by Mia Martins, jaBlog! Blogger and Editor for Drama
Eager with anticipation, you pick up a new book and begin reading it, only to set it down a few hours later with a disgruntled expression on your face. You wonder what to do. How can you turn this experience into a productive and educational one?
Look up reviews. What are other readers saying? Goodreads is a great place to do this as it has a large community of book reviewers. If the majority of the reviews are negative, then you can come to the conclusion that the book was poorly written. If the reviews are mixed and the book has a mediocre rating, then it’s safe to say that the writing has ample room to improve. However, if most reviews are positive—including trade reviews—then disliking the book is most likely a case of personal taste.
Identify why you dislike the book. If it’s the poor writing, specify what part of the writing was not executed well. Are the problems technical, like incorrect grammar and awkward sentence structure? Or are there issues with character development and plot? Take out a pen and paper and make a list of all the problems that stood out to you.
If disliking the book has less to do with technical writing and more to do with other factors, continue to identify and list those as well. If you aren’t fond of a character, what part of their personality do you dislike? Are there factual inaccuracies in the way they portray a race or religion? Or is the character unsympathetic, with no discernible motivation for their behaviour? Maybe you’re annoyed by the unexplained jargon in the book, or the world-building isn’t fully fleshed out. Whatever it is, add it to the list.
Organize and analyze. Now that you have a list of all the reasons you dislike the book, try to separate them into two groupings: the reasons that are technical versus those that are preferential. Both columns can help you become a better reader and writer if you analyze them.
Starting with the technical column, review the reasons you’ve written down. If you can, draw examples straight from the book and try to correct them. For example, pick a sentence with awkward phrasing and work out how you would rephrase the sentence to flow naturally. If you can identify these problems and know how to solve them, you can be aware of them in your own writing.
On to the other column. These reasons may require more analyzing than the previous column. It’s important to sit and think about which reasons are the author’s fault and which are your own. Reasons which have to do with the writing can usually be backed up with examples plucked straight out of the text. On the other hand, personal reasons are ones pertaining only to you: for example, you dislike a character solely because they share a name with someone you dislike in real life. When reviewing the book objectively, personal reasons like that should have no bearing on how you view the writing.
Once you’ve reviewed the book and have identified the problems within it, you can use this information to further your future as both a reader and a writer. As a reader, you’re able to assess the quality of technical writing within books and know what can be done to improve it. You’re also able to discern what books you’ll enjoy beforehand as a matter of personal preference. As a writer, you now know what problems to avoid in your own writing.