Here’s a list of publishing industry terms that insiders use to describe various styles of creative writing. Soon you’ll be talking about books, short stories, essays, and poems in the same way that sommeliers speak about fine wines!
While not everyone uses this jargon, and some of the lingo has multiple meanings, these words and phrases can help you describe the characteristics of a manuscript or book. If you’ve heard these words in a different context—or if you can add your own words to this list of descriptions—please leave a note in our comments section.
How Publishing Industry Insiders Talk About Creative Writing
Easy to understand.
Rings true, as if the author lived it.
Broad appeal, a wide scope, lots of emotion, breakout potential.
Big, bold, memorable, fresh, with commercial potential.
Character-driven. Action is propelled primarily by characters’ internal forces.
Free of errors, under control, or free of adult language/scenarios.
Artificial, invented, forced, not authentic.
Full of flowery, unnecessary language. Also, explicit.
Transports readers beyond their day-to-day lives.
Fast-paced. Driven by a “what happens next” momentum.
Overly poetic and descriptive.
Has a new spin/angle/approach.
Dark, violent, often noir-ish.
Heavy-handed. Overwritten, trying too hard.
High-concept. A big story that’s easily summarized in a little package.
Clever, fresh twist that grabs attention.
Brash, action-packed, explosive, surprising, high-concept.
Plot-driven. Characters fight external forces.
Flowery, sentimental, overdone, heavy-handed.
Introspective, subtle, slow-paced.
Focused on a narrow slice of life or perspective.
Usually applied to popular genres with an intellectual edge.
Awkward, not smooth.
Heartwarming—or, when used pejoratively, overly sentimental.
Striking a false note, not authentic.
Prose that is purposely not noticeable, so readers can “see through” to the story.
Photos via Giphy