My Version of Writing a Book Review
I'm a book blogger. My life is a blissfully neverending cycle of reading, writing, and spreading the love of books.
My absolutely favorite thing about book blogging, though, is the reviewing process. When I'm completely smitten with a book, I literally want nothing more than to tell everyone I know about it. The problem with that is, most of the people I know aren't avid readers, if they read at all, so posting a review on my blog is a relief. I get everything I feel out in the open, and I can get my life back on track until I dive into the next book.
Writing a review sounds like it should be simple, but in my opinion, it's anything but. I take a few hours to a few days to complete a thorough review, trying to balance getting everything I feel out on the table without giving anything away.
Well, first, you gotta read... and think... and feel...
When I'm reading, I usually highlight quotes (if it's an ebook) or fold a little corner (GASP!) to mark the page of something that caught my eye. I also jot down notes throughout reading to remind myself later of the aspects I liked or didn't like.
For me, when I sit down to write my review, these quotes and marked pages help me remember everything, including how I felt at certain points in the story. When I get to the end of a particularly breathtaking novel, I find that my emotions are a big blob of chaos and, most of the time, I'm speechless. Going back over my highlights and notes helps me organize my thoughts and get a real feel for what I've read. The second time around, I'm not wondering or fearing or hoping ~ I already know what happens, and I get to take a nice, long look at how I feel about it.
Plus, in doing this, I can include quotes in my review to give readers a taste of the author's writing style. (I also find that these "teasers" get readers wanting more, and they go looking for their own copy, thus spreading the love.)
The Perplexed Reviewer
Break it down...
I've discovered that every, single book has different strengths and weaknesses, and I've found that covering the various building blocks of the book is more beneficial and thorough to me as a reader and reviewer than just giving the book as a whole a rating from one to five (one being "Did not like..." and five being "Loved it!").
For example, I could absolutely fall under the spell of the imagination of the author, but I also might feel that he or she forced two characters into a relationship too quickly. The writing style could be amazing, but the plot might have a few holes, and vice versa. It's hard to give a book with so many wonderful qualities that has a few not-so-wonderful quirks a fair rating.
So how do we fix this predicament? We break it down.
What are we looking for, exactly? What merits five stars? Well, that's all a matter of opinion, but here's how I see it.
My reviews are based on...
- Writing Style
In order to draw us in and keep us hooked, an author needs to have a fluid and grasping writing style. It could be poetic, straight-forward, even grotesque; it just needs to set the tone, remain consistent, and hold our attention.
Not only that, but it needs to be believable which is something the writing style can't do all by itself, hence the other elements.
- Character Development
These guys are the center of the story; they are the reason the novel even exists, the catalysts for everything that spirals outward from their actions. It's important that they are written carefully, steadily, so the reader can get to know them and believe that they exist. If characters aren't tangible to readers, then the story can't be taken seriously. We need to know their faults, their strengths, their fears... As a reviewer, this is one of the most important elements and something that can effect the rest of the building blocks like a domino effect.
- Relationship Development
When you've got people, you're going to have established or growing relationships. When you've got more than one character, the same goes. Again, I'll say believability. If two characters have been friends for years, I want to hear it their voices and in their comfortable ease around each other. On the other hand, if we meet characters at the beginning of a relationship, I don't want to be suddenly slapped in the face with instant confessions of undying love. Things like insta-love don't happen in the real world, and readers won't believe it.
It's a fictional story, but it needs to feel genuine. As long as a book has that, it will have five stars in my book.
- World Building
This is HUGE! World building puts the characters in a specific place or time, so we know how to envision them. It includes everything from physical surroundings to the history of a place or people to the type of "beings" that exist. Building up a world gives the characters ground to stand on. It can determine their choices, their personalities, and their relationships.
This is where I rate just my overall feel of the story itself. Was it creative? Original? Were the events that unfolded surprising? Twisted?
Put it all together...
I rate everything separately in my handy-dandy little rating system as shown above in order to give some organization to my review, but what I actually write isn't so cut and dry.
The star system is there for a visual, and now it's up to the reviewer to back up the ratings. Tell the world why you loved certain characters so much or why the villain creeped you out. You can tell readers how you feel without letting them in on the whole story or giving anything away.
When they know the reasons you enjoyed a book so much, they'll want to experience it for themselves. Isn't that why reviewers review in the first place?
Got negative thoughts?
You're not going to like everything about a book you read, so how do you handle the bad vibes? Just be honest. It's called constructive criticism, and we all need it to keep moving forward. You can point out a weakness in a novel without bashing or insulting the author's hard work.
Honestly, if I were a published author, I'd want to know what my readers thought I was doing "not-so-well" so I could improve my mad writing skills.
Use your voice...
When writing a review, use your voice. Be witty, serious, dramatic... Doesn't matter as long as it's coming from you.
This sounds silly, because really, who else would this review be coming from? But I've read some reviews that felt awkward or scripted, and I couldn't tell if they really loved the book or if they were really trying hard to sound professional (among other things) and just couldn't quite pull it off. It's a little nerve-wracking, writing something that (hopefully) a bunch of people will read, and it's understandable to want it to sound awesome. But stay focused on how you feel about what the author wrote rather than what you plan to write about it. Just be who you are, say how you how feel, and the words will just fall into place.
That's a wrap...
I'm sure there are a ton of methods and templates you can follow for writing a book review. Everyone has their own style, and you do whatever fits your personality and preferences. I break my reviews down based on what I believe are the most important elements in a story. You've got something different? Use it. It's your review, and you can voice your thoughts however you want.
There are very few things that should be universal when giving a book review: be honest, fair and polite ~ remember, constructive criticism; back up your ratings with reasons; and use your own voice.
Have Fun & Happy Reading :)