't surprise any of you to know that I (a proofreader/copyeditor) am a "tree" person. Sudoku's a breeze for me, and checkers isn't too hard, but chess? Eeek. So much to keep track of and analyze! (Interestingly enough, as I've gotten better at analyzing the "big picture" for stories and my own writing, I've gotten better at chess, too.)
What about you? Do you tend to analyze and enjoy things on a "little-picture" level or a "big-picture" level?