novels

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. 

So my credit card number got stolen by Ryan Hill

Which is awesome. And a great way to start the weekend. Really. Not just saying that.

Someone, I don't know who, but let's call them Asscheeks McGillicutty, tried to charge $140 worth of mess at a Sears in Virginia to my credit card. Fortunately, the card company caught it.

But I still have to go through the hassle of re-entering that info at places where I pay bills, subscribe to things, etc. 

Clearly, if Asscheeks had met me, things would be different. They'd stand in awe of my classically handsome face. They'd laugh at my jokes until they wet themselves. Not much, just a drop or two. Enough to know they needed to get control of themselves.

I imagine Asscheeks has patchy hair on their head, and what is there looks like cobwebs... maybe even has a fly or two stuck in there. They're probably wearing an old, tattered Hulkamania tank-top that was purchased in 1997 at a garage sale. I'm guessing it was found under a pile of moldy towels someone tried to sell for a dollar. I bet Asscheeks, if Asscheeks is a male, has donated blood and whatnot to places all over the country, so... the future has that to look forward to. As for Asscheeks McGillicutty, I hope their future involves an infuriating bout of PokemonGO where all they find are level 12 Rattata that sends them into a rage that lasts so long, they don't notice the steamroller coming at them from a mile away, despite the driver yelling, "Move! I don't want you to get squished!" repeatedly for thirty minutes to no avail. 

Then, as quickly as Asscheeks McGillicutty entered my life, they were gone. Squished. Flattened like a pancake on the road.

Seems like a fair and just fate.