Narrative nonfiction tells a story. Biographies and autobiographies are often more or less subsets. While it’s possible to relate a biography in a non-narrative form, that’s pretty rare. Essays are a form of short nonfiction. And speech is pretty self-explanatory.
There’s a lot more here. Poetry is usually rhythmic (although it doesn’t have to be) and has evocative imagery. Drama is serious stuff, and it can be a part of theatrical performances.
Humor or Comedy?
Humor is of course the funny stuff. Don’t confuse it with comedy (although we use the terms interchangeably in common parlance). Comedy is just when the protagonist lives at the end of the piece. Contrast that with tragedy, which is where the protagonist dies by the end. But comedy, traditionally, does not mean something is funny.
By this definition, A Clockwork Orange is a comedy.
Fantasy or Myth?
Science fiction and fantasy are pretty close. While fantasy is generally more otherworldly, science fiction usually dovetails with possible science, no matter how far-fetched. Fairy tales, in contrast, are generally drawn from folklore. The more general term, folklore, goes beyond stories to songs and proverbs from long ago. Legends, on the other hand, often have a basis in fact. This can be the subject (a national hero, like El Cid) or the plot. A fable is often short, but it always contains a moral lesson. A short story is generally too brief for a subplot.
Realistic fiction is also fairly self-explanatory. It’s fiction which could be real. Historical fiction adds a historical dimension although it’s often also meant to be realistic.
Horror evokes fright and visceral reactions. Tall tales are overly exaggerated and are virtually the opposite of realistic fiction. Mythology is a traditional narrative with a religious or faith-based component. Mystery involves the solving of a crime or uncovering secrets. Finally, fiction in verse is much longer poetry which contains subplots and major themes.
What are generally not considered to be full-blown genres? Young adult, adventure, romance, etc. Hence the idea, for the most part, has more to do with length and execution than subject matter.
How Do You Treat These Genres?
First of all, consider pacing. Horror often slows down, and then speeds up. Mystery might take a while to build to a satisfactory conclusion. Furthermore, mysteries contain red herrings. Myths might contain repetition. Some of that comes from oral tradition. Humor is all about timing. Drama can often be slow and building. Traditional poetry has a sing-song rhythm.
What is your particular spin? Do you use short, choppy sentence to speed up the action? Do you also choose shorter words?
The Real Hope of the Universe picks where The Real Heart of the Universe left off. As the book to wrap up the trilogy, it had to resolve a number of subplots. So many subplots. Hence the first draft clocked in at over 185,000 words. Oh. My. God.
I didn’t need an editor. I needed a weed whacker.
To wrap up the series, the aliens needed to leave our world. But how?
In addition, there were numerous subplots to resolve. For me, it can be hard to get all of that fixed and sewn up, tied neatly with a bow. This made for any number of issues with length. For after I wrote the first draft, my mission was to cut it by 50,000 words. The second draft (what I call a second draft is often what people call a fifth or a sixth draft) was about 48,500 words less. Much, much better, but still a bear.
Plot for The Real Hope of the Universe
When we first see Ceilidh, Devon, Shannon, and Jake, they are riding in a carriage in Scotland. It’s the 1880s, and there are strange things happening throughout the planet. Some of these odd occurrences happen due to alien intervention. But some of them happen because of what human beings do.
Unlike the other two books, I had to devote this one to far more science fiction. And so it is! Yet at the same time, I had to resolve the subplots. Hence I wrote meanderings to here and there. But as I ruthlessly slashed away at the first draft, I tied a lot more of the subplots’ resolutions to science fiction.
The characters are the main character, Ceilidh O’Malley. Also, her boyfriend (later husband) Jake Radford and her employer, Dr. Devon Grace. In addition, there is the colony known as Shannon Duffy and the members of a secret society. These include men from both North America and Europe.
Memorable Quotes from The Real Hope of the Universe
They stopped on the steps for a second. “If you wish to leave now, say so.”
“If you’ll have any family you can talk to at all in the future, it shall likely be Luke.”
“So it would seem we should stay and wait it all out. So at least there’s a fighting chance of pulling out the whole truth, and he gets my side of things.”
“Not your side, Jake. Our side.”
“Ours, then. You are my truest companion.” He smiled a little, but it wasn’t in his eyes, which darted to the left for a second. His hand on hers was damp with sweat.
“Coming, you coward?” John sneered. “Or will you stand on the stairs forever, like a mental defective?”
“John,” Ceilidh said, “Kindly don’t speak to us this way. You may have arguments with my husband. He and I are willing to hear them. But a schoolyard bully’s insults are beneath you.”
John was nonplussed, and seemed to be deciding if she’d insulted or praised him. “Just get in the library already.” The library was a dark room, paneled in oak, with more decorations than books in the shelves.
The story has a K+ rating. As this one has more Gothic elements to it, there are some occasional squicky moments. For anyone who enjoys reading Gothic tales, some of the scenes should be familiar.
Because it was the end of the series, I struggled to let go. This is a normal pattern for me. It is quite literally nothing new. Hence the ending is dragged out far more than it ever needed to be.
When the first draft was done, it was the longest piece I had ever written. It took me about four and a half months to finish the first draft. And this was writing every day!
The Real Heart of the Universe continues the main story. This sequel to The Real Hub of the Universe brings back Ceilidh O’Malley, Devon Grace, Shannon Duffy, and Jacob Radford, along with the Boston Brahmins in the 1880s. In this, the second novel in the trilogy, Ceilidh deals head on with the problems she left behind in Ireland.
The biggest of these is Johnny Barnes.
The second book of a trilogy can sometimes feel like filler. The last time I wrote a trilogy, for The Obolonk Murders, the middle book ended up as a means of advancing the Peri-Dave romance. Hence I opted for a similar idea. Here, the Ceilidh-Jake romance would advance.
The Plot of the Real Heart of the Universe
But there are always complications. For Ceilidh, who is still married to Johnny at the start of the book, her dalliance with Jake is a sin. Will she lose her mortal soul? For someone brought up with faith, the idea of what is more or less adultery is quite the problem.
So, what is she to do?
The main character in the piece is (again) Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her main mission in this novel is to find a way to be with her love, Jacob Radford. The scenes shift from the Lowell House in Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to an Atlantic ocean voyage, and then to Ireland.
Memorable Quotes from the Real Heart of the Universe
He had chosen an impeccable charcoal gray suit, for his attire from the morning apparently would no longer do. He had all of his ties strewn around on his bed when she returned after getting the luncheon dishes back to the kitchen and cleaning them. “Have you a soirée?” she asked.
“Not so much a soirée,” he paused for a moment, rolling the R with his Scottish brogue, “as an invitation to tea. Sorry for the change in plans; I had meant to tell you, but your initiation into SPHERE got in the way. Hand me that one, if you please.”
“This one?” she asked, holding up his navy blue tie.
“No, no, the tartan.”
“Oh? So you’re going to regale your companion with tales of the Grace family?”
“The Argylls, actually. We go further back than William the Conqueror and all that rot.” He positioned himself in front of the room’s full-length looking glass and tied the tie, which was bright blue and green, with hints of purple and black. “There.”
She approached and straightened his tie a little and then smoothed his light gray hair back a little with two of her fingers. “Handsome and very approachable, sir.”
He smiled slightly. “Hopefully such will be the effect. The approachable part, that is. Handsome? In all honesty, Ceilidh, you should be fitted for spectacles at this rate.”
The book has a K+ rating. For the most part, it is pleasant. But there is some violence. Language is mild.
Upshot for the Real Heart of the Universe
So I think this one works rather well as a bridge story between introducing the storyline and then ending it.
One of the biggest issues with this series is the need for more science fiction in it. As it is, often the series can feel like a historical novel with some science fiction thrown into it. Yet one thing I need to do is describe Ceilidh’s life and world, as they just aren’t as well-known as readers may think. The Victorian era may be interesting to people, but it doesn’t mean they know too much about it. So some of my writing has been to deal head on with any misconceptions!
The Real Hub of the Universe tells the story of Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes, who leaves her abusive husband and runs off to America. So it’s 1876, and she works as a scullery maid, disguising her heritage with a put-on English accent and a fake name, Kay Lee Charles.
One of my favorite time periods is the Victorian era. But there are still so few films which deal with it. More likely, you get something about England or the like. Yet there are not so many about America.
I also love science fiction. And so one day I got the idea – aha! – I would combine the two.
So far as I am aware, this is a more or less unique idea (yes, I know about Star Trek: The Next Generation characters going to see Mark Twain).
Plot of the Real Hub of the Universe
When Ceilidh leaves Ireland, she knows absolutely no one. She ends up as a charity case on a freighter, where there is a mysterious first mate who wears only black and never smiles. When the ship lands in Boston, it’s July 4 – the Centennial. But nothing is open and there is no place for her to go.
But through pluck and luck, and by shedding her Irish name and putting on a fake British accent, she lands a job with the wealthy Edwards family. She endures a lot of the standard indignities of the women of her time, including being paid less and being what we would now call sexually harassed.
She also notices the master of the house conducts meetings with some sort of society. Then he taps her to serve the society’s meetings, which are attended by the luminaries of the day – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Henry Brooks Adams, Judge John Lowell, and George Walker Weld.
After being mistreated by the mistress of the house one too many times, Ceilidh lands a job with Lowell. And then a mysterious visitor arrives, who says nearly nothing and hides his face. More worryingly, he immediately figures out she is not English. What’s she to do?
So the main character in the piece is Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her twin impulses are to escape her abusive husband and to find work, and a lot of the story centers around that. The scenes shift from Ireland to England to the open Atlantic Ocean and then Boston, first at the Winthrop Edwards house, and then at the Judge John Lowell house.
Memorable Quotes from The Real Hub of the Universe
There was a cackling sound not too far away. Someone was, maybe, having a glorious time, but it sounded unnatural, and a little forced. “What’s that?”
“That might be one of those things you shouldn’t be seein’.” Ned finished tying Phoebe’s reins to a post and picked up both parcels. “Over there, I think.” He inclined his head in the direction of where the smell of fish was stronger.
The two of them walked over and there was nearly no light beyond what the moon and stars could afford. A few small gas lamps were too far apart to be useful unless a person got really close to one of them. The tide lapped against the wooden docks and Ceilidh feared that either or both of them might fall in. She about jumped out of her skin when someone pulled the hem of her dress. “Who’s there?”
“What?” asked Ned. He had apparently not seen or felt anything.
Ceilidh bent down. It was a little girl, maybe three years old. Four? “Are you lost?” Ceilidh asked, although she had no idea how she could help a child in such an unfamiliar place.
“Have you a ha’-penny?” the little girl asked, her brogue thicker than Ceilidh’s or Ned’s.
“Where’s your Mam?” Ceilidh asked.
“Why not?” Ceilidh straightened up for a moment.
“Because they will rob you.”
“I,” Ceilidh sighed. “Maybe if I’m not a stranger.” She bent down again. “I’m Ceilidh. What’s your name?”
“Well, that’s a rather pretty name. Where’s your Mam, Siobhan?” The little girl just turned and pointed in the direction from where the cackling had come. In the dim light, something insect-like scurried in Siobhan’s hair. Instinctively, Ceilidh sprang back. “Oh, my!”
The book has a K+ rating. While the language is extremely proper to a fault, there are some swear words. There are also a few disturbing scenes.
So I truly loved writing this series. It was great fun! Ceilidh’s character journey was a revelation to me. I always wanted her to make it somehow, but I was unsure of what that was going to be when I started. Stay tuned to find out just what that was.
Character creation is rather personal. It depends on how organized you are, and how much you like to plan. So character creation will vary. This is what I tend to do. However, my methods are not necessarily the best or the most consistent ones.
Your mileage, when it comes to character creation, will undoubtedly vary. And that is perfectly okay.
This is actually a picture of me from 2015, by the way.
Origins for Character Creation
For me, characters arise in a few ways. One is just that I can ‘hear’ their ‘voices’. Or I might see a face clearly. Lots of situations or activities can create a focus. So I might walk around my neighborhood and consider what I see. This is whether it’s something from nature or just someone’s illegally parked car. Music in particular can be helpful for this, although it is not absolutely necessary. For a fanfiction bad girl character I named Pamela Hudson, her personality came barreling in when I heard the Amy Winehouse song, You Know I’m No Good.
And sometimes, characters just appear, fully formed. I tend to consider names in the context of how they sound and what they mean. Hence a character like Marnie Shapiro Chase came out of nowhere because I liked how her name sounded. Then I worked on putting her together. The same was true of Colonel Craig Firenze. He started off sounding good and I built from that.
Character Creation: Ethnicity
Still other characters might arise out of names and ethnicity. Or even national origin. Jazminder Parikh and Akanksha Kondapalli are both Indian women, but Jazzie is a doctor, whereas Akanksha is an attorney. I also tend to like someone to be from the southern US. Hence Jeannie Louise Scutter and Patricia LaRue arose. Characters from the UK might be Dave Shepherd, super-spy, or Dr. Devon Grace. Plus there are also scullery maids Frances Miller and Ceilidh O’Malley. So it runs the gamut of rich and poor.
In addition, I try to write some characters of races different from my own. These run the gamut from Dr. Elise Jeffries and Dr. Mei-Lin Quan to Solar System President Fankald Williams and her sister, Tamara Woods.
What’s in a Name?
While draping a character around the meaning of their name is kind of silly, it can sometimes help to inspire. I liked the name Ceilidh O’Malley, and it was a bonus that her name means a type of jig. Hence someone who grew up in grinding poverty had a rather frivolous name. So I gave her the middle name of Aisling, which is Irish Gaelic for dream.
Dave Shepherd didn’t originate as a protector in the Obolonk universe, but as I wrote him, he became one.
Other characters just almost tell me their names. This was certainly the case with Craig Firenze and Kitty Kowalski in Mettle. In Mettle, the two bratty tweens were always going to be Kitty and Mink. Tathrelle was another name that sprang up, for Untrustworthy. Frances always existed in The Real Hub of the Universe, but her surname started off as Marshall, not Miller. Her name was changed as a character named Marsh was mentioned too often with her.
Other characters are named for people I know, in whole or in part. The Enigman Cave is particularly chock full of such characters. It’s everyone from the Chief Veterinarian to a space defender to the Chief Engineer. The Real Hub of the Universe has some, including the Chief of Police. Plus the Ashford baby is named for a man I know.
Character Creation: Show Some Emotion
Characters also exist to make the main character feel something. And this isn’t always something good. Ben Chase exists to piss Marnie off in The Enigman Cave. Johnny Barnes exists in The Real Hub of the Universe to terrify Ceilidh and force her into action. Jeannie exists in Mettle to anger Craig and eventually make him not feel too bad about getting on a plane. And one of the reasons Dave Shepherd exists in the Obolonk universe is to help Peri get over Charlie.
Plus there are always love interest characters, even if they don’t last. That’s Lex Feldman in Enigmans and Dalton Farouq in Time Addicts, the 2019 NaNoWriMo novel.
Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro
As a kind of personal ‘tell’ and Easter egg in my works, every longer piece (except for Untrustworthy, as none of those characters are human), somebody is named Shapiro. This is even true in fan fiction, where characters Ethan and Rebecca Shapiro (father and daughter) figure prominently in the overall storyline.
The Obolonks series has Greg Shapiro. He’s a wisecracking cop living in Connecticut. The Enigman Cave has Marnie Shapiro Chase, the captain of the spaceship. Marnie’s kind of frumpy and nerdy but also very smart. Then in Real Hub of the Universe, the name is subtle. Blima Shapiro Taub is a character never actually seen ‘on screen’. Blima is known more for her jealousy than anything else. In Mettle, Shapiro is Eleanor Braverman’s maiden name. Eleanor suffers from Alzheimer’s.
So you can see that the Easter egg characters are all rather different.
In the November 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, the name shows up as a the married name of a sibling of the protagonist.
Character Creation: Purposeful Characters
Sometimes characters are necessary to fulfill some purpose or another. Technically, that’s supposed to be the case with all characters (oops!). Either advance the plot or be background exposition. Hence Noah Braverman’s fellow reporter, Francine O’Donnell, serves to give him a bit of a reason to express his thoughts out loud in Mettle. Ben Chase serves as Marnie’s foil, but he also makes a big discovery which helps drive the Enigman plot. And I needed Livia Thorson in Obolonks to explain some of the robotics, just as I needed Ned O’Malley in Real Hub to explain how Ceilidh was going to get to the states.
Sometimes purposeful characters come in the form of radio or TV show hosts, or nameless people reading news stories aloud or commenting on them. How many times have you stood in line at a coffee shop and heard people discuss the events of the day? Even if it’s the sports section or politics or whatever, it can still help to orient readers as to time and place.
In Untrustworthy, Ixalla started off as a kind of explainer character, but then the role grew when I turned her into a revolutionary.
Why do you need a character? Do you like them? Do they drive the plot? Will you kill them off if you have to? Make characters to fulfill these purposes or to add depth and background. Give your story dimension with people who feel real.
Your Call is Very Important to Us – a Look at a Short Story
Your Call is Very Important to Us comes from a general concept of ‘the world turned upside-down’. This short story was written for the third volume of The Longest Night Watch. All of the proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. So that is, if we ever publish it.
I never name the narrator in ‘Your Call’. The reader just gets her husband’s name, Milo.
The world has gone to hell in a handbasket, and we’ve dropped the bomb. And so has our unnamed other side. There’s devastation. No one and nothing will survive.
Enter our characters.
As the narrator says, her husband was a doomsday prepper. And while everyone thought he was nuts, they were okay even as the world came to an end.
So who’s sorry now?
But our narrator’s got one big problem. She’s bored out of her mind.
Plot for Your Call…
With nothing to do but read, eat, and fool around, the narrator and her husband are at the ends of their tethers. They are older people – there aren’t going to be any children. So they are not going to repopulate the earth.
The one break to the monotony comes in the form of something you and I both hate – automated telemarketer calls.
Of course, a ringing telephone in the middle of nuclear devastation is a cause for concern, wonder, hope, and fear. I will admit that a part of the idea came from Ray Bradbury’s classic Martian Chronicles story, The Silent Towns
Characters in Your Call…
The only characters, apart from people the narrator talks to on the phone who may or may not still be alive, are the narrator and her husband, Milo. Milo never speaks and neither does the narrator. All the reader gets are her rambling, wacky thoughts, presumably in writing.
When the bombs dropped, we were already ensconced in our shelter. Milo built it. Milo’s my husband. He was one of those doomsday preppers. People used to say he was crazy. But they’re not saying it now. Why not? Because they’re probably all dead. If the radiation and heat won’t get you, the germ warfare will, Milo says.
We live just outside of Henderson, Nevada. It’s near Las Vegas, or at least it was. I’m not so sure what’s up there anymore. It’s probably not much.
This story has a K+ rating. While the one sex scene takes place off screen (as it were), the backdrop is nuclear war, and of course that’s upsetting.
One very big issue is that the volume has been delayed for what I believe is coming upon years. Yes, really. So I just checked – the story has been in limbo for over two years. So will it ever be published? Right now, I’ve got to say, I have my doubts. Big, big doubts. And that’s unfortunate, because I really love this story. And I love the charity and the group. But I suppose we’ve got … issues.
So Complications is one of those stories where it takes me a moment to remember – oh, yeah, it’s that one. And that never bodes well for readers.
So this was originally a het fan fiction story. But with a few changes, it could go in another direction. And both of the characters were wholly original. But in the published version, it’s two different characters anyway. Essentially, the only thing I used was the scenario and some of the dialogue.
So it shows. This was, unfortunately, not exactly a big effort on my part. If I was to do it again, I would have worked harder on this. At the time, I was pressed for time.
The Plot of Complications
The truth is, this story has very nearly no plot. Basically, it is a vignette with little plot, only sketches of characters, and no crisis or conflicts at all. Hell, it is barely even a scene.
The characters are the narrator, Suzanne, and her lesbian lover, Tellina. Tellina is not a human.
Memorable Quotes from Complications
“And you’ve never done this with a human before?”
“I’ve never done this with anyone before, Suzanne.” They kissed.
“And,” Suzanne asked, “When does it all, er, end?”
“I’m uncertain. I don’t know how much precedence there is for such things. What do you generally do after, uh, afterwards?”
“Get a snack, watch the viewer, go to sleep, hell, I’ve left on occasion.”
“Most of those are out of the question right now. Could you sleep, perhaps?”
The story has a K+ rating. While the action occurs “off screen”, there are certainly some allusions to it.
So while it was great for Queer Sci Fi to publish it, Complications really did not deserve to be published anywhere. Because it is just not that good a story. I have written far, far better, both before and since. So be it. They can’t all be gems.
Some editing tips and tricks for you, me, and all the writers we know! And don’t know, too ….
Because if you did NaNoWriMo this year, then now is right about the time you might start to thinking about attacking the editing beast. Or maybe you just don’t want to look at it yet. And that’s perfectly fine. However, you need to edit it eventually. Since professional editors cost money, it will pay for you to do some of the work early. Furthermore, if you have beta readers (and every writer should!), then you owe it to them to not waste their time reading an unpolished manuscript. Of course they should expect some issues as that is why you’re turning to them in the first place. However, a big garbage can full of word salad does no one any good.
So first of all, before you do anything else, run spell check. While that sounds simple and obvious, I have beta read for people who didn’t do that first. Second, check your dialogue tags. So, what are dialogue tags? Dialogue should run one of three ways:
She said, “I’m hungry.” Notice the comma before the first quotation mark, and then the period before the second? The first two words are the dialogue tag. The comma is mandatory in this case. And it’s the same thing if you move the dialogue tag to the end. So in that case, you would write: “I’m hungry,” she said.
She patted her belly. “I’m hungry.” Notice there’s no comma this time? That’s because the initial sentence is an action; it’s not a dialogue tag at all.
She growled, “I’m hungry!” The comma is back! And Grammar Girl (as usual) says it best: “Simplicity is the rule in attributives. Many writers try to think for the reader by replacing “said” with words like grunted, growled, demanded, bellowed, cooed, roared, squalled, and simpered. If the tone of the dialogue is not immediately apparent, rewrite the dialogue and not the attributive.”
So make sure your dialogue tags are correct and your dialogue makes sense. And third, get into your scenes and anything (or anyone) else you need to describe. Too much description can bog down the action. And too little can leave your readers guessing. So here is where a knowledge of films can help. Current movies rarely show little transitional scenes like walking down a hall or driving unless something else is going on. And you should do the same. If your character starts off at school and then comes home, don’t show the character on the school bus unless that particular scene matters.
Do some basic editing, at the absolute minimum, before anyone else looks at your work. Respect others’ time and they’ll keep helping you.
Reviewing – Middling Reviews – fair to middling reviews are harder to write. Because there is definitely a skill involved. But you are probably going to write more of them than any other type of review. Why? Because truly superlative works are uncommon.
As always, kindness should be your guide. The work isn’t out and out awful. It just needs some help. Mid-level reviews can be extremely helpful. They can provide valuable feedback for a new author. Because it is sweetened with praise and other positives, it is more palatable.
Consider the Audience
But who is most likely to read your review? If you review on Amazon, then anything you write is going to rather directly affect someone’s sales and potential sales. If you review on an obscure book blog read by only a few people, then the impact will not be as great. So what happens if you post your middle of the road review only on the obscure book blog? Once the writer sees the review, he or she might not want to push for you to share it on Amazon, GoodReads, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks. Or maybe the author will want to see your review spread all over the internet. It’s hard to say. Your mid-level review may be the best one they get.
The value of middle of the line reviews
For a new author, potential buyers are often suspicious of 100% stellar reviews. Hence if the 5-star reviews are peppered with some 3-stars, then potential buyers tend to feel more comfortable that they are seeing accurate reviews that were not bought and paid for. Furthermore, if the author has enough reviews (the number seems to be ten or more), Amazon will sort them by most helpful positive and most helpful negative. If your middle of the road review is the most helpful negative review, that can actually help the writer.
So, how do you get started?
The Shit Sandwich
Yeah, you read that right. Since this is not going to be a wholly negative review, you can split it into thirds. This makes it feel less unremittingly negative. The first third should be the smallest or smaller positive thing you have to say. In the middle is the negative thing you need to say. Finally, end with your strongest positive.
But why am I suggesting this particular order? Let’s look at some examples.
Consider these examples
The Cowardly Lion character was fantastic and very credible. The Tin Woodsman was dull. Dorothy was okay.
The Dorothy character was all right but could have used some work. The Tin Woodsman was hard to take at times. My favorite character was the Cowardly Lion.
The Tin Woodsman was terrible. Dorothy was passable. The Cowardly Lion was amazing.
In the first example, you might think it’s a purely positive review. It’s easy to forget the negative in the middle when the positive starts off so strongly. In the third example, the writer is put on the defensive nearly immediately. The review feels negative, even though the end is positive.
Further, in the second instance, the first part is generally positive albeit with constructive criticism. The middle part is negative. But it gives a specific reason for the reviewer’s negative reaction. This is also something the writer could potentially build on and fix in later works. And the final part adds a positive personal touch.
Of course you would never write such a simplistic review. Plus you are reading this blog but you are not the author of The Wizard of Oz, so these quickie reviews are not personal to you. So substitute your own work, and consider how each review would make you feel.
Because this is not a negative review, you can add some length to it. But because it’s not unremittingly positive, it does not have to be lengthy. The ideal length is about 50 to 100 words. If you want to say more, contact the writer in private. For self-published works, editing and republishing are usually pretty easy. Hence if you find a glaring translation error, the writer can fix it. You can save the day with your review.
Ending on a High Note
End with a positive. Seriously. Don’t lie, but there is no reason to be nasty. Be encouraging; so many indies suffer self-doubt. This is your opportunity to be kind. After all, next time, you may be in the hot seat.
Reviewing – Positive Reviews – these are the lifeblood of any independent author. We live for them! But how can you make them even better?
Don’t provide a positive review in exchange for a positive one you just got. And don’t provide one in the hopes that you’ll get one in return. Personally, I very rarely give out five stars. A book has to truly leave me sock-free. I can enjoy a book immensely but still not give it five stars. However, I give out a lot of 3- and 4-star reviews, particularly to indie authors. And if my review is a positive one, I spread it to as many places as I can.
Just saying you loved a piece is not enough. It’s better than nothing, of course. But you, too, are a writer. You can do better than that! While you don’t have to hit an actual word count, it is more helpful if you give the review some time and attention. Naturally, if you are pressed for time or you have to do a lot of reviews, then you will not get into things like you would if your time was more open. Plus it does not have to be a novel. A 50 – 150 word review should do nicely, unless it is a blog post. In that case, best practices for blog posts is 300 or more words. So adjust accordingly.
Writers often get crippling self-doubt. Imposter syndrome is common. Generalized reviews don’t help much. Be clear about what you loved.
Scarlet O’Hara was a strong female character in a man’s world. What is most impressive about her is the fact that she was written in 1936. Hence Margaret Mitchell was almost revolutionary in writing her. While today we might scoff at some of Scarlet’s machinations, she still manages to be a memorable and memorably flawed character. Her motivations are clear and logical. Her endgame is satisfying.
While the author is no longer alive to read my praise, the paragraph still gets across my admiration for the work (I do, for real, like the book, although it’s not one of my absolute favorites). This is also a meatier review than just “It’s great!” The review does not just make the writer feel good; it also provides vital information for potential readers.
Please don’t give away the ending! My above review snippet about Gone With the Wind does not give away the ending. In fact, it gives away just about none of the plot at all. I would write a longer review (the above bit is really just a part of it) where I would probably mention the US Civil War and Rhett Butler. I might get into Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton, particularly if I were writing a blog post and needed to make word count.
Spread the Love
There are several online places which take reviews.
Amazon reviews most directly affect a writer’s sales and potential sales. If you provide positive reviews on an obscure book blog read by only a few people, then the impact will not be as great. You can also review on other countries’ versions of Amazon (UK, Canada, etc.), GoodReads, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks.
Call to Action to Read the Author’s Other Works
A call to action is anything from ‘click here’ to ‘buy this’. It is a statement online whereby you are asking someone to do something. It does not have to feel like a hard sell. Instead, you can write things like:
This book was fun and I can’t wait to see what else the writer has written.
I hear there is a sequel and I can’t wait.
I checked out the writer’s Amazon page (provide the link) and they are blogging there. I’m excited to read what they have to say.