Reviewing fiction

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Reviewing fiction

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Mayo 5, 2008, 10:25pm

As I was writing my most recent review, I realized that it's much harder for me to review fiction than nonfiction. I think I have a harder time pinpointing and describing what I liked and didn't like about the book, or why I liked or didn't like it.

What do you want to see in a review of fiction? The reader's overall impressions? Specific examples of good or bad writing? The reader's assessment of the themes? How much detail about the plot is too much? For me, the plot is often important to whether or not I like a book, so I like a fairly detailed (and accurate) description, but I don't want to spoil it for others who prefer surprise.

Mayo 6, 2008, 5:14am

Always an interesting question. I find it easier to review fiction than non, because unless there are gaping holes in the non-fiction there is little to point out.

Plot wise for fiction, my rule of thumb is to give a brief synopsis up until about 1/2 way through, this is enough to detail whether you are liekly ot enjoy it, but shouldn't give away too many spoilers. Do include overall impressions, after all this is the bit that make sthe review unique to you! I don't quote examples of the writing, but will comment on general style.

Mayo 6, 2008, 8:25am

I suppose it might depend on what your review is for. One of the reasons I want to do more is as an aide-memoire. I look at titles I've read and in many cases, I can't remember a thing about them. So I would put in a plot outline but not so much as to tell the whole story as I feel the basics would be enough to remind me of it. Then again, if I felt I needed more than that, I would add it although in consideration of any other readers here, I'd put in a spoiler warning.

As for quotes, I've realised that in two out of four reviews, I've added them. Huh. Felt right to do so and I doubt I'd adopt a rule about it one way or the other.

Mayo 6, 2008, 9:21am

I will, on occasion, include quotes in my reviews also. Especially if they are quotes I really want to remember. I've done this both for fiction and non-fiction.

>1 carlym: It is kind of funny, I've had the opposite problem trying to review non-fiction because 99% of what I read and review is fiction. I really get stumped reviewing non-fiction.

Mayo 6, 2008, 3:20pm

I tend to look at the number of reviews a book has before I review it; if there are already a dozen or so, chances are the plot has been given; regardless, I don't give much. I try to talk about the subject and tone/feel of the work pretty broadly, and I give my overall impressions, especially if my expectations were different than what I ended up reading (based on other reviews, the synopsis on the cover, publishing info, author's other works, etc.). I always mention the writing--I'm at a point in my life where I can barely stand to read badly written work, or badly edited for that matter, so I mention that for others if the writing stands out for any reason.

Mayo 6, 2008, 4:52pm

>5 whitewavedarling:: I like the evaluation based on expectations. I agree about commenting on the writing--sometimes I can see the potential plot-wise, but the writing/editing is just too awful.

After reading these comments, I think part of the difficulty is deciding what to say when the book is just OK. If I really love it or really hate it, I generally know exactly why and can articulate that. When I just like it OK, it's harder to say what made it reasonably enjoyable.

Mayo 6, 2008, 7:43pm

6: And when it's just okay, it's hard to figure out why you're trying to motivate yourself to review it! At least, that's how I feel. I'm always trying to review more, and I'd really like to start a litblog, but so much of what I read is good but not great and I can never figure out what to say about it.

I do like to comment on the writing and the editing when I write reviews--for fiction and nonfiction as well. I'm a pretty hopeless aesthete when it comes to literature to begin with, so I'm always frustrated when I read dozens of reviews telling me a book was good with none of them vouching for the prose style. And since I am a copyeditor I do too much close reading to put up with poor editing--it just comes off as laziness.

Mayo 7, 2008, 11:05am

When I start reviewing things that were OK, I have to remind myself to include the good stuff about the book too. Sometimes, I feel like I have to justify that 3.5 rating, so I point out all the reasons it didn't get a 5. I forget sometimes to include why it didn't get a 1!

Ago 18, 2008, 12:41pm

I am the exact opposite, carlym - I love to review fiction. Especially bad fiction. I guess it's the meaness in me. But non-fiction - I am wondering how I am going to do with you-know-what as I suspect that in the little mini reviews I've done for the 75 book challenge that I have focused on little odd facts or happenings rather than the whole book. Oh well. I guess we'll see how it turns out.

Ago 18, 2008, 12:59pm

My reviews tend to be very short. I don't really discuss details of the plot, certainly nothing beyond what's revealed in the first couple chapters AT MOST. I hate spoilers. Mostly I just give my general impression of the book, pointing out a couple things I like or dislike. I try to say enough that others might get a feeling of whether they could like it or not (regardless of my opinion), but I fear many come off as too generic.

Ago 20, 2008, 4:11pm

I've discovered since joing LT that I've always got the motivation to review. How? Well, if I love it or I hate it, I'm anxious to write to others as to why and see others responses. As for the books that are just okay, I imagine that those are the books which I might well forgotten I've read or get mixed up with others and reread later in life for no purpose. As long as I review them on LT though, I can ensure that ten years from now I'll be able to remember that yes, it was read, but there's a reason that I don't remember reading it or need to reread it. Hope that helps you gain some inspiration :)

Oh, and for nonfiction, I've found it gets easier and easier the more you've read on a subject. I find myself tweaking older reviews when I've read more authors' opinions/works, etc. and revising earlier opinions, positive or negative.