GUIDELINES FOR WRITING BOOK REVIEWS ON WORKS OF FICTION
The first part of this series discussed the meaning of fiction and the elements that constitute it. The second part explained how valuable fiction is and how to write effective fiction. This third part delves into how to write book reviews on works of fiction, like novels and short stories. This post provides specific guidelines for doing so.
What Is A Review?
A review is an evaluation of an artistic work. It not only gives insight into the content and form of the work, it passes judgment on it. A favourable review would, therefore, recommend the work to the public while an unfavourable review would be less approbatory. In my book, Magazine Article Writing, the rating of works of art by reviewers, their commendations and rebukes of the creators are depicted as means of encouraging “creative people to strive for the highest standards in their works.”
A review is usually about 600 words but some reviews go up to 1,000 words.
It goes without saying that one should only write reviews on books they have thoughtfully read. It is unethical to offer a critical assessment of a book one has not read or a book that one has just scanned. Thoughtful reading means reading with careful attention. Taking notes in the process furnishes one with the information required to substantiate the points made in the review.
One can read reviews by others on the same book before writing his but there’s the danger of plagiarising or copying their opinions or being influenced by them knowingly or unknowingly.
According to writer and editor, Joe Walters, in his article on how to write a great review, “Reviewing is an art form.” That means it requires skill and knowledge like the art forms the reviewer assesses. Thankfully, Parts 1 and 2 of this series have equipped the reader with valuable knowledge on fictional writing that can be applied in a review of a book of fiction.
Below are the points the reviewer may wish to address in his assessment of such a book. Note that every review may not cover all these areas, particularly the short ones.
Guidelines for Writing Book Reviews on Fictional Works
• List the publication details – book title, author, publisher, date of publication, publisher’s price and number of pages on the top left corner of your review. This is the standard way of starting a book review but the writer can instead work some of these details that he considers necessary into the body of the review.
• Add a special title to your review if you wish to. The title should capture the essence of your assessment. On the other hand, ‘Book Review’ before the publication details can serve as the title.
• Give a synopsis of the book without revealing the ending. This should typically not exceed a few sentences. An anthology of short stories would require a summary of some of the more brilliant titles in the collection.
The ending is usually omitted to maintain the mystery and heighten the enjoyment of readers.
• Evaluate the book based on some of its elements like the following points which can be addressed in any order the reviewer sees fit:
***Genre of story – e.g. romance, suspense/mystery, fantasy/paranormal
***Originality of the work: Is the work fresh or is it too reminiscent of a particular work or works?
***Is the work true to life and hence believable or does it seem far-fetched? (The exceptions to this rule were highlighted in Part 2 of this series under the subheading, “Achieving verisimilitude.”
***Is the plot logical in its sequence and without fuzzy details?
***Is the description vivid enough to aid visualisation?
***Are the main character/s well developed or sketchy and contradictory?
***Is the dialogue/conversation and setting fitting to the characters and events in the story?
***Is the point of view used appropriate and consistent?
***Is the theme socially relevant and the story morally uplifting?
***Point out specific things you admire and dislike about the book.
Besides the foregoing, there are other technical details to evaluate in the book like the following:
• Cover design
• Quality of paper
• Fonts used and type setting
• Quality of illustrations, if any
• Quality of binding
• Quality of language – grammar, spelling, word usage, etc.
In all these, illustrate your points by citing passages from the work where necessary.
• Compare the book to previous works by the author or similar works by other authors.
• Conclude your review by giving your general impression of the work and stating if you think it is of high, mediocre or poor quality. Rank the work if you wish or it is required by the medium you’re writing for. You can do this over five or over ten as that medium stipulates. E.g. 6/10 or 3 out of 5 stars.
This is the end of our three part series on fictional writing and reviewing. I hope you found it helpful.
For examples of reviews of fictional writing, see Jennifer Reese’s review of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, Americanah, and Deepanshi Chopra’s concise assessment of Sidney Sheldon’s novel, Bloodline.
I look forward to your comments and questions on this segment and the entire series. God bless you!
Ohaja, E. U. (2004). Magazine Article Writing. Lagos, Nigeria: John Letterman, p. 102.
You may also like the following related posts: