Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ooooh a shiny new lightbulb

Some of you may know I've been attempting to write my query letter recently. Attempting being the operative word. I'm not in any way ready to query, but I thought, since queries seem to be the bane of many writers, I'd get a head start.

Well... it hasn't been going that well. Aside from my issues with length, and lack of ability to decide what's important enough to be in the query and what isn't, I've just kind of felt like there's something missing. Like the tension is lacking and the query is falling flat.

I've heard people say that writing your query is a great way to see if your story has issues, and now I know it's true.

It took me a while but after several attempts to answer Janet Reid's query questions, and then a discussion with my amazingly artistic and talented brother Ushan on Sunday (yes, we all have strange names), I finally realised what was wrong.

The question and answer that was causing me trouble was this one:
What does the protagonist want? To find her family.
Ahh... pretty important question, right? Pretty lame answer, too. I mean, sure she's spent her whole life thinking she has no family, so finding out the truth that she has family is pretty important. And of course she'd want to go find them. But... it just isn't enough. Even I don't want to read a whole book about an MC finding her family when there's much bigger things going on, and I wrote it!

Enter my friend, the epiphany. MC's mum dies on the first page. She was murdered. MC knows this. MC saw the murderer. And she knows nothing about her dad. Why the hell isn't she trying to find the nasty murderer and deal out some sweet sweet revenge? And track down her dad in the process?
What does the protagonist want? To avenge her mother and find out who her father is and why he's never come for her.
Friends, please note exhibit A: the pitfalls of being a pantster.

This lightbulb moment also resolves an issue I was having with this story being split into two books. I wasn't sure if the story arc for the first half was strong enough to stand alone. Now I know it will be because I've already written the ending which ties in neatly with the new MC goal.

If you're interested, Janet's questions for what needs to be in a query letter are:

What does the protagonist want?
What's keeping him from getting it?
What choice/decision does he face?
What terrible thing will happen if he chooses A; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn't.

Have you had any lightbulb moments recently? Realised you've made errors that are going to result in significant revisions (like me *sigh*)? Or just any words of wisdom?


  1. Thanks for the tip, Barbara. I'll check out that book. And I'm glad I'm not the only one ;)

  2. Thanks Meredith! I'm not at the stage of a complete rewrite yet, but it's a definite possibility. I think one thing a lot of first drafts have in common is the suck factor ;)

  3. I always find it difficult to figure out EXACTLY what my characters want. Which is silly, since I wrote these stories. I should know! LOL.

  4. Oh this happened to me!!! The beautiful thing is that you discovered it BEFORE submitting. Good for you! I had that exact light bulb moment when I was writing my synopsis. I feel like it's a common panster problem and is also why I've since reverted to outlining. :) Seriously, go check out Anatomy of Story by John Truby!

    Anyways, thanks for sharing! Glad to know I'm not the only one.

  5. I think it's wonderful that you've had this breakthrough. I know how it feels when you finally break through that wall or get a new idea. It feels absolutely wonderful.

    I've recently had trouble writing and my ideas for projects that I will be working on soon seem to have stopped, but I think it's partially because I've been so busy. I think if I get a few of my distractions out of the way, ideas will start flowing again.

  6. Your story sounds totally awesome! What a great set-up!

    I will be the first to admit that the first draft of my story sucked. SUCKED. I had no idea what was going on, and it was a whole lot of ... nothing. I too had to undergo significant revisions (by which I mean I scrapped the entire draft and started anew). Sometimes it has to be done, and even though it's a pain, it will be so worth it! So good luck!

  7. I've been wrestling with my summary, too. My book (which was supposed to be lighthearted and silly) instead became something serious and darker than probably anything I've written. Then, instead of being one book, I realized it was getting way too long and needed to be split into two. My problem is that I know what the protagonist wants, what's keeping him from getting it, what has to happen, and what terrible thing will happen if it's not accomplished--but putting all of that into a summary when it's an imaginary world with imaginary technology is SO HARD. *throttles summary*

    Revisions are tough. I don't think the editing and tweaking and revising ever stops until the book is in print. O_O But the good thing about revisions is that as exhausting as it is to have to go back, rewrite, change, move things around, cut things, etc., etc....it makes your story better, and stronger. I'm sure that you will be able to whip your stories into shape, and learn a lot of new things about your characters (and yourself) along the way.

    (And your story sounds so intriguing!)

  8. It took me about eight months to write a synopsis for my book. I wrote draft after draft after draft and just nothing was working, nothing was good enough. Then, during an episode of So You Think You Can Dance (of all things), I had my lightbulb moment. Everything became clear and the synopsis wrote itself.

    I've also had plenty of lightbulb moments that have resulted in complete overhauls of WIPs. Those aren't my favorite moments but eventually I realize how glad I was to have had them.

  9. I have plenty of lightbulb moments. Sometimes when I really don't want to have them! LOL. Like when I'm in the middle of revising one book and have a lightbulb moment for another book. Sometimes I figure out something one of my characters want to do instead of what I have written, and have to go back and change it. I wish they would just shut up sometimes! :D

  10. Good that you discovered this before submitting! I envy the passion and persistence you give towards your writing. You never say 'well it's good enough'. You always strive to make it as good as it can possibly get, regardless of how much time and effort you put into it. Good on you!
    I do like those questions, too. You can also use them for developing a story when you already have a character in mind.

  11. I, unfortunately, have these errors-that-will-result-in-significant-revisions moments all too often. Yay for the light bulb moments!

  12. Well, I hope I can remember to refer back to these questions when I am back to writing my next query letter.
    Although I think I finally did get a good query written, one that made it through the ABNA query process, at any rate, I'm now going to do a rewrite on the book, so I will probably have to come up with a new query. heh


  13. My most recent lightbulb moment came last week, when I realized (and I do know how obvious this sounds when I say it like this) that you can't set up a supernatural mystery series with a horror novel.

    The idea originally came to me as a short story, and then as I fleshed it out it grew to YA novel length, and I realized the background I was coming up with would be good for a series. So, I was booting along happily, enjoying writing it, but I kept getting this nagging feeling - the devil on my shoulder pointing out that I was writing horror, the bad guys were numerous, evil, and fierce, and yet... hardly anyone had been killed yet, and I was about 10,000 words from the end. And then it hit me like a slap upside the head, that in order to sustain the promise of the plot I had set up, I needed to kill off a whole whack of people, and level a good portion of the school as well. And that didn't work at all for the premise of the series that I wanted to write. So, at 39,000 words in, I scrapped everything but the main characters and the basic background of the series set-up, and started over. Yes, it really hurts. But I think the story I'm working on now fits the tone of the series better, and that will benefit everything in the long run. I hope.

    The moral of the story: when the devil on your shoulder starts nagging at you, listen to him, 'cause he probably knows what he's talking about.

  14. Yay for your lightbulb moment! I love those four questions. My novel isn't exactly query ready yet either but I've been working on my query. It tells me so much about where my novel stands and what else it needs! Thanks for the post :)

  15. I know! Even though we come up with the characters they definitely are a life of their own.

  16. Hope you get your muse back soon, Brooke! Hopefully the ideas will return when life settles down :)

  17. Yea I've had a few too! Complete character overhauls and things like that. The bane of not plotting. I think I'll try a few new techniques on the next WIP :)

  18. I think for future stories I will start writing my query even earlier. I'm convinced it's a good tool for finding story weaknesses, and it would have been good to discover this one earlier on! I hope your query doesn't lead to any overhauls for you :)

  19. Ouch! It must have been difficult to abandon ship so far in. Good on you for doing what's right for your story though, Shayne. And I will be sure to keep an ear open for the devil on my shoulder ;)

  20. You might be convicing me to write my query before I revise...Yay for your lightbulb moment though.

  21. I've often found that writing the hook part of my query around the same time I write my Sentence can be really good for helping me focus. It's like a road map, or maybe I should say, like a GPS, that keeps me from straying away from the story I set out to write.

  22. Great post,

    Too tired to discuss, need nana nap now (NNNN) but will check in later on tonight or tomorrow.

    Have fun


  23. Between what you've learned in your post + the fact you've followed Janet Reid, you probably don't need any tips from me. I found Elana Johnson's From the Query to the Call informative. It's now free.

    Good luck!