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Writing a fiction or non-fiction review

If you have ever wondered what you should take to the beach for a relaxing read, then you know the power of a good book review. If you have ever looked for a resource on honing your sales skills or developing your stock market acumen, then, again, you have likely perused reviews in your quest for the very best resource. A well-written review, whether of a work of fiction or nonfiction, can provide readers with a critical analysis and evaluation that aids in determining if it is likely to be of enjoyment or of use to them. Regardless of the genre of the work, a good review will describe, analyse, and evaluate, ultimately conveying the reviewer’s opinion of the text while providing supporting evidence from it. While there are many similarities between reviews of fiction and reviews of nonfiction, there are also a few important differences that need to be noted.

Important elements of a review

A Strong IntroductionIn a successful review, you must begin with a lead paragraph that grabs the reader’s attention and introduces the review’s subject. Often, a significant quotation that captures the essence of the work can be used to garner interest in the selected text and what you have to say about it. Your introduction should also provide the basic details of the review’s subject: title, author, publication date, genre, page count, etc. The best reviews then continue with a synopsis of the text and conclude the lead paragraphs with the reviewer’s overall impression of the text.

A Solid ConclusionIn many ways, your review’s conclusion is as important as its introduction. In your final paragraph, you need to offer  summative comments about your opinion of the author’s success or failure in the selected text. Readers of reviews are particularly interested in your parting shots. The conclusion is ultimately where you will endorse or reject the text, encouraging your readers to purchase it or bypass it in favour of something else. Remember two important rules as you compose your final paragraph:

  1. Be impartial in your judgment. If you decide to caution readers against the text, make sure you have clearly outlined your reasons for doing so. By the same token, glowing whitewashed praise is unconvincing as well.
  2. Make sure you are evaluating the book the author wrote and not the book you wish the author had written.

In addition to a strong introduction and a solid conclusion, reviews of both fiction and nonfiction rely on supportive body paragraphs to help establish your claims about the text under consideration. However, the focus of those body paragraphs depends on the genre about which you’re writing.

The focus of a non-fiction review

The primary focus of a nonfiction review is the clarity of the text’s communication. Nonfiction books are typically written to convey information to the reader. As you build your review of such a text, you need to note a variety of important items:

  • Evaluate the author’s intentions. What is the author’s primary purpose? What does he or she hope to communicate to the reader? Your estimation of the author’s success in this endeavour informs much of your final evaluation of the text’s worth.
  • Consider the text’s organization. Does it progress in a  logical fashion that is easily followed? Did you have any problems following the author’s train of thought?
  • Identify its place in the larger body of scholarship. How well does your selected text match up to others like it in the field? What are its shortcomings and limitations?
  • Take note of its support sections. Does the author provide substantive footnotes throughout? Is the index or the preface particularly useful? Features such as these contribute to a text’s overall clarity and effectiveness, and they can help it to stand out and earn favourable reviews when compared to similar nonfiction texts.

The focus of a fiction review

The primary focus of a fiction review is the author’s skill in crafting a compelling story. The success of a novel or short story can be measured, in part, by how well the text draws the reader into the plot and the characters. When writing a fiction review, you will need to answer the following questions:

  • What was the story about? Typically, the events in the story are referred to as the plot. Your discussion of it should include the main developments without revealing the end to the readers of your review. You will also want to provide evaluative commentary on the plot. Was it engaging? If so, explain what made it so. If not, share that in your review.
  • Who were the characters? Take some time to identify the main characters and what made them memorable. Were they believable? Did the author’s portrayal of them evoke sympathy? You may want to even identify your favourite character and explain why.
  • What is the author’s style like? You will want to talk about the author’s tone, use of language, and quality of imagery. Works of fiction with perfectly serviceable plots can be ruined by a clumsy use of language or tone-deaf writing. If you encounter this in your selected text, be sure to identify this shortcoming in your review.

Parting thoughts

A good review makes a positive contribution to the marketplace and to the world of letters. Your review doesn’t pretend to be the final authoritative word on a specific novel or work of nonfiction. Instead, it is your opportunity to share your thoughts and hopefully provide your audience with a little insight and guidance. Choose a favourite genre and become well versed in it; you will always find it easier to write about texts you enjoy.

Sample reviews

See an example of a fiction review (pdf).

See an example of a non-fiction review (pdf).

 

Back to Writing reviews.

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