Do you ever wonder?

August 25th, 2009 • Kate

rhetorical-questionWhat do you do when you… Did you ever wonder if… What if… Eek! When rhetorical questions attack! Intern Jenny and I are spending the day going through your queries, and for some reason, it seems as if this batch is chock full of rhetorical questions.

Is it the worst thing in the world? No, of course not. Is it lazy? I’m going to say yes. And not just lazy, but detrimental to your book. Before you’ve even started pitching me YOUR story, you’re asking me to imagine what *I* would do in a specific situation, rather than telling me about what your character does.

The point of the query, as I’ve said before, is to hook me with your story. Get right into it! Tell me about the characters, about the action, about the drama. Leave the themes for an English class, and entice me with what happens, not what someone might learn from reading it.

Don’t play philosopher, and don’t play critic. Tell me a story. I’m not saying I’m automatically going to decline every query that comes across my desk with an opening rhetorical, but it definitely is something to overcome — just as the overuse or misuse of commas makes me wonder with a shudder what it would be like to read an entire novel jammed full of extra punctuation, so do does an opening rhetorical question make me think your whole novel might suffer from the same lazy storytelling. And no one wants that, right?

Still, I suppose I can be grateful for those who began their query with a rhetorical question — they gave me a blog post topic for today!

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5 Responses to “Do you ever wonder?”

  1. Nathan Bransford Says:

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Jamie Says:

    Is this a problem? I think it is. Should authors admit to doing this? Well, of course not. Do we continue to ask these questions again and again, even though we know we shouldn't? Sadly, we do.

  3. Karen Says:

    Many moons ago when I wrote my first novel and was thinking about querying it, I wrote up a letter and it started with a rhetorical…something like, Did you ever wonder why drug dealers are the way they are? Well I gave it to a coworker to proof read (since that was his job) and as I stood there, he read the question out loud, answered with a resounding NO and promptly tossed my letter in the trash! Learned a great lesson in less than 3 minutes-lol.

  4. Trish Says:

    This is a lesson I learned when writing advertising copy for radio. If you ask a question at the beginning of the ad, you're just begging for listeners/potential customers to say NO and tune out. Clearly, it's the same with query letters.

  5. Jenny Says:

    My eye started twitching today when my comp teacher lectured about rhetorical questions…a sign that there were far, far too many in queries on Tuesday.