A good book is hard to find. This is a truth that I have acknowledged my entire life, but I have come to realize it more and more recently. With a Barnes & Noble gift card in hand, I have browsed the shelves dedicated to young adult literature in search of a book worthy of my “hard-earned” dollars.
Sometimes, a book catches my eye. Maybe the title is clever, or the cover is pretty. Either way, I find myself picking it up to take a closer look. I read the blurb – that little summary on the dust jacket or back cover – and, more often than not, place the book back on the shelf.
You see, there are so many authors trying to hitch a ride on the YA Fiction Express right now. And, quite frankly, that means that there are many, many sub-par books out there. Books full of clichés, poor writing, and very little creativity. I’ve found that while reading book blurbs, there are certain words and phrases that almost always turn me off to a book. Now, I’ve compiled the “Book Blurb Blacklist” so you can be an informed reader too.
Warning: Sarcasm imminent.
1) “sixteen years old”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being sixteen. But for some reason, YA books seem to consider it some kind of “magical” age. Everything happens when you turn sixteen! You get superpowers! The apocalypse happens! You meet the love(s) of your life!
Let me tell you what happened when I turned sixteen: I got a sweet DSLR camera, had dinner with my grandparents, and ate cake. And it was awesome.
2) “[the main character] must choose”
For some reason, these sixteen-year-old main characters must always make decisions where the entire fate of the world hangs in the balance. Help the Resistance or turn them in? Fall in love with Love Interest A or Love Interest B? It’s so hard!
3) “destinies intertwined”
The two main characters, who have seemingly no connection whatsoever, randomly meet each other and soon discover that their “destinies are intertwined.” It’s basically a “mysterious” way of saying they’ll fall in love. NEXT.
This can depend on the context, but usually this appears in the form of “the passion that [the main character] feels for [one of the love interests].” And usually, in some way or another, this “passion” gets in the way of Important Plot Things. Ugh.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a tragic past, a dark past, your family’s past, a forgotten past, or your past coming back to haunt you, it’s still a cliché. I get that a lot of people do have “a past,” but at this point, it’s such an overused plot device that it’s become boring.
6) “before it’s too late”
I understand that deadlines create tension in stories, and I’m totally cool with that. However, this line is so commonplace that it’s become laughable. If you have to tell me that your main character is on a deadline, at least do it creatively.
7) “ordinary” or “typical”
Generally used to describe a female main character who lives a normal and boring life. This usually changes when she turns the magical age of sixteen and gets superpowers, starts World War Three, or meets a cute boy. C’mon, can’t I get some variety anymore?
8) Any words used to describe a male character as dark and brooding but also very good looking
Also known as the “mysterious bad boy” trope. I’m so tired of this cliché, guys. I know the trend these days is to have mysterious male characters and “super independent” female characters (who are usually not very independent at all, but that’s beside the point), but let’s switch it up sometimes. Your characters should be just as varied as real people are. I’m tired of reading books where the main characters are the same every time.
9) “outcast,” “different,” “special,” or variations thereon
Yes, I get it. The main character is cool and unique. I’ll bed she reads comics and wears hoodies, because that is totally unlike any other girl in the world. She probably has purple eyes too, just to prove how special she is. Get over yourself.
10) A list of statements or rules about whatever crazy dystopian society the book takes place in
Clearly, readers are too stupid to figure things out on their own, so everything must be spelled out exactly. How else are we going to know when the main character is breaking the rules?
11) “terrible risk/price”
Especially if you’re writing a dystopian or sci-fi or anything action-oriented, this is pretty much a given. Give your readers some credit, okay? I’m sure they’ve already figured out that whatever the main character is doing is dangerous.
12) Any phrase that looks down on another group of people
The most common offending phrase for this category is using the term “mean girls” to describe the general female population of any high school. Now, granted, I have never attended a public high school, but I’m pretty sure not all people are the same. Or maybe that’s just crazy talk.
The second problem with these kinds of phrases is that they make both the author and the main character look like arrogant jerks. Oh, but it’s okay, because the main character is cool, different, and only looks down on people who deserve it. And that’s totally fair… right?
13) Blurbs with a million questions
Will the main character survive? Will she complete the task within the completely arbitrary time limit? Will she choose the cute boy from her hometown or the mysterious rockstar bad boy? All of these questions and more are thrown at readers throughout book blurbs.
Here’s the thing: You shouldn’t have to write out the questions you want your readers to be thinking. If your blurb is well written, your potential readers should already be wondering these things. Once again: Do not treat your readers like they’re idiots.
This goes back to phrase #9. This phrase appears a lot in dystopian novels, with something to the effect of, “everyone in The Society is a sheep, except for the main character. She believes in radical stuff, like free thought and rebellion!”
Get over yourself, you sixteen-year-old blonde girl who is pretty but not too pretty. I doubt you’re the first one to think differently.
15) “then [girl] meets [boy] and everything changes”
Oh yes, everything changes when you meet someone of the opposite gender. Especially when it happens in a YA novel. Your world will never be the same, for better or for worse.
Can we just consider how ridiculous this is? I understand that love is certainly a powerful emotion, but I’m so tired of entire plots being centered around two teenage idiots falling in “love.” It was old when Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet, and it’s old now. Let’s try to write something different now, agreed?
Whew. Sorry, I think my sarcasm might’ve gotten a little out of hand up there. But once I’m on a roll… well, you know how it goes.
Anyway, that’s my Book Blurb Blacklist. So now, every time you see one of these words or phrases in a blurb, a little alarm should go off in your head and you should immediately put the book down (except in certain cases). Now go, readers, and begin your book searches wisely.
Are there any words or phrases that bother you when reading book blurbs? Did I forget to add anything to the Blacklist? Let me know in the comments!
Oh yeah, one last thing: Shout out to my friend Paige Turner at Between Reality, who helped me out and encouraged me while writing this blog post! She’s a great book reviewer, so you should definitely check out her blog when you have the chance!
6 thoughts on “Book Blurb Blacklist”
Great post, Maggie! You’re kind of a tough customer when it comes to YA.
It’s so funny because the thing about me is some of my favorite things in book are things I know are cliché and overused but I love them and they’re my favorite and I don’t care. You know me, and #8 will always make me pick up a book. 🙂
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Yeah, like I said, there are exceptions to my Blacklist. Scott Westerfeld’s book “Uglies” is a fantastic and really well written book, but the blurb ends with, “Tally’s choice will change her world forever…” And of course, I have my own favorite cliches and tropes as well. Perhaps I’ll make a list of those someday…
Thanks again for the feedback! 🙂
Thank you for the shout out, Maggie! Excellent blog post as usual. Great choices on which blacklist words to look out for, you’re spot on!
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You’re very welcome! And thanks! I had such a good time writing it and getting to unleash a little sarcasm, haha.
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