Monday, May 12, 2014

Agency Lessons: How to use hypothetical questions in your query

If you've read many articles on writing the perfect query, you know that hypothetical questions are eye-roll inducing for almost every agent out there.

But...what would you say if you could use hypothetical questions to build a winning query?
  
A really great (and unique book) starts with a hypothetical question. What if an average orphan boy discovered he was the most famous wizard alive? What if the government forced kids to battle to the death once a year for entertainment? What if a human fell in love with a vampire?

At the heart of each of these novels is a premise based on a hypothetical "What if" question. While the question is a great cornerstone for developing a plot, it doesn't work in a query. Why? Because the obvious answer to those questions, the one people will probably think of first, isn't that interesting. Let's look at our examples.

What if an average orphan boy discovered he was the most famous wizard alive?
Answer: That would be cool. I want a wand.

What if the government forced kids to battle to the death once a year for entertainment?
Answer: That would suck.

What if a human fell in love with a vampire?
Answer: That would suck, too. Human is now dead.

The trick to using the hypothetical questions is to get rid of the question. Let's take another look at our first question: What if an average orphan boy discovered he was the most famous wizard alive?

Now, instead of a question where we ask the reader/agent to insert their own impression, let's tell the reader/agent what to think: Harry is an average orphan until the day he finds out he's actually a wizard, and a famous one.

Okay, so we got rid of the question and put some authority into the sentence. The next step is to make it sparkle by adding in the same little details that make your story shine.

Orphaned as a baby, Harry lives a lonely, but normal life. All that changes on his eleventh birthday when a letter, delivered by an owl in a decidedly un-normal fashion, reveals Harry is a wizard.

Now we have an intriguing start to our query. And it really isn't all that different from the original question used to inspire the whole story. Of course, a good query is more than just a log line. But starting out strong sets the stage and keeps an agent reading.

2 comments:

  1. Make the question a statement - check!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is so great - I used this technique yesterday to come up with a hook line for a new query letter.

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