Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Book Reviews Help Your Writing - Part 2

Please welcome Suzanne D. Williams as our guest blogger.

How Book Reviews Help Your Writing - Part 2
(see Part 1 here)

As a writer, sometimes I lose perspective with what I am working on. I have found that one excellent way to see things clearer is to write a review of it.

There are three areas I always consider when writing a review of a book.

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Editing


First, I ask, “Does the story have an opening hook?” Then, “If I were the reader, would I want to find out what happened next?” The plot of any book needs to progress at an even pace. Give me something to peak my interest along the way. I do like a big ending, but I don’t want to become bored getting there. Then, once I have reached the ending, I also want the plot to tie up any major questions created by the plot.

Part of the fun of writing fiction for me is in the “what ifs.” It seems like a simple idea, but when it is a book written by someone else, we do it all the time. You come to that point in the story and say, “Wait a minute. He should’ve gone there instead.” I find asking myself the what-ifs also helps my own writing. If I change the direction of the story, will that make it better or worse? How would that make the story fail or grow later?


Additionally, a well-written book must have believable characters. Even if the story has a fantasy edge, the character must be human enough that the reader can identify with it. In a detective story I read a week ago, I found I didn’t like the main character. It seemed to me she was too brash and as a result, I disconnected from the story. Despite the plot, I didn’t particularly care what happened to her.

Characters must think and express themselves as the reader would. This is what makes the best characters come alive and creates demand. Look at your favorite television series. Why do you continue to watch it? And why would you stop if the main character was removed? On the other hand, when a main character is removed, why do you continue to watch? One of the worst books I’ve read failed, in my opinion because I continually thought no person would think like that. In Christian fiction, I see this problem a lot when the author tries too hard to insert Scripture into the context. If you wouldn’t say it that way, then probably the character wouldn’t either.


Making a story believable, having a well-constructed plot, and creating loveable characters is important. However, other stories fail for me when the editing is so incredibly bad. In order to be an author, you must have an understanding of sentence structure and grammar. Rarely, do I catch a spelling mistake. Word processors are too good today for that. But I do find context errors. Twice in two different stories one character’s name was exchanged when another was meant. 

How was it the author didn’t catch that mistake? Having to ask that made me wonder more about the author than the story itself.

Writing well requires constant growth. Growth requires growing pains. I hate having to admit I messed up, but admitting it makes me a better person than I was. 

Writing a review of a scene that is not working well improves my writing, and improving it is my goal. Ultimately, I want the reader to like what I’ve done well enough to share it with others and leave me the glowing review I would’ve have left for them.

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