Pub Rants

Swept Up Into The Arms of Cliché

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STATUS: Busy but good. I have two projects that will be going out the week after my vacation and I’m very excited about them both.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE ME LIKE A MAN by Bonnie Raitt

I’m a big fan of the Dilbert cartoons. There is this one strip where Dilbert and his office colleagues are in a meeting with the pointy-hair boss diligently taking “notes” when Wally quietly says, “Bingo.”

Makes me laugh every time. For those of you who haven’t seen the strip, they all have “bingo” cards with office jargon and they cover a square for every cliché the boss says and Wally manages to win within the opening five words of the meeting.

Sometimes I feel that way when reading romance queries. BINGO!

There seems to be an excessive use of romance jargon that writers like to include when writing their query letters and all I can say is the more common the phrase, the more generic the query reads. And you don’t want anything tilting the agent reading to a NO.

So here are some of my Bingo phrases when reading:

a beautiful but feisty…

the dashing and wealthy heir

independent, strong willed woman

alpha male

rekindled passion

her world crashing down around her

tortured soul

face her past

time running out

See if you can eliminate and rejuvenate. There are certainly others and I’ll have to start keeping a running list for future blogs.

25 Responses

  1. Kimber An said:

    I like to use those cliches when a character is being mellowdramatic, like when the villain thinks he’s the hero and believes he’s irrestitable to the heroine. By context, I hope its obviously deliberate and why. And, hopefully, the reader will just want to slap him.

  2. Sherry Thomas said:

    I didn’t know people were still using the word feisty.

    Spunk and pluck would be acceptable alternatives to “feist”. 🙂

    But seriously, if you have conflict enough going into the story, there is no need to use adjectives to describe your characters in the query letter.

  3. An Aspiring Writer said:

    I used to play the same game with real estate adds when I was an assistant. Light & airy, master suite, gourmet kitchen, sparkling pool, etc.

    Alpha male was my only violation, but then, I write werewolves, it’s gonna crop up. *LOL* But I haven’t yet written my first query letter yet. **adds this to the do not file** So I will definitely omit those things!

    Thanks, Kristen!

  4. Kristin said:

    It’s hard to boil down the essence of your book into just a couple of paragraphs. I understand the need to stand out in a crowd of queries, but sometimes it is very difficult to come up with a ‘short but sweet’ way to describe a certain situation.

    Given that there are truly ‘no original plots,’ is it any surprise that queries in the same genre would have identical phrases?

    Now, if the whole query is cliched, I can understand the annoyance. But to read multiple queries with “facing her past” or “rekindled passion” within the context of a fresh take on romance, I would hope you would cut them a little slack. There are chapters and chapters to artfully and uniquely describe two characters rekindling passion, but how do you condense that concept down into just a few words that make it original and not-cliched?

  5. Ryan Field said:

    Great Post! I’m copying, pasting and printing it for a client who doesn’t believe what I’ve been trying to explain politely for a long time.

  6. Karmela Johnson said:

    Oooh! This sounds like a game from the Smart Bitches! Let’s see…

    “A beautiful but feisty princess faces her past when she encounters the dashing and wealthy heir of her country. Despite her princessy background, our heroine is an independent, strong willed woman butting heads with the hero, and alpha male with a tortured soul. With her world crashing down around her, she must face her past with time running out.”

    Dun dun dun….

  7. Kalen Hughes said:

    Feisty. Spunky. Plucky.

    I won’t buy ANY book where these words are used to describe the heroine (all of the above = moron who I’m supposed to love for her stupidity).

    And Karmela ROCKS!

  8. Kanani said:

    If you see the use of clichés in a query, they’re sure to be sprinkled throughout the book.

    A good writer will sift through their materials for clichés. Not just words or phrases, but situational clichés as well as characterizations.

  9. Beth said:

    It seems to me that if a query writer does her job in properly explaining the story, adjectives such “feisty” or “alpha” are not necessary to describe the characters, since it will be apparent from their actions what sort of people they are.

  10. joanr16 said:

    “Mellowdramatic”! I like that. Not the same as melodramatic, I’d imagine. Seemingly laid-back, but only acting the part?

  11. Anonymous said:

    “…which forces her to question everything she ever believed to be true.”

    (Ok, if you google for any of the variations literally it doesn’t come up with much, but if I had a dollar for every variation of this…)

  12. Anonymous said:

    Those of you who think the phrases “heaving bosom” and “throbbing manhood” and “thundering pulse” probably haven’t read a romance in a very, very long time.

    And I really think it’s unfair not to buy a book because the copy editor decided to put the word feisty on the back cover copy. It’s not like the author has any say.

  13. Sharon J said:

    Try pitching to HMB without an alpha male or a beautiful but feisty heroinne and your writing career’s over before it’s even begun. I think that’s the reason why I just can’t write for them – too many cliches.

  14. Kim said:

    I read some of these comments too quickly and ended up with a new word – “splunky”.

    Don’t know what it could mean, but it wouldn’t be cliched. I think.

    I write romance and I can guarantee that nothing heaves(unless it is being thrown across a room), throbs (except maybe a wound from a sword battle), or pulses (unless it’s an actual pulse) in my stories. Those phrases send a heaving, throbbing, pulsing pain straight through my temples!

    Hmmm… what about “haunted by his/her past?”

  15. a nony mouse said:

    Sharon_j: generalising much? HMB have several different lines. Some may focus quite tightly on the alpha male, but others steer away from that completely. Try reading some of their guidelines.

    Some authors/books may be cliche heavy, but I think others might surprise you.

  16. Sharon J said:

    A nony mouse: I should have made myself clearer: I was talking about their category romances, of which I’ve read all of the guidelines that are of interest to UK writers and have read books from most of the lines over a number of years and have yet to be surprised.

  17. Lynne Connolly said:

    Look up the meaning of some of these words:

    Feisty actually means “prone to farting”

    Spunky means “full of sperm”

    So what do you think of your feisty, spunky heroine now?