What’s at Stake

My desperate wish is for someone out there to see something valuable in the stories I’ve written.  I’ve been feeling really pessimistic about Twenty-Five lately, but deep down, I don’t think it’s a bad book.  Even though the subject matter isn’t really unique, it isn’t a formulaic book about love.  That’s where I have a problem in writing my query letter.

I keep getting the suggestion to answer three questions in my query:
1. What does the MC want?
2. What does she have to do to get it?
3. What happens if she fails to get what she wants (the stakes)?

Okay, so I’m going to try, but this is where I’ve been having problems, answering these questions.  You would think this would be easy, but I don’t think it’s so black and white as these questions seem.  Here goes:

1. Abigail wants love.  She wants it so badly she doesn’t believe she’ll ever find it.  She wants to be a journalist, she wants to have a column published in the magazine she works for.

2. To get love, she just has to be open to it.  She has to believe that Ben really does care about her and that she deserves his love.  To get her column, she has to persevere and write from her heart.  She has to not care what others think.

3. Here’s the issue.  She can’t have both, but she gets both.  Ben falls in love with her, she falls in love with Ben.  She gets her “Facing Your Fears” column and then she gets offered a column in London.

She can take the column in London and advance her career, but doing so means leaving Ben behind.  Why does it mean leaving Ben behind?  Because she’s scared- her old insecurities pop up and once again she thinks she’s not good enough for him.  She thinks that he won’t be willing to do long distance and when he doesn’t encourage her to take the job she takes that as him saying their relationship can only exist while she stays in America.

She could pass up on the column and stay in America with Ben, but to her that means facing a lifetime of regret and resentment.  Regret that she didn’t take the opportunity to advance her career further, knowing that turning down one job puts her in a negative light with her editors and the possible chance that she won’t be given any more opportunities.  And resentment of Ben that he didn’t support her and allowed her to pass up the opportunity.

To her it seems like an impossible decision.  She chooses to take the job and break up with Ben.  She’s wrong- but that’s the decision she makes.  He would have been willing to do the long distance, but she never asks him to.  Of course, the fault isn’t all on Abby, he doesn’t offer it either.

So what’s at stake?  Her relationship with Ben and her job.  In the end, they find a way to make both work, but it’s a long time coming.

So now, how the HELL do I put all that in a query letter?

15 thoughts on “What’s at Stake

  1. I know I’ve seen this story on TNBW. I would like to get into it soon. Maybe today I will start reading the first chapter.

    I would like to help you with your synopsis but I’m awful at it too.


  2. It’s so tough, because not every story is designed in a way to easily visible answers to the three questions, particularly love stories, because it’s not that the stakes are something like: Or she will die. Or she will be trapped in a dungeon for all eternity. It’s more like “Or she’ll lose Ben”…umm, okay, but how do you make that sound like KABOOM in a query?!?!

    And that’s why I talked about voice before. I also got my query tested against those ‘three questions’, and I revised it to exact mechanical specifications. Wanna know a secret though? I never got any requests off that query. The agent who picked me out of a pile, chose my old query, that was not structured in a traditional way; a query where the conflict was explained in a way that any average person could understand it, but it wasn’t answering those three questions like clockwork.

    So my point is, for the sort of stuff that you and I write, where no character is saving the world or saving some one’s life, but where the whole story is ABOUT the characters, that’s where you need to inject as much voice into the query as possible. The Query Letter Hell people just want you to make your query as clear as possible, which is totally valid, but voice is the add-on that can make more of a difference.

    Do you know what I mean?

    Let me ferment over your query for a day or two…hmmm…I’ll send you an email when I have some down-time at work 😉

    1. Thanks Romi. Yeah, I’ve been scratching my head over this forever it seems like. I guess I’m just confused because I wrote 5 drafts of this query before someone helped me write the current one. When I posted the current one, several people on TNBW said it was perfect, and Suzie from Fine Print said it was great and that if she repped romance she’d request the MS from that query. And then I send it out and don’t get any hits so I post it on other sites and am told it doesn’t work at all! The subjectivity of it all is frustrating.

      With the whole voice thing, well, I know you are right, but that’s what worries me, because I don’t have a unique voice! The book isn’t particularly funny or quirky in that sense, so I don’t know how to show it’s uniqueness through voice- does that make sense?

  3. yes, I know what you mean, but the voice doesn’t have to be funny exactly, sometimes it’s more about pacing and stuff, like having an impact sentence fragment, what info you use, what info you leave out, things like that.

    And yes, it is very subjective, which is why you shouldn’t live and die by those 3 questions. I get why they are asked, it makes sense, but it’s another subjective set of eyes..GAHHHH! I know it’s making you crazy…I am happy to read your latest version whenever you have it, if you need an extra set of eyes, okay dude? 🙂

    1. the exercise of the 3 questions was good. I’m going to work on my query today, but you should be cleaning up your draft for your agent!!! once you get that finished I’ll take all the help I can get, but that is more important for you to be focusing on 🙂

      1. you mean you could tell that I was avoiding that? bwahahaha….No but really, part of editing for me, is that I’m going to be reading and reviewing a lot too…it’s part of my zone to “read” as well as “write” 😉

        So the offer stands, I’m happy to look at the draft, and plus since the agent told me to take ’till the end of the month, I’m going to do a bit a day instead of going ape-shit crazy…LOL

        Glad the 3 questions helped, by the way! 🙂

      2. Actually no, I didn’t mean to imply that you were avoiding editing, I just didn’t want to add another thing to your plate!

        I can’t seem to get a draft down! I keep typing first paragraphs and deleting them. Nothing works! haha 🙂

      3. To this day, I maintain that writing a query is harder than writing a novel. For REALZ!
        And actually I am literally avoiding the editing (hence chilling on wordpress, lol)…just for tonight 😉

      4. I completely agree. Writing the first draft of Twenty-Five only took me a month! Editing and rewriting is another story, but a month to write 93k words is super fast, especially when I consider that it took me a good two weeks to write my current query letter!

        maybe I can send you one of my old drafts that I’m liking a little better but which I know isn’t good enough

      5. you never told me you wrote the draft in 1 month?!?! 93K?!?! That must be a record!!!

        Sure, send me an older version of your draft that you like better. Sometimes it’s better to work off an older version that had some spark…SEND! 😉

      6. Actually, I just realized, it was only 60someK. The first first draft ended with Abigail taking the job and leaving. I didn’t write the current ending until I my reviewers on TNBW told me it couldn’t end that way. So no record!

        I’ll send it to you right now.

  4. Hi, Rachel,

    I feel your confusion. Where d’you have the query posted at tnbw. I can look at it too, see if I can help in any way.

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