If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. ~Stephen King
This is the best writing advice anyone ever gave me and let’s be honest it’s awesome to be able to curl up on the couch with a good book and call it working. Reading teaches you about writing. Good books give you something to aspire to, bad books teach you what to avoid.
I try to read a book a week for review. (We post our reviews for Writers Write here.) Reading for review is different to reading for fun. It makes me pay attention to things I’d usually overlook because reading like a writer is different to reading like a reader.
When I read for review I take note of the following:
- Genre: Is it a genre I enjoy? I don’t think it’s fair to the author if I read a genre I don’t like. I read across many genres so this isn’t the biggest issue. But does it hold true to its promise? Did it entertain me, scare me, or let me fall in love again?
- Viewpoint: I prefer books written in the 1st person, but only if the writer can pull it off. A trend at the moment is to have two alternating first person accounts. Very few authors can do this. It annoys me when the two characters sound the same. I do enjoy good 2nd and 3rd person accounts as well.
- Characters: Are they well developed? Are they believable?
- Dialogue: I adore dialogue. The more the better, but is it well written? Does it convey character and advance the story? I will put a book down if it lacks dialogue.
- Setting: How does the author convey this? Does he portray a sense of space by letting his character interact with the setting or does he bore me to death with paragraphs of description?
- Description: Coma inducing or a feast for my senses? I hate blocks of description. I prefer it when it is woven into a story.
- Pace: Did it start at an incredible pace only to run out at steam in the middle? Did it take forever to get going? Was it too fast overall or too slow?
- Plot: Does the story work? Is it believable? Is it good? Was it unexpected or predictable?
- Did I like the book or not? I allocate a mark out of 5. (See our scoring criteria.)
Once I have taken all of that into account I write a review of 150 words. I write one paragraph outlining the plot and one paragraph about my opinion. There is no point in writing a 1000-word book review. Be honest, those are the ones you don’t read on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t necessarily touch on every point but I highlight the parts that impressed or disappointed me.
I learn from every book I read. If I find something I enjoy I examine it and see if I can apply the techniques to my writing. If I find something that irritates me I’ll work through my manuscripts to see if I have made the same mistake.
Book reviews are also something you can mention in a query letter. An editor could read them and will be able to see if you know what you are talking about when it comes to writing. Anyhow, it’s a great exercise. Perhaps you could try writing a review for your own book?
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by Mia Botha
Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills & Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter