Friday, July 27, 2012

Advice for a Query Letter

A couple of months ago in my writing group, we applied the advice by Kelley Lindberg in a query letter workshop. I took in a query letter that I thought was a pretty decent first draft, but quickly realized it needed a lot of work. But doesn't everything?

Of course they gave me specifics to fix, but they helped me realize some things that are more general to any query letter. Mostly, through their questioning, they helped me understand my own story better.

First of all, I thought my opening paragraph was fairly intriguing, but quickly discovered it absolutely was not accomplishing my purpose. I had written, "Late medieval England is not the place to find a love triangle between a peasant girl, a nobleman's son, and a prince...or is it?" I was trying to show that my character was unconventional, but that opening paragraph did not capture that for my audience.

Instead, my group suggested I use a specific scene that would capture her character. Near the beginning of the story, Anna punches a bully in the nose, whom she later finds out is a friend of a prince. My group suggested making her actually punch the prince, which I am still debating about for a couple of reasons. But they definitely agreed this should be the scene for the opening paragraph because it would quickly capture the tone of the entire story, as well as the personality of the character.

Where I received the greatest understanding in my own story is when they asked about the inner and outer conflicts. Not every story needs both, but stories are definitely stronger and more interesting if both are present.

In some sense of my story, because of the time period, my conflicts are actually in conflict with each other even. My outer conflict, the one that everyone else sees, is that Anna must take care of her family all by herself. Her parents are elderly and ill, so they are little help. She is a female peasant in medieval England, so her acceptable behavior is limited. She must act outside the acceptable limits in order to care for her family.  Thus everyone else in her village hates her for her abilities. My inner conflict is that Anna desires to be accepted and loved for herself. But very few people can look past her unorthodox behavior.

Through this workshop, I have discovered that a good letter illuminates your story sometimes in a way that nothing else can. The trick is to get someone else see that too when they read your letter.