Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reviewing books on the Dreamside

Yesterday I added content to my webpage announcing that I'll be doing a few book reviews on the side, time permitting. I've put up my review policies and I hope they're clear. Here is a direct link to the policies: Review policies on the Dreamside

One of the hardest things about reviewing books is finding a way to provide constructive criticism that will ultimately be helpful in some way to the author, rather than destructive. So maybe giving some insight into how I read a book will help some authors out. Please keep in mind that these are just my own opinions and as such are one voice in a multitude of others.

The first thing I look for is a good story: plot, characters, action. The whole shebang. I don't really focus on originality of the plot, although fresh takes on old themes are appreciated. I love the human aspect of the story--I find myself more interested in stories that show character growth and development. I have a fascination for strong female lead characters. Not sure where this come from, honestly.

But those things are really secondary to some mechanics issues. I won't levy any judgment on people for their writings, but there are some basic things that really get in the way of my ability to enjoy and often even simply discover the meatier things in the previous paragraph. One of the most important things to me in reading a book is my ability to completely immerse myself in the story. In fact, there's an almost 100% correlation between this immersion and my rating of a book. Immersion is not easy to measure or gauge. It's a personal thing. I have a somewhat wild imagination so for me immersion is often a quicker process. It's the things that break me out of that state that ruin a book for me.

First, sudden shifts in perspective. I realize that third person omniscient point of view is actually a valid form, and if it's carried off well, it can be fun to read. But in most cases it is jarring. Every change of perspective within a single scene bounces me out of whatever immersion I've achieved.

Next are inconsistent verb tense changes. Again, these things are jarring. I don't mind when the story is told in past tense and suddenly the character thinks in present tense, but for that to work the thoughts need to be clearly identified as such. One way to do this is to put any direct thoughts into their own paragraph and in italics.

Next is something that many authors struggle with at first (myself included): Show Not Tell. I love descriptive prose, but too often descriptive prose is a substitute for dramatic characterization. When the author tells me explicitly something I'd rather see subtly through character interactions, well, that's jarring for me as well.

Now, here's one that I have struggled with classically: word repetition. Sometimes repetition serves a purpose in the prose. But other times the repetition is unconscious and causes the prose to flatten out.

Finally, I tend to not freak out over a few typos, spelling errors and even some grammatical errors. I know quality editorial services are expensive, and that not everyone can afford them, so I cut this one a little slack--not too much though.

At any rate, the biggest thing I worry about in this experiment doing book reviews is how to present this feedback to an author without alienating them. I know it can sting to get criticism, and authors often have a hard time detaching emotionally from their words. If you make someone defensive, even unintentionally, they are less likely to take your feedback as it is intended.

Anyway, I'm looking for science fiction, fantasy and slipstream books to review. I am completely open to indie/self published authors but obviously will consider any book submitted to me.

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