Okay, now for the final piece of the query pitch puzzle. This next bit is what I call the catch. Put simply, the catch is one to three sentences that tell the reader what’s at stake for the protagonist, both the physical and the emotional. What I mean by this is twofold.

First of all, what does the character stand to lose? What happens if they fail whatever they’ve set out to do? Do they lose a competition? Will a lot of people get hurt? Simple enough, right?

The second part is a little more complicated. External tension is good, but a dynamic story also has internal tension for the main character, competing wants or needs. What emotional turmoil will the character have to go through to complete their goal? Does winning the competition mean losing their best friend? Does chasing their dreams mean disappointing their parents? Have they vowed to never take another life but find themselves in a kill-or-be-killed situation?

Let’s have a look at our two example pitches and how they did it.

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL:
Diggy’s life may not be typical, but he’s content. He hangs out with Pop and the county’s farmers, raises steers to compete, and daydreams about July Johnston, high school senior and girl of his dreams. Hardly anyone teases him anymore about how his mom abandoned him on Pop’s doorstep and skipped town on a tractor.
Then Wayne gets dumped at Pop’s, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother messing things up. Wayne rattles Diggy’s easy relationship with Pop, threatens his chances at the state fair, and horns in on his girl. Diggy believes family is everything, but he’s pretty sure Wayne doesn’t count.

I really like this example especially because the catch is so understated. It’s just that one sentence, twelve words. Wayne challenges Diggy’s view of family and his priorities. At some point in the story, he’s going to have to square that.

THE MIDNIGHT THIEF:
To Kyra, high walls and locked doors are not obstacles, but invitations. She specializes in nighttime raids, using her sharp senses and extraordinary agility to break into Forge’s most well-guarded homes. Then she meets James, the deadly but intriguing Head of the Assassin’s Guild. He has a job for Kyra: infiltrate the supposedly impenetrable Palace compound. The pay is good, and the challenge appealing. It’s the perfect job for someone of her talents.
But as Kyra establishes herself in the Guild, her “perfect job” starts to unravel. Her assignments become increasingly violent, demanding more than Kyra is willing to give. Then Forge is attacked by Demon Riders — barbarians riding bloodthirsty wildcats — and Kyra suspects the Guild is to blame. When a failed mission lands Kyra in the Palace dungeons, she faces an impossible decision. If she cooperates with the authorities against the Guild, James will kill her family, but if Kyra does nothing, she’ll see Forge overrun by Demon Riders. As the city falls into chaos, Kyra uncovers a secret from her past – a forgotten link to the barbarian invaders that will test Kyra’s loyalties and ultimately challenge the limits of her humanity.

This one is buried in there a little bit, but I like it because it combines the physical and the emotional catch. Her loyalty to the guild and the safety of her family are placed at opposition, and Kyra then has to make a difficult choice.

Now you try! What physical and emotional stakes are there for your characters?

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