Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Kissed Reading Goodbye~A New Look at Book Reviews by Amy Drown

Today, I'm thrilled to introduce friend and author, Amy Drown. I've been following Amy's book reviews for some time now, and her structure for book "breakdowns" seems like a breath of fresh air in the often polarized world of reviews. I especially love how she includes her expectations going into the book based on the book blurb/cover art. This lets authors know if their blurbs/covers are hitting the mark (as indies, that job falls on us!). I know you will take away something new from her post today, and I hope you go over and read some of Amy's reviews here.~Heather Day Gilbert


I KISSED READING GOODBYE

A New Look at Book Reviews by Amy Drown

I used to love to read. Anytime. Anywhere.

High school family vacation to Hawaii? My sister and brother went surfing and snorkeling and swimming at the beach every single day. I stayed in the shade and read. They got sunburned. I got through six novels. Twice.

The last time I moved, it took thirty-six boxes just to pack my personal library.

Last year’s Christmas tree theme featured Scholastic Book Club favorites from my childhood and a giant bookworm for my tree topper.

I. Loved. Books.

I loved writing, too. Reading and writing were the ebony and ivory of my harmonious, happy, blissfully ignorant life. But then I became a “professional” writer… and that one word—Professional—dragged my reading bliss down a dark alley, slashed it, stole its wallet, and tossed its lifeless remains in a dumpster.

Learning to write killed my love of reading.

But why?

Like Neo in The Matrix, the moment I chose to become a writer, I chose the pill that opened my eyes to what the world of novels and writing really is. I began to study the crucial components of storytelling. I started crafting my writing with purpose and voice and structure. I developed a critical eye.

Today, like Neo, I can no longer accept the simplicity of a novel for what it is. I can’t help but see the reality and hard work behind it. I’ve been transformed, and there is no going back. I have officially kissed reading goodbye.

Now I am a student of novels.

What’s the difference, you say? How does studying a novel differ from merely reading it? Consider the following three factors:

1. Expectation.

Everyone who picks up a book has certain expectations about it. They want to be entertained. Learn something new. Enjoy a heart-pounding romance. Be scared silly and kept awake all night. The general reader may not be able to describe these expectations if asked, but they are aware of them nonetheless and will react if these expectations are or aren’t met. They will sigh. Smile. Cringe with delight. Tell their friends about it. Or they will toss the book across the room and bash it on Amazon and Goodreads.

A student, however, is not only aware of their expectations, but can articulate them. Can’t help articulating them, in fact. From the moment I pick up a book from the shelf, I know exactly what to expect from it in terms of genre, character development, story arc, theme, series potential, even publishing line. And my expectations fuel a very thorough…

2. Examination.

Because of my expectations, it is no longer enough for me to simply “like” or “dislike” a novel. I have to examine why.

Were my expectations met? Why or why not? Why did this description make me laugh? How did the author carry her theme through all 400 pages? When did I find myself truly sympathizing with the heroine’s plight? What made me fall in love with the hero? And the most diabolical question I can no longer resist… what, if anything, would I change about this story?

3. Experimentation.

Despite the number of months, even years, writers put into creating their novels, the new student in me can’t resist experimenting.

If I like a particular passage or turn of phrase, I’ll experiment with ways to create something comparable in my own stories. If a theme or character motivation doesn’t appeal to my writer’s instincts, I’ll dissect it, rearrange it, and piece it back together in a way that satisfies the scholar in me.

So what does a book study look like?

With these three elements in mind, I have developed a rather daunting book review system. Before I open a new book, I jot down my thoughts about what I expect the story to deliver in terms of story, subject matter, and writing skill. Then, as I’m reading, I highlight favorite passages and note any questions or concerns about where the story is going. When I’ve finished the book, I look at whether the story met my expectations, and analyze twelve crucial areas of storytelling to help compose my thoughts in greater detail. Finally, I pull those thoughts together in a short summary conclusion, and identify a few bullet points for Pros and Cons about the story, and post it on my website and social media.

It may sound like a lot of work, but in reality it adds less than one hour to my overall time spent with a book. And that is an hour I am absolutely willing to invest because—and this is the reason we writers are encouraged to read extensively—such analysis ultimately improves my own writing. And while it is rather intimidating to post such an “honest” review publicly, nearly every author I have reviewed has thanked me for being so detailed, and I’ve developed some new amazing friendships with fellow writers who appreciate that honesty!

So the next time you pick up a book, I encourage you to take a moment to think about what you’re about to read, what you hope to get out of it, then don’t be afraid to be honest in your assessment of it. Experiment. Learn. Become a better writer by becoming a better reader.


I dare you to kiss reading goodbye.

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AMY DROWN is a fiction reviewer for The Christian Manifesto, one of the publishing industry’s leading review websites. She studied History at the University of Arizona and the University of Glasgow. An executive assistant by day, she is also an award-winning photographer and musician. But her true passion is writing edgy, inspirational stories that explore the deep roots of family, friendship and faith. She is a 2013 My Book Therapy Frasier Finalist and Bronze Medalist, and an ACFW Genesis Semi-Finalist and First Impressions Finalist. Connect with Amy, learn more about Deep-Rooted Fiction™, and read her in-depth book reviews at www.AmyDrown.com.



5 comments:

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thanks again for coming, Amy. I look forward to your reviews because they are SO thorough. You somehow balance the good and not-so-good, and that's so hard to do. I know it's because you put a LOT of time and effort into them.

Amy Drown said...

Thanks for inviting me to be here today! As you know, my crazy-detailed reviews are something I just started doing for myself, to help improve my own writing craft, but the overwhelmingly positive feedback they've received has been awesome!

ashleewillisauthor said...

What a perfect description of my own thought process after I became a "professional writer." It was saddening for me at first, that I couldn't experience books the same way I had done all my life. But now I've come to appreciate it, just as you say you do, for the improvement of both my mind and my writing. Great article!!

Amy Drown said...

Thanks, Ashlee! It is a little sad when that reading experience changes -- I was truly shocked the first time I not only didn't finish a novel, but also realized I didn't want to keep some of the ones I had read! -- but in the end, truly stellar books have no trouble rising to the top because they make you forget all about being a writer and just pull you into the story!

The Teenage Nerd said...

I know that feeling! I'm not near the point of being a "professional writer" but noticing things about writing style, word choice, plot, characters, etc. has become something I do by nature (especially after being a beta reader and brainstorming partner for my friend, and nitpicking through her book and ideas).