Notes from a query reader 2 / by Ryan Hill

 

My previous Notes from a query reader post was very much a brain dump, an overview of what I've learned while reading query letters and manuscript excerpts. These excerpts are almost always a novel's first few chapters, and in the last post I stressed the importance of having a James Bond-type opening. Something that grabs the reader (in this case, me) by the throat. 

I can't stress this enough. Get into the meat of the story later. Be sparing with your details. If you're introducing a character at the beginning, do it with actions, not descriptions. 

One item I'm starting to see over and over again is a story starting with the main character getting out of bed, starting their day.

Does that sound exciting? Does that make you want to read more? Gee, this character just got out of bed! What will happen next? Stretch? Yawn? GO BACK TO SLEEP?

Don't do this. I'm begging you.

The only author - off the top of my head - that can get away with starting a novel with their main character waking up is Dan Brown. All of his novels start with Robert Langdon being waken up in the middle of the night by a phone call to help with some situation. That's... okay. Something is happening. 

Look, when you've sold a bajillion books like Brown, you can start a novel that way. Until then, show your main character in action. Make them proactive. 

Maybe a lot of writers start novels this way because it happens a lot in movies. The catch is there's energetic music that can be played, and often the opening credits are also rolling, so a lot of filmmakers keep things simple during that span. Novels don't have the luxury of a booming soundtrack. All they have is words. Make them count.

HOOK THE READER. For someone like me, who only reads queries and maybe the first three chapters, don't save your best for last. Put it front and center so I'll want the higher ups to look at the query.