28 October 2013

The Art--and Courtesy--of Reviews

Reviews are a double-edged sword for any artist.  As the saying goes, everyone's a critic. Readers  are encouraged to talk about what they've read on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble--and rightly so. It's a handy thing when you're deciding whether to buy a book to see what others thought. Authors definitely love the glowing ones and abhor the dismal, true. But an ugly trend appears to be gaining ground in the book reviewing environment--other authors who delight in tearing a book to shreds. I call it Writers Who Rip.

I'm not sure why these people feel the need to exude such negativity in public. It's quite fair to say you did not like a book and give one or two reasons why. It's quite another thing altogether to use your Creative Writing 101 handbook and berate every adverb, character flaw, or locale description.

One possibility these writers may compose such nastiness is the "do unto others" principle: at one time, another writer ripped their work apart so they feel the need to do the same to someone else. We see that in history all the time. Cruelty begets cruelty until someone makes a concerted effort not to respond in kind.

I am not saying every review should be glowing five-stars. But one can state what they felt was a disappointment and move on as opposed to yammering about how terrible that character was or how the plot line was juvenile.

Which brings me to Spoilers. There is nothing more irritating than someone who spills the beans, whether it's the end of The Sixth Sense or listing everyone who dies in the Harry Potter books. What in the world makes it acceptable to reveal the "A-ha!" moment? Is it a raging need to feel superior? Or is it envy that someone else came up with a real shocker that you didn't see coming? If you're writing a review and feel the need to add "Spoiler Alert"--don't. Let me express it another way: just because you can does not mean you should.

Toastmasters and other speaking groups encourage critiques of each other a la the "Oreo Method": start with a positive, say what you found objectionable or less than perfect, and end with a final positive observation. It's something every writer who composes a review should keep in mind, whether critiquing a book, film, or artwork.

Fellow scribes, when reviewing another person's expression of creativity remember this: It is every bit as dear to them as yours is to you. Be fair but be kind.


  1. Great post Jude!! I fully agree. When I reviewed, I stuck to the book elements and why or why not they did or did not work for me. There is absolutly NO NEED to bash an author about something they put a great deal of work and time into. I may greatly dislike a book, but that doesn't mean I need to attack the author.

    One of my CP's calls it the hamburger method of critiqing. We have to sandwich the things we took exception to between 2 layers of good. Very good method of giving constructive feedback without damaging the writer's pysche.

  2. Thanks, LaTessa. I know I've learned things about my writing from constructive reviews. :-)