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Hi all. As the title “Is this doable?” suggests, I am soliciting advice. I have a story idea and I’m working through character bios, plot structure, scene setting etc. As I was brainstorming, I began to question whether this story would be enjoyable for my target audience – adult Christians and spiritually-curious non-believers.

 

It will be a “crime thriller” in the typical three-act structure. It should be fairly quick-paced, target is 60,000 – 90,000 words.

 

The theme is: Lust for revenge would destroy a man, but forgiveness restores him.

 

The protagonist is a police officer who is a “churchgoing man” - good husband, active in his church, lives to serve and protect, all-around great guy. He is growing weary from his constant immersion in crime on the job. His biggest problem is one that he isn’t even aware of: he has not been born again. His biggest hurdle to salvation is “his secret”, for which he has been unable to forgive himself.

 

The antagonist is a mid-level drug trafficker with all the baggage that would entail. He will of course be complex and not cartoonish, but he still has to be a scumbag at heart – a true “villain’s villain”!

 

The inciting incident occurs when the antagonist commits a crime that – unbeknownst to him – destroys the protag’s life and family. The rising action is that the protag resolves to kill the antag out of revenge, but he convinces himself he is only seeking justice. There is a cat-and-mouse chase between the protag and antag, but our hero is being chased too – by the prevenient grace of God.

 

Who wins each battle? Who wins the war? Does our good guy jump into the abyss, or is he held back by Holy Spirit? Does the villain redeem himself and make amends, or is he too far gone to save? Stay tuned to find out!

 

So, to my questions: Would you as a reader be put off by the evil that has to happen with a premise like this? I don’t plan to be graphic, that’s not what I’m going for. But there will have to be betrayal, lies, drugs, murder, robbery and mayhem to set up the eventual salvation- and redemption-themed resolution. It seems to me the more despicably these characters act, the stronger the conflict and ultimate resolution.

 

What would it take to keep you engaged though the darkness until we get back into the light? Besides the common & obvious issues (plot holes, poor dialog, lack of continuity, characters acting “out-of-character”, etc.), what would make you give up on the story as “too evil”, “too depressing” “too sad” or whatever?

 

I have never written before, so all advice is welcome. Thanks in advance for your comments!

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Sounds to me like you’ve got the backbone of a great story here, certainly one I’d want to read, assuming it’s done well.

 

As for your question about what would put me off as a reader...besides the obvious (boring characters, bad writing, etc.) it would probably be a protagonist who spends a great deal of time in introspective wallowing in his misery, rather than getting out and doing something...even if it’s not the best thing. Excessive violence is also a turnoff, but I suppose you know that.

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I'd definitely read a book like that! You've got a good plot going!

44 minutes ago, Cape Fear said:

Would you as a reader be put off by the evil that has to happen with a premise like this? I don’t plan to be graphic, that’s not what I’m going for.

As long as it's not graphic, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

45 minutes ago, Cape Fear said:

What would it take to keep you engaged though the darkness until we get back into the light? Besides the common & obvious issues (plot holes, poor dialog, lack of continuity, characters acting “out-of-character”, etc.), what would make you give up on the story as “too evil”, “too depressing” “too sad” or whatever?

First, sin would have to be presented as sin. Second, I'd have to care about the main character.

 

Hope that helps!

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35 minutes ago, Zee said:

... what would put me off as a reader... would probably be a protagonist who spends a great deal of time in introspective wallowing in his misery, rather than getting out and doing something...even if it’s not the best thing. Excessive violence is also a turnoff, but I suppose you know that.

 

Thanks Zee. Our hero is a man of action - he only has time to be introspective on his way to the next objective!

I will be writing about violent acts without going into graphic descriptions of those acts.

 

7 minutes ago, HK1 said:

First, sin would have to be presented as sin. Second, I'd have to care about the main character.

Thank you for the tips HK1. Sin will not be glorified, I will try to "show" it as sin. It will be ugly but I'll avoid detailed accounts. I will work hard to keep the main character sympathetic.

 

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7 minutes ago, KR LaLonde said:

This story sounds quite good. I've read many books that are similar by a few different authors. I think it sounds great!!

 

Thanks for the encouragement KR! I was curious if anyone has done this before - I don't want to follow a trope! Can you give me examples of similar stories you've seen or read?

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Here are my suggestions, you can take them or leave them 😉

 

As someone showed me, an important thing to keep in mind is a constant shuffle of (action -> reaction) and repeat. Also most stories need the MC to have some kind of strong misbelief, something he believes is inherently true, but during the story he will find out is a lie which will make him re-evaluate his beliefs. 

 

If you make the MC someone the reader can not only invest in, but care about, the betrayal will feel personal to the reader. In the MC's spiral downward, instead of it being a straight steep slant downward of negativity, try to have spikes of hope or something positive that makes it seem like it is about to turn around but then continue the downward spiral. That way you can play on the reader's sympathy for the MC, just don't have too many spikes or the reader will feel like a yo-yo, it needs to feel natural.

 

I feel that if the MC is a good guy and a police officer, he would feel a conflict about going straight to revenge, so if you do what I suggested above and stagger the downward spiral, as his core belief are eroded away, he would progressively work towards revenge which would be rock bottom emotionally for him.

Edited by Amosathar
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Thank you so much @Amosathar. I already have three significant events that combine to push the MC to revenge - after establishing him as a sympathetic character. I will take your advice and add a couple of smaller nudges to his downward spiral. I will probably work the "lifelines" or hopeful events into the wise counsel that he receives from mentors - and of course ignores, initially.

 

I really do appreciate your suggestions. I want to keep the reader engaged even as the hammer continues to fall again and again. 

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As a general rule, if you can give me an emotional attachment to the protagonist, the story will be interesting. That means it's less about whether your plot is "doable" than if you can convince me to root for the MC. A good conflict is one of the ingredients to make this happen. BTW, you get extra points if you also make the antagonist interesting. That is, if I can see that person's struggles and why they are what they are, the story becomes even more interesting.

 

One big use for a quick plot summary like you've given is whether it provides fodder for an interest-grabbing blurb on the book's back cover. I think you have lots to work with. To that end, you might tighten your theme to: Revenge destroys; forgiveness restores. Unless it might give away too much, that might even head the back cover blurb, in a large, dramatic looking font.

 

Also regarding whether a book is "doable," another thing that makes a story interesting is if you can make the plot work, while the reader has no idea whether or not you can pull it off. Being able to do stuff we can't predict is a Good Thing...

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I'm hooked on the theme! The only thing that would probably draw me away is very graphic imagery and lots of profanity/curse words. However, the Bible really goes into some really graphic stuff whenever something happens with evil people (i.e. Jehu had the heads of 70 of Ahab's sons placed by the gate as an example, and Jezebel's blood spurted on the wall and on the poor horses when she was thrown out the window). But I'm not saying you need to put in graphic stuff, especially because most Christians and even people who aren't Christians would avoid the book if you have that in there.

23 hours ago, Cape Fear said:

What would it take to keep you engaged though the darkness until we get back into the light? Besides the common & obvious issues (plot holes, poor dialog, lack of continuity, characters acting “out-of-character”, etc.), what would make you give up on the story as “too evil”, “too depressing” “too sad” or whatever?

I want to know how our protagonist and our antagonist really feel deep down. So no cover-ups on emotions or anything like that. And the common/obvious ones are clearly needed to have attention paid to of course. 🙂

I might not be much help; sorry about that!

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20 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

Poke around here and see what others do to keep the action moving. There are lots of good threads. (But don't do like I do, and spend the whole day here. You'll never get any writing done that way!)

Thanks for the suggestion to look here for examples. I want this to be a fast-paced story. And I know what you mean, I had to step away from the site last night to work on the antag's bio.

 

18 hours ago, Wes B said:

... you might tighten your theme to: Revenge destroys; forgiveness restores.

Thank you Wes B, I do like that better and I'm going to use it. I have an internal debate over "revenge" or "vengeance" but yeah, the pithier theme you suggested wins.

 

8 minutes ago, Ky_GirlatHeart said:

The only thing that would probably draw me away is very graphic imagery and lots of profanity/curse words. However, the Bible really goes into some really graphic stuff...

 

I want to know how our protagonist and our antagonist really feel deep down. So no cover-ups on emotions or anything like that. 

Also thank you Ky_GirlatHeart. I do plan to use tragic events without being graphic about it - maybe "Randall cringed as he felt the life slip out of the man below him." vs. "As a crimson fountain blossomed on the man's chest, Randall cringed. He watched the blood soak his own hands while life drained from the man below him." Either way you get the information that the guy died at Randall's hand and it bothered Randall, but the first sample isn't as graphic. Plus - fewer words!

 

No Profanity, that's been my intention all along. It will be challenging because you know, drug dealing murderers tend to cuss. So do police officers for that matter.

 

I'm focusing on the antag's bio right now to make him as real and deep as possible. Even bit characters need a well-established back story - even though it won't be in the book. These characters have to be real in my head before they make the page.

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As a Christian, I have no interest in conversion stories (the act of repenting itself, we all know how that works), I'm interested in Redemption stories (the overall arc from wickedness to a changed heart) and usually point to secular films which show this change to normal people, non-Christians who are seeing the repentance of a turned life possibly for the first time.

PULP FICTION tells the story of two hitmen who witness what looks like a miracle and shows how they react at the crossoroads—Vincent Vega (John Travolta) laughs it off like nothing's changed, and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) grapples with it. His initial plan is naïve, he says he's going to 'walk the Earth' in search of enlightenment. But his big moment is in a diner where he's on his way to deliver the suitcase which serves as the MacGuffin in the story. When a nickel-and-dime robbery brings him face-to-face with a small-time hoodlum, Jules turns the tables and points the robber's own gun back on him. But then, in a wild turn of events, he demonstrates just how dedicated he is to his intention for life-change. He gives the robber the contents of his wallet, which is a wad of cash, but tells him the suitcase isn't his to give and he won't be parting with it. And then he delivers my favorite soliloquy in all of film. It's filled with profanities but the moment is as raw and honest as they get, and the punchline is killer.

"Jules Winnfield: You read the Bible, Ringo?"

Ringo: Not regularly.

Jules: There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."

I been sayin' that **** for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ***. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a *********** before you popped a cap in his ***.

But I saw some **** this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin'. 

It could mean you're the evil man, and I'm the righteous man, and Mr. 9mm here is the shepherd protecting my righteous *** in the valley of darkness.

Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd, and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I like that.

But that **** ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men.

But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd."

And then Jules stares at Ringo for a long moment, after which he uncocks his gun and lays it down, and then says, simply, "Go." 

It is the release of very great tension, but not a release of violence, a release of grace. It's my favorite moment in all of cinema. Even a hardened killer knows he's at a turning point, and in that moment, he chooses a different path.

In my head, Jules Winnfield leaves the diner, returns the briefcase, and parts company with the unrepentant Vincent. We know Vincent dies (which is consistent as the fate for those who rebuff God's attempt to save them) but Jules lives. In my head canon, he winds up in the foothills of the Rockies in Northern New Mexico or something working as a small-town preacher keeping the local youths on the straight-and-narrow. We never see his Conversion, but we do see his Redemption, the moment he changes from a killer to someone in pursuit of the truth. He doesn't yet know what we do, that this Truth comes in the person of Jesus Christ. The scene in the diner is a raw, powerful moment and it's something everyone can understand, especially non-Christians who would be scared away by the on-the-nose mechanics of the actual conversion.

I believe it is the Holy Spirit who saves. If the fields are white and the workers are few, I'd rather tell Redemption stories about real, damaged people in need of life-change and leave the moment of Conversion off-screen so the people who need to read about changed lives can find these stories. 

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Other films in this category are THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, PITCH BLACK (Vin Diesel's breakout role), and the film CALVARY starring Brendan Gleeson. It's hard to tell a story non-Christians can ingest without scaring them off, but everyone knows that Redemption moment. I think of it as spiritual toe-hold for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of normal people.

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Oh wow. @Johne That is an excellent post and gives me a lot to ponder moving forward.

 

And it definitely answers the question I had in mind when I started this thread - if you can watch Pulp Fiction you are able to endure a lot more gore than I will write!

 

Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful response. This place is quickly becoming my favorite corner of the 'net.

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