A couple of years ago I started a thread on Agentquery.com called ‘Words that Should never Be In Queries’. A great deal of hilarity ensued about such phrases as ‘fiction novel’ and ‘the next Twilight’ (although I said this to my agent the other day, but I was joking).
What inspired me to start the thread was the ubiquity of certain words and phrases in the summary section of queries. These types of words also appear on IMDB a lot, and in TV Guide. So rather than focus on one word I hate, here are a few words that fairly strong consensus indicates should NOT be used in queries:
Tumultuous is not such a bad word I guess. I guess the problem I have with it is that really ALL books are tumultuous, or should be. Not many people want to read about someone’s average, uneventful day or life. Too many YA romance queries point to some teens “tumultuous summer” at her aunt’s beach house, or “tumultuous romance” with some mysterious loner etc. “Tumultuous” is not descriptive enough. It can be a good, bad or just busy summer or romance. Be specific.
2. Fast-paced or Action packed.
This is basically a cheat that says “My book is good, really really good. Trust me.” Therefore it’s a review. One should never “review” one’s book in the queries. Three more offenders are riveting, inspirational, and enthralling.
3. Rousing or rollicking
What are we? Speech writers from the 1930s? Both these words says exactly nothing except perhaps that things happen, whatever they may be, loudly or in fast succession with a lot energy, usually sometime before the Second World War.
Scientists have shown us that the universe is governed by chaos. Telling an agent that your MC has a chaotic life is not helpful.
5. Spirals out of control
Even if this wasn’t a cliché (it is) and even if it wasn’t regularly combined with other clichés to create the most horrendous mixed metaphors imaginable (“the fairytale romance spirals out of control”, “His life spirals out of control as he tries to keep the wolves from the door” etc), this phrase is too vague. It’s also inaccurate, or it should be, because a good story is driven by INTENTION and an ACTIVE character, not just one who watches the proverbial sh*t hit the clichéd fan. Also why is lack of control always circular, like a spiral? Why not fractal (like chaos) or linear (like a runaway train)?
Generally I object to the above because they don’t really say anything. They are words used by lazy writers who haven’t bothered to really think about how to describe what happens in their books. A query needs to be pithy, above all, packed with meaning and clear. Don’t waste precious space in a query by using one of the above clichés. If you’re not sure about your query try agentquery.com. I comment there as “Petal65” and am happy to offer feedback, especially on queries for Young Adult and Middle grade.