1. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982

    Query Letter Unlove Letters

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by daemon, Jul 12, 2014.

    I am attempting a query letter style that a reader would call "menacingly simple and unflinchingly concise." Thus, I could use help identifying nonessential words and sentences that should be broken up.

    I would also like to know which option is more effective:
    1. Open with a shocking sentence that shows how the characters are threatened, then explain how the threat works, then hint at how they can avert the threat. (potential advantage: makes the plot easier to follow at the beginning)
    2. Open with mystery and suspense, then build layers on top of the mystery, then tie it all together in a shocking sentence that reveals what is happening under the surface, then hint at how the threat can be averted. (potential advantage: showcases the "suspense then climax" writing style of the actual book)
    And finally, I would like to know if the premise makes sense to you at all. :p I am trying to do several things with this query / dust jacket blurb, maybe too much. My goal is to clarify both the rules of the psychological game and the direction in which the events will begin to unfold.

    Option 1: shocking opening

    Dear Agent,

    I would like you to represent my psychological thriller novel, UNLOVE LETTERS.

    The Kleene family is next in line to be murdered one by one from the inside.

    Steve Kleene is gagged and bound in a shed by a creature that wears his disguise. When the new "Steve" shows kindness and affection to his friends and family, he feeds on the love that they give in return. Eats it and depletes it like food. Sucks it out of the air.

    While the love still lasts, he helps his little sister Irene to start a business to finally sell her paintings and to overcome her shyness. He uses the charade to study her personality, her speech patterns, and her relationships.

    When no one but Irene loves him anymore, he will "find a marketing internship" across the country and move out. Only Irene will even care to write or call him when he is gone.

    Before leaving, he will meet with her one last time for a heartfelt farewell. Which of course means he will drug her, bring her to the shed, take her disguise, and kill her brother before her eyes.

    "Irene" will tell everyone that Steve said goodbye and left. Then she will "spend quality time" with her dad.

    So the plan goes. Maintaining a disguise is a bitch.

    In 58,000 words, the world's unloving expert on love uses deception to leech off of a family's love for each other.

    Thank you for your time.

    Option 2: suspense

    Dear Agent,

    I would like you to represent my psychological thriller novel, UNLOVE LETTERS.

    Steve Kleene, a senior at the local college, is missing. No one has a clue -- except for the creature that wears his disguise.

    When the new "Steve" shows kindness and affection to his friends and family, he feeds on the love that they give in return. Eats it and depletes it like food. Sucks it out of the air.

    While the love still lasts, he helps his little sister Irene to start a business to finally sell her paintings and to overcome her shyness. He uses the charade to study her personality, her speech patterns, and her relationships.

    When no one but Irene loves him anymore, he will "find a marketing internship" across the country and move out. Only Irene will even care to write or call him when he is gone.

    Before leaving, he will meet with her one last time for a heartfelt farewell. Which of course means he will drug her, bring her to the shed where the real Steve is gagged and bound, take her disguise, and kill her brother before her eyes.

    "Irene" will tell everyone that Steve said goodbye and left. Then she will "spend quality time" with her dad.

    So the plan goes. Maintaining a disguise is a bitch.

    In 58,000 words, the world's unloving expert on love uses deception to leech off of a family's love for each other.

    Thank you for your time.
     
  2. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    The more I reread it, the more evident it becomes that the actual plot (the changes to the status quo and the reasons why it changes) is entirely summed up in "Maintaining a disguise is a bitch." I like that effect, but only if it works.

    I have played a text-based version of Mafia in which one player kills a villager each night, disguises as the victim, and must impersonate the victim the next day and win the trust of the villagers. It induces the strongest adrenaline rush of any game I have ever played, and in writing the story, I draw extensively from that experience. My goal is to capture the suspense of a marathon game of Mafia with an expert disguiser. (Along with the more literary theme of the different kinds of love.) I considered mentioning that fact in the query, but I could not figure out how to say it concisely enough.

    If you describe a character's plans and say "this will only work if the character can maintain a disguise", then I intuitively understand that an intricate web of lies and psychological manipulation ensues. I automatically sympathize with a character who faces such a challenge, not necessarily with their motives, but with their struggle.

    Can you relate to the "web of lies" situation as intuitively as I can, or does "Maintaining a disguise is a bitch" fail to convey a sense of the variety of ways the villain's plan might go wrong?
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2014
  3. ToeKneeBlack
    Offline

    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2014
    Messages:
    592
    Likes Received:
    207
    The second option gives the reader more to think about, so I'd go with that one.
     
    daemon likes this.
  4. ToDandy
    Offline

    ToDandy Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2013
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    208
    Location:
    Bozeman Montana
    In terms of just the first sentence opening, the second one is about a 100,000,000 times stronger. It defies expectations and grabs the readers attention.
     
    daemon likes this.
  5. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    1,131
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    I read the first line of each query and the second is by far stronger.
    Got me hooked right there.
     
    daemon likes this.
  6. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    @ToeKneeBlack
    @ToDandy
    @A.M.P.

    Good advice. I am taking it and running even further with it by moving the explanation of how the changeling feeds a few paragraphs down.

    How does this compare to option 2:

    Option 3

    Dear Agent,

    Steve Kleene is missing. No one has a clue. Except for the creature wearing his disguise and living in his house.

    The new "Steve" helps his little sister, Irene, to start a business to finally sell her paintings and overcome her shyness. He also strengthens his relationships with his mom, dad, and friends.

    When Irene's business is up and running, "Steve" will unleash his inner asshole. Everyone but Irene will be a victim of his verbal abuse calculated to break each and every one of their precious hearts.

    That is his M.O. He survives by feeding on love that turns into hatred.

    When he "finds a marketing internship" across the country, most people will be glad to get rid of him.

    Before leaving, he will have a heartfelt farewell with Irene. Which of course means he will kidnap her. Bring her to the shed where the real Steve is gagged and bound. Rape her. Take her disguise. Murder her brother before her eyes. Tie her up and leave her.

    With her big brother having "moved out", "Irene" will "spend quality time" with her dad.

    So goes the plan. A disguise only works if no one sniffs out the web of lies.

    UNLOVE LETTERS is a psychological thriller at 58,000 words.

    Thank you for your time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2014
  7. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    1,131
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    I think the second line of the second iteration from before the one above me was a better hook.
     
  8. ToDandy
    Offline

    ToDandy Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2013
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    208
    Location:
    Bozeman Montana
    @daemon

    Dear Agent,

    Steve Kleene is missing. No one has a clue. Except for the creature wearing his disguise and living in his house.
    -I thought your opening in the previous Option 2 was stronger and cleaner.

    The new "Steve" helps his little sister, Irene, to start a business to finally sell her paintings and overcome her shyness. He also strengthens his relationships with his mom, dad, and friends.

    When Irene's business is up and running, "Steve" will unleash his inner asshole. Everyone but Irene will be a victim of his verbal abuse calculated to break each and every one of their precious hearts.
    -Why is Irene spared. Why be nice at first if he is going to break them? You don't need to go into too many specifics. Give us enough to know his plan, that's it.

    That is his M.O. He survives by feeding on love that turns into hatred.

    When he "finds a marketing internship" across the country, most people will be glad to get rid of him.
    -Why? Isn't he pretending to be really nice at the beginning? Why would he be leaving at all when he needs to feed off their hatred.

    Before leaving, he will have a heartfelt farewell with Irene. Which of course means he will kidnap her. Bring her to the shed where the real Steve is gagged and bound. Rape her. Take her disguise. Murder her brother before her eyes. Tie her up and leave her.
    -Here is where you lose me entirely. There is no one in this Query I want to spend any time with. You can have a villainous protagonist, but you have to make us want to spend time with them. Even The Broken Empire series, who has a despicable main character, finds ways to make us want to spend time with him.
    -The thing with villains is they think they are the hero of their story. You need to approach it more from that perspective.


    With her big brother having "moved out", "Irene" will "spend quality time" with her dad.
    -This last sentence just confuses me.

    So goes the plan. A disguise only works if no one sniffs out the web of lies.

    UNLOVE LETTERS is a psychological thriller at 58,000 words.

    Thank you for your time.


    So what you need to do here is really try and go for a traditional template first.

    Who is the story about?
    What does he want?
    What happens if he fails?

    I still think that the opening line from option 2 is EXTREMELY enticing and really works.

    You've got the first part, "Who is the story about?", now the rest of it you need to keep us interested and not get us put off my a character we can't root for, or really want to spend any time with. Really focus on the second two points.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
    Offline

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2014
    Messages:
    1,687
    Likes Received:
    1,080
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    The second approach is preferable, in my opinion, but not there yet. I'm going to throw a spanner in the works and suggest some major rewording. For instance:

    21-year-old Steve Keene has suddenly changed-- for the better. For the first time in his life he's considerate to his mother. He's showing respect for his father. He's even putting all his energies into helping his shy younger sister Irene build a business to sell her art. The Keene family all love the new Steve, and he eats up the affection they give.

    Once Irene's business is up and running, however, Steve's old personality reasserts itself in spades. Heartbroken by his abuse, his family reject him. But not Irene. She remains loving and loyal-- until the creature she believes is her brother reveals to her just what-- or rather, who-- it has left bound, gagged, and starving in the backyard shed.

    The next day a newly-confident Irene will make things up with her estranged father and begin to show him all the love a devoted daughter can give.

    At 58,000 words, Unlove Letters is a psychological thriller proving that love can be the perfect food for evil, as long as evil wears the perfect disguise.

    Or something like that, with the details adjusted to fit your actual story.

    Could be I've just written you a jacket blurb and not a proper query letter. But you get the idea, I hope. I'd want an agent to be thinking,
    "Oooh, creepy, I wonder what's going on here! Readers will want to know, too! Send me your first chapter, pronto!" But as it is it feels like a page from your evil entity's DayTimer. "Ho-hum, gotta get up, kidnap some guy, suck the love out of his family, do him in, take over the sister; golly, this disguise business is a bitch, when's quitting time anyway . . .?" I'm not feeling the shock here, you know? o_O

    Even if your book is written from the evil entity's point of view, seems to me your typical reader (and by extension, the agent) will be hooked more firmly by pitching it from the victims' side of things. The horror plays in because we identify with them and hope to gracious nothing of the sort happens to us.

    Or are you supposed to give an unadorned list of plot points on a query letter? :unsure:
     
  10. K.P Gazelle
    Offline

    K.P Gazelle Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2014
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    Agreed!

     

Share This Page