Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Query, Pitch, Action! #4

Hello, dears!

You have survived Monday!

I've been talking a lot about people watching and summaries/queries. We're doing a little more on this today!

Remember how yesterday we did copycat queries?

Remember how plot points and even some genres were right, but they weren't driving across tone?

One great way to do that is to bring out what makes the story different. The characters. It's not just the setting, at least in this case where there's magic in the real world, it's not. It's the people. It's never the same people with the same problems with the same solutions.

Readers get attached to people.

I'm blowing your mind, I know.

But it's true. People matter and what they care about and want and feel on what's happening is what makes stakes!

I should have told you sooner, huh?

If you haven't read The Nines, I'll summarize here. The Nines are, wow, nine elements that are the base of your story. There's Story, Theme/Big Idea, Goal, Conflict, Solution. That's just for your main story. But for personal story and motivation there's Want, Flaw, Need, and Consequence.

Those last four are our target today.

What the character wants should help build the tone for us. The Flaw should be stated. The Need should be implied or left out altogether. (One of those unanswered solution type deals.) The Consequence should definitely be implied or put on paper.


This is what the character wants before anything changes. This is the one thing that should change as the story changes or, in some growing up stories, goes away at the climax, or isn't exactly what the character thought he or she or shklee wanted.

Sometimes, the want is only altered a little bit by the end. It depends on age group (usually the older the protagonist is, the more likely the Want changes subtly whereas younger, still not sure what they actually want) and what kind of story you're writing (romance often the character knows what she/he/shklee wants but maybe not who they want or to what degree.)

You can tell a lot about a person by what they dream. My dream has all to do with storytelling. It's in my blood. It's in my soul.

I can honestly say I can't go a day without people watching or telling a story or breaking one down for the fun of it. And it's not that I've trained myself to do that. It's like stepping off a cliff and falling, I breathe therefore I tangle myself in stories.

It's an irresistible force.

I'd make a great protagonist, says the horror writer. Please don't kill me.

I have an obsession. I have a plan, so I don't notice or plan to change courses. I would be the perfect target for a Love at First Sight plot or Tragic Accident plot.

Or a Secret Agent/Chosen One plot.

I don't know about you guys, but when I read on a protag that has nothing going on until someone walks into their lives, I kinda black out.

Not that I've never been bored or had nothing going on, but the character must have dreams, hopes, wants, desires. Those sorts of things don't really leave us. Or, kinda.

I guess I should rewind the tape, because when my story opens, Vannette's only aspiration, from the moment her eyes open, is the moment where she can close them again.

But to balance it all, I keep her memories of wants and dreams and hopes and desires close by. Something is happening in her world. Something has just happened and is on the tail end of it when she's flung into something terrifying.

It's actually the way horror works.

But keep who the person is close. In a summary, you have to entice someone to spend thousands of words with this being. The protag should at least be interesting.

In the first version of my summary, Vannette's paranoid. Of every little sound in her house, of the way being there makes her feel. And it shows in the first lines:

Vannette feels like she's being watched in her bedroom. But this time it isn't her paranoia that makes her feel stalked.

To me, it presents her current situation, probably implies that she's been called paranoid before which means she's had trouble with people believing her, but this time she has proof someone's watching her.


If the Want is the internal goal, this is the internal obstacle. Unlike the Want, this should be obvious to everyone. This is the reason why the protag's plans are failing. She/he/shklee just doesn't know it yet.

Honestly, the more we grow, the more the lessons that served us before outstay their welcome. Then we learn new lessons until we learn to objectively decide how to react to a problem or solve it.

So what was once the way to deal with things is not getting in the way of new situations and achievements.

Throwback really fast to my breakdown of The Dark Knight.

Bruce was constantly told by others that he needed to limit himself. This is how we know it's his flaw. He just doesn't realize it's a flaw because that's how he's been keeping up with the dangers of his city.

For him, it's not a flaw, it's how he survived before.

In the original summary for my character, Vannette is a paranoid crybaby coward. This is how she's avoided injuries when she and her friends are messing around. How she's avoided being a murder victim in their city. How she's avoided falling into a trap.

But now that that hasn't kept the new threat away, it's stopping her from surviving this danger. And it might cost her more than her life.


Need is both the solution to the Flaw and opposite of it. This seems simple enough. And it sorta is.

As far as comparison goes, this is probably where I get tripped up.

Vannette's made a persona for herself. This helpless girl and she follows it in order to control herself. She has no clue what's on the other side of the wall she's built. It won't be controlled once the wall comes down so she might just be the biggest danger.

But her flaw right now is that she wants to hide under the bed when someone starts painting her neighborhood in blood, looking for her.

She's probably got the power to stand a chance. She just doesn't trust herself enough to try.


Need and Consequence are tightly bound. If you haven't read about adding blood to the water, you'll probably still understand I don't want to leave anyone unscathed.

My favorite books and movies and stories are where the transformation is painful and difficult. I want everyone to have stripes and scars for who they are.

I think it's because some of the best lessons I learned, I had to learn them the hard way. Or just because I'm a sadist. Pick whichever reason you like. I think it's both anyway.

But back to Consequence. This is personal stake.

This is the selling point of every summary. What's the stake?

In Twilight, the personal stake wasn't told in the book copy but yes in the DVD. Personal stakes, they're in love, he wants to kill her, a group of someone elses want to kill her. It's up to him to stop them.

You'd think the Consequence was for her but she kinda just goes along for the ride. Whatever.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, the personal stake is his own bloodlust against someone else's where his loved ones are involved.

"I wonder what these books have in common with her story."

In The Dark Divine, the personal stake is family and soul. She's risking it all to be close to Daniel.

Everyone wants to see what people would do in an uncomfortable or difficult situation. Everyone wants to see responses to danger.

Truth or Dare? Never Have I Ever? We play those games to put ourselves at risk.

The Consequence should be a lose-lose-win. What will the protagonist lose if she/he/shklee doesn't get the Need? Lose the Want for one. And depending on what type of story you're writing, the consequences can be much worse.

But then flip it. What will the protagonist lose if she/he/shklee does get the Need?

Everything has a light and dark side. The best kinds of stories, in my opinion and at least in the types of stories i like and write, the trickier the spot the more compelling.

Now how does that transfer to a summary?

You don't have to bullet point these answers in the summary. But knowing these things, it changes the tone of the summary completely, because the internal journey seals the deal.

Yesterday we copied plot point related summaries. Add this to that and bam. No room for the wrong kinds of questions. Everyone knows what you're talking about.

Keep these in the back of your mind as you work on your summary. It seriously changes the tone.