Monday, April 15, 2024

query letters, writing picture books, revealing the inspiration for a book
                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Freepik


It's a good idea to include the inspiration for your book in a query letter.  

Briefly, a query letter is usually composed of three paragraphs that introduce the title and the hook, give a description of the story, and present the writer's biography.  Whether you begin the query with the inspiration for your book or place it later in the letter, mentioning why you created this story has the potential to show agents that you are the person qualified to tell the story.  

Let's focus on how to reveal the inspiration for a book.  I'm willing to bet most would take the easy approach and write:  This is book was inspired by... blah, blah, blah (pick one: my pet, an occasion, a vacation, a person, another book, a movie, etc.).  

Doable, but predictable.  And boring.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, to quote Jerry Seinfeld.   

But here's the thing.  When you query an agent, you have to stand out.  There are tons of people vying for an agent's attention so, why would you write the basic "I was inspired by" when you can be more creative?  Find a way to bump it up a notch.  You've got to go the extra mile and strive to be more imaginative. 

Okay, now back to your query letter.  Your goal is to state the reason for writing your book in an engaging way.  Let's see if you can avoid using the word "inspired."  

Here are some ideas.  Reveal the reason (a vacation, a person, a pet, an event, a tradition, or a book, etc.) that...

  • helped to plant a seed for (title) 
  • sparked the idea for (title)
  • launched the idea for (title)
  • moved me to create (title)

Let's try using a couple of the suggestions as examples:  

I depend on a service dog for mobility assistance and he sparked the idea for CHARLIE IN CHARGE.

My visit to Dubrovnik, where cats are treated like royalty, launched the idea for THE MAGIC CAT. 

Now expound on the reason you wrote the book.  Give compelling details why you wrote this book.  I repeat: compelling!  Speak to the heart of the agent.  Something that might make her laugh or tear-up. Lastly, add the takeaway.  Reveal the message you want to convey to readers.  What do you want them to get out of reading your book?  

To be honest, you have very little time to pique the interest of an agent.  The way you present the inspiration for your book could make a huge impact on impressing an agent.  It could actually seal the deal.  

So, don't get lazy or take the easy way out.  Be original.  Be imaginative.  Be unique.  Give the agent the captivating reason as to why you wrote your book.  This is your chance to show why you are the one and only person who can tell the story.      


✌ and 

Monday, January 15, 2024

conflict in stories, conflict in picture books, tension, drama
                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Obie Fernandez


As mentioned in the October 2022 blog, you can write the most beautiful story in the world, but if it hasn't any conflict, the story will feel flat, the audience may be bored, and agents could be unimpressed. But one blog post isn't enough to get the point across.  We have lots more to discuss about conflict.  

I work with writers who want to create picture books and submit them for publication.  Though they've developed an interesting protagonist, often their characters don't face a problem or the character has a problem that's too easily solved.  These writers need to consider spicing up their stories with conflict.  

Conflict is a struggle that provides drama and angst.  Conflict gets readers to care for the protagonist and gets them to turn the page.  

Instructor J.T. Bushnell, instructor at Oregon State University says, "More precisely, conflict means thwarted, endangered, or opposing desire.  It’s basically when a character wants something but something else gets in the way.  Maybe the character wants a thing but can’t get it. Maybe the character has something but is in danger of losing it. Maybe the character wants two things that are incompatible. Whatever its form, though, it gets our attention."

Conflicts in fiction can be broken into seven categories.  Here's the list with examples:  

  • Man vs. man (The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games)
  • Person vs. nature (The Life of Pi, The Old Man and the Sea)
  • Person vs. society (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Person vs. technology (Frankenstein) 
  • Person vs. supernatural (almost any work by Edgar Allen Poe)
  • Person vs. person (a work about a person struggling with moral or inner dilemmas; Hamlet)
  • Person vs. destiny (The Odyssey)

This diagram of Freytag's pyramid shows where to place conflict in a story.  

Here's how you can use Freytag's pyramid* as a guide.  

  • Start with the exposition: introduce your main character along with the goals that character wants to achieve and why the MC wants to reach that goal.  
  • Create the inciting incident, the uh-oh moment and BOOM!  You've added conflict.  
  • In the rising action, throw obstacles and complications in the MC's way.  At the climax of the story, the worse has happened and the goal seems unattainable.  
  • In the falling action when all seems lost, the character figures out how to solve the problem.  
  • Lastly, in the denouement, the final outcome of the complication is revealed.

So, analyze that beautiful story you've written.  Does it have conflict?  Does it have a protagonist who wants something intensely, but encounters a significant obstacle?  If not, figure out a way to create tension.  If you're stuck, let your mind wander and write whatever pops into your head to create difficulties for your MC.  Don't edit.  Put all your ideas down.  One of these ideas may work or at least point you in the direction to increase the conflict.  

Readers want to root for the main character or see a complication resolved.  They will be more likely to keep reading when there's some drama.  When there is conflict, you'll have a compelling story.  A complete story.  You will have a story that will grab an audience and quite possibly, the attention of a literary agent, too.   

✌ and 

More on conflict:

* Kitty Turner states on "Gustav Freytag was a hugely popular German author and playwright active from 1840 to 1870. Freytag’s Pyramid is a framework used to analyze and outline the dramatic structure of stories from beginning to end. Although the pyramid is not a one-size-fits-all solution for narrative fiction, a story missing one or more of the elements in Freytag’s pyramid can feel incomplete, or can fail to engage."