Thursday, April 8, 2010

Your Query at 30,000 Feet

To continue our topic of yesterday, I wanted to offer you a little writing exercise that will incorporate the Hero's Journey and your query letter. As we know, query letters are one of the hardest projects to tackle. Many times we are so interested in giving the agent the entire plot that we include a lot of unnecessary information and actually fail to capture the real story. Getting mired in the minutia, trying to reveal all the sub-plots and all the characters and their relationships, isn't the direction your query needs to take. Your query may be more effective in getting an agent's attention if you step back and take a look at it from a 30,000-foot level.

So here's the exercise: Think about your story and condense it to four sentences. This isn't going to be easy, but it will help you condense the story to its bare essence, and it may prove valuable as a starting point when you write (rewrite?) your query. The sentences should include:

1. ORPHAN: Who is the main character and what happens to toss them into a new situation? Examples: With Dorothy it was the tornado that landed her in a whole new world. In The Hunger Games, it was the reaping that placed Katniss in a new situation. What happens in your story that changes the playing field?

2. WANDERER: What does your character do once their lives change? (Bilbo Baggins sets off on a journey to find the ring. Coraline goes through the door in search of her missing parents. Etc.)

3. WARRIOR: Who or what is the character fighting? What is at stake? How are they planning on changing the situation? What happens if they don't?

4. MARTYR: What does the character have to do to make things right. What sacrifice will they have to make in order to fix everything?

If you'd like to leave a comment with your four sentences, feel free to do so. Then others can comment as well and perhaps add some additional insight. Have fun!


  1. Here goes:

    Mistakes were made. And there was a price to be paid. Travis Mayes lost both the love of his life and the driving courage that made him more than a cop—it made him a hero. Now, haunted by the past and his unshakable reputation for solving the impossible, Travis Mayes is once more called upon to serve and protect as a killer forces him to decide between his own survival and the life of the woman he's beginning to love.

  2. Cool post... I like your approach. Now I must get to a desk and see if I can't apply it.

  3. I've never thought of it this way. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Ok, so have a little respect for someone who'll be flying all day tomorrow and don't do some one-hour window like the last contest I entered (and got to make a partial sub from! yay me!)

    Wait for me to get back to the states, and your reward will be, um, well, my gratitude? Hey, it's not worth much, but it's rare! ;-)

    Four sentences, eh? Like this?

    Marine Aviator Derrick Hutchinson needs everything and everyone he’s made of to survive stopping the best-concealed terrorist attack ever, but today, he’s distracted. He’s forgotten something: the worthless heirloom at the heart of a terrible, beautiful family secret that lay buried beneath overgrown emotional rubble since World War Two: A Silver Ring.

    Derrick’s the fourth Hutchinson to leave A Silver Ring behind before a flight.

    He knows, because the first three never made it back.

  5. Thanks for all the comments. You've all done a great job of distilling it down to the essence. Keep in mind, this is your starting point. You can flesh it out a bit and provide some additional info. The whole idea is to include: 1)what's the problem 2)how will the main character solve it 3)what's stopping him/her, and 4)what's at stake if the problem isn't resolved.

    You've got the skeleton assembled. Now add some muscle and blow the breath of life into it.

    Hope that's helpful.

  6. Fantastic post!!!!!! Thanks for the insight!


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