How to Write a Query using the Pendulum Method (with an example)!

There are many resources online about how to write query letter, which is a letter that an aspiring author sends to agents in order to gain representation. I’ve been an aspiring author since 2016. I’ve written and re-written my own query letters, evaluated others’ queries on forums, judged others’ queries in a contest, and evaluated queries submitted to me when I was an acquisitions editor (from early 2018 to mid-2019). In addition, while writing my own queries, I spent lots of time acting like a ballet student. If you’ve taken ballet, you know that a teacher doesn’t like to say “More turnout” eight times after one combination. Because of that, when the teacher corrects another student, it’s good practice to pay attention and see if you’re making the same mistake so that you can self-correct. looking for places where others were getting feedback on their queries, so that I could see what they got notes on and improve it in my own queries. Through all of this, I have come up with an idea that I like to call the pendulum method.

There are three main parts to a query letter: The blurb (description of the book’s plot), the info paragraph (word count, genre, etc.), and the author bio (which is usually in same paragraph as the info). You can also have a hook at the beginning of the query, which we’ll talk about in a later blog post, if you wish. However, the pendulum theory is specifically for writing the blurb.

The basis of the pendulum method is that the plot of a novel is like a pendulum that swings back and forth. When a problem or obstacle happens to your main character, the pendulum is swing toward that character. When an action is taken by the MC in response to the problem, that is the MC pushing the pendulum away.

In my opinion, the best way to write a query blurb is to include a setup and five swings of the pendulum. You can do three if you want, but five is ideal. The first swing (toward the MC) is your inciting incident. The second swing (away from the MC) is what the MC decides to do about this. The third swing (toward) is an obstacle that causes the MC to change course. (Again, you can stop here, but you may not be giving us enough info for us to stay invested.) The fourth swing (away) is when the MC overcomes this obstacle in order to push toward their goal (either their first goal or a new goal, depending on what just happened in the third swing). The fifth swing, which is crucial, is another obstacle. What’s very important about the fifth swing is that we end mid-swing. We do not find out how the MC reacts to this particular obstacle. We only know that they must react. This is the perfect point to leave the reader in suspense. Here is a model of this, followed by an example.

Model:

[MAIN CHARACTER] is [1-2 SENTENCES OF SETUP; WHERE IS YOUR MC AT THE BEGINNING. DON’T OVERDO THIS.] Then [SWING 1/INCITING INCIDENT/WHAT CAUSES THE REST OF THE STORY]. Because of [GOAL], MC [MOTIVATION]. So MC [SWING 2/MC’S DECISION]. Things go well until [SWING 3/AN OBSTACLE STANDING IN THE WAY OF MC’S GOAL]. Not willing to give up that easily (BUT USE A LESS CLICHE TRANSITION), MC [SWING 4/MC’S NEW PLAN]. Then, [SWING 5/THIRD OBSTACLE]. Now MC MUST [IMPORTANT: WHAT MUST THEY DO? GIVE A GENERAL IDEA OF WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN, NOT WHAT DOES HAPPEN NEXT] or [STAKES].

After this, you go to your info paragraph, which we’ll talk about in the next post.

Here is an example of the pendulum theory in action (for a manuscript that doesn’t actually exist…yet):

Ruth Seaver is a successful family lawyer living in San Francisco. When her husband is killed in a freak accident along with his father and brother (swing 1), Ruth’s world falls apart. Her only remaining family is her mother-in-law Naomi, who has always dreamed of returning to her hometown of Elvenbrook, Indiana. Not wanting Naomi to be alone (hint at rationale), Ruth agrees to move to Elvenbrook with her (swing 2).

Ruth sets up a new family law practice in Elvenbrook. With very few clients, she quickly becomes lonely (swing 3) until she befriends a wheat farmer named Beau, who is raising his son Max alone (swing 4). When Max’s mostly absent mother returns to town demanding custody (swing 5), Beau asks Ruth to represent him in court. Though her feelings for Beau are growing stronger, making it hard to be objective, Ruth must win the case or see two people she cares about suffer greatly. (Again, we’re mid-swing 5, because we know what Ruth MUST do, but not what she WILL do.)

Based on the Biblical Book of Ruth, SEAVER is a 70,000-word work of women’s fiction that will appeal to fans of Kramer vs. Kramer. (More bio paragraph info here. You get it.)

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions. Do you plan to use this method to rework your own query? Soon, 10by24 staff will do a call for queries so that we can do critiques on our Youtube channel. Stay tuned for that.

Introducing 10by24’s August Challenge!

Hello, everyone! As you know, on the 24th of this month, we will have a giveaway for the top 50 ranked users of 10by24. Because of that, you may want to earn as many betabits as possible before end of day on the 23rd. Here’s an opportunity to earn more.

From August 17 to August 21, we will have short story prompts posted. There will be two prompts for each day: One on 10by24 and one on 10by24’s Instagram. You can write to any or all of these prompts in order to earn betabits.

In order to enter for a certain day, you should pick one of the two prompts and write a 10- to 24-word short story. You may post this on either social media channel with the hashtag #10by24. You can also post stories on Twitter if you so choose. You do not have to enter a prompt on that specific prompt’s day. However, all stories must be posted by the end of the day on August 22 in order to count. The way you share your stories is up to you. If a story fits in a tweet, you may use that. You can make it a 10by24 status update, or you can post an Instagram photo with your story in a caption. Another option is to take a photo of your story and post it on any of your social media platforms.

Finally, make a post on 10by24 that links to all of your entries. You will earn 10 betabits for each entry. If you do all three prompts for a given day, you will earn an extra 20 betabits for a total of 50 for that day.

Lastly, it would make our hearts very, very happy if you choose to write a longer story based on any of the prompts. If you do that, post your story in a 10by24 blog post with “August Challenge” in the title, and you will be awarded 100 points.

Here are the 10by24 prompts:

For the other 5 prompts, check our Instagram. Above all, have fun!

About 10by24

Welcome to 10by24, a website for writers to connect and critique one another’s work for points.

Questions

How does 10by24 work?

10by24 is a social media site in the classical sense, targeted specifically toward writers. It is also for writers to post excerpts of their work and comment on one another’s excerpts in order to earn points, which are called betabits. Users can earn betabits by doing the following:

-1 betabit for logging into the website, up to 1 point per day.

-10 betabits for every excerpt posted, up to 30 points per month

-10 betabits for being one of the first 3 people to critique another person’s excerpt

-5 betabits for critiquing someone’s excerpt if you are not one of the first 3 to give feedback.

How are betabits used?

You will earn badges as you accumulate betabits. We will also hold a giveaway on the 24th of each month, starting with August 2019, for the top 50 members of the site.

We plan to add more perks for betabits very soon, so please watch this space for more info.

Basic Guidelines for Posting Excerpts:

-The word “excerpt” will be used here, but the writing you post does not have to be an excerpt of a longer work. It can be that, or it can be a work of short fiction, a short screenplay, a short stage play, a poem, or any small work that stands on its own. However, an excerpt must be 500 or fewer words.

-If you write fiction, you may post a query letter or synopsis for critique if you wish. You may also post any combination of a query letter, synopsis, or excerpt of your work, as long as the post itself is not over 500 words.

-Similarly, any post may include a short description of the work at the top of the post, as long as the entire post does not exceed 500 words.

-If you would like to post a longer excerpt or a work that is longer than 500 words, you may split the work over more than one blog post. Unless your work falls under an exception, you will earn 10 points for each individual blog post.

-You will earn 10 points each for the first 3 excerpts you post in a calendar month. After that, you may post more excerpts in that month, but they will not earn points.

-If we ask for excerpts for a certain contest, we may choose not to award points for entries to that contest.

Guidelines for Content and Titling of Posts:

-It is highly recommended that, in the title of a post containing an excerpt, you state the title of the work and the type of excerpt (e.g. query, short story, excerpt of longer fiction, poem, etc.). If the work is fiction, consider stating the age category and genre in the title of your blog post.

-Admins reserve the right to remove excerpts that contain what we consider offensive language or content, but for the most part, we will be lenient about this.

-We greatly appreciate trigger warnings being stated in the title of a post if necessary. If not, both trigger and content warnings may be listed at the top of a blog post, before the excerpt starts.

-If we hold a contest, we may ask that all entries have the contest’s name stated in the title, so that other users may distinguish those entries from other excerpts.

Guidelines and exceptions for critiques:

-We reserve the right to award you a lower amount of points than usual if your feedback is not what we would call constructive. We recommend that, in order to earn the full amount of points on a critique, you list at least one aspect of the writing that you like or that you feel works well, and at least one aspect that needs improvement.

-It is difficult for writers to share their work, so we ask that you try to be both honest and kind in your feedback.

-If you post a comment that is off-topic or appears to be spam, it may be deleted at the discretion of the admins.

-If you post a comment that comes off as particularly mean-spirited and not constructive, it may be deleted at the discretion of the admins.

-Bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.

-Comments that show discrimination based on race, culture, gender or gender identity, physical ability, mental illness and/or neurodivergence, sexual orientation, or any other type of discrimination may be deleted at the discretion of the site admins.

-Comments containing offensive language or slurs may be deleted at the discretion of the site admins.

-Admins reserve the right to turn off comments on any posts that are made as entries to contests, so that the judging can be as fair as possible.

Other guidelines:

-We highly encourage you to connect with other writers here, and to critique one another’s longer works. However, at this point in time, we can only award points for the critiques done on this site.

-Feel free to notify an admin if you sell a work. We would like to celebrate with you.

-Our goal is for at least 10 unpublished writers of longform fiction or nonfiction to have sold works to publishers by the beginning of the year 2024, hence our website’s name. However, we encourage writers at all stages of their careers to join the site, as well as people who simply love to give critiques.

-Above all, please have fun! The admins are writers, and we gain immense joy from encouraging other people to write.

-If you have any questions or concerns, you may comment them on this post, or email Cimone Watson at cimone.watson@10by24.com.