Thursday, May 2, 2013

Query Tips: Introducing Your Character With Subtext


Why is your character the main character of your story? Why is he/she the person that can kill the bad guy, love this man, or overcome whatever your main obstacle is?

Very often, I see writers begin their queries with a statement about how ordinary their character is. I understand they want to make their character relatable and an “everyman.” However, your space is better utilized if you skip to the good stuff.

After all, your character is not truly an everyman. There is a reason why she is the protagonist of the story, why she is uniquely situated to overcome the conflict.  When you introduce your character in your query, try to hint at this. Also consider her internal goal. Regardless of whether your character even realizes what her internal goal is, there are probably things you can establish that will help the reader guess at it.

For example, we know that Harry Potter's internal goal is to find family, as evidenced by the Mirror of Erised. His external goal is to stop Voldemort, and he is uniquely situated to do it because a) he's a wizard and b) he's stopped Voldemort once before, as a baby.

Therefore, we might introduce him in our query like this:

Eleven-year-old Harry Potter has been sleeping in a cupboard ever since he arrived on his relatives' doorstep as a baby with a scar on his tiny forehead. Although his aunt and uncle spoil their own son Dudley with thirty-seven presents on his birthday, Harry receives something far more special for his. A letter from a school called Hogwarts, claiming that Harry is a wizard.

A lot of what we've included is subtext, something that tells the query reader that there is more afoot than what's on the surface. While we don't specifically call out that he longs for family, it's something you might guess at because he is an orphan and his aunt and uncle have him sleep in a cupboard while they spoil their own child. And although we don't yet state that he's stumped Voldemort before, we've established that baby Harry survived something that gave him his scar. Finally, when we mentioned the inciting incident, that Harry received the letter, we also introduced what makes him so special: he's a wizard.

With subtext, you can provide a sense of depth to your character that will hook the agent/editor you're querying.

What's special about your character?

Continue the example with Step 2: Being a Tease Without Being Vague.

3 comments:

  1. Love this post! I'm still studying subtext (via Janet Burroway's book WRITING FICTION). I'm trying to include more in dialogue, though I'm not quite sure if I'm understanding the subject rightly.

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    1. Great! I think the use of subtext in dialogue is SO important! I usually rewrite important bits of dialogue many times to get it right.

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  2. Thank you for this great article! Setting up the story with intrigue and empathy is so important, something a lot of writers forget when they get swept up in the excitement of putting pen to paper. Here is an article I wrote called "Introducing a Character, Not a Bore" that I thought you might enjoy: http://catehogan.com/introducing_your_character/

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