Saturday, January 21, 2012

Trailer vs. Query

So I came across this three minute fan-made trailer on Youtube in a collection of several Avatar:The Last Airbender videos. It reminded me of a lot of other movie trailers I had seen. And even though it was a bit over-long (for a trailer) I thought it really got across the characters and the conflict in the three season Nickelodeon show. And I have to admit, it got me wanting to go pick up one of the Avatar DVDs at my local library. Today.

That's what good trailers do: they get you all hyped-up and excited for that new movie that you've never heard of.

Look at that action! Look, its that one actor! And he's running from the bomb/train/badguy/alien with that one girl that was in that one movie.

But after you've gone to IMDb and figured out who of your favorite actors/actresses are in the film, is there anything still pushing you to want to see this film?

Were you intrigued by the character(s), by their challenge, or by the stakes (what's worth fighting for)?

A good trailer and a good query letter should have all that in there (without the fantasy casting when the book is made into a film).

For those who haven't been immersing themselves in publishing-speak, a query letter is the one page letter an author submits to either literary agent, asking them to represent them, or an editor, asking them to publish their manuscript. It's most often unsolicited, like cold-contacting or door-knocking, only instead of asking for donations to the MADD or offering to share what the Mormons believe, one is hawking one's artistic effort of the last six months/two years/last decade. (Ha Ha.)

I felt this video (above) captured the same kind of punch that I want to get into my queries.

(I've been practicing them for nearly a year - really great practice if you feel that you are getting off track plotwise as you are writing. Try encapsulating your story in one paragraph and you can see where the tangents lie. Ask me how I know!)

Did you notice how the person who made this trailer gave you a description of each character and a bit of their personal challenge or stakes?

"A blind earthbender: master of her craft."

Doesn't that just raise a few questions in your mind as you see the young girl feeling with her feet and then standing triumphant?

Or- "A banished prince: craving only his redemption."

What did he do to earn banishment and how can he be redeemed?

I loved the words, "A general's daughter: freed from her sheltered life," as the image flashed of her wielding knives in her hand. Doesn't that make you wonder how, in her sheltered life, she learned how to use such deadly weapons?

Then, the trailer proceeds to tell us the bigger stakes. "And all they have is each other...To end the destruction of an endless war." That sounds like a tall order. The film maker then loaded more challenges (and a few cliches) to that, ending in, "Experience the journey...And believe in the impossible."

There, he/she has just issued the invitation. (This doesn't happen the same way in a query letter, by the way.) And the film ends with a series of words flashed so quickly that we can only glimpse them, adding to the feeling of urgency.


Hmmm. Nice effect. Again, can't do this exactly in a query, but having strong, evocative words are the building blocks of persuasion.

Here is an early sample of what I tried in my query practices:

At the end of the 14th century, seventeen year old Anna-Maria de Savonie is rather old for marriage. She has been hiding from society, running wild in her family’s remote castle since an unsavory incident three years ago. But wed she must. Soon. Before the end of the year. Her father, Duke of Savonie, has planned a grand tournament in which she is the matrimonial prize. It’s either marriage or the nunnery.

Cornelius didn’t give a tinker’s patch for the crown of Verdebois. He’d rather mingle with the common folk and play his fiddle, avoiding the vapid life of a courtier. But a series of suspicious deaths in his family has left him the crown, attempts on his life and the need to find a bride; none of which he desires.

Here is another bid:

Cornelius, King of Verdebois, knew he needed a strong marriage alliance, and Anna-Maria de Savonie was the most eligible, by far. Despite murky rumors about her past, he courts his neighbor’s daughter. But when she proves to be the icy princess he was warned about, the young king storms out of the castle and gallops away.

However, treachery soon strikes. Pursued by assassins, Cornelius returns to the Savonie’s castle wounded and beggared, and with an audacious proposal.

Hmmm! Are you hooked? Do you want to know what happens next? Let me know.

Did those few words give you a glimpse at an interesting character? Did you get a sense of their challenges and any future difficulties they may face? Does this pique interest or leave you yawning?

Until next time, good luck with whatever challenges you may face in your life and may you find the strength within to overcome them.

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