Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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dee_garretson
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Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by dee_garretson » October 5th, 2010, 2:22 pm

Most writers loathe writing query letters, and I did too, until I learned how to concentrate on distilling the important parts of the story I was describing. It’s hard to judge your own story with all the secondary characters and subplots clamoring for attention, so I found it helpful to practice by writing queries based on classic books or movies. In honor of Halloween I decided to do a sample query based on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Before I write any query, I answer some questions:

1.Who is the main character and what about him/her is interesting?
2.What does the main character want at the beginning of the story, and if it changes, what does he/she want later on?
3.Who is the antagonist, or what is preventing the main character from obtaining his/her wants?
4.What are the stakes if the main character fails at obtaining the goal?

Based on how I answered those questions for FRANKENSTEIN, here’s the story part of the query:

Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant young scientist, is obsessed with discovering the secret of life. He prowls the cemeteries and charnel houses of 18th century Bavaria, determined to unlock the mysteries of life and death. After years of work, he succeeds beyond all his expectations, managing to bring life to a creature made from body parts of the dead, but his elation at his success is brief. The moment the creature opens its eyes, Victor realizes he has created a monster. Distraught at the horror of his creation, the scientist unwittingly lets it escape into the night.

Tormented by the knowledge of the creature’s existence, Victor dreads its reappearance. He never imagines how terrible the return will be, until the monster murders Victor’s brother. When Victor confronts the creature, it vows to kill the rest of the scientist’s family and friends unless Victor creates another monstrosity, one that could be a companion to the monster in all its loneliness and misery.

Victor is faced with a choice-appease the monster by doing as it wishes, or follow his conscience and face the consequences of a creature set on revenge. When Victor chooses, the monster kills Victor’s dearest companions, driving Victor on a hunt that takes him to the icy regions of the Arctic to find his creation so he can destroy it. The chase can only end in the death of one or both. (add closing thank you, etc., etc.)

Actually, both Victor and the monster die in the end in non-glorious ways. I suspect if this story were written today, Victor and the monster would engage in a hand-to-hand battle, the monster would fall into an ice crevasse, leaving Victor to believe the monster is dead. Since the ending should be open enough for a sequel, the monster wouldn’t actually die. He’d merely be injured, so that in book two he could come back to take over the world with his army of polar bears angered by global warming.

Notice I didn’t mention Victor’s fiancée, Elizabeth, who is killed by the monster right after the wedding. Introducing her and the circumstances of her death would show there was a bit of romance in the book, but the complications in doing so would far outweigh the benefit of describing this subplot.

I also didn’t mention how this story is told by Victor as he is on his deathbed on a ship trapped in the ice of the North Pole. Again, that would add way too many details. It’s not the real setting of the story and it’s not important for the purpose of a query letter.

It would be tempting to go into detail about the monster, but trying to explain an eloquent creature eight feet tall with black lips overwhelmed me, so I didn’t attempt it, and I don’t think the query needed it. I think I'll try DRACULA next.

Down the well
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by Down the well » October 24th, 2010, 2:11 pm

Hi Dee,

I thought I'd bump this thread up in part because it's almost Halloween, and also I think there's some really useful information here on how to distill plot information down for the purpose of writing a query letter.

I've attended conference workshops that have taken the same approach to writing a synopsis (BTW, what is the plural of synopsis: synopsises, synopsees, synopsi?). Using a well-known book or movie as an example, one where everyone is familiar with the plot, makes it much easier to explain why it's important to report only the essentials and avoid unnecessary reference to subplots and minor characters. Nice job.
Last edited by Down the well on October 28th, 2010, 8:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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cheekychook
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by cheekychook » October 24th, 2010, 9:45 pm

Down the well wrote:(BTW, what is the plural of synopsis: synopsises, synopsees, synopsi?).
The plural of synopsis is "synopses". Unless of course it's a one-page synopsis, in which case singular and plural are just more commonly known as "hell".
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Down the well
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by Down the well » October 25th, 2010, 9:59 am

cheekychook wrote:Unless of course it's a one-page synopsis, in which case singular and plural are just more commonly known as "hell".
lol, And the one sentence pitch was invented by wicked demons with gnashing teeth who like to watch writers suffer.

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Quill
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by Quill » October 25th, 2010, 11:02 pm

Down the well wrote:
cheekychook wrote:Unless of course it's a one-page synopsis, in which case singular and plural are just more commonly known as "hell".
lol, And the one sentence pitch was invented by wicked demons with gnashing teeth who like to watch writers suffer.
Correct! The term "one sentence pitch" is actually derived from a special part of query hell, where punishees are poked with pitchforks until they are able to condense their novels into one sentence. And it has to be a zinger.

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Mira
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by Mira » October 26th, 2010, 4:43 pm

That's a good query. I just want you to know - if I were an agent - I would request a partial. I think this has potential and I'd like to read more of it.

I was wondering if you could change the monster to a vampire, though. Vampires are very hot right now.

If you wouldn't mind doing that small edit, I would consider offering representation on Frankenstein (working title). Please let me know what you have in mind for this brand. I'm thinking a few sequels: Frankenstein goes to College; Frankenstein and the Miner's Daughter; Frankenstein at the Beach; Frankenstein: A Christmas Tale.

Let me know what you think.

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Query Letters for Fun - Practicing with FRANKENSTEIN

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 26th, 2010, 6:31 pm

Don't forget the zombie ballerinas!

But overall, an unlikely story. Next you'll be telling me it was written two hundred years ago by a young girl!

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