I found a terrific blog post on query letters written by Lynn Price, the editorial director for Behler Publications. Lynn says if you can define your story as either plot driven or character driven it will help you write a strong query letter.
If your novel is plot driven, a query that defines the characters’ personalities or their emotions but is thin on plot is going to miss the mark. Focus instead on the events that drive the story. The twists, tension, conflicts, and the choices that the character has to make, and what happens as a result of those choices, are what matters. Concentrate on the big picture in your query and what’s at stake.
If your novel is character driven, the personalities, motives and desires of your characters are the driving force in the story. What does your main character want or need, and what stands in the way? Create an emotional link so the agent can empathize with, understand, and want to know your characters. Use voice to make the characters come to life. As I wrote in an earlier post, make the agent care.
Ms. Price says
I see too many queries that miss the mark between character vs. plot, and all I usually see is an incredibly thin plot populated with flat, dry characters. Little wonder I send out a rejection letter. In short, define your story. Is it plot or character driven? If it’s plot driven, concentrate on the movement of events that drive and define the story, and be mindful of sticking to the big picture. If it’s character driven, let me see, feel, empathize, and understand your characters because it’s the difference between ‘send me pages,’ and ‘no thanks.’
I think that’s good advice, considering that most agents initially want to see only the query letter, and nothing more. That letter practically has to sing.