Deal Breaker Words

Spirited; Christian; “from hell”; “a love story”; vampire; turgid; “feisty heroine”; soul


Author Dianne Harman asked the Good Reads group that she moderates to list the words and phrases that turned them off when included in a book blurb. Ms. Harman posted the above responses on her blog.

“Turgid” is an interesting word that I can’t imagine using at all, much less in a blurb. It’s doubtful that I’d use any of these examples, with the exception of “spirited” and “from hell”—and those are big maybes.

The Good Reads group also posted their objections to foul language, detailed sex scenes, and repetitive sex scenes. But Ms. Harman feels, and I agree, that these features would be a part of the book itself and not in the blurb. She notes that some readers would select a book because of the aforementioned objections.

As I read the posting I thought back to a discussion I’d had with my editor (I’ll call her Nancy) about Murder at the Book Group. She advised me to ditch my swear words. I pointed out that I was trying for realism—people swear, some a little, some a lot, some only when “necessary.” We’ve all known colorful folks who liberally season their conversations with a salty vocabulary. But Nancy said that my story was a cozy and that cozy readers don’t like swearing. And then there was all the sex …

Murder at the Book Group does fit into the cozy mystery genre in that the main character, Hazel Rose, is an amateur detective. But I consider it a dark cozy. The sex I write about occurs off stage and is all talk—remembered sex, reported sex, observed sex, hoped-for sex.

But Nancy maintained that sex and swearing were over the top. And I do want to cultivate loyal  reader who I expect, if given the choice, would pick sex over blue language.

I trust Nancy’s expertise and instincts. With her help my great story (IMHO) has blossomed into a terrific story. And so I ditched the cursing and kept the sex. Putting my creative side to work I came up with euphemisms (including the “okay” swear words) that didn’t dilute my more colorful characters.

But no spirited, feisty, vampire heroines—that’s a promise!


Visit Dianne Harman at; see her blog for postings on the deal breaker words along with a followup posting:



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