Visual Mindscape: A Query Letter to Incite

Before I get into the Query Letter I have something that I want to share with you. Those of you who know me and my work are aware that I have been fortunate enough to have every screenplay I have written either produced or optioned (and I don’t mean the Danny Manus type of option).

query-lettersI have just completed my newest screenplay, SCARS, and am about to start pitching it.  I thought I would, with each new column I write in Scriptmag.com, create a journal of sorts that discusses my step-by-step approach and the successes and failures it leads to. I will begin in the next column on the logline and then an overview of my initial approach to getting SCARS produced.

It is my hope that it will be both insightful and confidence building for other writers.

Alright, now on to the Query Letter.

The objective of the query letter is not to tell the reader what your screenplay is about.  It isn’t a synopsis.  In fact, major segments of your story may not even find their way into the query.

The only purpose of the query letter is to entice agents and producers to read your script.

In order to accomplish this, your query letter must create an emotional affinity with the reader, drawing him into your story through the visceral mindscape.

How do you create a query letter that is visceral, dynamic, and inciting?

There are several techniques that can be used to achieve this.  A good query letter uses most of them; a great query letter uses them all.

•    The Hook
•    The Question
•    Pulse and Pace
•    Feeling Words
•    Research
•    Confidence

The Hook

The Hook draws the reader into the story.  It may shock, intrigue, seduce, or mind-melt the reader, but once read, he will want to know more.  Here is an example:

Shannon Dale is marrying the man of her dreams – only he doesn’t know it.
Nor does he know about her twin sister who now lies buried in the back yard. . . with the others!

What’s going on here?  What others?  Do you think the reader is hooked?  Do you think he will want to stick around a little longer to find out more?  Damn right he will.

The Question

The Question is so provocative, so seductive, so riveting that the reader is compelled to know the answer.

What if someone gave their life to save yours?  What if that person was a total stranger?

This is the kind of question that makes the reader ponder the situation.  He may not know the answer but his grey matter is all astir, and he wants to know how the protagonist will deal with it.

Pulse and Volume

Pulse can have a significant impact in enticing the reader’s interest in your story.

Volume is a sort of internal intensity best explained that, if the query were read out loud, the reader would have the urge to increase the volume.

Before I give you an example of pulse and volume, let’s first look at a query introduction that does not make use of either.

Sixteen years ago, single father Toby Bolt killed his children and was never seen again.

Now let’s build on this introduction with both pulse and volume.   First we will express the volume. The following paragraph creates a sense of normality that builds in urgency, using different font sizes to depict the volume.

NORMAL: Sixteen years ago single father Toby Bolt returned home late one night.

INCREASED VOLUME: He looked in on his sleeping children – kissed them goodnight – and then shot them both in the head.

LOUDER: He then walked out of the house – never to be seen again.

SCREAM: Until now!

Note how the intensity builds throughout the opening paragraph.

Now let’s take the same paragraph and show its pulse.

Sixteen years ago – single father – Toby Bolt – returned home late one night.  He looked in on his sleeping children – kissed them good night – and then shot them both in the head.  He then walked out of the house – never to be seen again. – Until now!

The pulse and volume make the introduction of the query letter much more powerful and visceral.

The second paragraph of the query offers a brief overview of the story. Notice how the hook, question, pulse, and volume are all present.

Driven by personal tragedy, Angela Bates has been forced to track down the elusive Toby Bolt.  Will he recognize her when they come face to face?  Will the scar across her right temple betray her?   The chilling fact is, this man, her father who once tried to kill her, is the only person in the world who can save the life of her ailing daughter.  Seeking his aid will be excruciating, but living with the truth of why her father turned on her and her brother might well be her ultimate damnation.

Feeling Words

Feeling words offer emotional articulation to the page by creating a visceral sensation and/or reaction.  Their meaning is grasped through how they make us feel.

Here is the third paragraph of the query letter.  Feeling words are bolded.

SHIVERS  is a daring psychological thriller with a strong female protagonist, a deeply mercurial antagonist, and a series of chilling revelations that build to a shocking cliffhanger. It is also a story of sacrifice and assumed betrayal, and the fine line between truth and the assumption of truth.

The fourth paragraph is directed to the specific company. It also allows me to customize each letter and make it specific to the individual company that I am submitting too.

I am aware that your company produced “Orgy of the Blood Splattered Sperm” as well as “Killing Me Deeply” and feel that this gives you an insight into the marketability of “Shivers.”

This shows that I have done my homework.  I can offer a reason why I feel their company is a perfect fit for my project.

By using industry tools such as the Hollywood Screenwriters Directory and/or IMDB Pro, you can find out what type of films a company has made or is interested in making and which are best aligned with your screenplay.

It also tells you which person in the company to submit too and the proper spelling of their name.

Confidence

The next paragraph in the query letter is where you give your qualifications. This is where new writers hit the wall.  What qualifications?

It is important to express confidence in yourself and your script no matter how limited your experience.  I am not talking about being abrasive and egotistical, which is more about self-doubt than confidence.

It is about not undervaluing yourself, your talent, or your experience.  Your qualifications are not limited to your screenwriting experience.  It also includes your personal knowledge and expertise in the subject matter of the script.

I’ve worked extensively as a medical counselor for Reach Out, a non-profit group specializing in supporting families with children suffering from terminal illness. 

This is my first screenplay and though I am aware that there are many exceptional screenwriters and screenplays out there, I am confident that my writing and screenplay rises to the same notable level.

Finally, you request permission to forward your script.  You never include your script or treatment or synopsis with the query.

I’d like to submit SHIVERS for your consideration and possible representation. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Always, always remember to include your contact information.  If you have an agent, include their contact information as well.

Okay, now let’s put our query letter together and see what we’ve got.

David Wilcox
Creative Trust Talent
12345 Beverly Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90124

Dear Mr. Wilcox:

Sixteen years ago, single father Toby Bolt returned home late one night.  He looked in on his sleeping children, kissed them good night and then shot them both in the head.  He then walked out of the house never to be seen again.

Until now!

Driven by personal tragedy, Angela Bates has been forced to track down the elusive Toby Bolt. Will he recognize her when they come face to face?  Will the scar across her right temple betray her?  The chilling fact is, this man, her father who once tried to kill her, is the only person in the world who can save the life of her ailing daughter.  Seeking his aid will be excruciating, but living with the truth of why her father turned on her and her brother might well be her ultimate damnation.

SHIVERS is a daring psychological thriller with a strong female protagonist, a deeply mercurial antagonist, and a series of chilling revelations that build to a shocking cliffhanger.

It is also a story of sacrifice and assumed betrayal, and the fine line between truth and the assumption of truth.

I am aware that your company produced ORGY OF THE BLOOD SPLATTERED SPERM as well as KILLING ME DEEPLY and feel that this gives you an insight into the marketability of SHIVERS.

I’ve worked extensively as a medical counselor for Reach Out, a non-profit group specializing in supporting families with children suffering from terminal illness.

This is my first screenplay and though I am aware that there are many exceptional screenwriters and screenplays, I am confident that my writing and screenplay rise to the same level of exception.

I will follow up with a phone call next week to see if you are interested in receiving the script. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Bill Boyle                                               Jerome Noble
12930 Ventura Blvd.  #552            The WOW Agency
Studio City, CA 91604                     55555 Melrose Ave
818-555-5555                                        Suite # 327
allthatsky@hotmail.com                 310-555-5555

Related Articles:

Tools to Help Prepare Your Pitch:

Get more tips in our FREE Download Querying Screenwriting Executives 101

get-my-free-download-blue

One thought on “Visual Mindscape: A Query Letter to Incite

  1. Pingback: Horror Movies From Now Through 2016: What To Expect, Hugh Jackman Up For ‘Wolverine’ Sequel, James Toback On Filmmaking Today ‹ Studio System News

COMMENT