Monday, June 04, 2018

No hero queries

I’ve written a spy thriller in which there is no “hero” per se, just three guys―one a real “baddie,” one an unwilling collaborator, and one a poor “shnook” caught in the middle of their interactions. While the baddie gets his comeuppance at the story’s end, that is actually organized by an off center-stage player (the Mossad).

Though each of the three men is a fully fleshed out character with their own history and motivations, there is no specific "heroic" protagonist upon which to structure the query as is typical when soliciting an agent. The "baddie" is the dominant character. Yet, something tells me, perhaps mistakenly, not to focus on the "baddie" or his mission in the query itself. That leaves me with a real problem in preparing the “usual” query and I'm not clever enough to figure it out. Is it so simple as to say I can focus the query on the "anti-hero?"

I would appreciate any suggestions as to how to proceed.

What does your bad guy want, and what's keeping him from getting it?
What does the unwilling collaborator want, and and what's keeping him from getting it?
What does the shnook want, and what's keeping him from getting it?

Which character, if you removed them from the events unfolding in the book, would cause the plot to splat? That's the character to focus on.

Don't let good/bad dictate who is the protagonist of your novel. We use that as shorthand since the good guy is most often the guy we're rooting for.

And if the resolution of your plot happens off the page, and I was reading this novel, I'd send you a note that says "fix this."  Resolution off the page, no matter who is good or bad or a bag of chips, is emotionally unsatisfying to your reader.

Remember agents are looking for things that aren't the usual fodder. If you've got something that's offbeat, that's a good thing.


AlexA8 said...

Guess I'm the first one to comment! :) The first 5 lines of Janet's response are an example of when something gets phrased perfectly, and I'm nodding my head at the computer lots of times like a idiot.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...good or bad or a bag of chips."

This is my phrase for the day, which is perfect for a rainy Monday. Where's my bag of Wise?

Steve Stubbs said...

If you want to know how to make an off center stage character work, read John Grisham's THE PELICAN BRIEF. He has a CIA agent suddenly pop into the picture and then duck out again and it does work. It works mainly because we do not know who he is until later. So Grisham creates some mystery and expectation (which he does throughout the book with various characters.) Never mind that a CIA agent would be prohibited by law from operating on US soil.

Also if you want Mossad to be a character, read up on them. Read THE HOUSE ON GARIBALDI STREET or watch the movie. Read about their recent flap in the UAE in which their agents were prancing around in a hotel being photographed by security cameras as they executed an assassination. They are not as ruthless as the GRU, but they probably exceed everyone else in their trade. They are for sure the most amateurish organization of their type.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: Perhaps referring to the characters in terms of "protagonist" and "antagonist" is more helpful. You have the person that's driving the narrative, and the person that's working to stop the driver achieving their goals. Your protagonist doesn't necessarily have to be a "good guy," but the reader should be able to connect with them somehow and root for their success. Even with an anti-hero, you want to see some kind of redemption, or to see the good they do succeed.

Craig F said...

OP: By your own writing you have an MC. An MC does not by definition have to be hero or villain. Most have a little of each. Almost all stories have others that affect the plot but are the MC.

Anti-hero types have a long history of being main characters, it was old when Shakespeare did it. Find the inciting incident and work on that because and anti or damaged hero does not a contract make.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, bear with me because I know I haven't read your story.

BUT: if a character is major enough to be considered the protagonist, I'd tread carefully with the 'comeuppance.'

In some form or another, like to see the character I'm rooting for get what s/he wants. Sometimes, no matter what crappy things they've done (redeeming qualities to the rescue). My mind immediately goes to GONE GIRL and the movie "The Usual Suspects."

Just throwing out some thoughts.

Good luck, OP!

BrendaLynn said...

Good luck OP. I also had a strong parallel story in my ms that I had to set aside in the query in order to concentrate on the main character. It was hard to resist the temptation to pour it all out.