What’s your least favorite word? Is it “moist?” Well, sorry, you’re wrong. The worst word in the English language is “ensues.”
The word “ensues” (I shudder just typing it) is bad enough on its own. In a query letter and/or synopsis it’s roughly the equivalent of kryptonite mixed with garbage that’s been baking in 100 degree heat mixed with the sound of that horrific alarm that goes off when someone opens the wrong door at the airport.
Lo there are reasons behind my loathing of the word “ensues.” I possess a very rational hatred. And the reasons might help illustrate what not to do in a query.
So with that, let me tell you why the word en… (nope, I can’t bring myself to type it again) needs to go.
Try and find a vaguer way of saying something happens than that word I’m not going to type again. Go ahead. I dare you.
It’s a virtually meaningless word. It literally just means that something proceeds to happen.
Vagueness kills a query letter. You don’t have very many words to make your story come alive, and it’s crucial to make every one count. The best way to do that is to be very specific and precise with your descriptions.
This word… isn’t that.
Instead of just saying something happens, be clear about how it happens.
By definition, the Word That Shall Not Be Named creates a sentence in the passive voice. And that’s really bad news for a query letter.
Every sentence in the passive voice in a query letter is a missed opportunity to be more specific about who is doing what. It also deprives you of an opportunity to show the flavor of your novel.
Go back through your query and make sure 1) you’re removing the passive voice and 2) you’re using active and specific verbs rather than vague ones.
This will infuse life into your query.
It’s a cliche
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen “Chaos [blanks]” in a query letter I would own the U.S. Mint.
Don’t be that person.
I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s tongue in cheek! It imbues my query letter with a knowing frivolity that invites the agent into my pithy commentary! It is the literary equivalent of a wink!”
It’s lost that meaning. It’s just a cliche. And cliches don’t belong in a query letter.
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Art: The Great Fire of London 1666 by Rita Greer