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”?
I dunno. The term “our hero” seems a little sarcastic to me.
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 says
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.
54 posts and no Nathan????
Where is our hero?
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.
“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.
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.”
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 says
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.
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 says
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 says
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.
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. says
@another good thing – I know, I hate that! Those doctors can be sketchy characters (err…even though my twin sister wants to be one)
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.
‘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 says
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.”
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
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 says
It doesn’t bother me tremendously,but it is a cliche. I might use it in a mock ironic sense.
Adaora A. says
And a fair chunk of us are here because we want to query him.
Nathan Bransford says
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.
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 says
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!
Well, in some manuscripts it might work, but not in a query.
But it smacks of
“How are WE today?”
which makes me look left and right for the butler in the room.
Nathan, thanks for clarifying 🙂
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.