[Writer’s Corner] QUERY LETTER: Connect Your Story Hook To Your Conflict.

In the first post of this three part-series, we talked about Query Letters. READ IT HERE

  • Finding your story’s hook and defining it
  • What a Query Letter is and isn’t
  • The mechanics of your three paragraphs

The short formula is CHARACTER + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES.  Using Disney’s Mulan, we came up with a basic first paragraph:

An independent-minded young woman takes her aging father’s spot in the military draft by pretending to be a man. If she’s caught, her family will be dishonored, and she’ll be killed.

In this post, we’ll set up the 2nd Paragraph:

  • Identify the important characters to name using CHARACTER + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES
  • Identify and quickly set up stakes
  • Leave out all other minor plot lines and place descriptions



Paragraph 2: The Conflict

Connect the hook into the first conflict and add important characters.

Your first major conflict probably happens somewhere close to a third of the way through your book. Lots of stuff can happen before then, but this incident is often the first major setback for your main character, and this is where you tie it back to the problem he had to face in the hook. For Mulan, this is where her gender is revealed.

Everything in your Query is stripped down to the essential information only. That includes characters. I won’t introduce Shan Yu (the Hun leader) and I didn’t talk about Mushu (the adorable dragon ancestor). Neither of them had to be explained to understand the basic conflict, but Captain Li Shang does have to be introduced, and I’ll show you how to do that.

You’re going to follow the same basic formula here:  CONFLICT + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES. We’re already started with this:

MULAN, an independent-minded young woman takes her aging father’s spot in the military draft by pretending to be a man. If she’s caught her family will be dishonored, and she’ll be killed.

What is the conflict that sets up the climax? The Huns breach the Great Wall, and it’s revealed that Mulan is a woman.

Who else needs to be introduced to explain this conflict? Since Captain Li Shang is the one who finds her out, and also her primary love interest, we’re going to have to introduce him. He has his own conflict and issues to work out, and we need to cover those in about one sentence. Captain Shang is in charge of his first solo-mission and really wants to impress his father, the General.

Notice a familiar pattern building here? When we built our hook paragraph, we used the formula CHARACTER + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES. Now we’ve established another Choice (usually involving more characters), and identified the characters involved in that choice. We bring it all home by talking about the consequences of their potential choices. This time we’re just going to point out the consequences, and not reveal what they choose to do.

What are the choices? Mulan can risk exposing her secret to save the troops, or she can desert them and protect her identity. Captain Shang can follow the law and execute Mulan, or he can let her live, bringing dishonor to his name. 

What are the consequences? What will happen if they do/don’t make that choice?Mulan is their best fighter, and they need her to stop the Huns before they reach the Imperial Palace. If Captain Shang lets Mulan live, it will dishonor him and his family. 

So here’s a first draft of all that together, naturally creating a final tie-in to the bigger stakes:

MULAN, an independent-minded young woman takes her aging father’s spot in the military draft by pretending to be a man. If she’s caught her family will be dishonored, and she’ll be killed.

Disguised as a man, she trains with the Imperial Troops under the careful watch of CAPTAIN SHANG, who needs to succeed on his first solo command or risk embarrassing his father, the Imperial General. When word comes that the Huns have breached the Great Wall, they rush to the front lines. Mulan proves herself in battle saving the entire troop, but she is injured, and her gender is revealed to Captain Shang. Together, they are faced with an impossible choice: Save the emperor’s life by defying the law, or protect their families’ honor.

Note: Don’t end with a question, it’s gimmicky and overused. Save it for your back cover blurb. “Will they save the day? Can they save the emperor in time?”  Instead try this formula: She/He/They face the challenge of [big choice] or else [big consequence].

Congrats! This is the basic bones of your query! On future drafts, you’d build up the general situation going on in China in the first paragraph, and more about their romantic tension. Do another edit to try and add more ‘voice’ to the narrative, just as you would for character dialogue. Run it past at at least two different beta readers.

Reminders for the 2nd paragraph

  • Only reveal roughly the first third of your plot, not the ending of the novel
  • Only introduce other main characters and essential plot lines. Sorry mushu.
  • Do not end in a question -“Will they or won’t they?”
  • Do lots of revisions – add in character voice and more detail where needed.

The closing paragraph is all about the mechanics of your book, including the author bio. For a breakdown on that, querying tips to get you started, and online resources, follow my blog to be notified about the final post in my QUERY LETTER series.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll receive my free query letter template, my top tips and a copy of my query for THE LOST SECT (available this fall from Red Adept Publishing).



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