Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Rapunzel Effect

What does Rapunzel have in common with reviews?
Try letting it all hang down.
Rapunzel lets down her hair - as a big hairy dump or a sensual unrolling of locks.
Reviews...well they can take an author's hopes and either slam them down to the ground or have those same hopes sensitively addressed by a gentle waterfall of words that won't harm but inform.

What am I really referring to? Lower rated reviews of the 2-3 level and the words used to address and explain what put them there in the first place.

First let me say that for LASR/WC, a three rating isn't that bad of a rating. I have no idea why or how it got the bad rap in the first place. Books with a three rating have always been enjoyable and entertaining, they just don't make me dream about them at night, nor do they make me want to rush out and buy every and all books in an author's backlist. What a three rating has always done for me is to pass the time in an enjoyable and welcome manner. When glitches are found, and they always are, the story and/or characters were done well enough that it didn't matter, I still found merit in the story. I still am glad I read it. And I'm happy to say so.

A three rating also means that as a reviewer I have the responsibilty to explain what I felt held the story back. The most important component of meeting that responsibility is to respect the author and her/his work and be as factual, professional and courteous as you can be. There should not be any attacks on the author by making personal references that try to connect the faults in the story with perceived faults in the person. That's ludicrous and unacceptable behavior.

Please bear in mind that I refer to reviews on professional sites and not personal blogs. People's personal blog space can be anything they want it to be and that means anything goes - free speech.

That being said, I ask, "What do you think drags down a story?"

My first thought is editing. If it's a self-published book then it's the author's complete burden. If it's published with a big house or even a smaller e-pub that has editors, then the editors let the author down. But some editing is so bad that it sinks the story. If a reader feels disconnected more than involved because of the constant interruption, that would prevent a higher mark.

What are some specific things that would drag a story down? Depending on degree, there are:
* Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) Hero or Heroine
* Plot holes - makes no sense
* Too many coincidences - how convenient and pat
* Bad or lazy research - American Slang used by a British character that's never been to America and the book takes place in England
* Telling instead of showing
* Head hopping - too many (POV) point of view shifts in too short a space
* Narrative or passive story telling

Those are just a few. The trick to mentioning these types of things in a review is to couch them with positives especially if it's a three rating. Threes should have plenty of good things to say.

Like I mentioned - Showing is tons better than telling.

So, check out these links that are of reviews with "three" ratings. I believe these to be straightforward, succinct and address the issues of the story itself without going off on unprofessional tangents.

The Boy Next Door
Sunrise in a Garden of Love and Evil
Act Like We're In Love
Hot Spanish Nights

Although the last one is a four rating, the review showcased again how issues prevent a good book from being even better.  So, as you can see, there are various ways to express things that didn't work for a reviewer.  Always remember to surround the negatives with positives and the review should always end on a upbeat note.
Any questions?


Stormy said...

Thanks for this post, Xer. What with the Charlie Sheen of authors that made viral waves today I think it's extra important for reviewers to know how to word negative issues in a review. Personally, I've read a couple of books that had my first reaction wanting to slam the review with all the reasons I didn't just love the book. Thanks to some talking down from a pro and reminders of what a 3 cherry means I was able to temper the negatives by pointing what I did enjoy over what I didn't. I have to think the author appreciates not having their hard work and confidence trampled on and beat down.

Terra said...

First I must say I love reading your blog. I have found a lot of useful information that have help me in writing reviews. Thank you so much for sharing.


Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Stormy!
I think it's a sad yet funny combination that Mr. Sheen is about to become a noun or adverb - "She went "Charlie Sheen". :-)

I find that short stories of twenty four pages and less are prone to three ratings. They are enjoyable to be sure but due to the length, the components I look for to be developed that would "mature" a story aren't possible. That's why I can't understand the negative connotations for three ratings - some books are just pure entertainement to while away some time and provide some much needed escape from the daily grind.

Sometimes I need fluff and escapism but add faulty editing issues and it doesn't take long for a solid three to be dragged down to a 2 1/2.

I still say writers of shorts have the most challenging stories to write because of it.

I've said in a prior post that reviewers think shorts are easy and they are - to read, not necessarily to write.

Knowing this, yeah, I try to be as upbeat as possible but don't shy away from saying what didn't work for me. Hopefully for the next book the author will take that into account - well - if he/she thinks it's valid. :-)

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Terra!
I'm glad you are finding my posts helpful. It's one of the main reasons I started it. I've never been able to find any resources for writing that pertain to reviewers.

There are a few out there that tell you the Do's and Don'ts, but not the how or the why, nor do they give examples.

If you ever have any questions that you find haven't been addressed here, Terra, let me know. I'm always learning and I enjoy helping others.

Happy writing!

Beth Caudill said...

While everyone dreams of getting that magic 5star review. I'm happy having at least a 3.

That tells me they liked it enough to finish. It was a nice story, but not something great.

Keep up the great reviews.

Xeranthemum said...

Beth, thank you for stopping by!

And thank you for understanding that a Three IS a good thing.

But you made me think. The ONLY thing I can figure about a three rating not being a positive is based on the review itself. If the review says three but the 'issues' make it sound like a 2 or 2 1/2 then that is tragic failing of the reviewer and/or the site's administrator(s).

That's another thing that I feel strongly about. The review must support the rating.

Hmmm, will have to check to see if I've touched on that or not in a post.

In any event, Beth, thank you for your comment and I most certainly hope and strive to continue with good reviews. If I ever turn in a dud, I know there's a wet noodle out there waiting for me. **VBG**

Anonymous said...

Thank-you, this was helpful to me, as well. I've studied this a little and it really takes finesse. But if you study, that can be learned. This isn't always easy, because it often means 'stepping out' of yourself to be objective and considerate at the same time as honest and true to your purpose as a reviewer. Your summary says it well in a nutshell!
I've found myself unconsciously resisting the 3 rating, and even avoiding doing too many short shorts because of it. Of course, I'd prefer to read the best quality I can, and the more I review the easier it gets to recognize those books.

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Carnation.
I'm glad you found value in my post.

For awhile there, I was sucked into the "3 is bad" frame of mind too, until I remembered what the definition was.

It's the summer read, the "just for fun" break, the , "I only want to kick back and not have any angst" kind of book.

It's nice to have a romance that is only that, and short stories usually target the romance, be it sexy and torrid or sweet and silly. Some do it better than others but on the whole, I like shorts for that reason.

As Cyndi Lauper said," Girls just wanna have fun!"