Tag Archives: writing

Friendship Friday: How to create book reviews that write themselves.

Last week I created a post about getting free books from big publishers, including links on contacting them. This week, I’m making things easy for you: creating reviews that write themselves (almost). Granted, this won’t turn you into Ron Charles, but maybe someday…or even better!

DON’T BE NERVOUS

I’ve run into several people who are nervous about writing a good review because they got a free book from a publisher. Two things:

  1. The publishers rarely read your reviews.
  2. Everyone else rarely reads your reviews.

CopyBlogger.com says that only 2 out of 10 people that click on your posts actually read them. If you don’t believe me, let’s take two quick tests. First, here’s my review of Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY. Did you click the link? No? Point proven. You did? But you didn’t read the whole review, right? Point proven. Second, have you ever hit “like” on a Facebook post that your friend posted of their 3-year-old daughter in a ballet recital (but you didn’t really watch the video)? Point proven.

Here’s a great comedy sketch from comedian Louis CK about that same thing:

In my review of SUPERBETTER, Jane McGonigal says that we can reprogram our brains by telling ourselves that our nervousness is energy. It works! I’ve also found that having a plan helps, too.

WRITE DOWN QUOTES FROM THE BOOK YOU’RE READING

I love book quotes. Warning: sometimes book quotes can bog you down. Capture your favorites and log them. If you want to be really lazy (aka cheating) you can go to Goodreads and see some of the best quotes from your favorite book, selected by the community.

If you followed the advice I gave last week about getting free books, you may have discovered that many publishers include press releases or publicity sheets. These may include anything from a longer version of the book’s description to copies of news coverage. It’s awesome! Some people may balk at possible “spoilers”, but I prefer to call them a roadmap of what you’ll be reading. They help you read faster and retain more.

START WITH YOUR HEADLINE FIRST

In one sentence (come on Twitter users!!) come up with the one thing you want to tell other people about the book. The more salacious or captivating, the better. If you want to tell us about the sex scene with the Martian queen, awesome!

This may be the most difficult part of writing the review. That’s a good thing. This exercise will inspire you and set a direction for the rest of the review. The co-founder of Twitter said that confinement inspires creativity. Give yourself one sentence to get our attention; you’ll be amazed at how everything flows from this.

WRITE DOWN AT LEAST THREE SUBHEADINGS

Book reviews are like the cheesy movie trailers from the 80s. The best reviews give a flavor of the book with a bit of commentary. Like those trailers from yesteryear, you’ll get scenes from the movie/book and you’ll get narrative that tells you what to expect. Look back at the headline you wrote and now write down three or more bullets that capture the main themes from the book.

Let’s pretend we’re going to review THE KARATE KID, the book. The headline may be: “Can a kid find love and win the karate championship?” Your subheadings might include:

  • Bullied in L.A.
  • Karate fixes all
  • True love (note: ALWAYS have a subheading about love)
  • Wax on, wax off

DUMP YOUR BUCKET OF QUOTES

Remember your bucket of quotes that you collected? Dump them out! Give your subheadings some space and put the quotes in, under the appropriate subheading.

Let’s go back to THE KARATE KID for example:

  • Bullied in L.A.
    “Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.”
    “No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.”
  • Karate fixes all
    “Go, find balance….Banzai, Daniel-san!”
    “Karate come from China…hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa.”
    “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.”
    “You too much TV”
  • True love
    “Hey, you got a name?” “Ali…with an I. Hey, what’s your name?”
    “Why next time?” “Because we didn’t bring a bathing suit!”
  • Wax on, wax off
    “Make block. Left, right. Up, down. Side, side. Breathe in, breathe out. And no scare fish.”

PLAY A GAME: CONNECT THE DOTS

You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to string this together. Say something you like or something you don’t like about the book, and then lead to a quote. Say something about the book’s premise or happenings, then lead to another quote. Bounce from quote to quote until you feel you’ve completed the picture.

Don’t feel like you have to use all the quotes. Don’t use any if you don’t want. They are there to help you if you want them. Make sure there’s plenty of YOU in the review. Talk to ME. It’s a conversation of you, telling me, about the book. These are tools to help you.

USE MULTIMEDIA (CUE SONG)

As you can tell, I enjoy a good GIF image. I’ve also been known to include links to other reviewers, outside sources, and my own, horribly drawn pictures. It’s all about telling the story. The more pictures and media you include, the less people read, the more people say “great review”. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. (Admit it: you do it, too.)

For example, here’s my favorite music from THE KARATE KID. No, it’s not “you’re the best…there is….”. It’s the beautiful song that plays as Daniel practices his crane kick on the beach in front of the setting sun.

Fast forward to about 1:20 into the video for the MOST BEAUTIFUL music and scenery you’ve ever witnessed.

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Dead Character CPR

Revive your flat-lined character with CPR

Are your friends, peers, agents, and editors telling you that your characters reek of boredom? Did your character puncture himself on a piece of your jagged plot, and is now lying flat on the ground, deflated of all interest and life? Fret not! Below is your manual for character CPR:

Communicate with a letter

While your protagonist is lying there, level with the ground, ask him to write a letter. “To whom?” he may ask. “Suck it up and just write it to whomever,” you may reply.  And it’s true, it doesn’t matter.  Have him write it to his grandmother, his lover, to a local news agency, or the editor. You can even have him write a letter to you, the author of his flatness.

“What should I write about?” your character may ask. “I don’t care; write about your spleen I’m about to kick,” you may reply.  Have your character write about the horrific plot obstacle he had to endure, or about the first kitten he owned (which he still feels bad about squirting with a squirt gun)—the point is, get in their head.

If you want to add this letter in the ‘Special Features’ section of your 10th Anniversary Edition novel, so be it. For now, keep this letter between you and your dying character; see how it affects your story and their actions.

Pick a secret

Everyone holds a secret, unless they are perfect.  And, perfect people are boring—like your character.  Make him un-boring; give him a secret.  Make it juicy: extra rare with lots of blood.

Here’s the key: it doesn’t have to show up in your writing.  Write about it, yes, but not necessarily in your novel (or whatever great work you are writing).   Take some time fleshing out the details and make the decision how it shows up in your soon-to-be-published-and-become-a-bestseller writing. He murdered his best friend’s grandmother as an angst-fueled teenager; so what? Maybe he’ll have an obsession about washing his hands—“Out, damned spot! out, I say”—but it’s up to you how it impacts him in your story.

Revive the dialogue

“Hey, Joe.”
“Yeah, what’s up, Bob.”
“Uh, so, um, how’s the weather?”
“Meh.”

And so goes your character, meh.

You’ve given him breath with a letter, you’ve pounded him on his chest with a secret, and now, for good measure, give him a shot of Elmore Leonard medicine: good, natural, and lively dialogue.  Readers are investing in more than narrative; they want to fall in love with your character. They aren’t going to fall in love with his flowing locks of golden hair and endless ocean-blue eyes. They’re going to be wooed by the words coming out of his mouth—so give him some good ones.

And if all else fails, kill him off.