Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Writing Reviews for Fiction Books

A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates the quality, meaning, and significance of a book. It should not retell, and it is not a book report or a summary. A review is a commentary. Although no “right” way to write a review exists, some essential information is needed in each.  Fiction and non-fiction books have differences not only in the content but also what components should be in a review. Let’s look as some suggestions to consider when writing a book review for a book of fiction. I will use elements from reviews of one of my books in the examples.

First of all, do not give away the full story, climax, or ending of the book. Do use occasional quotes from the book to support or explain points made in the review.

The first paragraph should include the title of the book and the author’s name.  Sometimes publishing information such of ISBN, publisher, type of book, and general subject matter is noted.
Example of a first paragraph: The Base Stealers Club, by V. Gilbert Zabel, follows the progress of a middle-school-aged baseball team as it plays its way to a championship. A part of the team also help solve a mystery plaguing the community. Published by 4RV Publishers, ISBN: 978-1-84728-220-0, the book appeals to those who interested in sports, mystery, and adventure.

Other points to be covered, in different paragraphs, are as follows:

Characters: Are the characters flat or round? A round character is multiple dimensional.    Round characters make a story line more interesting and believable; therefore, the analysis of the author’s use of three-dimensional characters or flat characters is important.

Example of character portrayal: Ryan Scott not only is an excellent athlete, but he also cares about others. He helps find the thief in the story; then he wants to help the young man who stole money from locker rooms. An instance where he acted as peace maker on the team is shown in the following excerpt:

Ryan stood beside Colby, slipping his arm across the shorter boy’s shoulders.  “Hey, Colby, settle down.  Josh is just repeating what he heard.  I’ve heard my dad say the same thing about some criminals.”  With a slight smile, Ryan turned to Josh.  “Josh, what does the preacher say about forgiving?  What have we learned in church about forgiving others?”

Theme: The theme of a book may not be written word for word, but the review should note how the author reveals or develops the theme or themes. Mention whether you, as the reviewer, agree or disagree with the author’s theme(s) and why.

Example of theme: The author gives support for moral values and actions through the book. Yet, the message isn’t preachy or blunt, but the theme flows throughout the story. The author’s opinions are solid and are ones that young readers need to realize and learn to accept.

Plot: Are the various elements of plot handled well? The elements of plot include introduction, conflict, climax, and conclusion.

Example of plot: The Base Stealers Club introduces the conflict, the problem in the first two chapters of the book, both the start of the games leading to a successful season and the missing money in locker rooms. The suspense intensifies as the team plays and tries to help find the thief. The climax is unique, as is the reaction of team members.

Author information:
V. Gilbert Zabel, who also writes under the name Vivian Gilbert Zabel, for adult level books, played baseball and softball and helped coach a baseball team. Her interest and background in the sport, as well as with children, can be found in the pages of this book.

Give a brief summary of the book: Give an overview, but do not give away the plot climax or conclusion.

Example of summary: The Jonesville Chargers, a baseball team of middle school-aged boys, pursues championship dreams and the solution of a mystery plaguing their team.

Give your opinion of the book: Tell how the book affected you. Say whether or not the book is interesting, entertaining, or memorable. Would you recommend the book to readers? Why or why not?

Example of opinion: I enjoyed The Base Stealers Club because I became swept up in the chronicling of a team’s season, games and attempt to find a thief. This book will appeal to readers aged ten to fifteen who love baseball. Young sports fans will be better for having read the book.

Important note: Having correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and other components of good writing are as important in a review as in writing a book. Reviews are a form of writing.

The suggestions can be arranged differently or combined, and some others can be added. Some can be eliminated, but most of the information needs to be somewhere in the review.

Anyone can write a competent review with a bit of practice.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

It is an art form!

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

This is good, Vivian. I'm copying it for a reminder when I do the next review.

Vivian Zabel said...

This article started out as a lesson plan when I taught but was updated using different examples.

Susanne Drazic said...

Thank you for posting this Vivian. I will definitely refer to this information when doing reviews of fiction.

Katie Hines said...

Great post, Vivian. I think everyone who is a reviewer must read this article, and for those who hope to get reviewed, understand the basics that a good review should cover.

As I have unfortunately learned, most reviews fall far short of these objectives.

Vivian Zabel said...

I tried to teach my students how to do a variety of book report types and how to write a book review. I decided to use some of what I know to help others in our world of writing. Who knows, some reviewers may be born and some may be improved.

Deb Hockenberry said...

Thanks for posting this, Vivian! I'm going to copy this for future use in my book reviews. I feel that there's always room for improvement & so much more to learn!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Viv! Yesss! I've long advocated writing reviews as a way for authors to network with other writers, editors, and publishers. But in order to make it work that way, one has to know the secrets of the genre.

BTW, anyone interested in pursuing reviewing even farther might read Mayra Calvani's book on reviewing. She is easy to Google.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of The Frugal Book Promoter (

Janet Ann Collins said...

Very helpful. I wish everyone who reviewed my book had known not to give away the ending.

Dawn said...

These are great tips, Vivian. Thanks!

J. Aday Kennedy's A Writing Playground said...

Great post. I write reviews all of the time. This will make them more complete.
J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer
Children's picture Book Klutzy Kantor
Coming Soon Marta Gargantuan Wings

Donna M. McDine said...

Thanks for this wonderful post. I'm printing it out now for future reference.

Connie Arnold said...

This is a wonderful lesson in writing reviews, Vivian! Thank you for sharing your tips with us.