Your recent critique on Query Shark mentioned cutting set up and backstory to keep a query lean and effective. My question is ... when does set up / backstory become necessary to avoid confusion (the great query sin)?You say surprise like it's a bad thing.
My current ms (should be sending queries this month!!) has an odd-but-important element that I feel would be weird if I left out of the query (don't want the agent to read the pages and feel surprised/betrayed), but to put this in the query requires a fair amount of what looks like set up / backstory (looks like it because that's what it is).I guess my real question is this. If we do attempt to include set up / backstory, is it better to just be blunt with it and get it out of the way (avoid confusion) or try to "say as much as you can without saying it" (avoid it looking like set up / backstory)???
I love twists and turns. I LOVE it when writing surprises me...in a good way.
But my guess is you mean that the agent won't understand the story without some set up.
And that's the answer to your question. You need set up if the reader won't understand the plot without the key element.
But often times writer fail to understand that your reader isn't looking for problems. We're looking for a great story. And we'll buy in to what you tell us if we can.
So, do I believe dragons fly on Pern?
I don't need any of the backstory or explanation about how.
Do I believe there are monks from The Electric Church who will offer you eternal salvation for a price?
I don't need to know how the church started or much of anything else.
Do I believe that the Emperor can shoot electricity from his hands even though no one else in the Galaxy can?
And I want me some of that.
Do I believe that Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter?
Well, ok, sure. I get that this is a novel with a wacko premise.
But do I believe you when you tell me there are tunnels in New Orleans?
Because the watertable in NOLA is so high, they can't even bury people there.
Tunnels would collapse.
So there, you need some explanation.
So dragons can fly but you can't have tunnels in New Orleans.
How do you know the difference?
Well, for starters dragons fly on Pern, which is not earth. I have no expectations of what is real on Pern cause it's all made up.
But New Orleans is real. I'm willing to suspend disbelief for minor things, but something that is literally impossible is a deal breaker without explanation.
How can you
Here's where you need a beta reader, or more than one actually.
Give them the query without the explanation or set up or backstory.
Ask one question: did you understand this.
Then ask: did you believe this could happen?
Make sure they were confused by lack of information, not lack of connection between events.
Most of your readers will be glad to make intuitive jumps with you and believe what you tell them.
Over-explaining things is one of the big problems I see in query pages.
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