Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling?: "Our hero"

For the first time in pretty much forever I'm going to introduce a new feature on the blog, and hopefully this one will be a little more successful than my previous "new" blog feature Publishing Myths 101, which I continue to forget about entirely.

Anyway, Can I Get a Ruling? will be kind of like You Tell Me, only with a yes or no answer and a poll attached. Instead of asking an open-ended You Tell Me style question, I'll ask a more basic question and we can argue it out, vote, and deliver a verdict. It will be like democracy, only without endless presidential elections.

So first up: the use of the word "our" in query letters.

You have probably seen this before, and particularly the phrase "our hero." As in, "Our hero is a twenty four year old genius monkey who is ready to turn the tables on evolution, and this time, brain size is personal." Notice. Not "the" hero. "Our" hero.

Now, I'm not blaming anyone because this is a common trope, and I would never reject someone's query for using the words "our hero." But my mind always trips up on the use of the word "our," and I start asking questions like: Are we reading this book together? Is this hero acting on behalf of all of us, including those of us in the non-fictional world? Who else is included in this hero's constituency? Did I help write this book and suffer from massive amnesia?

As you can see, when my mind trips up on something it quickly heads in dangerous territory.

But maybe this is just my own neuroses at play and I should leave the word "our" well enough alone.

So Can I Get a Ruling? How do we feel about the phrase "our hero"?







77 comments:

Adaora A. said...

It drives me crazy. I honestly (in the words of the poll), can't bring myself to use it. I think it has to do with fantasy, thriller or Sci-Fi. Am I wrong? I don't really write the stuff so I can only imagine where it might come from. I think with Upper YA (which is what I write), it might not work as much. In any case, I can't stand it.

No thank, I hate it.

Anonymous said...

"Our" makes me feel like the writer and the hero have come into the room with me - uninvited. Makes me look over my shoulder.

David said...

"Our hero" sounds like a parody of an old radio serial.

Why not just use the character's name? It's bound to be repeated a lot in a synopsis, but even that won't pull the reader out of the thrilling story the way "our hero" is bound to.

Having said which, I must away!

Elyssa Papa said...

Our hero feels like I'm reading a high school English thesis paper.

J.P. Martin said...

"Our hero" feels like the author is including me in to something I may not want to be included in. "Our" and "we" are mutual words and as of yet the feeling is not mutual.

Dave F. said...

Well it's either a conceit by the author, like the royal "we" or it's an attempt to be familiar where familiarity does not exist.

Josephine Damian said...

Presumptuous for starters for it implies an acceptance by the agent.

Superior and too formal, for another. Sounds like the Queen is querying.

I think a several things are implied in a query, such as "I seek representation" - no kidding! and don't need to be stated.

This should also include the implication that the first person mentioned in the query is the main character.

In a one-page snail mail query, nobody could afford to waste words explaining the obvious.

I kinda miss the Publishing Myth posts.

SFWriter said...

It's archaic and unoriginal, and therefore may be considered by some to be high-style and sophisticated.

I find it mildly annoying and it stirs the condescending b...rat in me, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

Maybe I'm still European enough to let it slide.

susannah said...

I hear "our hero" and start looking around for R2-D2 and Ewoks. Which is okay, so long as a) that's the intended epic effect and b) there are actually going to be Ewoks and a fun robot who everyone likes more than the actual hero anyway. :)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think it has to do with fantasy, thriller or Sci-Fi.

Huh? Don't blame us!

Well, "our hero" is akin to rhetorical questions, right? It assumes second person, which is often perceived as condescending.

Red said...

(sigh)

It's un-inspired. It instantly makes me think of 1930's to 1950's radio dramas, or possibly re-runs of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

I think, in the same situation, I would just name the hero. IF I felt he WAS a hero, I would show how he was heroic, not just say so.

I think people get into the mindset that the query is a form letter, and as such, should be formulaic. It's not, and it shouldn't be. Do your work some good, and really sell it in your query by hooking the reader (agent) the same way you intend to hook your reader in your book.

Katie said...

It's condescending... like I'm being taken by the hand to point out the obvious for my benefit because I'm too stupid and dense to discover who the hero is and if I'll like him myself.

Margaret Yang said...

I think it comes from movie trailers.

It's a cliche and should be treated like one, with a red pen!

mjcwrites said...

I'd bet it's mostly a tongue-in-cheek device rather than something intended as condescending or overly familiar, but I don't think a query letter is the place for it.

nightsmusic said...

If and when my story is published, he might become someone else's hero, but until that time, the only ones he is a hero to is the heroine and me. And she's not writing the query!!

So, in any query I send, he's my hero and mine alone. Until I get picked-up, that is :)

nm

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Definitely "the" instead of "our." And no, Nathan, I don't think you need decaf.

It's funny, that to the rest of the world, a single word might not make that much of a difference. I'm a teacher, and I told my high school students the other day that I saw a sign at at intersection advertising lawn care and that I felt sorry for the man because the sign said, "No job is to small." I pointed out to my kids that it should have been "too" instead of "to" and that for two seconds, I actually considered digging the Sharpie out of purse and adding an O to the sign so he wouldn't be embarrassed. They looked at me like I was on crack and said, "Like...nobody in the world cares about that kind of thing but like...you."

My grandmother pointed out the same thing to me last year when my cousin made a statement in a courtroom during her custody battle. The cousin said that we would "undoubtedly merge our families as one" which freaked me out. When I expressed my concern to my grandma, she said, "I think she just means that you'll help out with babysitting." What?!!? I said, "Then why isn't that what she said? I'm a writer! Word choice is important to me!"

As frustrating as it is trying to write a great query and revise a manuscript, word choice is important, even when it comes to something as simple as choosing "the" or "our." It makes me absolutely insane, yet I love it. It's all part of writing.


I would probably use "the" instead of "our" when referring to a hero, although I don't write about anyone doing anything remotely heroic.

Precie said...

No.

No no no no no.

In a complete manuscript that perhaps works with an Austen-like narrator, okay. And even then, it better be done masterfully.

But NOT in a query.

Sera Phyn said...

Nathan, you need a third option:

3) I'd never thought about it before, but, now that you mention it, I don't think I will ever look at it again without cringing.

I choose that one.

Just_Me said...

There are some situations and tones where "our hero" really works. Especially in comedic fiction... I think it would be the perfect pitch for a book written with that tone of voice.

And, evil ideas peeking out, what if the characters name was Our Hero? I've seen authors who do things like that....

Okay- I'll go back to lurking in the minority.

Gina Black said...

It makes us feel like we're watching Rocky and Bullwinkle again.

Scott said...

We find it irksome, not only because it assumes we are all in this together as vaguely plural, unified groups, but because it's an old cliche and we expunge those whenever we see them, don't we.

We also agree with those who've also said it's condenscending. We don't need somebody else telling us how we feel.

On the other hand, I can see one (and only one) case where it might actually enhance the feel of the query: if the story is a tongue-and-cheek send-up of old radio or movie superhero serials or is otherwise genre-ically related to them, and the whole plot summary part of the query is written (WELL, I might add) in a voice where that is appropriate.

Like most cliches, it is possible to use this one well, but almost every attempt to do so will fail. Miserably. (Kind of like "...will fail. Miserably" fails. Miserably. In nearly all cases, like most cliches.)

For example, I could accept "our hero" in a Captain Underpants query, as long as the whole summary part of the query is written in an our-hero-friendly voice by somebody who can do it well.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

We agree with Scott's analysis.

Adaora A. said...

I don't mean to offend you SSAS! I just was saying where I think it may be more prevailant. Obviously you (and probably others) are exceptions to the rule but there it is.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like word usage of someone who spends more time watching TV than reading books. Acceptable only when used humorously, if then.

Sarah Garrigues said...

It sounds too much like a movie trailer for my taste...very cliché and trite.

Other Lisa said...

Mostly I think it's irritating because it's a cliche. There might be some exceptions though, you never know.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I wouldn't judge the user so harshly. I don't think it's condescending or presumptuous. It's just amateurish. I agree with david, red, and gina, that it's reminiscent of radio serials, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Underdog, that sort of thing.

Furious D said...

Will OUR HERO survive the deadly POLL OF NATHAN?

Will OUR HERO live to be OUR HERO for another day?

Tune in next week, same time, same channel!


Sorry, couldn't resist. ;)

Jean said...

Hmm... It reminds me of those superficial girls who come up to you at a party and act like they are your new best friend, but really they are digging for gossipy tidbits so they can go stab some poor soul in the back.

(And Nathan, what is the point of decaf?)

annathepiper said...

I'd say there are situations wherein such phrasing might work--if say the idea of the novel or series is to deliberately pay homage to old pulp novels or serials. What leapt immediately into my brain is the ongoing skiffy/mystery series by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem--the one with titles like The Radioactive Redhead. ;)

However, even in situations like that, the query letter had better be pristine. If you're going to go for the trope, use it right.

Richard Mabry said...

In Texas, when someone says, "we think (this or that)," the common response is, "Got a mouse in your pocket?" It's I, me, my, mine. Or better yet, the, the, the, the.

Authors who use the royal (i.e., conceited) "our" in synopses and related documents rank right up there--scratch that, down there--with doctors and nurses who ask how "we're" feeling.

Morgan Dempsey said...

I'm in the "drives me nuts" camp.

It just strikes me as far too "dear reader" and rarely does that type of language intrigue me (outside of comical blog posts).

However, if it is reflective of the tone of the novel ("Our hero, dear reader, is a persnickety young fellow, with gumption up to here.") then perhaps it would be all right.

Then again, that's a novel I probably wouldn't read :)

Tiffany Kenzie said...

Okay, I had no idea people used 'our' in a query letter.

Kimber An said...

Decaf? Never!

Aerin said...

My cat and I are reading this blog and our perception is that all of y'all need to switch to decaf.

Wait. Maybe I need to switch to decaf. Wait. I don't drink coffee.

I want to know, though, how often "our hero" comes up in query letters. I mean, really. You've written an entire book and you can't make your word choice snappier than to rely on a cliche?

Tammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tammie said...

Nope, not lik'en it - for all the reasons already mentioned.

I like this new addition to the blog, can't wait to see what ya ask next :o)

Jackie said...

"our hero"...later in my writings I make a gradual move towards including the reader into a story.

I have then only included the willing. I would not make a bold move in using something like that phrase in the beginning, for exactly your reactions Nathan, the reader is now distracted.

Anonymous said...

It just sounds old.

"Of Great Travails and Herculean Obstacles," wherein our hero...

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....it's 2008, wake up.

Instead of having to say s/he is the hero, try saying what they must do in order to overcome whatever obstacles are thrown their way. Show that they are a hero, not tell.

Nikki Duncan said...

I'm not sure how any literary agent can do all that they do on decaf. I know I couldn't.

But the word "our" makes me wonder if the manuscript was written by a team, and if it was I'd think that would be clear from their address heading. Right?

At least I would want it to be if I was part of the team. That said, as I am writing my manuscripts on my own I would use "my" hero. Though again, in thinking about every query I've ever written, I think I just tell what the story is about and have done so without the use of "my hero".

A detective meets a widow. Or A Marine inherits magical power from an agoraphobic witch. Gives a sense of the characters, but doesn't assign an ownership.

And now I feel like I'm rambling. LOL

EJRuek said...

"Our hero" sounds pretentious to me. I'm also not fond of "my hero."

Sam Hranac said...

Parody was my guess, too, David. Or an attempt at humor - a of Firesign Theatre sort of thing? If it was not tongue in cheek, then it was head up @$$.

John said...

Wow. This vote isn't even close.

I myself would never use the phrase. But when I read Nathan's post -- excuse me, our post -- the first thing it put me in mind of was an old "Peanuts" daily series from probably in the 1970s-80s. Linus and Lucy are watching TV and Linus gets this perplexed look on his face. Lucy (per usual) ignores him. Suddenly he can't stand it anymore and he blurts out "AAAGH! I'm aware of my tongue!"

This question struck me as in the same vein, of things that we can't stop noticing once we notice them the first time (he said, suddenly aware that he was lapsing into first-person plural, yikes...).

Personally, my pet peeve is the phrase "[someone] honed in on [something]." It's not "honed." It's "homed." (Although authorities are starting to throw in the towel.)

deborah b said...

I, (that is to say, we) like most of the other folks here, find it kind of pretentious and old-fashioned. On the other hand, if this is the only thing wrong with a query, it probably isn't worth getting your (or our) knickers in a twist over. My guess is, if someone is using "our hero" in a query, it is probably the least of their problems, and you've already hit the "reject" button before you finished fretting over singular, plural and possessive...

Anonymous said...

In our opinion, it seems everyone here is not in favor of it.

That's our two-cent observation.

mardott said...

I would not use it, as it sounds banal and well - tropish. But I don't have a problem with it when I read it. I know what the writer means and I'm willing to go along with it.

After all, if I'm going to read fiction, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the story. I would consider this a first step in that process.

Jackie said...

I consider a Query to be an extension of the actual story (more a summary but still part).

However, the intent of a Query is to sell a product to an individual. I think we want to achieve striking an emotional cord with a Literary Agent but of interest of our story only.

beth said...

Just wanted to say I like this new format! And I find "our" a bit pretentious...

sylvanwords said...

The problem with "our hero" is that it changes the person from third to first (unless of course, it IS written in first, in which case, I'm cool with that). I don't write in first...ever. So anytime a story says, "our hero", it's like going from third person to...uh, our...as in your hero and mine...uh...I thought you were a disembodied viewpoint...

So Nathan...totally get your point, and one hundred percent agree. The caffeine level is still fine, Nathan.

Annalee said...

I'm generally inclined to say avoid it, but I've also been told that queries should mimic the style of the book. If you're writing a fresh, funny new take on the pulp serial, it might just call for an old radio-announcer type pitch. Or if the narrator's a sarcastic smartass, "our hero" might be used (followed by an unheroic description) for ironic effect. Granted, you have to be sure of what you're doing if you're going to bring out an old, overused trope and try to make it new and funny. But that's the story of writing.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of people who speak of themselves in the third person.

Nathan: Nathan Bransford cannot drink decaf so why are we talking about it?

(That was just an example - I'm not saying that I can picture Mr. Bransford actually uttering those words or anything.)

Moose said...

I dunno. The term "our hero" seems a little sarcastic to me.

gerriwritinglog said...

Not only do I get irked by the forced inclusiveness being foisted off on me by using "our", but I really think "hero" is a poor choice of words, too. First of all, not all main characters are heroes. Second, if the query can't make it clear that the main character(s) are or are not heroic, then there's a problem with the query that can't be fixed by labeling the characters as hero. Yargh. Anyway...

J.P. Martin said...

I agree with gerriwritinglog. You don't need to mention that you're querying an agent in your query and you don't need to mention that the hero is the hero. The main character is either the hero or the anti-hero and the content and tone of the query should convey as much.

TB said...

54 posts and no Nathan????
Where is our hero?

Diana said...

Well, it didn't bother me much until now.

I tried to think of ways to rework it, and then I realized the problem is that we don't need to identify "our hero" as "our hero" at all. I assume it would be obvious if you skipped "our hero" and launched in with "Martin is a twenty four year old genius monkey who is ready to turn the tables on evolution, and this time, brain size is personal."

I would assume Martin was "our hero," even though the sentence doesn't blatantly identify him as such.

So, I agree with others who have already posted.

Kate said...

"Our hero" is something I only say when I'm mocking myself so it's not something I'd want to include in a query. That's more about me than the phrase itself though.

Ulysses said...

I'm with Sara Phyn. I've never really thought about it before. It certainly never entered my mind to use it in a query. To me it sounds too Tom Jones chapter-ish: "In which our hero discovers a chicken, wears shoes & hatches a devious plot."

Polenth said...

To me, 'our hero' sounds more familiar, rather than formal. It's probably because up north (in the UK), they talk about 'our Robert' and so forth. I can see it working for a comedy, or a book set up north. It doesn't work for gritty thrillers.

Julie Weathers said...

Sigh. So much for my vow to cut back on agent blogs.

Number one, I wouldn't use the word hero. My main characters are flawed individuals and not very heroic in the classic sense.

Number two, they're mine, mine, I tell you, all mine!

*Wipes drool off face delicately and goes to get coffee.

Sorry.

Having said that, I doubt people are trying to be pretentious. I think they just don't realize how it sounds and they are trying to create an objective feel. Unlike some writers who clutch their characters possessively and scream, "Mine!"

Kathryn Harris said...

Nathan,

You've already said a writer using the word our isn't going to have any bearing on whether or not you reject a query. I'm curious to know what good the outcome of the poll will do. Are you simply trying to prove to yourself that you aren't neurotic by letting something so inane bug you? We all have our pet peeves.
Or perhaps you are using this poll as a subtle way to tell writers not to use that word?
Personally, I wouldn't use "our hero" because it sounds too comic bookish.

another good thing said...

It's like the doctor asking, "How are WE feeling today?" when he's not the one who just spent 22 hours in labor birthing a 10 pound baby boy you're thinking of calling Kilroy.

Anonymous said...

Is it annoying? Yes. But I'm assuming it's not done very often. I checked with a very good friend who is an agent, and he said he rarely sees it.

Adaora A. said...

@another good thing - I know, I hate that! Those doctors can be sketchy characters (err...even though my twin sister wants to be one)

T.S. said...

Hi Nathan. Just wanted to introduce myself and say hello. I work with Alvina Ling and she referred me to your blog.

As for "our hero" -- I don't mind it. It does have a dated radio serial ring to it (as someone mentioned above) but as long as the rest of the story sounds interesting, I probably wouldn't even flinch at the term.

Whirlochre said...

'Our hero' has a cliched, ironic ring to it and I would throw it out for that reason alone.

It might be appropriate to refer to a universally known hero like Superman as 'our hero'—we are agreed upon his credentials, if not his dress sense—but for a writer to refer to his as-yet unknown creation in this way, particularly if his or her audience is Captain Agent, seems to me to be presumptuous in the extreme. How can agent possibly give consent to this mutually shared view in advance of seeing the final manuscript?

Dwight Wannabe said...

WAYS TO TELL THE 22 YEAR OLD INTERN STRAIGHT OUT OF COLUMBIA COLLEGE THAT YOU ARE A CODGER OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE SAT THROUGH A BLACK & WHITE SUPERMAN SERIAL SHORT IN 1949:

1. Send them pages you typed on your trusty Underwood (because you're suffering under the delusion that "old skool" pages are quaint).

2. Use antiquated tropes like "our hero."

Lane said...

Example of why you should know your agent before querying:

If I was an agent, that wouldn't bug me, but apparently it distracts (our hero) Nathan. So, when querying Nathan, don't say "our hero"

There, we have all learned another way how to not make a lightbulb

nancorbett said...

Well, I suppose the point of this was to get a quick answer and avoid lengthy comments sections, but this set me off.

The our hero thingie reminded me that I also hate when medical people ask you, "And how are we today?" It just sounds so condescending. Like I'm not just there for my health for theirs as well??? How am I supposed to know how THEY are? And then they refer to the doctor as Doctor, as in, "Doctor will be in shortly." Not, "Doctor Anderson will be..."

Hmmm...guess I'm the one who should consider decaf.

Tom Burchfield said...

It doesn't bother me tremendously,but it is a cliche. I might use it in a mock ironic sense.

Adaora A. said...

And a fair chunk of us are here because we want to query him.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@6:56-

The use of "our hero" is not that common, but common enough that I thought to ask. I don't make these things up!

Anyway, I'd just like to clarify again that I would never reject someone's query over this, but hopefully it prompts people to think very carefully about all the words in their query. It's so important to avoid cliches unless you're knowingly using a cliche for an intended effect.

Welshcake said...

I'm a bit odd, I think. It doesn't bother me in the slightest!

In fact, the author of one of the best (IMHO)children's books of last year uses the phrase 'our herione' in her blurb and it works really well. The author in question frequents this blog, so I won't say who!

I guess context is important.

Nathan Bransford said...

welshcake-

I think the author you're referring to is a perfect demonstration of making "our hero/heroine" work because it matches the world and the story. As always, if it works it works!

Anonymous said...

Well, in some manuscripts it might work, but not in a query.

(Weary, maybe?)

But it smacks of
"How are WE today?"

which makes me look left and right for the butler in the room.

Anonymous said...

From anon@6:56-


Nathan, thanks for clarifying :)

Bethanne said...

I'm sorry. I'm a really, really late commenter...hooked up through your blog today...but I think the better question is, will I get 50 percent of the advance and subsequent royalties?

thank you for the monkeys.

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