Trying to nail down aspects for a query

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Preacher
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Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by Preacher » September 25th, 2012, 11:01 am

I am fooling around with putting a query together. one of the things i found as a helpful tool is a series of 3 questions that you can ask yourself:

1- What does the protagonist want?
2- Who or what stands in the way of the goal?
3- Stakes. What happens if the protagonist does not get what he wants?

So i took these questions and applied them to my story, Preacher's Blood. I tried answering them.

1- Preacher wants to find his missing sister.
2- Well, he doesn't know where she is. He needs to solve another mystery, the mystery of a girl who said his sister needs his help, but then gets killed before saying more.
3- Race against the clock. If he doesn't find her she will undergo a dangerous fertility treatment that will ruin her mind and make her suicidal.

Those were my answers. Someone suggested that when writing a query the character needs to be interesting. That you want to follow along with him as he tries to solve the mystery. Preacher needs to find his sister. She is his only real family. His father is alive but they don't speak. His father wa mentally abusive. Told him he'd never be anything, never amount to anything. So i see it as a situation where Preacher needs to find his sister because she is his only family. Also, because maybe deep mdown he'd always questioned himself, wondering if maybe his father was right. Maybe by finding her he can prove to himself he was able to do something, to be somebody. When i suggested this, someone said it makes him too selfish and that this is not the way to prove daddy wrong, that it makes him not very likeable.

I am having trouble finding that spark of interesting, or so it seems.

I tried something like:

The police have all but given up. But not Gavin Preacher. Not now. Not ever. His little sister disappeared 30 days ago. There were no clues or witnesses. She's his only family and he's not about to give up on her, like their father did on him. And maybe, just maybe, by finding her he can redeem himself in the eyes of the one person who never believed in him.

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wilderness
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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by wilderness » September 25th, 2012, 11:23 am

I don't think that makes him unlikeable -- most people want their parents' approval. That last paragraph sounds very strong to me.

Btw, to add to the list of things that are necessary in a query: voice. When I read them in this forum, that usually makes the difference between a good query and an awesome query.

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dios4vida
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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by dios4vida » September 26th, 2012, 3:28 pm

If those are Preacher's issues, then that's who he is. You can't rewrite the character to make the query sound more interesting. And really, you can take any character (or real person for that matter) and list out their issues, and they'd all sound like a bunch of basket cases.

Try mixing some strengths in with his weaknesses. He must find his sister, because she's all the family he has left. That's good. But how does he go about this? What skills/talents/strengths of his does he use/exploit/develop to find her? That's what makes a character interesting. Even if the only thing he has going for him is dogged determination, that's his strength here. He won't give up, no matter the odds. It stretches him beyond anything he ever thought possible. Excellent stuff for a query.

Like wilderness said, voice is also extremely important. Take that list of faults and personify it with character and voice and suddenly, he is just selfish. He's insecure/cocky/roguish/noble and that's the other key to making a great character. Let us know who Gavin Preacher is, other than his baggage. What's he like? How does he speak, what makes him an individual? Use all of that to show us in just a few words who Gavin Preacher is - not just a laundry list of his traits.

I think once you do that, you'll find this query will be a lot more interesting and successful.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by polymath » September 26th, 2012, 9:51 pm

Coming at the question from an unexpected direction: what's the purpose of a query? It's a brief introduction of a narrative to a limited audience. However, that audience must then from a dearth of information decide if it wants more. What factors weigh most on that audience's mind? That is, does the product have broad audience access and appeal?

I've been struggling with the latter question. I picked up a few cues and clues here and there over the years. This week they all came together from an unexpected source. A question was raised in a folklore course asking what are folklore's functions. A simple answer is defining social identities of groups; who's an insider, who's an outsider; who's esoteric, who's exoteric; what's intrinsic, what's extrinsic. Name the circumstances, relating to and dealing with fears and anxieties, particularly the unknown, change, and strangers, loom large on the folklore function front.

I've been struggling with how one audience group will find common cause with certain topics and attitudes, like preaching to the choir: nurturing children, good; neglecting and abusing children, bad. And another audience will find preaching alienating, like glorifying human failings: drunkenness, bad; temperance, bad; corruption, bad; but to err is human, good, from trial and error comes growth.

So what's a method that will span audiences? An ah-hah moment came yesterday. How private stakes, how dramatic conflict, how larger-than-life characters transcend private meanings and appeal to broad public audiences. Narratives that drill down into common human fears and anxieties and desires and wants and needs appeal broadly. I've intellectually known public and private and larger-than-life as writing principles, but they might as well have been ephemera as far as taking them to heart and becoming second nature for writing were concerned.

In other words, is your novel, Preacher, relatable to timely, relevant, and current human fears, anxieties, and desires, for public appeal? Answer that and emphasize it in your query and you'll have your answer for how to nail down, boil down the query to its pure essence.
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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by Preacher » September 27th, 2012, 8:53 am

Guys,

thanks for the suggestions and hints.

Dios, you hit it right on the head ..... Preacher wants to save his family. He sees his sister as the only part of it left. His skill set is exactly what you said -his dogged determination. He is not going to give up. Not Now. Not ever. Whetever the personal cost is, he does not care. Nothing will get in the way. She is all there is, his rock, his center. Without having that part of his family, he will feel adrift and lost, as he does when the novel starts without her being around.

Preacher is a guy of few words. he believes in economy of words and maximixing action. He has the childhood issues with his mentally abusive father, which has shaped who he is today. He left home at an early age and took all the hate he had for his father and had a stint in the service to try and learn routine and order and things like that. Also, as an outlet for his anger. But eventually he ntired of that and found a better outlet for his pent up rage -mixed martial arts. he picked up that and was on the way to the top when his sister disappeared. He walked out of the ring and never returned. When the story picks up, he has been away from the ring and instead of wanting to hurt people he had a change -there was too much pain in the world. He did not want to add to it anymore. He wanted to help people heal. So he took a job with a social service agency to help people instead, which is where he is when the story begins. DUring the story he will have to go back and revisit that angry part of him. he will need to call upon the rage he thought he shut down and got rid of. in order to go forward to get his sister back he will have to go back to what he once was.

I dont want to use a query to present a laundry list. but this is who preacher is and i think it makes him an interesting character as he journeys to find his sister. i just do not know how to try and show these qualities in a query ..... i am not sure what of all that is important. I still feel he is an interesting character.

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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by dios4vida » September 27th, 2012, 11:42 am

Preacher wrote:He is not going to give up. Not Now. Not ever. Whetever the personal cost is, he does not care...Preacher believes in economy of words and maximixing action. He left home at an early age and took all the hate he had for his father and had a stint in the service to try and learn routine and order and things like that. [Then he picked up] mixed martial arts. He walked out of the ring and never returned. [But] there was too much pain in the world. So he took a job with a social service agency to help people instead, which is where he is when the story begins. DUring the story he will have to go back and revisit that angry part of him. he will need to call upon the rage he thought he shut down and got rid of. in order to go forward to get his sister back he will have to go back to what he once was.

I dont want to use a query to present a laundry list. but this is who preacher is and i think it makes him an interesting character as he journeys to find his sister.
This does make for an interesting character. Look at all the conflict he has - he wants family but has lost it, he wants peace but is overcome with rage. He'll have to face and overcome his demons (fear, past history, anger) in order to do what he wants, i.e. something good and finding his sister. That does make for a very good character.

The key, I think, is to not just lay all this out in a list. You have to show that he's like this and illustrate his issues and the obstacles to come. The "Not now. Not ever." line does exactly that by showing us he's a man of brevity and determination. He will not give up. Period. And you showed us that in four words. :)

You have to find some way to not give out a laundry list of problems and skills, but put all that into the framework of Gavin Preacher, man (forgive my poorly written example): Preacher had thrown away his chance at greatness, or at least a medal in the mixed martial arts ring, to do something better with his life. But then his sister is kidnapped. If he wants to get her back, he'll have to go back to those skills - and the anger they cultivate - yadda yadda yadda.

See what that did to the list? It condensed it to only those parts that are most relevent and showed the life around it, the mind of the man, and the awful choices being thrust upon him. No longer a laundry list, but an illustration of conflict and character.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by Preacher » September 27th, 2012, 12:03 pm

Yes, thank you. I think i am getting at what you are trying to say. I need to find that and illustrate it .....

30 days ago, Gavin Preacher's sister disappeared. There were no clues. There were no witnesses. The police have all but given up, but not Preacher. He can't. Not now. Not ever. She's his center, his best friend, his only family. He's not about to give up on her, like their father did on him. But in order to find her and rescue her he will have to unearth a part of him he shut off a long time ago and find the rage his father ignited in him as a kid.

OR MAYBE

Gavin Preacher's rage, fueled by his father's mental abuse, had him on the verge of becoming a mixed martial arts champion. Then everything changed. Then his younger sister disappeared. There were no clues or leads. Preacher walked away from the ring and never returned. He buried his rage and found an outlet helping people. But when a woman tells him his sister is in danger Preacher will have to call upon his old skills. In order to go forward and find his sister he will have to go back and dust off his old skills, and the rage they cultivate. Maybe, just maybe, by finding his sister he can get the approval of the one person who was never willing to give it.

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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by dios4vida » September 27th, 2012, 1:50 pm

I actually think you're on the right track in more ways than you think.

---

30 days ago, Gavin Preacher's sister disappeared. There were no clues. There were no witnesses. The police have all but given up, but not Preacher. He can't. Not now. Not ever. She's his center, his best friend, his only family. He's not about to give up on her, like their father did on him.

In order to find her, he has to give up the new life he'd built. Leave behind helping others and doing good, and return to the rage and hatred he'd abandoned in a mixed martial arts ring. Maybe, just maybe, by finding his sister he can get the approval of the one person who was never willing to give it.

--

All that is pretty much cut-and-paste from your previous examples, just rearranged and with a slight tweak of wording. It incorporates both ideas, both aspects of Preacher.

Do remember that the sweet spot of a query's word count is 250. So you have a lot of room to expand on this!

One last thing is you usually want to end a query on the character's choice: what sacrifices will they face in order to succeed? The bit about his father's approval is good but you might want to tie it in a little better and then highlight what Gavin will have to choose between: his sister's life and succumbing to rage? Sacrificing any hope of family in order for her to live? You get the idea.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by Preacher » September 27th, 2012, 1:55 pm

Brenda,

thank you very much. I think this shows who the guy is and i think it makes people want to see him succeed

As far as the choice -well, if he doesn't find her she is going to undergo an experimental fertility treatment that will kill her. So it is a race against the clock to save his sister and to prove to himself he is a somebody.

See, what happens is that a woman shows up and tells him his sister is alive and in danger. but before he can get more answers she dies. so, to find her he neexds to find out the mystery of this woman's death and how she is connected with the sister. he finds out about the fertility clinic which puts him on the clock .....

do you think that can work into it?

30 days ago, Gavin Preacher's sister disappeared. There were no clues. There were no witnesses. The police have all but given up, but not Preacher. He can't. Not now. Not ever. She's his center, his best friend, his only family. He's not about to give up on her, like their father did on him.

When a woman shows up saying his sister is still alive and in danger, Preacher has renewed hope. But she dies before he can get more from her. In order to find his sister he needs to solve the woman's death and find her connection to his sister. He needs to abandon the new life he's built. Leave behind his need to help others and return to a deadly set of skills and the rage they cultivated. To go forward he has to go back and, in the process, hope he doesn't lose himself to the beast he buried.

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dios4vida
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Re: Trying to nail down aspects for a query

Post by dios4vida » September 27th, 2012, 2:10 pm

Exactly. You're definitely on the right track now! :)

When you're happy with it, make sure to post this in the query feedback forum, as well.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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