Road Trip Wednesday – Words That Don’t Belong in Queries

For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks what words do you absolutely hate?

A couple of years ago I started a thread on 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:

1. Tumultuous

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.

4. Chaotic

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 I comment there as “Petal65” and am happy to offer feedback, especially on queries for Young Adult and Middle grade.

10 thoughts on “Road Trip Wednesday – Words That Don’t Belong in Queries

  1. Ooooh thanks for sharing! It sounds to me like these words all stem from too much “telling” about the plot and not enough “showing”… Love how you turned RTW into a way to give us writing tips. 🙂

  2. “Joe had a tumultuous afternoon in front of the television…” Yes, these are certainly “filler” words and phrases. They tell, they don’t show. And when you only have 250 words with which to entice an agent, the last things you need are filler words and phrases.

  3. Good point: “why is lack of control always circular, like a spiral? Why not fractal (like chaos) or linear (like a runaway train)” Circles seem to be one of the least chaotic shapes. Hmm…

  4. Oy, I am totally guilty of the “spirals out of control” cliché. Next time I’m totally going to say my MC’s life “fractals out of control”–just kidding. In that same query, I was once harangued horribly in the comments on Agent Query Connect by using the word “vacillates.” Who knew people hated that word so much? Thanks for the great advice!

  5. “Dramatic” might deserve to be on this list, in the same league with tumultous, rousing, etc. Hopefully some drama is going to happen over the course of the book! 🙂

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