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View Full Version : Is a query letter all about character or all about story?



Kado
12-13-2011, 05:56 PM
I've been devouring all the stickies and reading all the threads and advice I can get my hands on in AW's Query Letter Hell. I'm having a go at critiquing queries too.

What's confusing me now is this: is a query letter all about character or is it all about story?

I ask this because it wouldn't be a stretch to say that nearly every query thread I've read features at least one person who says, 'I don't care enough about your MC,' or 'Make me care about your MC,' or 'You're not doing enough to connect us with your MC.'

I was under the impression that the query (as opposed to synopsis) is all about getting the agent to care about your story, to see a really great plot or idea. Don't get me wrong, I know you need to mention your character, obviously. But I wonder if it's even possible for anyone to care about a character in 150/250 words?

Would appreciate any advice on this.

P.S. sorry if this is in the wrong section. Didn't want to put it in Query Letter Hell as it's not a query.

Theo81
12-13-2011, 06:08 PM
I think it's about the story, but it's told via the character.


You could say: Clive's wife is kidnapped. If he doesn't get his finger out and find her, all he'll have are her Fed Exed body parts for company.
That's the story.

Or you could say: Clive's wife is kidnapped a week before their Ruby wedding anniversary and his worst fears are realised when her ear arrives in the post. A week later it's her hand. Then her nose.

That's the story told via the character because we see what happens as it affects him - hopefully we get the beat and inexorability of these weekly parcels and, because of the anniversary reference, we have a mental picture of this old guy and the wife he's been with forever.

Think of it as writing your Q in limited rather than omniscient POV.

MokoBunny
12-13-2011, 08:44 PM
Who's your main character, what's the conflict, what do they intend to do about it?

It's your MC's journey through the story if that makes sense lol? Actually I have no idea XD

Drachen Jager
12-13-2011, 09:49 PM
There can be no story without character and no character without story. The two are intertwined.

Your query letter must do a few things.

1) Impress with your writing skills.

2) Intrigue the reader into wanting to know more.

3) Demonstrate that you know the market and have written a commercially viable manuscript.

If you can do those three things you're in.

By the last, if you're wondering I mean hitting the right tone for your chosen segment, if you had graphic sex in a middle-grade novel for instance, it would be an obvious red flag, but many things are less obvious, word count, subject matter etc. all need to hit the mark. It really doesn't matter much how good the writing is if your manuscript won't resonate with your market.

Little Ming
12-13-2011, 11:39 PM
I've been devouring all the stickies and reading all the threads and advice I can get my hands on in AW's Query Letter Hell. I'm having a go at critiquing queries too.

What's confusing me now is this: is a query letter all about character or is it all about story? Both. How can you have one without the other? One might be slightly more important than the other, it is not "all" one or the other.

I ask this because it wouldn't be a stretch to say that nearly every query thread I've read features at least one person who says, 'I don't care enough about your MC,' or 'Make me care about your MC,' or 'You're not doing enough to connect us with your MC.'

This sounds like me. It's more like "Make me care what happens to the MC." The "what happens" part is story. So, you see, it's both. The character needs to be developed enough that I care what happens to him in the story.

I was under the impression that the query (as opposed to synopsis) is all about getting the agent to care about your story, and character to see a really great plot or idea. Don't get me wrong, I know you need to mention your character, obviously. But I wonder if it's even possible for anyone to care about a character in 150/250 words? Not care, as in deep emotional attachment (which might not even be accomplished in a full length book :tongue ), just care enough to want to know what will happen to the MC.

Would appreciate any advice on this.

P.S. sorry if this is in the wrong section. Didn't want to put it in Query Letter Hell as it's not a query.

Might also depend on genre. You probably need to care a lot more about the characters in, say, a memoir or a literary novel. But you might need to concentrate more on story for a thriller or mystery. But you still need both character and story.

Jamesaritchie
12-14-2011, 02:10 AM
It's about both, but mostly it's about showing an agent or editor how well you can write, and making her want to read more, just as the synopsis on the dust jacket of a published novel makes the reader want to read more. It's character, it's story, it's good use of language.

Nowhere is show, don't tell more important.

Kado
12-14-2011, 12:08 PM
Ah, thanks guys. I was just getting confused with the references to making the reader care about the MC in a query and the emphasis on character that I quite often see, but Little Ming has cleared that one up. Thanks again.

gothicangel
12-14-2011, 01:18 PM
Both.

I'm preparing a submission for a top agent at the moment, and Googled him for interviews. One interview he stated that he wanted to see a strong character, with a strong plot in the query/synopsis.

Domino Derval
12-14-2011, 10:13 PM
To be fair, most advice I've seen, from respected blogs like Miss Snark or Query Shark, to author success stories, to the advice I got for my own bloated query here, seems to favor reporting the plot in a sequential, logical way. Only when that is done should you worry about character and voice.

On average that is.

Namatu
12-14-2011, 10:31 PM
A query letter is about marketing.

You're marketing your book, trying to sell it to the agent. Your tools to do this are both the character and the story.

The query needs to show a character with something to lose and make the reader invested in the outcome. The MC is engaged, an active participant in the plot. The stakes are clearly noted (MC will die, world will end, etc.). If you bullet point these out, they're cold facts. If you present them from the point of view of your MC, they become personal. Personal, with dire consequences of failure, can hook interest, and that can sell enough to an agent to want to see more.

It needs to make sense.

It needs to be engaging.

It needs to capture the heart of what your story's about, not get dragged down into all the details - but still provide enough detail to effectively highlight/enhance the MC/story. That's a difficult balance between the too vague and the too detailed.

quicklime
12-14-2011, 11:01 PM
I've been devouring all the stickies and reading all the threads and advice I can get my hands on in AW's Query Letter Hell. I'm having a go at critiquing queries too.

What's confusing me now is this: is a query letter all about character or is it all about story?

I ask this because it wouldn't be a stretch to say that nearly every query thread I've read features at least one person who says, 'I don't care enough about your MC,' or 'Make me care about your MC,' or 'You're not doing enough to connect us with your MC.'

I was under the impression that the query (as opposed to synopsis) is all about getting the agent to care about your story, to see a really great plot or idea. Don't get me wrong, I know you need to mention your character, obviously. But I wonder if it's even possible for anyone to care about a character in 150/250 words?

Would appreciate any advice on this.

P.S. sorry if this is in the wrong section. Didn't want to put it in Query Letter Hell as it's not a query.

i think the part in bold is the problem--ideas come very, very cheap. If you try to sell by idea instead of execution, you are going to fail. You still need to have a solid plot, but too often people pin all their hopes on plot idea alone, assuming the agent got up this morning and said "Christ, what I wouldn't GIVE for a story about velociraptors trying to join the marching band!" They don't. they want something they can't stop reading, and/or believe a certain market won't be able to stop reading. That means you can't have plot holes or a shitty, confusing plot, but you also can't do a "Friday the 13th" where the characters are only hanging out waiting for shit to happen for no better reason than that you need a place for your sooper-mondo cool plane crash scene.

Give a character people care about a bit before you show us your plot or idea in how they are about to have their feet held to the fire, but we need someone to care about.

Put it this way: Tomorrow, a jet may crash. This weekend, I'm sure a police officer somewhere in Mexico was killed in spectacularly brutal fashion. Did you lose sleep over it? No, you don't know the guy. But if it was your uncle, or even the guy you used to go drinking with's father.... That's why "My query is about an awesome chase across the Alps for treasure" doesn't mean much in a query. We need the character to actually ground ourselves in the story.