Discussion Post: Let’s Talk About the Language of Book Reviews

With the sort-of hiatus I took while I was migrating my blog here to WordPress, I took that time to really think about the beneficial changes the migration could bring. I was particularly reflective about the quality of my book reviews.

As a blogger of any kind, I think one of the tools you should have in your skill set is honest reflection. When you’re aware of the content you’re putting out and the intentions you have for it, it is easy to judge whether you are meeting your own quality standards. After reviewing some of my past book reviews before migration, I found that although I do believe they live up to my quality standards, there was also room for improvement.

The particular area I pinpointed for improvement was the language I was using for explanations and descriptions. Today, I want to lay out some common phrases we as book bloggers use in our reviews, and offer some alternatives that may improve the clarity and impact of our words.

#1: “The characters were/weren’t well developed.”

How many times have you said this in a book review when it comes to talking about character development? Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re truly trying to say when you say this?

We often judge good character development by if the character feels like a real person. But what makes a fictional character feel real? Here are some things to think about:

  • Did the character have clear motives for their actions?
  • Are the character’s thoughts/internal dialogue complex/well/ill-reasoned/___?
  • Did the character interact with others in a way that a real person in their situation would?
  • If asked, could you list 5 traits that describe this character? 5 of their likes/dislikes?
  • If there are multiple main characters in the book, were their personalities and POVs discernible?

#2: “I did/didn’t like the romance.”

There is nothing better than a great romance in a book. Likewise, there is nothing worse than a bad romance in a book. But what do we really mean when we merely say a romance was good or bad? Let’s think about the following:

  • Was the situation that brought the romantic partners together practical or appropriate for the context of the book?
  • If the romance could be described as hate-to-love, did the characters have a justifiable animosity towards each other? (for instance: did character A do something really bad to character B, or does character B just hate A because of the smirk A always has on their face?)
  • Was the attraction gradual? Did it feel genuine? Forced for the sake of plot progression?
  • Do the romantic partners recognize each other’s personal quirks? Do they find it attractive/annoying?
  • Are the romantic partners complementary to each other, or did opposites attract?

#3: “The world-building was/wasn’t ____”

Ah yes, world-building. Just as crucial as character development, and just as often described in very vague language. Trust me, I’ve been there. Here are some things to talk about when discussing world-building in a book review:

  • Was the setting of the book clearly stated? Was it revealed through context clues, character interaction, plot progression, etc?
  • Without skimming chapters/re-reading the synopsis, could you describe where the book takes place? (A great way to show judge memorability of the book’s setting.)
  • Are their certain customs that are relevant for every day life in this world?
  • If the setting in the book is based on a real location, is the location accurately described? Does the book discuss the culture of the location? Does it mention prominent landmarks within this location?
  • If the book is set during a real time period, is it specifically stated? Is it hinted at/revealed through the plot? Is the social climate of the real time period accurately depicted within the book?

#4: “The plot was/wasn’t ____”

Plot is one of the most important elements of a story, because what is a story if it doesn’t have a direction? Here are some things to consider when evaluating the plot of a book:

  • What was the driving motive of the plot? Was it based on a quest for revenge, self-discovery, etc?
  • Was the driving motive believable/justifiable?
  • If there were important things at stake within the book, did the stakes feel real?
  • Was the book told in chronological order? Reverse chronology?
  • Were there certain literary techniques used to advance the story that you admired/weren’t a fan of? (i.e. flashback or foreshadowing, omniscient/third-person narration, etc). How did they add/subtract from your reading experience?
  • Did you feel satisfied with the course of events throughout the book? If you were the editor of the book, are there things you would suggest the author change?

In my opinion, these are the four most common discussion points in book reviews, and they also tend to be the most vaguely described. As I said, I’ve really taken time to reflect on how I can do better at making my opinions on books critical and concise, and making a resource like this will definitely help me do so, and (hopefully) help you as well.

Thank you for reading, I’ll see you next time!

P.S.: If you’ve found this to be helpful, a share would be nice!

11 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Let’s Talk About the Language of Book Reviews

  1. I really love how reflective you are in this! I found your definition of character development interesting, because I usually define it as the growth of a character. For me, if a character is three-dimensional, thatโ€™s one thing, but a character really needs to grow for me to feel satisfied with a book, so thatโ€™s what I usually talk about. But the other questions are important too! Need to keep those questions in mind ๐Ÿ˜Š

    I struggle SO much with talking about the plot of a book without going into spoilers! Your list will help me so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a wonderful post! Its often hard to find the right words to express certain feelings on a book, but this is really helpful, loved reading it! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ“š Also, I discovered your blog through this fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw aw aw, thank you SO much for this comment! It makes me so happy to know this post was helpful for others because that was the #1 goal I had in mind while writing it ๐Ÿ™‚ Welcome to my space and I hope you continue to stick around!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a great post. When editing my reviews I often find myself googling synonyms for certain words so I can find the perfect word to explain what I mean and so Im not repeating words over and over. What Im currently working on in my reviews is sentence transitions since its not something I do naturally I have to go back and fix it.

    Like

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