Friday, April 12, 2013

Why Your Book Reviews/Promos Suck

Sometimes you go around the internet and read a book review and say to yourself, 'there is no there there.' I know, I've written those kind of reviews myself. There is a similar problem with author-written book promos.

What is the problem? It's that the reviewers have lost sight of the important things. They write down something abstract about the theme: this is a book about man against nature. This is a book about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. This is a book about a dystopian future where only computers are allowed to vote.

These statements lead to book reviews that can't hook the reader, because they have forgotten the essential rule: fiction is about folks. Folks with problems, specifically.

Even if you are the second-worst book review writer ever (the first-worst is probably me), you can improve by a simple and amusing method. It is called a storyline--- a one sentence summary of a novel that focuses on a character and his problem or goal.

In 'Writing Fiction for Dummies' by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, it gives instruction on how to create a storyline for use in planning and writing a novel. (It is the first step in the Snowflake Method.) But storylines, and also the one-paragraph summaries that are also taught, are great tools for writing a book review or a book promo.

Here is an example storyline: 'A physicist travels back in time to kill the Apostle Paul.' That's only 11 words, but it packs a lot of punch. Why? Because it mentions a character, and a major conflict or goal of that character. Compare that to a lame book review abstract statement: this book is about the issue of whether you can use time travel to change history.... Boring, by comparison, isn't it?

Whether you are a book blogger, enthusiastic reader, or book author, it's a very good idea to practice writing storylines. You can use them any time you want to tell your friends about a favorite book, or write a book review, or promote a book of your own.

Here are a couple other storylines:

The Lord of the Rings: A hobbit learns that destroying his magic ring is the key to saving Middle Earth from the Dark Lord.

The Lovely Bones: A young girl watches the turmoil in her family from heaven after being raped and murdered by a neighbor.

Pride and Prejudice: A young English woman from a peculiar family is pursued by an arrogant and wealthy young man.

And now, a smart aleck storyline of my own composition:

Harry Potter: A fallen Dark Lord seeks to regain his power, only to be thwarted by an annoying boy wizard.

This last is not QUITE as silly as it seems. In the Ingermanson/Economy book, in the chapters on character development, it suggests writing storylines from the point of view of various characters in the story. After all, every character in a story believes he is the hero of the tale.

Challenge: Think of a book, perhaps a popular one such as 'The Hunger Games', and write your own storyline for it and post it as a comment. There is no 'one right answer' for this. Just do the best that you can.  Continue to practice the technique and put it to use whenever you write a book review. If you participate in blog tours such as the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour, you might challenge the readers of your blog tour posts to come up with their own storylines for the book in question, perhaps from the point of view of their favorite character. 

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