Not Finished Your Manuscript? Write Your Query Letter Now

You’ve read the headline and now you’re wondering, why would I write my query before I finish my manuscript?  After all, the advice you see on every website says to not send out any queries until after the manuscript is finished, edited and rewritten.  Well, I’m not going to tell you any different.

What I am going to do is give you something to think about.

What is a query?  New writers agonize over them, agents spout platitudes about their importance and they are generally seen as the key to the publishing kingdom.  Forget that.  They might all be true, but focusing on those points creates a distraction.  Besides, that’s not the point I’m getting at.

The query is a statement that uses two to three paragraphs to describe your story and then perhaps a single paragraph that states who you are.  You’ll read lots of advice on writing queries, but they will all tell you to include these two components.  It is because of these two components that I suggest you write it early on, like now, maybe before you write a single word.

The query in this sense becomes your mission statement.  Every time your story feels overly complicated and you think you’re losing track, you look back to those simple paragraphs and you remember the essence of your tale.  Distilling your story to its core early on will keep it omni-present in your mind.  This will give you cohesiveness.

It is not only the story the query distills, it is also your identity as a writer.  Remember, you and your story are a package.  Both need to be sell-able.  There have been interesting conversations about online identities and figuring out who you are as a writer.  Once again, your query not only serves as a mission statement for your book, it also serves as a mission statement for yourself.

The query is about selling yourself and your work.  If early in the game you can write a query that sells you on your book and your identity as a writer, it will be all that much easier to sell those things to someone else down the road.  No one will love you until you love yourself, KWIM?

Maybe someday I’ll feel competent enough to write a post on how to write a query.  Until then, I’ll provide you with a link to Adventures in Children’s Publishing where they link to examples of  Successful Kid Lit Query Letter Examples.  Feel free to add any great websites you know of that provide instruction on writing queries in the comments.

Depression, Writing & Satisfying the Need

My tag-line for this blog is, “This is my writing journey.”

Because maybe someday  someone (perhaps only myself) might find this interesting, I’m going to not only throw out great tips and the lessons I learn, I’m also going to comment on me, myself, and sometimes, I.

Yesterday I was depressed.  I don’t mean just feeling blue, I’m talking about staring blankly at the screen, no energy, questioning my existence, depressed.  It sucked.  What irritated me most about it was that I had no idea why I should feel that way.  I used to have many of those days.  Since giving my life some serious evaluation, seeking a little professional help and getting off my butt and actually working to make my writing dream come true, I’ve felt much better.  So why all of a sudden?  I came up with two answers. One was no big surprise.  The other gave me some serious food for thought.

The easy answer was the weather.  April surprised us all with its warmth and sunshine.  While May got off to a good start, yesterday was a horrible day.  Though it wasn’t as cold as winter, it was that kind of damp chill that creeps under your skin.  Add the grey sky and you have a very dreary day.

The interesting answer had to do with my writing and my online persona.

I haven’t touched The Veil in over a week.  The word count sits stagnant at the right side of my website, begging to be increased.  I put it there to guilt me into action.  The guilt is there, not so much the action.  I also hadn’t blogged in four days.  While I’ve been present on Twitter, my posts have provided little in the way of substance.  In short, I felt like a poser, a fake.

I’ve had numerous story ideas in the past.  The more I thought about them, the more themes and ideas I threw at them.  They buckled under the weight until they finally cracked beyond repair.  By comparison, the more thought I give to The Veil, the more it asks for.  The deeper I delve, the more layers it reveals.  It’s liberating and scary as hell.  I’ve allowed myself to be frightened to a standstill.  I need to get over it.

I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact I am a chaotic writer.  I don’t plot ahead, I don’t plan for specific times of day to write, I don’t have any kind of regular regiment.  This is turning into a considerable weakness.

I work shifts.  Between my job, my kids, trying to be a good husband, and just finding time to breathe, it’s impossible to pick a time of day in which to write.  There’s no time that will work everyday.  So I’m thinking what I need to do is look at my schedule for the week and decide on a day to day basis when I’m going to write.  Whether it be a blog entry or The Veil, I need to get my fingers moving on the keyboard.  I feel more alive when I see words forming on the screen in front of me.  There’s an energy in creating something that never existed before.  Even if my first draft is crap.  Even if I end up rewriting eighty-percent of it, there is still energy and power in its mere existence.  Within the dirt is a gem worth harvesting.

Now the question is, will I walk the walk, or is this just a whole lotta talk?

The Hero’s Journey Part 2 – Call to Adventure

In my previous post, I discussed the Hero’s Ordinary World.  Since I’ve defined the Hero’s foundation, I now need to shake him loose from it.  Welcome to the Call to Adventure.

The Call to Adventure can literally be a call, but is in general the thing that draws the hero away from their ordinary world.  In fantasy, it could be the day the dragon attacks and kills the hero’s parents. In Romance stories, it could be the first time two lover’s meet.  In short, it doesn’t matter what it is that happens, it is the singular event that ensures the hero will be drawn away from the ordinary.

In Twilight, the call occurs when Bella first sees Edward.  From that point on, her growing obsession with him informs and alters her world, finally culminating in the revelation that he is not human.

In the recent movie, How to Train Your Dragon, it is when Hiccup realises he can’t kill the dragon.  From the start of the movie, he has informed the viewer that all social life within his village revolves around prowess at killing dragons.  When he has the opportunity, he can’t bring himself to do it and his world is forever changed.

In Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s debatable whether the call to action is Harry’s literal invitation to go to Hogwarts, or maybe it’s when he inadvertently releases the snake.  In both instances it is clear that he is being drawn away from his ordinary world.

The Call to Adventure can be grandiose or it can be subtle.  Both ways work, depending on the context of your story.  Remember too that the call doesn’t have to be something that happens directly to the hero.  In most revenge tales, it is usually an event that happens to a loved one of the hero that stirs him into action.

In the end, the call is the one event you can trace the events of the story back to.  It is also key in setting up the stakes of the game and can often lead to singular questions such as, Will Bella and Edward get together?  Will Hiccup befriend the dragon?  Will Harry become a great wizard?  In case you aren’t guessing, this is the hook.  This is the initial point where you make your reader wonder what will happen.  The key to a great story is keeping them interested until that question is finally answered.

Next, our hero gets all reluctant and Refuses the Call.

The Hero’s Journey Part 1 – The Ordinary World

In keeping with my fascination with the story template originating with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Has a Thousand faces, I’ve decided to do a multiple post series focusing on each of the steps in the Hero’s Journey.

The steps are;

Today I will be focusing on the first step in the journey, the Ordinary World.

Of all the steps, this one should be the straightest forward.

The Ordinary world is our hero’s starting point.  Since the point of the Hero’s Journey is to show growth and development, we need a point of reference.  Who is your hero?  What is his life like before the journey begins?

In Star Wars, we meet Luke Skywalker as a whiny farm boy who dreams of bigger things.

In Harry Potter, we meet a mistreated boy who is awkward and has no apparent powers.

In How to Train Your Dragon, the main character Hiccup is introduced as the village joke who just wants to fit in.

While this may be the straightest ahead, it is fraught with disaster.

  1. This is the introduction to your hero.  The reader needs to learn who he is.  It is especially important to show those qualities that will change over the course of the story so your reader will see his growth.   On top of all that, you need to make him interesting and worthy of your readers’ sympathy.
  2. You need the opening to be engaging enough that it captures the reader and carries them forward.  How do you make the hero’s ordinary world interesting?  It’s easy to focus on what amazing adventures await, but your reader will never get there if the ordinary world is too boring.
  3. If you intend for your hero to return, it means you need to know how the hero’s journey will ultimately affect the ordinary world.  Will things improve?  Will it cause the world’s destruction, or just destroy the world’s way of life?

In short, the ordinary world is the foundation of your story. Everything that comes after is dependent upon the ground rules established there.

The next step in the Hero’s Journey is The Call to Adventure.

Current state of my writing

I’ve been away from writing for a couple of days.  This isn’t to say writing has been far from my mind, quite the contrary.  My iPhone currently has two scenes in it that I wrote in the middle of nowhere after having been hit by inspiration on the drive to said nowhere.

I find my story comes to me in drips and drabs.  Sometimes a whole scene washes in and obliterates everything in its path.  At other times, a few key sentences, a stray thought, are all that come through.

I keep trying to sit down and plot everything out.  Every time I do that, I get seemingly more stuck than just sitting at the keyboard and letting words flow.  I’m finding out I am the kind of writer that needs to get there before I can describe it.  I don’t know all the scenes in my story because I haven’t made it there yet.  I’m hoping this changes.  I can’t imagine trying to build a career based on whim and mercy of the creative muse.

On the up side, I figured out how it ends.  I know who the villain is.  I know why he’s doing the things he’s doing.  His undoing was one of the scenes I wrote in my iPhone.

Which brings up another stray thought I’m going to throw out; never be too focused on your current work that you ignore other ideas.

My wife is a photographer and visual artist.  She and I have talked about collaborating on a piece of work.  This really excites me.  I came up with two things for this work that I kept mulling in my head.  Guess what?  I used them for my novel.  See, they didn’t work on their own, but put the mention of them on the lips of a madman and suddenly things are cooking!

So my collaboration is on the back burner, and I need to sit and get to work.

I guess I should stop referring to my work in progress as that.  Right now, the working title is The Veil.  I’ll call it that from now on since it just makes things easier.

Sorry, this blog post is random.  Not so much in terms of advice, but more a journal entry.  I’ll do these from time to time.  Now I think I’ll go work on The Veil and see if I can crack 15,000 words.

Going With It or Accepting that I Am God

So I’ve been talking a great deal about plot.  Actually, my last four posts have been obsessions about it.  Seeing as how plot is the main vehicle for story, it seems important, right?  Unfortunately, what my researching on plot has revealed to me is that my current work in progress was severely lacking in it.  Sure, I had some characters, I had lots of concepts, but I lacked structure.  I lacked an actual story.  Most stories are propelled forward by some form of conflict, and I was really lacking in that area.  My antagonist was weak and his motivations murky at best.  It left me with a lot of questions regarding the viability of my “story.”

So, breakthrough while out in the car driving last night.  Funny thing though, my initial reaction was what I’m blogging about today.  When I thought of the main antagonist’s motivation, his plan, my initial reaction was, “I can’t do that, it might lead to A or B and that’s just too mean.”  The problem is, sometimes you have to mean.  Sometimes you have to accept that you will become the hated God of your own little created reality.

Does the idea of being God make you wriggle a little?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  Maybe, but it is the truth.  For our stories, we assume the role of the creator.  We breathe life into our characters where none existed before, we create the laws of physics, we populate the world with plants and beasts.  We guide the events of the story toward our desired ending.  Sometimes we are cruel.  Sometimes we are kind.  We need to be above morality, because sometimes we have to let awful things happen.  Sometimes a child, pure and innocent, has to die.  Sometimes an entire city needs to be wiped off the face of the earth.  Sometimes our hero needs to cry, fail, or die.  Ultimately, we are the ones responsible.

I need to let go.  I need to accept that if this is right, if what my antagonist is doing are the actions he would take, I need to let him.  I can move my hero and his companions into places to keep some of them safe, I can ultimately lead them to a place where they may foil his plan, but I also need to accept that there will be casualties along the way.  I have to accept the blood on my hands.  I have to accept that letting these things happen does not make me less of a human being, it makes me more of a writer.

As a reader I’ve been let down in the past by authors setting up certain events, only to have them completely back out in the end.  I felt betrayed and ultimately the book was less fulfilling.  I have to remember that experience as a writer.  I have to live up to my readers, which means I have to live up to my story, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.  After all, being God is a tough job.

OK, decision made

So in regards to my previous posts on plot, I am now convinced that crashing ahead is the wrong way to go.  I said I’d tell you and here I am.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been devoting some time and concentration to the links on plot that I posted the other day.  They have been incredibly inspiring and insightful.  The problem is, I’m now looking at the 14,000+ words I’ve already written, not to mention the next 2,000+ those words set up, and I’m thinking it’s now all wrong.  That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow.  So, do I scrap it all and start from scratch?  Do I carry on as if I had written what I had intended, get to the end and then go back during the rewrites.  Or do I bang my head a little more and see if I can make what exists work at least even a little?

I wouldn’t be in exactly this mess if I had done all this work before committing words to page.  I mean, at my current position, I am only vaguely aware of my antagonist.  How am I supposed to have a cohesive plot and conflict without any form of antagonist?  I need to rethink a lot of what I’ve done and where I was going with it.

So I have some challenges ahead.  I’m going to hammer out a plot outline basing it on the idea that I will leave what I already have.  I know there will be major revisions eventually, but at least it won’t be as demoralizing as deleting everything.  Wish me luck.  Progress updates as I go.