Using global queries for recurring developmental problems

For problems that recur throughout a series of paragraphs, a scene, a chapter, or an entire ms, developmental editors will sometimes use a shortcut: “You do a lot of info-dumping throughout; I recommend cutting it back.” The problem with this approach is that if the author could identify where the info-dumping is occurring, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. The author needs more guidance.

Conversely, in an attempt to provide this guidance, editors sometimes provide a full description of the problem each time they encounter it. So, on page 1 they write a query that says, “The highlighted paragraph is an example of info-dumping, that is, providing more information than the reader needs to understand what’s happening. The problem with info-dumping is that it slows down the pacing of the story, interferes with the forward action, and risks losing the reader’s engagement. I recommend deleting this paragraph.”

That’s a perfectly good query. But then the editor uses a similar one on page 2 and on page 3, three similar queries on page 4, and two on page 5.

This isn’t necessary.

I often use a global query that says what the overall problem is, why it’s a problem, and how the author can fix it. Then I refer back to that query when I encounter more examples of the same problem. Using a global query means I don’t have to repeat myself as much and the author doesn’t have to feel like I’m hammering them over the head with the problem – but I’m still doing my job.

A Global Query Example

Here’s an example of how I might phrase such a query:

“AU: Here and throughout, there’s a fair amount of unnecessary exposition – that is,  more information than the reader needs to understand what’s happening. This is often referred to as info-dumping. The problem with info-dumping is that it slows down the pacing of the story, interferes with the forward action, and risks losing the reader’s engagement. I’ve highlighted areas that can be deleted without affecting the overall story.”

Then, when the author encounters highlighted areas, they know this is info-dumping and can be deleted.

Some Caveats to This Approach

When using a global query:

  • If I think a particular bit of info-dumping doesn’t need to be deleted but needs to be placed elsewhere in the story or integrated differently, I’ll write a new query that says that. You can extrapolate this to mean that if any instance of a recurring problem requires a different solution from the one provided in the global query, you should write a new query regarding that particular instance. This is a good opportunity to educate the author: why is this instance of the problem treated differently from the others?
  • If it’s been a while (ten or so pages) since the last instance of the problem, I will remind the author about what the highlighting means (“As above, unnecessary exposition here. Consider deleting.”) I don’t need a full explanatory query, just a reminder.
  • If there is more than one recurring problem, do not try to color-code your edit (“blue highlights are for info-dumping and yellow highlights are for head-hopping.”) The author should not need a decoder ring to understand your edit. If there is more than one recurring problem, use highlighting for one and some other solution for the other. For example, in the info-dumping and head-hopping example above, highlighting could be used to identify the info-dumping, and line edits could be used to help the author see how to correct the head-hopping. In such an instance, you could use a global query to describe the head-hopping once overall and then use brief queries elsewhere in the ms (“As above, the editied section contains head-hopping. Edit OK?”)

The global query is placed where you first encounter the problem. You fully explain the problem and how it affects several paragraphs/chapters/whatever is true. Don’t worry if this query becomes lengthy. Unlike CEs, DEs don’t get brownie points for concise queries. We don’t need to belabor them but we do need to provide enough information for the author to understand what the problem is and to have a clear handle on how to fix it.

I generally use the phrase “global query” to refer to a recurring problem. For an overall query that summarizes the collected problems in a scene or chapter, you can use a general query, which we might call an overview or overall query: “AU: This chapter introduces us to Sweetie Pie, that adorable scamp, but nothing of consequence happens and the reason why Marcel takes such a dislike to SP is unclear. To solve these problems, I suggest . . . .”

I always place such queries where the author needs to encounter them in the revision process (for example, at the start of the scene that needs a rewrite) so that the problems don’t come as a surprise.


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