This post will pull together the elements from the previous post (Query Letter Flow Chart) and put them in a proper format. In that post, I walked through the flow chart and come out with a shiny Star Wars: The Force Awakens example. I’m going to continue here with that example. I will include blue notes along the way pointing out which parts correspond with the flow chart.*
*goes without saying, but if you don’t want any minor spoilers of SWTFA, be cautious in proceeding.
Rey was abandoned.(hook)* She grew up alone on a hostile desert planet wanting nothing more than to reunite with her family.(premise/what she wants) That’s why she doesn’t leave. Not when rations are hard to come by or when a ship is launching to head for one of the other planets in the other star systems. (introduction to character/world. You have to give us a reason for rooting for this character, and enough information about their world/setting to ground us in the story)
When she rescues a droid from a rival scavenger, her planet falls under fire from an unknown enemy.(inciting incident) If she rescues the droid, risking her life to take it off-planet, she leaves behind her only chance at finding the family that abandoned her. (choice & stakes)
But just because her past is a mystery doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. (second hook)*
As she joins a rag-tag group of smugglers and rebels, she discovers that she has The Force, a long-coveted and rare ability to manipulate living matter and control the minds of others. (obstacle)
If Rey goes home now, she’ll be safe, but she’ll be giving up the first meaningful friendships she has ever had. The enemy Rey faces if she stays has a much darker scheme in mind than slaughtering their way to finding the droid. (complicated choice)
If Rey can’t tap into the mysterious power within her, millions of people over several planets will die. But joining the rebellion and embracing her role in it could put her in the path of the darkest enemy she has ever faced. (complicated stakes)
*You’ll notice the presence of “hook” twice in here. A hook in a query letter is that one sentence that tells you something vital about the book. It can be about the character, a unique premise, reveal tone/voice, or plot. Basically, it’s a good solid (short) sentence that provides a good punch and makes people want to know more.
If you compile the information from your flow chart into a solid query letter body, you’re golden!
The key is brevity. Short, punchy sentences that are clear and easy to understand. You’ll want to avoid using too many pronouns. Notice how I didn’t name her planet (Jakku), the droid (BB-8), the name of her companions/smugglers/rebels, or even the villain. The reason is because the query letter is all about the main character. I highly encourage you to write the query with only the main character, and then—once you get the first draft, as seen above—you can think about if you want to add other names or places.
Keep in mind, this is a draft of a query (and the Star Wars one is just an example). You’ll still have to do a lot of fiddling to find the right hooks, the right transitions, the right structure.
There are also other parts of a query letter to address: the bio, novel info, signature, and the overall formatting of the email that you’ll send (mentioned and briefly discussed in What a Query Letter is and When to Write it). These last parts are more of the silver filigree of the query letter, but don’t underestimate them. They can make or break the query letter.
I’ll address it how to wrap it all up together in a complete template—you guessed it—in an upcoming post.