October 5, 2013 by Ifeoma Dennis
Okay, I’ll answer one question first.
Why do I bother about queries when I’ve not even started writing the second draft of my WIP? This post (and the link in it) should explain it.
So now I’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you what my lovely (younger) sister taught me about queries, and why she is super-brilliant. I mean, not that I’ve ever thought less of her. She always gets great grades in her med school and to be honest, I think she’s more brilliant than I am. But let’s not go into this aspect today, okay?
So what I did was- a few days back, I sent her two queries
because that’s what daydreams make you do and asked her which she would buy in a bookstore if she read it as a blurb. And she picked #1. But her very words were more like, “I think I’ll go with #1.”
It was a vague reply and it either meant:
a. My queries were so good she didn’t know which to choose.
Because I’m Miss Optimistic. 😀
b. My queries were so bad, she chose the better of two evils.
Not satisfied, I sent her another email asking her to tell me what she liked/didn’t like in both queries. What made her pick #1.
And this morning, she sent me her reply. Except it wasn’t what I was expecting.
My sister actually sat down to write another query for me. Which is a big deal for just…so many reasons. She combined the elements of both queries that she liked. Although her query wasn’t voice-y, she did it so I could have an idea of what could work.
And this was one thing I noticed:
She didn’t really change the whole query. No. She didn’t.
But she did take the hook of query #2 and made it the hook of my first query. And tinkered with some other sentences.
In summary, here are five things I learnt from her:
1. Introduce your main character(s) first.
I started with the concept of my fantasy novel before introducing my character. Not that it doesn’t work sometimes, but I didn’t do mine well. Let’s look at Divergent’s blurb for example (US Kindle edition). It starts with-
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).
There’s definitely some world building there, but notice Beatrice Prior is mentioned first.
I was convincing myself with Hunger Games (UK paperback edition 2009), which its blurb begins with-
Winning Will Make You Famous. Losing Means Certain Death. (Tagline).
In a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live TV show called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: Kill or be killed. (Hook)
When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place…
Which shows it works, although when I checked it on Amazon UK, the blurb there was this-
“Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before-and survival, for her, is second nature… ”
So any could work if you can do it well (and if the worldbuilding is limited to two or less sentences) but apparently, it seems I do it better mentioning my character in the first sentence instead of in the second paragraph, and putting her right there in the middle of the world set-up.
2. Stick To Your Point-Of-View Character.
In my book, my character and her group are waiting for something to happen. It’s part of the set-up. Mentioning she’s waiting for it with the other characters confused my sister a bit—especially when I’m not featuring the Points-Of-View of other characters, so it’s better to just leave it at my protagonist is waiting for something.
3. Stick to One Major Conflict.
Similar to the above point. There are a lot of things going on in my novel, and actually TWO major conflicts if I really look at it- the visible conflict and the underlying conflict. But instead of trying to bring all of them together (so it could look full of twists and turns), I left it at my visible conflict. Because that’s what visible to my protagonist too. And it’s easier to follow.
And yes, I might blow my trumpet a little bit here, but I think my visible conflict is interesting too
4. Don’t connect two sentences/situations if they don’t have any bearing to each other.
For example, this was taken straight out of my query #2 with some elements removed-
Protagonist is blessed with XXX and as she soon discovers, cursed with TTT.
My sister found it confusing- was it XXX that brought about TTT?
No, it wasn’t. TTT came along on its own. Anyway, I ended up deleting this sentence out of the newest version of my query and rephrasing it entirely.
5. No need for redundancy.
Yes, I made a very redundant statement in my query. I’ll give you a sentence to demonstrate what it looked like (because I’m avoiding spoilers)
_ “When she sees new bald patches on her head…”
Of course, the only body part that goes bald is the head!
Have I mentioned my sister is super brilliant?
Disclaimer: This is by no means professional advice. Use at your own discretion. 😀