Saturday, December 27, 2008

Different Ways to Review Books

You've already been asked to review books on this blog, and the assumption is that you already know how to review books, whether you learned the skill in high school or on the job. However, there are actually techniques to review books, and there are several questions that you can ask yourself as you are reading. When you answer these questions, you can then start writing a book review that is filled with criticism, not a simple relaying of the story that you read.

Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself while reading. If you can, print them out and write your answers down as you read:

1. AUTHOR AND TONE: Who is the author, and what is his or her tone? Does it fit the book's plot and theme?

2. DIALOGUE: How well-crafted is the dialogue? Do characters have their own tones, or does everyone sound alike? Is the dialogue well written, or do conversations sound stilted? Is the language that the characters use appropriate to the setting, plot, and themes of the book?

3. PLOT: How plausible is the plot? Does the story flow well, or is it forced? Are there any loopholes?

4. SETTING: Could this story have been set in any other time and place, and would it still have turned out the same? How unique is the story to the setting?

5. CHARACTERS: How well formed are the characters? Do all the characters act alike? Are they moving the plot along, or are they being moved, helplessly, by the plot? Who stands out? Who doesn't?

6. EMOTIONS: Did the book excite you, move you, make you want to read more, make you sad that it all ended? Or was the book dragging, ordinary, unable to elicit any emotions, and one that you could not wait to put down?

7. IMPROVEMENTS: How would you have made the book better?

8. WRITING: What are the book's high moments? What are the book's low moments? (Here, “high” and “low” mean periods of great writing and periods of poor writing, respectively. They do not refer to exciting or dragging parts of the book) How well-edited is the book in terms of grammar, punctuation, and syntax?

9. RECOMMENDATIONS: Would you recommend this book to other readers? What kinds of readers will like this book? What kinds of readers will not?

10. OVERALL CRITIQUE: Did you like the book? Why or why not?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Different Kind of Review: The E-Book

When asked about their opinion on e-books, some people will say that they prefer holding a “real” book in their hands, because it allows them to smell the paper, to feel a book’s spine, and to turn real pages. An e-book, on the other hand, needs clicks and constant adjustment of a window on one’s computer screen; e-books are also tiring to read because you have to stare at a computer screen for a long time. Although e-books have been formatted to fit mobile phones and other smaller, less clumsy devices, they still haven’t completely eclipsed real books in popularity.

Now, it’s your turn to see the difference. There are many places for you to download e-books online, and for free. You can transfer them to your phone, to an e-book reader, or to your computer. You can read the e-book anywhere, and you need to review it; however, there is one more thing you need to do. You need to review your e-book experience as well.

How did you like reading an electronic copy of a book? Did it affect how you enjoyed the book? If you like, you can read the e-book version of a book that you’ve already read in hard copy format. How different is your reading of the book this time? Will you read an e-book again?

Although e-books don’t look like they’re replacing hard copy format books anytime soon, they still allow a lot of readers the chance to get their favorites without having to go to the bookstore. Is there really a difference between reading a soft copy and perusing a hard copy? this Christmas, you'll be the judge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Goo on Some Characters

Here are four possible characters for a story:

Adam Michael Anita Maria

Now, here are four characteristics that these characters might have:

insane caring pathetic reserved

Let's play goo!

You need to write descriptive essays that detail the backgrounds of these four characters. In fact, you need to write 16 essays, matching each character with each possible characteristic. For instance, what made Adam insane? In another scenario, what made Adam caring? In yet another scenario, what made Adam pathetic? The same goes for all the characters: talk about their lives and what made them assume a particular characteristic, and why they turned out a certain way.

Your essays must be no more than 150 words each. You need to be concise and yet descriptive at the same time. When you are done, pick your best essay and post it in the Comments section.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?

It's time to get to know yourself again! Fill in the blanks in the questionnaire below. See how you function as a person: who do you associate with? Who do you talk to? How well do you interact with people? Moreover: how creative are you in expressing your emotions?

The best writers don't just write: they know. Are you wise and observant enough, especially of yourself?

1. When I get exasperated with someone, I ___________.

2. If someone hurts me, I think ____________.

3. Once, ___________ said something hurtful, so I responded with __________ and I decided that I should _____________.

4. If someone breaks your heart once, you ___________; if that person breaks your heart again, then __________.

5. I believe ___________ is impossible if you love someone; __________ is impossible if you hate someone; and ____________ is impossible if you just don't care.

6. The saddest thing about loving someone is _____________; the nicest thing is ___________.

7. I wish the person that I love would just __________, because I am sick of him/her being so _________ when they should be _____________.

8. I know that things will go wrong if I see that ____________, and my way of responding to this “omen” is to ___________.

9. I don't understand why ___________ is such a __________ when he/she could very well be _________ and not hurt me.

10. It's sad to see _____________ doing so little with his/her life, since he/she can really be a good _________.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Throw it Into the Fire and Dan Brown it on Each Side

If you’ve been living under a rock, then you will have no clue what The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons are, or much less, who Dan Brown is. The popular press has turned Brown into a superstar authors whose novels can easily be turned into movies. But on their own, and as books, how good are the works of Dan Brown?

This is your chance to critically review popular books, and your chance to critique a book above and beyond its ability to stay on top of the best-sellers’ list. This doesn’t mean that you have to rip the book to shreds. It only means that you have to read without being afraid of critics and Hollywood worshippers.

Read each Dan Brown book and scrutinize everything, from grammar and syntax, to plot and character development. Which characters stand out? Which need to be developed better? How well-developed is the plot? What are the loopholes? How could the books have been improved? Why are they so popular? By answering these questions, you can get your finger on the pulse of the reading masses, and you can learn an important lesson: not everything that sells is perfect.

You are not required to review every Dan Brown book; as of late 2009, you will have 5 to choose from. Pick one and read like a pro. You may end up encouraged to write your own bestseller when you’re done.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Post-NaNo: Ways to Celebrate

National Novel Writing Month has already come to a close, and you’re all ready to party! Set that novel aside. Put your pen down. Stash your sheets away. Save that file and hide it for a few months. You need to step away from your work.

Stepping away from your work will allow you some space to think. While you’re out of the novel-writing universe, you are offering your brain a chance to think things over, to meditate on how good (or bad) your novel is, and to find new ideas that can enrich your masterpiece. When you finally look at your novel again (hopefully at least a month after you’ve set it aside) you might find things that you want to change, and you could edit out anything that sounds like it came up from the Black Lagoon of Bad Writing.

While you’re stepping away, here are a few ways that you can celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo:

* Sleep. This applies especially to anyone who stayed up all November and slept for an hour each day if only to get an additional 1000 words into the daily quota.
* Watch a brainless movie. Look for something that doesn’t require brain power, but that you can still enjoy without you getting irritated by the stupidity of the entire thing.
* Take a walk alone (or with a friend, if you decided to isolate yourself in your attic during the entire November).
* Talk to people. Remember, you write better when you can tell your stories better – and when you have believable characters who talk to readers and to each other. When you start producing characters who sound like they read their words off a badly-written script (you can tell when you start cringing at your own writing), then you need to get out and talk to people.
* Do menial work. Clean your house. Do some gardening. Clean out your closet. Do anything that will tidy your life and clear the clutter around you. This can miraculously clear out the clutter in your brain, too, sometimes. You might even get a great idea while turning the soil over in your backyard, or while you are emptying your pantry.
* Dance. Exercise. Take care of your body. Was NaNoWriMo the month of sitting down and typing? Let your muscles get some oxygen now!
* Eat. Eat well. And drink lots of fluids. This should apply to every single month in the year: take care of yourself and your brain will never fail you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You're the Scholar Now!

It's time for another search, and you're about to get a scholarly plot! Let's get acquainted with Google Scholar. Through Google Scholar, you can get access to journal articles that can help you read more on research done in different fields, whether it be molecular biology or political science. In this case, you need to use Google Scholar to get your story started. Follow the steps below:

1.Visit Google Scholar at

2.Type in your first name, followed by your favorite subject in school

3.Click on the very first link that appears. Read the title of the document.

4.Turn that title into the title of your short story – but DO NOT READ the entire document. If it so happens that you have no access to the journal article (not all journals will be free), then just try to get the title of the article. If it's a book chapter, use the title of that book chapter, whatever the title is (if all you see is the chapter number, you may need to use the first sentence of the chapter instead).

You have only a thousand words or less for your story. You need to keep the title of the journal article. When you are done, post your masterpiece in the Comments section, or post a link to your work.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Last Sentence for NaNo (Pardon the Delay!)

True, NaNoWriMo is long gone, and novel editing is about to come. But you can still add your ending, over and above the 50,000+ words that you already have. Or you could start work on your next novel! Try out this last sentence and work your story around it for some finger+brain exercise.

"She never looked back."

Write a novel, short story, or book series. Just use that last sentence to fuel your story. Good luck!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Taking Time Off from NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month has just come and gone. If you joined in this year's contest, then you may have won yourself the big prize of Personal Fulfillment for Having Finished a 50,000 Word (Or More) Novel in Less than a Month. If you didn't win, don't fret: you can still continue your novel. At least you have a few words written down, and that's always the start of something!

Whether you won this year or not; and whether you joined this year or not, here are a few tips that you may want to take into account when you've finished your writing spree. These tips are equally, and even more, important when you have finished writing the first draft of your novel.

1. Do not be afraid to step away. Your novel is your friend. It's your baby. It's the pet that you've cared for and lost sleep over. But remember: you lose people when you smother them; your baby won't grow up properly if you're keeping too tight a watch on it; and your pet will be spoiled if you aren't giving it enough space. Stepping away will give you a chance to later see your novel from the outside, looking in. You'll be able to see inconsistencies in your narrative and characters, and you could edit your work better.

2. Engage in work that is routine or repetitive. Mow your lawn. Clean out your closet. Crochet or sew something. Keep a notebook handy, though: because repetitive or routine tasks relax your brain, you can sometimes get ideas about your novel at the most unexpected times.

3. Rest your eyes. Stay away from your PC as much as you can. If you won NaNoWriMo this year, chances are, your eyes are still smarting from the hours you've spent in front of your computer!