There are many ways writers use to improve their skills, including writing prompts and reading more. One way that is often overlooked is writing book reviews. Reading and reviewing books in your genre helps your writing in two crucial ways – critical reading and thoughtful writing.
Book Reviews Require Critical Reading
You may already be reading books for pleasure but reading to write a review means taking a more thoughtful approach. Read with an eye toward what you like and don’t like about the book, including the plot, writing style, character development, and structure. When you’re done reading, go back and jot down some notes about why you liked or disliked each element.
Each time you go through this process with a book, you’ll have takeaways you can apply to your own writing. If shifts in perspective bother you or you don’t enjoy reading in the first person, these are probably techniques you won’t be good at writing. If you love the prose in a particular book, analyze why it appeals to you.
Books Reviews Encourage Thoughtful Writing
Book reviews should be short and to the point but cover the book’s essential elements, so readers know what to expect. This doesn’t include revealing any critical twists or spoilers. There are some things you should focus on, including:
- The Hook – this is your opening sentence, and – just like in a book – your hook should be interesting enough for the reader to want to continue.
- The Basics – Topic, genre, author, and other essential information.
- Plot Summary – Let the reader know what the book is about in a paragraph or two.
- Your Take – Include both praise and criticism of the book. This should include all the elements you were focusing on as you read, including the plot, the characters, the style, and writing skills.
- Your Rating – Do you recommend the book? To what kind of readers? Do you give it a pass? If so, why?
Book reviews have to pack a lot of information into a minimal number of words. It’s a great exercise in being succinct. If you tend to ramble when you write, summing up books in just a few paragraphs can help you pare your book down to its essentials.
Improving Your Writing By Analyzing Others’ Books
Having to articulate why you did or did not appreciate a book helps you clarify your thoughts. You can’t just say, “I hated this book.” You need to say why you hated it. What parts of the book were disappointing? Why? If you love a book, there is something memorable in it that stays with you. Explain what that is and how it made you feel.
Improving your writing comes from better understanding yourself, your topic, and what you enjoy about reading. When you review other books in your genre, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. When you understand why a book works or doesn’t work, you can apply those lessons to your own writing.
Here are a few examples of lines from book reviews that capture the reviewers’ feelings very well. Notice that each one contains takeaways you can use to improve your writing:
“I appreciated the hopeful tone of the overall narrative, but some of the scenes were too unlikely for me to buy into the storyline fully. With more believable scenarios, the message would be stronger.”
Lesson: Don’t make a story or plotline so implausible that readers can’t suspend their disbelief (unless you’re writing in a genre such as fantasy or sci-fi, and even then, it should be logically believable within the world of that book)
The dialogue was fun and smart, but after a while, it felt like the conversations were more an exercise in witty dialogue writing than genuine conversations. It felt like the writer was trying too hard to impress.
Lesson: The story is what carries most fiction, not the dialogue. The dialogue should be interesting, but it has to move the story along. If you try too hard to be clever, you’ll frustrate readers.
“This book’s evocative descriptions took me to another place and time, where I was happy to stay and soak up the atmosphere. The writer’s skillful framing of scenes created a complete world that was entirely believable and richly populated with three-dimensional characters I wanted to know better.”
Lesson: When used skillfully, descriptions can set the mood, time, and place. Atmosphere is essential to immersive reading, and description creates that atmosphere. Characters need to be multi-faceted rather than stereotypes for readers to care about them.
Share Your Book Reviews with Others
After you’ve completed your book review, post it on social media and share it with your writers’ group or book club. Read others’ reviews of the same book, comparing their opinions to your own for an additional perspective. Every viewpoint is valuable when you’re working on improving your writing skills.
Dudley Court Press
Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors.
For more information, including about DCP’s latest programs, please get in touch at +1-520-329-2729 or publisher@DudleyCourtPress.com. We will soon be launching our latest program, Memoir Writing for Non-Writers. Be watching for details about this exciting program in the upcoming weeks!