Friday, August 16, 2013

How I Write a Review

Of all the different posts I put together here at Bookshelvers Anonymous, I think reviews may be some of the hardest. As much as I love reading books, talking about books, and dissecting books post-read to see what makes them tick, it's become harder and harder for me to formulate my thoughts when finished. I think part of the problem is I tend toward the verbose, and I abhor the thought of leaving out any point that affected me one way or another. All aspects of a book - writing style, plot, narrative arc, characters, moral content, relationships, adventure, believability, etc. - are so important to me when reading, and at least some of what's important to me may be important to you, so I don't want to leave it out. On the other hand, I don't want to blather on for pages and pages and end up retelling the entire story in order to cover all my bases.

Also, writing reviews is just plain hard.

I'm hoping that by dissecting my own review style here that I might be able to unclog my creativity. I'm currently three or four reviews behind and badly in need of a kickstart, so here it goes.

When I read a book, I use a scrap piece of paper as a bookmark. This scrap piece of paper also doubles as the spot where I jot down notes as I read. I don't have the time or the space to put down full thoughts. Instead, I scribble down a word or two, just enough to jar my memory when I look back again. Sometimes what I scribble down are plot points or names I'll need to remember later. Most of the time, it's simply pieces of the book that irritated me, pleased me, or surprised me. Sometimes, I'll add page numbers for references, but usually only if I think I'll need to quote a passage. I'll also jot down notes for my "Notes For Parents" section.

Below is the paper I used when reading Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland. I didn't pick this book as an example for any particular reason. It's a very typical spate of notes for me. As you can see, I can be rather liberal with the punctuation in my notes.

Click to enlarge
Then, when I'm finished, I'll open up a draft in Blogger and just type in my notes. I'm terrified that someone will throw away my scrap paper without looking at it and all notes will be lost. Usually, I'll let my notes sit for a couple days. In the meantime, I'll let my thoughts and emotions settle so I can decide how I felt about the book as a whole. After a few days pass, I'll sit down and attempt to write. It doesn't always go well. I start by pasting in the synopsis and book cover at the top of the page. It's the first thing in the review anyways, and it helps to prompt me when I'm stuck.

I usually start with some kind of fluff opening. I'll talk about how I heard about the book, what my thoughts and expectations were before starting, how I'm feeling now, or something along those lines. Then I'll end with a sentence that gives some indication of where the book ended up on the spectrum for me and add a jump break. I always use jump breaks in my reviews, because a full review on my main page means you all will have to scroll forever and a day to reach the next post.

Then I get to the meat of the post, a.k.a. THE REALLY HARD PART. I usually set up the book by describing how it opens, just so I have a pushing-off point to work with. I don't like to rephrase the synopsis, though, so it can be difficult. Then I go through and try to hit all the points from the notes and anything else I think might be relevant to those trying to decide whether to read the book in question or not. Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed, I'll turn my review into a bullet-point list, like I did with my Girl of Fire and Thorns review. More often, I'll write paragraphs that sort of lead into each other and hope you all follow. Like I said, writing reviews is tough. Also, sometimes I'll have a specific GIF or image in mind while writing, and I'll mark its place with the words needed in brackets. (For example: [Darth NOOOOO GIF])

I usually save the negative stuff until the end unless a book is really bad. For the most part, I'll have a decent hunk of positive things to say, and the negative things make the review well-rounded and informative. I'd hate for anyone to be caught off-guard because I forgot to mention something. But no matter how I end up feeling about the book, I'll try to wrap it up with an overall impression and then prompt you all to try it for yourselves. After all, what may be bad for me may be good for you and vice-versa. It usually takes me one or two sittings to complete the meat of the review. For whatever reason, my brain enjoys switching off at the one-fourth and three-fourths waymarkers.

Once the important stuff is done, I'll set it aside. Then, when I feel like it or closer to post time, I'll come back and do the extras. I'll fill in my lists at the bottom ("Points Added For," "Points Subtracted For," "Good For Fans Of," and "Notes For Parents.") Different lists will be harder than others depending on the book. I'll also go back and insert images and GIFs as needed to break up the text. Then I'll add a disclaimer at the bottom if the book was from the publisher, insert my Book Depository affiliate link (all proceeds go toward blog giveaways), add my tags, and voila!

That's pretty much my process. To return to my example of Vengeance Bound, the book ended up being pretty middle-of-the-road as far as ratings. However, it wasn't until I was in the middle of writing my review that I discovered how I truly felt about the book. You can read my entire review of Vengeance Bound and match up my notes to the finished product here.

Now I want to hear from you. What's your review process? Details welcome. It'll help me procrastinate on this next review.