Friday, January 13, 2012

This Is Not A Test- So Why Are You Asking Me Questions?

I like to be teased.
I like to be intrigued.
I like to have my interest piqued.
I like to read a review and get informed.

I don't like to be bombarded with questions I have no way of answering.
I don't like being asked so many of the darned things that I feel like I'm being tested instead of learning anything of value about the book I might want to read.

And that's the latest bugaboo. The question. The sentence that ends with a (?) aimed at getting a reader to wonder, to get interested and to want to know more. I believe the intent is to leave them dangling, curious and clamoring for what comes next.

Instead, I want to walk away.
Why? It's a great technique.

Yes, in moderation and in context.

Reviewing is an art. Like all artists we experiment with different mediums and techniques but for us, it's not oil paints vs. watercolors,or marble vs. wood, it's the written word.

Sometimes a bit too much of one color can overwhelm a painting and instead of a masterpiece it becomes a dartboard. If you chip off that one extra piece of the sculpture and more comes off than intended, the art is ruined. So too with the technique of teasing with a question. Use too many and it loses effect.

How is it done? How or when is it used? When should it not be used?

Good questions. How it is being used and in what way makes a huge difference on the effect it will have on a reader.

The answer to when it should NOT be used has partially been addressed before, believe it or not. The first part is my pet peeve, No Synopsis

Why do you think I'm bringing up my pet peeve, the evil synopsis? Because there are times a reviewer thinks that by writing a synopsis-style paragraph with a hook at the end, and in this case, it's the use of a question, they've made the reader interested in the story. And that might work - once. Maybe even twice.

When it doesn't work for certain is when the "review" isn't a review at all but a different style of a synopsis.

It would have been better if they'd just taken out a few sentences and wrote about their own observations about what works in the story because that is what readers are really searching for.

If the entire review has four or five paragraphs, and every one ends in a leading question but every one of those four or five paragraphs retells the blurb or narrates the progression of the story, then no matter how clever the question, the 'review' isn't giving a reader the information that makes a review, a review.

Warning: This next paragraph is harsh with a caveat.  It's only for those who review for sites that include the blurb from the book with the review.

Writing reviews like that is a waste of both a reader's and the reviewer's time. The review should be sent back for edits. Why? Because it's not a review. Asking leading questions after rehashing the blurb is not a review. Reciting narrative about what the book is about is not a review. Simple. There is no actual investment by the reviewer. Yes, it took time to write four or five paragraphs but there is nothing from the reviewer herself/himself in the review. There isn't anything in the way of personal opinion or observation about the contents. And the only thing that they contribute in their own words is the final paragraph that basically says, "I liked it."  It's copy. It's lazy. It's slothful.

Harsh enough? Perhaps not for those that have to edit that drivel.

What does a question that can hook a reader look like? Well, first, it's going to follow some information that comes from the reviewer's own influence. It's fluid, individual to the review and situation and is probably a question the reader will find value in the asking. It doesn't have to be clever, just real.

Ecstasy Untamed "...What is even better is the hint that another warrior is about to find true love and I knew it was coming. I knew it! This book confirmed it and it’s going to be so exciting. I’m sure it’s also going to be equally dark and challenging to read. The thing I’m almost afraid to ask Ms. Palmer is: “What dastardly conflict is she going to come up with to curl my hair this time?”

The Norse King's Daughter "...She comes across as a woman who knows what’s going on but even when she’s hit by the figurative wall of bricks, she remains inured from the thought of possible harm to her. She’s a king’s daughter, what could possibly happen?"

Queen of the Sylphs ..."
Speaking of which, will you think less of me if I say the ending made me cry? It was beautiful, passionate and sentimental. It was true to the story; it was emotionally powerful and humbling and it made everything that went on before have meaning and relevance. If I could, I would have wanted to give them all a group hug, but I bet one of the battlers would have growled at me."

Once Upon a Groom ..."I just wished it didn’t come across like a broken record for me. As for Jenny’s dad, he’s an idiot. I don’t care how hurt he was when Jenny’s mother died. His neglect doesn’t deserve the level of tolerance and forgiveness that the heroine allowed him. Why didn’t she ever get angry? Why did she wait until the point in the book where she finally, sort of, expressed her feelings? As far as I’m concerned, the author didn’t have her character go far enough."

In the Hay ..."My absolute favorite part in this whole book, when it comes to choosing something off of the heroine’s wish list, is the slip and slide. I adored how the author wrote that scene. It was zany, fun and totally off the wall. And, it was romantic and sweet and made me laugh. In fact that is something I did frequently throughout this story – laugh. And the cutest part about that scene? The hero wanted to do it again."

The Man With the Money ..."Jack is bored. See Jack perk up. Watch Jack think he’s getting his cake and eating it too. Enjoy the cake, in this case, Cara, the heroine, as it bites back. Marvel at how much Jack is clueless as to what it means to dream about a person when they aren’t with him. Poor Jack. He’s about to get a reality check and a mirror thrust into his face – and he doesn’t like what he sees. But what to do?"

After going through my own reviews for examples, I was stunned to see that I hardly ever use the technique. None truly matched the criteria of using a question as the last line on a paragraph as a hook. Using questions in a review certainly has a place, my examples clearly illustrated that.

What I need from you, visitors and fellow reviewers, are examples of a non-synopsis review that uses a question as the last line of the paragraph with the purpose of 'hooking' a reader's interest. Obviously, I can't provide that. I wonder what that says about me?


Honeysuckle said...

Hey Xer, here is one that was published today that I started with a question. I think the difference is I didn't simply ask a question, I gave an answer as well.

I did it again on my review for Hank Edward's Plus Ones but again, I didn't leave the question hanging.

Looking back over my reviews for examples I can't say that I've never used the "question technique" wrong but I would hope I'm more often right than wrong. Since we're writing reviews for people who have most likely not read the book, I can see how asking too many questions would be a issue.

Xeranthemum said...

Thanks for the links and the comment, Honeysuckle.

I don't think you used it wrong - you didn't use it as a crutch to justify synopsis.

You wrote a REVIEW. Yay!