The Art of Reviewing: Part One: Overview

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

Okay, I know I said I was going to talk about "Show vs Tell" this week, but I haven't gotten all the details worked out for it, so we are rearranging the schedule a bit. So this week will be about the Art of Reviewing and next week, will be Show vs Tell.

I was sked to guest blog at Wicked Writers about the Art of Reviewing about a month ago. This is a repost of what I wrote for them. For those that don't know, I mention Greg a lot in this. He was a student at The Writer's Academy (recently graduated with honors and Valedictorian by the way). He was also the one to ask me to guest blog, so I pick on him throughout the post. So here it is again, to kick it off. The rest of this week, I'll expand on what I talk about here and go more indepth.

My Background

My real name is Anastasia Pergakis, but many people online know me as Harley D. Palmer. I started writing and storytelling, well as soon as I could write. I didn’t get into novel writing (or reviewing) until I was an adult but it has become an obsession! I am on the computer every day researching writing in some form or another.

What really started me reviewing novels was when I was invited to join a reviewing workshop on WDC. During that time, I realized that novels were not getting reviewed that often, and even if they were, I rarely saw reviews past chapter one. So, I have tried to focus my efforts on just reviewing novels.

Doing all of that research and learning through experience, spurred me to start the Writer's Academy. I started the Academy because I wanted to share my knowledge with other writers. I have been researching all aspects of writing for many, many years. It is a hard and I’ll admit, sometimes a boring process. I hoped that with the Academy, writers could have a place to come to that was fun and informative – with all the information in one place.

I’ve been running the Academy for a little over a year now and I have learned a lot about reviewing from the experience. I was able to apply things that I learned in the workshop and through reviews I had received for my own work.

What I Look for when Reviewing

Regardless of whether I am reviewing for fun, a workshop, or grading assignments in the Academy, I always focus on the same things. I’ll break this down for you to give you an understanding of what I look for when I read a novel.

I read a chapter many times in the process of reviewing it. I try to start a review with my impression or feelings about it after the first read. The first read through should be simple without taking notes of any mistakes or inconsistencies just yet. Yes, some things are glaring but I try to simply enjoy the read, instead of looking to edit or critique.

During the second, third, and even fifteenth read through, I ask myself the following questions.

Title: Does the title of the book fit? Did the chapter title match with the chapter? Why or why not?

Hook: Was the catch or hook at the beginning enough to keep the reader reading? Why or why not? Was I constantly hooked in even in chapter twenty?

Plot: Is the plot clear and concise? Is it unique or has it been done? Do the sub plots help the story or slow it down?

Style & Voice: Is the sentence structure the same throughout the story or does it vary? Does the voice work for the theme or genre of the story? Is the story full of passive verbs instead of aggressive?

Referencing: Are there Harley Davidson motorcycles in 15th century England? Does a female character set in the early 1900s follow the ‘rules’ of that time? Would an alien race talk or have the exact same culture we do on Earth?

Scene/Setting: Can I clearly see the scenery? Can I tell where everything is at any given moment? Do I know where the characters are at all times?

Characters: Are the characters consistent throughout the book? Do they grow and develop in a logical time frame? Do they each have their own voice and mannerisms (Can I tell them apart from each other?) Is there enough detail to give me a mental image of what they look like, act like, talk like?

Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation: Are their any long, run on sentences or sentence fragments? Any spelling mistakes or typos? Are all the punctuation marks used correctly?

I close the review with my personal opinion of the story or chapter. I tell the author what I liked or didn't like. I always give them a few words of encouragement.

Do I look for every single one of these aspects when reviewing? Yes. Do I mention all of these points in the review every single time? No.

How to Talk in a Review

Each writer and story is different, so they require their own unique review. Greg can tell you that his reviews usually consisted of a few sentences as I rarely had comments, suggestions or corrections for him. But other students may have had longer reviews with suggestions and advice.

I look for the same points when reading any novel, but to a friend I might present it in a different way. Reading a friends work, I could get away with saying “This scene is awesome!” but in a professional type of relationship, I would phrase it differently – “This scene was written very well. It was clear and concise. Great job!”

As I am nearing the end of Greg’s book for the Academy, I am getting a little more ‘friendly’ with the reviews. He ended a chapter with a HUGE cliff hanger and I started the review with “How dare you do that to me!” (I was going to have a wait a whole week to read more!) He and I had built up a relationship of sorts for me to get away with saying that – at the beginning, I never would have presented my shock in that manner. I would have said “A shocking ending! I can’t wait to read more!” instead.

With the Academy specifically, I try to relate the review to the lesson. If the lesson was about setting and scenery, then I center the review on that. If I am reviewing for some other reason, it'll depend on what the author is looking for and what I feel are the more important things to mention.

Common Mistakes

There are many common mistakes that I find time and time again when reviewing a novel. They can be frustrating when I review, but then I remember that I make the exact same mistakes all the time too!

>>>Yes, typos are a common occurrence as no one is perfect; however with spell check and other tools, it shouldn’t happen quite as often as it does. Reviewing for the Academy can be especially tough. Many of the students type directly into the site when posting their work. The site does have a spell check tool, but not that many people know how to use it. So there are often a lot of mistakes. I find it best to write in Word first then copy and paste into a site like that. This helps to prevent quite a lot of the spelling and grammar mistakes I find.

>>>Passive verbs show up more often than not. I use a review template and automatically I have a little paragraph that talks about passive vs aggressive verbs. This prevents me from having to type it up every single time. It is much easier to delete the blurb when it is not needed, than to type it up each time that it is. I struggle with this in my own writing and I think that is why I can pick it up easily in other people’s work.

>>>The amount of detail is a huge issue. Again this is something I struggle with myself, so it is easy to find it in other novels. If there is too little detail, then I can’t really get into the story. I can’t see where the characters are or what they are doing. When there is too much, the story drags and I can lose interest as the plot is bogged down with useless information.

Tomorrow I'll expand on "What I look for in a Review".

8 Responses to "The Art of Reviewing: Part One: Overview"

Dawn Embers Says :
April 13, 2010 at 3:03 AM

Nice choice in topic.

I'm one of those that types right into WDC and I have never used the spellchecker on it. Often though, the typos are ones that it wouldn't catch anyways, though I bet there are a few times where it would have been of help. I'm not as professional when it comes to WDC, to be honest. I'll even submit rough, first drafts into contests (especially ones with very short deadlines).

I also don't read novels or long items on WDC. I should try to help those with longer pieces since I have novels on the site but I don't expect them to be read either. Most are set on private anyways. But I'm having a hard time finding a balance with reading, reviewing, having a life and writing. For now, my focus is writing and not much else on WDC. Might not get me promoted that way but I can deal with that, as long as I'm getting novels finished and rewritten/edited. That's what matters more at this point.

Harley D. Palmer Says :
April 13, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Yea Dawn. The only reviews I do on WDC is grading assignments or the occasional thing outside of that (usually on request). I know the struggle to find balance!

Ann Elle Altman Says :
April 13, 2010 at 9:36 AM

I went to the Writing Academy and it sounds so wonderful. I love what you're doing. I wish I had the money and time to enter your courses but my obligations are many. I will try and recommend your site to others. Do you have a button for the site?

Great post.


Eric W. Trant Says :
April 13, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Nice to see a reviewer post comments on reviewing! Funny that you mention the title. I start each work with a catchy title, and then build from there, and I'm always ALWAYS thinking about the hooks.

I mean, if it's not interesting, if there are no story questions, then why am I writing it, and worse still, why are you reading it?

- Eric

Harley D. Palmer Says :
April 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Ann - Well right now, I only charge GP's which is the currency (meaning you have to be a member of WDC first...) But I am working on moving it to it's own site and I'm researching other workshops prices so that I can make them reasonable.

Eric - Exactly Eric, but some people forget or don't realize that each chapter needs a great title and a catchy hook - not just the book or the first page.

Angelica Weatherby Says :
April 13, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Awsome! x) I can't wait to see your review when you're finished with it. Mwuahuahahaha

Eric W. Trant Says :
April 13, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Harley, You are correct about chapter titles. On my first few novels, I simply numbered the chapters.

Then, on my latest work, I gave each chapter a catchy title -- as I would for a short story or novel -- and went from there!

Oh, man, the writing was so much easier with that title hanging over me. It was like a headlamp over my writing tablet keeping me on-track.

So, you can say I learned something! Nice post. You're on the must-read list for sure!

Harley D. Palmer Says :
April 13, 2010 at 9:00 PM

A must read list? Yay! Thanks Eric!

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