Thrillers, Part 2 of 4: Heroes

HeroHeroes in thrillers can be anyone: male, female, any walk of life, any level of expertise in solving crimes, spying, or thwarting villains. Heck, in the long-running television series Dexter, probably the single best example of genre-bending fiction, the hero was a serial killer. (If you haven't binged this series, I submit it is among the top ten indispensable for any aspiring thriller writer.) In my own series of books starting with Rogue Agenda and continuing this fall in a title yet to be announced, the protagonist and heroine is a phone-sex girl.

A common trope of the genre is the washed-out, disgraced ex-professional, usually an ex-cop/detective/soldier. Usually a guy, he is usually an alcoholic heavy smoker with a harridan ex-wife, an embittered child, and a long-suffering girlfriend. He's wracked with guilt and self-recrimination, all of which usually eventually turns out to be undeserved. I see the attraction of the trope; these can often be great, complex, layered characters to write. The problem is it's been played and played out. I would encourage aspiring thriller writers to reach deeper, find other ways to make your protagonist interesting and complex.

Some scholars of fiction will tell you that the hero must have some personal stake in the outcome of the conflict. It isn't enough that he/she is just doing their job, investigating a crime or seeking to thwart a villain. They must be under threat themselves, seeking to clear their own name from suspicion, prevent the death of a loved one, etc. It is the only way, they argue, to justify the hero moving forward against obstacles and resistance. Otherwise, why would they bother? Why suffer through depredations, torture, and possible death for the sake of something less? I agree that this often makes a compelling plot, but I think it is extremely dogmatic and cynical to try to maintain that this is the only way to impel a hero and their story forward.

I think it is just as compelling to witness a hero risk life and limb for higher ideals than self-preservation, to read about the patriot soldier willing to stake his life for his country, experience the conviction of an advocate undergoing agonizing trials in the name of just doing the right thing. To me there is no more noble sacrifice than one that saves the day in such a way that no one will ever know, for which the hero will never gain notoriety or gratitude.

What makes the hero compelling is conviction and the lengths to which they are willing to go to defend their ideals. These can be every bit as personal and precious as his/her life and limb if written in an engaging, interesting, and exciting way.

Who are some of your favorite heroes in fiction, thrillers or other genres? What is it that impels them through the story? I'd love to read your comments below.

After the Editing: When an agent says it’s ready!

Not that long ago I put up a post about what it's like editing with an agent. Well it's time to take that a step farther. Because Deity Six, my very first completed novel, has since transitioned from 1) finding an agent. And 2) going through and finishing edits with said agent. To step 3) searching for and acquiring an editor and a publishing deal. With steps 4) and maybe even 5) to be determined at a later date. So let's explore Step 3 and those smaller steps in-between.

Developmental edits:

Before this post I talked about the beginning steps of agent editing. Now here's the ending. While you're editing with your agent, unless you're book is perfect (Ha, ahahahahahaha!!!!!), you'll likely go through what are called developmental edits. These are basically how they sound; edits that address any issues with plot, characters, or things like theme.

Being as close to your book as you likely are, you probably can't see some of its problems. And even if you can, you may not know how to fix them. This being the case, your agent will go through and identify (often line by line) some of the problems that require adjustment, or even removal before the book is ready to move onto the next phase of its life.  This can go on for... a while.

For me it lasted about three months from the time I signed the contract with my agent. Yours could be faster, or longer. Either way it will be different according to the needs of your story, and how dramatic of a tantrum you feel like throwing when your agent tells you cut an entire five pages (or chapters) out of the book!  After you've made the necessary changes (and note that these are generally optional and not required by your agent, but advised before moving on), hopefully your story is in much better shape. And it's time to move on to...

Copy edits:

So far, my experience with copy edits is thus: "Hi Josh, doesn't look like we need to do any more developmental edits. I'm performing some copy edits, then it'll be ready to go out." The book didn't come back to me again, so my assumption is that whatever changes were made to the story were all so minor as not require either my attention, or my approval (such as typos and minor re-wording). So...whoopie!

Submission time:

The next part is perhaps the worst for many. This is where your agent embarks on putting the book into the "real world." And by "real world," I mean editors currently acquiring works like yours, for publishers who publish books like yours.

So here's the process as I understand it: Your agent identifies editors looking for ideas similar to yours, or enough like yours to be interested in taking it on as an editing project in order to then publish the book, and/or offer you, the author, a publishing contract. A partial submission goes to the editor. If the editor isn't interested, they reject it (duh). If they do like it they request a full manuscript, which your agent sends to them.

Now for that pie in that sky. If the editor likes the book the process doesn't end there. They then give it to some of their peers (other editors). If they like it, it then moves on to the editorial manager. If the manager likes it and agrees with the acquiring editor that the publishing house should represent it (i.e. they think they will make money off of it), then you will be offered a contract.

**Note: I have no details on this just yet and may cover it in a future post when I can offer firsthand experience. As of the writing of this post I have been updated about three occurrences following the release of my book to acquiring editors. Two rejections, as it did not fit into a specific category they were looking to use it for. And one request for the full manuscript. So... fingers crossed.

The Big Wait:

For now, this is the line in the sand. As me and my agent wait for the editor to read the full manuscript and either reject it, or send it on for approval from their higher ups. It's all about waiting now. So when you get to this part remember...this can take months. Months, and months, with a chance that you will only get a rejection. But this is the world we live in. This is the altar to which we pray, sacrifice, and divvy up an unhealthy portion of our souls to these gatekeepers of traditional publishing bliss. So settle in, buck'o's. It's going to be a long winter.