How to Read Your Novel: Reading With the Intent to Review

4:36 AM Gemma Fitz 2 Comments

I don't know about you, but I try to review everything I read. Even when I decide not to post it all over Goodreads and my blog, I still usually have a review for it tucked away in a private notebook somewhere.

The beauty of a review is that it's not a detailed outline of every flaw or an in-depth analysis of the book. It's just a brief recap of some of the best and worst thing about the story and whether (and why) you liked it or not. You note things like major plot-holes, unlikable characters, and clunky writing style, but also things like an adorable MC, hilarious sense of humour, and some killer plot twists. You don't mention everything, but the big stuff, the stuff that really bothered/excited you, gets into the review.
When we read our own books, it's easy to get bogged down in every single detail-- and suddenly we're doing line edits at the very beginning of round one of revision, perfecting the dialogue in a scene that we're going to end up cutting later on, anyway. Before long we're drowning in all the things that need fixing and are 200% done with our novel.

The way I like to combat this is to review my own work, just like I would review another book. I read through it once, making note of the big things that bother me or impress me, then I write it all down in my review notebook along with a star rating (which is never quite unbiased, but I do my best).

This way, I not only know what the high priority problems are that are going to stand out most to my reader and which I need to work on fixing first, but I've also got one or two things that I actually liked about my sucky story which I can use to encourage myself. And the star rating helps me know how much farther I need to go before my story is "good enough" (yeah right, it's never good enough).

Because this post is really short, I'll go ahead and include a review of my story as an example. (And just so you're aware, my story is stupid. Don't judge.)
Splitting Atoms by Gemma Fitz
3.5 out of 5 stars
Well, that was-- interesting.
The writing was awkward and the voice was-- unusual? (Not entirely sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.) There were several places where it just felt clunky and some of the chapter breaks felt really weird and abrupt.
The plot was kinda confusing, not to mention cheesy and predictable. Also, the pacing felt off. Still, some of the scenes were a ton of fun to read.
My favourite part of the book, then, was the characters. I adore David, Damian, Dylan (though what's with all the 'D' names? Might be a little too confusing), Benton, and Hudson. They are so cute and all the different relationship dynamics were really fun. The problem is, all the secondary and tertiary characters kind of distracted from the MC, Avis, who wasn't nearly as lovable.
Also, the end. It wasn't as well executed as I would have liked, but the messages, and the friendships, and the feels. So much love.
Overall, it was a good idea, but poorly executed. The author needs to do some more editing.
So there I have my thoughts all written out to refer back to while I edit. From this review, I can see that the things I most need to work on are:
  • Flow of the writing and chapter breaks (though I won't obsess over that 'til near the end of the editing process).
  • Ironing out the story arc until it's clear and logical.
  • Pacing.
  • Maybe change a couple characters' names.
  • My protagonist-- I need to make her more interesting and lovable.
Also, once I get a scene or two cleaned up enough, I'll probably want one of my writer friends to look one over and tell me what they think of my voice.

Just from that one short review, I've got a neat to-do list to work on as I edit, plus a couple reasons why this story is worth my time in the first place. This review doesn't mention every single problem, but it gives me a starting place and makes the task seem a lot less daunting.

Do you usually review the books you read? Have you ever tried reviewing your own books? What is the biggest issue with your story that would come up in a review? What's the best area that the reviewer would mention?

2 comments:

  1. Good idea! I think it would be really hard for me to rate my own story with a five-star rating system; but if I divided it into more categories (like, 2 stars for characters, 3 for plot line, etc.) it might be easier. I have only recently started reviewing books, but it has proved very helpful to look at the flaws and strengths in others' works so I can avoid/try to have them in mine.

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    1. I always second guess myself when trying to rate my own stories, so I like your idea of dividing it up. I'll have to try that out. Yes, that is one of my favourite things about reviewing. :) Thanks for commenting!

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