Daily Archives: April 8, 2011

Cracked: When Science and Writing Meet

I love writing query letters.  I love boiling down the entire story into its necessary components and then weaving them together with voice and intrigue.  I want you to love writing queries as much as I do, and I think you can if you bear with me.

Often, writers look at a query letter as a formula that must be followed.  Add two milliliters of character to one liter of plot, sprinkle a hook on top and heat to the boiling point.  But I encourage you to look at the science of query writing in a very different way. By nature, no one story is exactly the same.  Therefore, it stands that every query must be slightly different.  If you open your mind to the experimentation part, you may discover that query writing can be fun and the results unexpectedly amazing.

Last night Dear Daughter announced her newest science assignment.  “I have to drop an egg from two stories high onto concrete.  And not have it break.”

While not all sciency myself, I do love a good brain teaser.  This definitely qualified as one.

“And I have thirty seconds to get it into the container and thirty seconds to get it back out.  Without breaking it.”

Add the time crunch and my adrenaline kicked in.  So did hers.

“Oh yeah,” she says as we start brainstorming things like containers within padding within boxes, “the size and weight of our container affects our grade.”

But of course. 

If this was a MG adventure query it would look something like this: 

When Evil Science Teacher devises a plan to single-handedly wipe out the small town of Grade A, Freshie Freshman must overcome her aversion to science or lose her breakfast. 

The only science Freshie enjoys is maintaining the perfect balance of salt and Tabasco on her scrambled eggs.  Yet when her EST begins chucking oversized ova from the roof of Midwest High, Freshie accepts the challenge to devise a fail-safe capsule for her precious egg.

 With no super human powers to speak of, Freshie must best EST at her own game with little more than her wits, a soda pop bottle and thirty seconds.  If she fails, her beloved egg will be nothing more than a bad grade on the concrete steps.

 Okay, that was way more fun than it had a right to be, but you can clearly see the bones of a query letter even though this is my first draft and I didn’t write with any of the necessary components in mind.

 We have a protagonist, an antagonist, an inciting incident, clearly defined stakes and a time constraint that heightens the tension of the initial conflict.  We also have voice and just enough of the story left unsaid to leave us wondering who wins and how. 

Query writing does not have to be painful and formulaic.  Rather, it is an invitation to set your story free through experimentation.  Hook doesn’t work?  Try another from a different angle.  When you set aside all the rules and let your manuscript speak to you, the query should write itself.

Does this quirky query seem contrary to the business aspect we are taught to write?  If so, chew on this: what better way to sell your manuscript than let your manuscript sell itself? 

And it’s not like the professionalism won’t be there.  That’s what your greeting and closing paragraphs are for.

 ~cat

P.S. Behind the scenes, we also had a decent story arc where our MC tried and failed several times before achieving her end goal.  As the night wore on—and we ruthlessly murdered three eggs, a stuffed frog, a tennis ball and a Tupperware container—my DD’s determination grew and she became more creative in her possible solutions.  Plot doesn’t get any better than that.