People keep asking me about my New Year’s resolutions, but yet I get looks of bafflement tinged with fear when I say “I’d love to see folks trapped on a yacht or in a private resort with some sort of murderer” or “Hoping to find that lady agoraphobe who witnesses a killing on Google Earth.” Then as they slowly back away, hands raised as if to ward of my impending windmill of arms and teeth, I call out, “You WERE talking about thriller plots I’m resolved to find, right?”
Guest post by Barbara Poelle. Poelle is a literary agent at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest Magazine with her column FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK. Connect with Barbara @Bpoelle.
My first love, even before Tommy Schifsky, was the thriller novel. If my mother could mainline thrillers, she would, and thus I jumped from Trixie Belden to Travis Cornell around the age of ten and have been rubbing my gums and rocking back in forth in front of the thriller shelves myself ever since. And I am JONESING these days to find a new thriller client.
The good news is that I truly believe there is great talent to be found in the slush, and have proven myself accurate in that statement time and time again. But, and I say this delicately (as we all know delicate is my middle name), lately I am feeling restless that I am seeing a lot of the same themes out there, and I am hoping that 2016 brings me that pulse pounding plot without using words like CIA, Hezbollah or North Korea.
I am craaaaving a more … hmm, personal plot? Maybe that is what I am meaning? But for me it is ALWAYS about the protagonist and what they bring to the table as far as unique layers.
Look, I loves me some “former [fill in the blank] operative” protagonists. See: THE DRIFTER, by Nick Petrie- What. A. Ride. In fact, Imma beg Brian to let Nick post on this blog tomorrow. Come back here and check it out. And buy the book. And some tighter shoelaces as it’s gonna blow your socks off.
ANYWAY! I don’t mind a protagonist’s background being military or police if that is what the muse has tied to your plot, but the larger picture of a “thrilling” protagonist for me is a character with a unique skill set coupled with a soupçon of reluctance pushing against their willingness to step in. Does that make sense? Like, let’s talk about the aforementioned Travis Cornell, the protagonist in WATCHERS by Dean Koontz. Dude is just out for a WALK when the poop starts going down. And rather than being all, “Nobody panic, I’m former Delta Force and 100% certain on what to do.”, the catalyst for his actions are grounded in a combination of incredulity and the instinct to do the right thing. (Oh my gosh I just love him so much. Let me just take a moment and tell 10-year-old me that we MARRIED A GUY NAMED TRAVIS. She’s gonna scream so hard she’ll have to readjust her scrunchie.) Thrills for me don’t come from explosions and hand to hand combat, they come from the moments leading up to the detonation, up to the first punch, where a conflicted protagonist is uniquely suited in their skill set to be the answer to a domestic or global issue.
So! Let’s talk about YOUR resolutions this year. Was one of them to “get a publishing contract for my thriller”? I might be the right agent for your submission if you have any of the following:
- Your protagonist has a unique skillset and is placed in a situation where they are a reluctant hero.
- You have a built-in atmosphere that provides its own stakes with a single setting such as a snowed in hotel, a yacht, a hospital during a hurricane, etc.
- Your novel takes place on US soil.
- You have something devouring from beneath. (Yes, yes, I looooooove a little monster in my madness.)
- You don’t mind an agent who sloshes vodka when she gestures.
If any one of these fit your goals and you have a completed, gone-over-with-a-fine-tooth-comb thriller, you should query me at Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line AGENT SEEKS THRILLS, and let’s see if we can, ah, resolve some resolutions in 2016 together.
And don’t forget to come back here tomorrow to check out Nick Petrie’s blog about thriller writing because you will love THE DRIFTER so much you will understand why I have announced I need an additional husband named Peter.
Let Barbara Poelle (who wrote this post) and literary agent Holly Root
pull back the curtain and show you exactly what goes on when an agent
reads your query in SLUSH PILE SHOWDOWN:
HOW TO MAKE YOUR SUBMISSION STAND OUT.
Download it now
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.