Thursday, May 23, 2013

Query Tips: End With the Heart of the Conflict

What is the heart of the conflict in your book? What's truly at stake? It's bigger than just defeating the bad guy—there's the battle that your MC is facing within herself, the battle to become the heroine she is meant to be.

In my previous post, we discussed the MC's internal goal versus the external goal. I think the heart of the conflict, the true conflict, is usually found in the relationship between those two goals. The internal goal might be in direct conflict with the external goal, or perhaps the external goal simply doesn't help with the internal goal. Sometimes, they do go hand in hand, but not in the way the MC expects. Exploring this relationship is a strong way to end a query because it's often the very thing that motivates readers to keep reading the manuscript.

Let's return to our Harry Potter example from the previous query tips posts. Harry's internal goal is to find family. He actually has two external goals: a long term goal of defeating Voldemort, but a short term goal of discovering the mystery behind the three-headed dog. He suspects that the two external goals might be related when his lightning-shaped scar burns at various points.

But how do his external goals relate to his internal goal of finding family? For one thing, Harry has quickly realized that Hogwarts is a sort of family. Part of his motivation behind unraveling the mystery is simply to protect this school he's found a sense of belonging at. And as Harry works with Ron and Hermione to stop the villain, his two good friends become closer to him than any of his true family ever were.

Let's try to end with a statement of conflict that reflects these ideas:

When his lightning-shaped scar begins to burn, Harry wonders if he should heed the warning to keep his friends out of danger. But perhaps true friendship means they must risk everything together—including their lives—to keep their newfound home at Hogwarts safe.

Here I've tried to show the inherent conflict between his internal and external goals. To solve the mystery (external goal), Harry must risk his friends (internal goal). But if he backs off to keep his friends safe, he might end up losing Hogwarts and his new family anyway.  The only way he can actually keep Hogwarts safe is to work with his friends, which makes them even more tightly knit.

Now let's take a look at how the three sections from this HP example work together:

Eleven-year-old Harry Potter has been sleeping in a cupboard ever since he arrived on his relatives' doorstep as a baby with a scar on his tiny forehead. Although his aunt and uncle spoil their own son Dudley with thirty-seven presents on his birthday, Harry receives something far more special for his. A letter from a school called Hogwarts, claiming that Harry is a wizard.

The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry introduces Harry to a world of potions, magic wands, and quidditch, a sport played on flying broomsticks. But when Harry discovers a three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor in an area forbidden to students, he realizes that his teachers aren't telling him everything. Now Harry and his friends are determined to find out what might be valuable enough for such drastic security measures—and what it might have to do with a break-in at the wizard bank, a professor's mangled leg, and a troll set loose in the school.

When his lightning-shaped scar begins to burn, Harry wonders if he should heed the warning to keep his friends out of danger. But perhaps true friendship means they must risk everything together—including their lives—to keep their newfound home at Hogwarts safe.

This clocks in at 200 words. We've covered the major themes and conflict in Sorcerer's Stone, but left quite a bit of mystery. Notice we haven't mentioned Voldemort directly, but by including the scar in the first and third paragraph, we've brought everything full circle and indicated that there might be a connection between the three-headed guard dog's mystery and Harry's past. Again, we're teasing the reader.

There's no one formula to write a query—in fact some of the best ones break all of the rules. For HP, I think you could have written a query that focuses solely on the inciting incident, when Harry receives the letter.  Still, I hope these examples give you some ideas on how to break down the most compelling aspects of your book and have the agent or editor begging for more.

If you missed the previous examples, start with Step 1: Introduce Your Character With Subtext.

Or continue to Step 4: Polish With a Goal Toward Readability.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Query Critique Winners Announced!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my query critique giveaway! The three winners are...

Marlene M.! Zoƫ M.! And Heather D.!

Winners should have received an email from me.  If not, feel free to contact me via my contact form or tweet me @mayaprasadwrite.

To all of the other participants, I do hope that my query tip posts are helpful to you.  Go forth and query boldly.  Thanks again, everyone!

 

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

25 Ideas to Freshen Up That Query

Today, I'm guest posting over at kick-butt urban fantasy writer Tina Moss's blog.  I've got 25 ideas to help you freshen up your query and look at it from a whole new light.  Check it out!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Query Tips: Be A Tease Without Being Vague


So, you have a great plot twist in your novel.  How can you best utilize it to capture the agent's attention?  How can you frame the big secret so that she just has to read your book?

Let's continue with last week's Harry Potter example. What if our query read:

At Hogwarts, Harry enters a world of magic and mystery. When he and his friends discover a three-headed dog in a forbidden area of the castle, they realize that something strange is going on. It's up to the three of them to stop it.

While this might accurately describe the plot, it's also pretty vague and boring, right? We might as well have written “Harry discovers a shocking secret.”  Unfortunately, readers aren't going to take your word for it that your secret is shocking—you'll have to be a lot more specific than that to grab their attention.

But we don't want to give everything away either (um, spoiler alert in case anyone hasn't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone!):

At Hogwarts, Harry and his new friends discover a three-headed dog in a forbidden area of the castle. They soon realize the dog is really guarding the Sorcerer's Stone, which gives its bearer powers of immortality. When Professor Snape appears in class with mangled limbs, Harry suspects that the teacher was trying to steal the coveted stone. The kids decide to stop the scheming professor by going after it themselves, only to come face to face with Voldemort, the very wizard who murdered Harry's parents.

That reads a lot more like a synopsis than a query, don't you think? You don't have to reveal the ending to give away too much. By bringing in Voldemort and revealing that Snape wasn't the true threat, we've given away the major plot twists in the book. Instead, we just want to intrigue the agent or editor.

So how do you do be a tease without being completely vague in your query? Well, as you would in the novel itself, you should drop clues and use subtext to create suspense. Let's try it again, this time with specific clues but without giving away the twists.


The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry introduces Harry to a world of potions, magic wands, and quidditch, a sport played on flying broomsticks. But when Harry discovers a three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor in an area forbidden to students, he realizes that his teachers aren't telling him everything. Now Harry and his friends are determined to find out what might be valuable enough for such drastic security measures—and what it might have to do with a break-in at the wizard bank, a professor's mangled leg, and a troll set loose in the school.

Here I didn't even mention the Sorcerer's Stone.  Instead, I pointed out that a three-headed dog is a pretty drastic security measure, and left the object being protected to the reader's imagination.  I also included three clues that might be related to the mystery, but again without going into detail about how.  The connections are in the subtext -- our mind can put together that a dog might result in a mangled leg, for example. When you include clues like this, take care that the reader can make some mental connection between the clues and the mystery.  I added the first line about Hogwarts for setting purposes, because one of the things that makes HP so special is the backdrop of whimsical magic.

Hope those examples will help you balance the suspense and level of detail in your query!

If you missed the previous post, return to Step 1: Introduce Your Character With Subtext.

Or continue to Step 3: End With the Heart of the Conflict.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Query Tips: Introducing Your Character With Subtext


Why is your character the main character of your story? Why is he/she the person that can kill the bad guy, love this man, or overcome whatever your main obstacle is?

Very often, I see writers begin their queries with a statement about how ordinary their character is. I understand they want to make their character relatable and an “everyman.” However, your space is better utilized if you skip to the good stuff.

After all, your character is not truly an everyman. There is a reason why she is the protagonist of the story, why she is uniquely situated to overcome the conflict.  When you introduce your character in your query, try to hint at this. Also consider her internal goal. Regardless of whether your character even realizes what her internal goal is, there are probably things you can establish that will help the reader guess at it.

For example, we know that Harry Potter's internal goal is to find family, as evidenced by the Mirror of Erised. His external goal is to stop Voldemort, and he is uniquely situated to do it because a) he's a wizard and b) he's stopped Voldemort once before, as a baby.

Therefore, we might introduce him in our query like this:

Eleven-year-old Harry Potter has been sleeping in a cupboard ever since he arrived on his relatives' doorstep as a baby with a scar on his tiny forehead. Although his aunt and uncle spoil their own son Dudley with thirty-seven presents on his birthday, Harry receives something far more special for his. A letter from a school called Hogwarts, claiming that Harry is a wizard.

A lot of what we've included is subtext, something that tells the query reader that there is more afoot than what's on the surface. While we don't specifically call out that he longs for family, it's something you might guess at because he is an orphan and his aunt and uncle have him sleep in a cupboard while they spoil their own child. And although we don't yet state that he's stumped Voldemort before, we've established that baby Harry survived something that gave him his scar. Finally, when we mentioned the inciting incident, that Harry received the letter, we also introduced what makes him so special: he's a wizard.

With subtext, you can provide a sense of depth to your character that will hook the agent/editor you're querying.

What's special about your character?

Continue the example with Step 2: Being a Tease Without Being Vague.