query problems

Do you like rhetorical questions?

What would you do if sociopathic aliens threatened earth? Would you cower under the bed, or grab a shotgun and long-distance DNA analyzer? What if doing so came at the cost of your 18-month-old daughter’s life?

Rhetorical questions don’t work in queries. They put the focus on me instead of the protagonist, and force me to guess what happens instead of telling me.

That’s the opposite of what a query should do.

The typical next sentence in a query is:

For Tyler Song, 30-year-old microbiologist, family is everything. But when it looks like there won’t be an earth for Baby Lily, he gets to work on a chemical weapon to stop the destroyers.

That’s where the query should start. Don’t ask what I would do, tell me what Tyler does. He’s the one who matters.

This also keeps you from making assumptions about me. Maybe Tyler decides to save Lily instead, but I’d save earth. Now that you have me thinking, I’m more likely to judge Tyler instead of taking him at face value.

Rhetorical questions feel like they enhance the emotional impact by making it personal. In reality, they feel heavy-handed.

I want setup and stakes. That’s it.

Authors begin with questions when they don’t know where to start. The sentence after the last question mark is your starting place. Questions can help you decide what’s important, but when you’re done, go back and delete them.

And don’t use second person.


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