What's the Score - The Terminal List by Jack Carr

Exploring The Terminal List by Jack Carr

In this edition of AutoCrit’s What’s the Score, we’re putting on our night vision goggles and training our scope on an action bestseller that’s recently seen a surge in popularity owing to its brand new screen adaptation via Amazon…

It’s The Terminal List by Jack Carr!

Report by report, we’ll lead a sortie through the pages of Carr’s military thriller to give you an uncompromising insight into the author’s writing style.

So… what can the power of AutoCrit reveal to us on this occasion? Let’s get started!


The Terminal List by Jack Carr

DISCLAIMER: Note that this series is not designed to provide any kind of qualitative judgment nor a critique of the works dissected. As an exercise in exploration, What’s the Score? offers unique insight for us word nerds as to the linguistic makeup of specific novels, and evokes discussion of possible editing strategies in retrospect. All novels chosen for inspection have already proved immensely successful and stand as a testament to the author’s talents.

Summary Score and Fingerprint

Using AutoCrit’s “General Fiction” comparison setting, The Terminal List scores an initial 82.76.

(You can compare all the scores we’ve uncovered so far by clicking here to see the rest of the series on this blog.)

Looking at the novel’s fingerprint, we can see the highest number of indicators appear in the Strong Writing category – a familiar result for most novel-length works – followed by Repetition and then Word Choice. Dialogue indicators are the lowest, so let’s start there.



With The Terminal List, we have an almost 50/50 split in Carr’s choices of dialogue tags. Standard wisdom dictates relying most on “said” and “asked” where possible, but for each of these, it appears Carr likes to employ an alternative.

As you can see below, however, those alternatives are fairly spread out. The single most common dialogue tag across the entire novel is “said,” with “asked” coming in at second place.

In the grand scheme of writing, tags such as “replied” and “responded” might not feel as though they are particularly uncommon – but at the bestselling end of the market, they’re rarer than you might expect.

Checking our sidebar inside the AutoCrit platform, we can see that “responded,” for example, has only been used 9 times throughout the full manuscript – but to bring it in line with the dialogue construction of an average bestselling work, we would like to see that number slashed by more than half.

As always, the choice of what to change remains with the author. If the use of “responded” or other alternatives doesn’t take the reader out of the story or feel too overblown, it should be fine.

The Terminal List - Dialogue Tags in Sidebar

A bigger problem is often to be found when you look at adverbs attached to dialogue tags, which more often than not only serve to weaken the storytelling. Think of phrasing such as “whined pathetically,” or “stammered hesitantly.”

In the best case scenario, how dialogue is delivered is baked into the context of the conversation and events surrounding it. When you need a little extra pep to deliver that, an alternative tag (such as “whined”) might work. But if you need to combine an alternative tag with an adverb, chances are the dramatic presentation of your scene is woefully undercooked. That, or you’re laboring the point to an unnecessary degree.

That said, let’s see what’s going on when it comes to adverbs in dialogue within The Terminal List


The Terminal List - Most Frequent Adverbs in Dialogue

Here we have three adverbs detected as particularly overused, with a total of 9% of all stretches of dialogue in the book having an adverb attached. Our targets here are “intentionally,” “sincerely,” and “incredulously – all of which require only minor trims.

It’s worth noting that the flagged use of “intentionally” here comes from Carr’s decision to – at a few different points of the book – remark on how a character is intentionally changing their tone, or intentionally focusing their speech on certain words.

That’s a storytelling/narrative choice, and not necessarily a problem.


Strong Writing

Moving into the Strong Writing category, we can see that Carr’s use of filler words is only slightly above the average for a bestseller – and that’s not a bad place to be.

The Terminal List - Most Frequent Filler Words
The Terminal List - Filler Words in AutoCrit sidebar

In fact, once we get down to the nitty gritty of the word level, only two filler words appear to be overused versus our expectations: “just” and “that’s,” with a small number of removals required to bring things into line.

Since we can also see “that,” “even,” and “really” being marked as average rather than good, it may also be worth taking a look at those to see if any could benefit from a trim. In most cases, “that” tends to be the filler word that tops the list for overuse, so it’s a refreshing change to see this isn’t the case for The Terminal List.





For what purports to be a pulse-pounding military thriller, the results of our look at The Terminal List‘s pacing comes across initially as quite a surprise.

Here we see 18.95% of paragraphs across the entire book being flagged as potentially slow, compared to the clip at which the rest of the story unfolds.

This is, for example, in stark contrast to the much smaller 6.19% seen in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thriller Blue Moon, or the miniscule 2.34% of Karin Slaughter’s pacey The Silent Wife.


The Terminal List - Pacing Graph

The story does seem to take a strong hit for pacing at the beginning, with an opening prologue that takes its time setting up its location and the action due to take place there.

Another factor that tends to adjust the general pace of The Terminal List is its dedication to military authenticity, with references to military codenames, procedures, and technical information such as the exact model numbers of scopes and ballistic capabilities of weapons.

This kind of information is welcomed by readers of the genre (after all, they want to feel convinced that the author actually knows what their stuff), but the additional information does often serve to slow the pace down somewhat.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing; slowing things down in this manner can actually help readers understand the depth of thought that goes into strategic planning – even when such planning is forced to happen in mere moments. As with just about anything, there’s always a balance to be found. The popularity of The Terminal List should speak to the success with which Carr has handled his audience expectations.

The Terminal List - Pacing Excerpt


See More: View Our Full Exploration

Enjoyed this quick look behind the scenes of The Terminal List by Jack Carr? Check out the rest of our investigation on the AutoCrit YouTube channel!

As we dig into more of the nuts and bolts of this novel, you’ll get a look at:

  • Carr’s overall use of adverbs throughout the entire novel.
  • How The Terminal List stacks up compared to the work of Carr’s fellow action-crafter, Lee Child.
  • How specific terminology and industry lingo can affect a book’s readability.
  • The story’s emotional map by way of Power Words.
  • And more!

Hit the button above to subscribe to the AutoCrit YouTube channel and join us for regular live shows, events, guest interviews… and, of course, more episodes of What’s the Score!

Latest Blog Posts

Write better. Right now.