The other day, Query Shark posted a query that she said broke all the rules, and still worked. It’s short, and you really should read it. It’s here. I’ll wait a moment while you go read.
So, Query Shark reckons this breaks the rules. With all due respect, I disagree with her. Query Shark says this query works despite the fact that it breaks all the rules; I think it works because it transcends the rules. The query is perfect not because it lacks the necessary elements and makes up for it in voice, but because every single one of the elements is there, and the query still manages to avoid being formulaic. It’s such a perfect example of rising above the rules, rather than breaking them.
So what are the rules? Show your main character. Show your main conflict. Show the choice they have to make, and what’s at stake. Show who or what opposes the main character in their quest to fulfil their goal. (Note that in every instance here I’ve said ‘show’, not ‘tell’? Important. Take note.)
This query does exactly that. Main character? Claire. Conflict? Her cousin committed suicide and she wants to know why. Choice? Hunt down the boy responsible. Stakes? Life and death. Opposition? Claire ditches her entire persona, becomes someone obviously not her usual self, to hunt down a boy responsible for her cousin’s suicide – and the query hints at death, both in the actual text and in the title of the novel.
Looks to me like this is a gorgeous-in-its-simplicity example not of breaking the rules, but how to follow them. Rules don’t have to be formulaic, or constraining, or anti-creativity. Yes, queries are hard – but put some steel in your spine and dare to transcend the rules, rather than dismissing them.
I wish I knew the author of the query’s name, so I could shout ‘Go [name]!!’ properly. I don’t, but still: go you, author. Thanks for showing us how it’s done 🙂