Thursday, August 20, 2009

Query Week: Step Four. Clarifying the Good Stuff

Turns out I don't have a sample today, so I'm just going to wing this step, and then open it up for everyone who might want some feedback, whatever stage they're at in the process.

Clarity is an important thing to keep in mind while you're finalizing your queries. All an agent has is what's on the page, so you have to make sure that it says what you want it to say. That seems easy to do, but it's not. Anyone who's ever posted a query for a critique can tell you that.

We know our stories better than anyone, so we see all the context and history behind every word of the query. Connections between events are clear to us, but they aren't always clear to someone reading it for the first time. When you use a term, or refer to something in the query, ask yourself if there's enough information in the actual text for someone to understand what you mean. The mention of the roommates in yesterday's post us a great example of this.

That was until he was hanging out with his new roommates, Maddie and Z, and they find a strange map hidden in the lining of his mother’s old suitcase.

If you know the story, and know that the protag was sent to a foster home, this makes perfect sense. But not knowing that important detail, you wonder where the protag is that he has roommates. College might be the first thing that pops into your mind, or maybe someone's first apartment. Neither of which is correct.

These tiny details don't seem like they'd be enough to trip you up, but they're the ones that always get you. The big stuff we pay more attention to so we catch any uncertainty there.

Double checks names and places as well. Typically the first name you use in a query is the protagonist, so you don't need a lot of introduction before you name them. (This is a good thing to check too, especially if you start with someone other than the protag. You could be setting up the wrong expectations right from the start) But after that, every new name is someone that has to be explained. You don't need much, but something that shows the context to the protag is important to help understand the entire story.

Crazy as this is going to sound, you also want to make sure it's clear what the story is about. It's so easy to get caught up in getting the details right, that we forget to get the core conflict in there. We say lots of exciting things that happen in the book, but never say what the point of the story is. This is probably the number one thing I see when I do query critiques for friends and on the boards. It's clear there's a story there, but exactly what that story is is buried in the details.

Okies, so those following along, you're now double checking all of your details and making sure the query is as clear and understandable as it can be. Tomorrow, it's all about polishing. Provided, of course, that folks post some queries to work with -grin-.


  1. The thing about watching connections is definitely important. In my previous first draft, my beta reader was confused about things that I thought were perfectly clear. Of course, I only thought they were clear because I was the one who wrote the whole thing!

    It's easy to say 'your readers don't know everything that you know', but actually keeping that in mind while writing is a lot more difficult.

  2. Ooh ooh! *raises hand*

    Here's mine:

    Max Foster can't speak Korean. He's never taken down three policemen using black-belt judo skills, or traveled from Boston to Buenos Aires in two seconds flat. And he's definitely never seen holographic snakes wreaking havoc at his Starbucks. Until his scientist uncle gives him one seriously high-tech phone for his sixteenth birthday— and a mission to go with it.

    The phone puts Max in touch with two brothers he didn't know he had living on opposite sides of the globe. A pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives is still spreading, and according to Uncle Renard, it's up to Max, Liam, and Gabe to stop it. Armed with their phones, they can travel to any city threatened with an outbreak using the TeleTransitSystem, and download any skill they need thanks to the handy Ad-I (Additional Intelligence) widget. But when they uncover the source of the disease, a computer program called Ofidia, the boys learn the truth...they aren't brothers, they're clones.

    Ofidia, designed by a brilliant evangelist who has a bitter past with Uncle Renard, was only supposed to target clones. Now caught in a battle between the scientist that created them and the religious zealot determined to destroy them, Max and his brothers must stop Ofidia from wiping out the human race.

    Rip away! :)

    Thanks, Janice.