Ratings and Reviews Part 3 - Results May Vary
For the last two weeks, I've posted about ratings and reviews, about how they work and how they don't and why I like to utilize both. Today I want to give a breakdown on exactly what goes into my ratings and reviews. This post turned out to be a little longer than I expected, so I'll talk about how I use other people's reviews next time.
For me, reviews come before ratings. Everything I think about a novel, which gets explained in the review, goes into figuring out what rating I give it. So I want to go through what I look at in a novel and how that translates into a number.
When I began blogging and doing reviews, I had a difficult time because my thoughts are sometimes hard to organize. But a while back I decided to focus on certain areas and now I structure my reviews using the following headings: Preface, Writing, Setting, Characters, Downside, Cool Stuff, and Verdict. At the end is when I give my rating out of ten.
I also use the Preface to mention where I heard about the book and if there is any controversy involved. Sometimes I go into a novel knowing most readers are divided on it and that sometimes causes me to read more critically, looking for the things mentioned by both sides to see who I end up agreeing with.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Not every reader likes every writing style, though I am pretty easy to please. But there are a few things that get me twitching. First is when the writing is not tight. Being repetitive, too much telling, using too many unnecessary words/sentences, etc., tend to get in the way of me enjoying a novel.
Second is when the writing is too pretty. An example of this for me is The Near Witch (by Victoria Schwab) vs. Pandemonium (by Lauren Oliver). I loved how the writing in the former flowed easily and I didn't take note of it other than it was pretty and I liked it. But in the latter, the writing was gorgeous with lots of details, but it was too much. I noticed it every time one of the passages had that fast-paced, lots of feelings and sensations thing going on and it distracted me and pulled me out of the story. (Funnily enough, I do not think Delirium, or any of Oliver's other books that I've read, had this issue.)
Third is when things don't match up. What I mean by that is the dialogue may not fit a character or the tone or style of the writing doesn't fit the content. This one doesn't happen that often but when it does, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
For me, setting is the most fluid facet of a story. If a novel has a good setting, great. If the setting is more of a character in the story, fantastic. If a mundane setting is brought to life by the writing, awesome. If the setting is hardly mentioned, so be it. My only issue comes in when the story is constructed to have an amazing setting (i.e. Ireland, Paris, Space, etc.) and it is not utilized to its fullest potential. That's when I get a little irked because I wonder why set the novel there if the story would have worked just as well anywhere else?
Characters are one of the most difficult aspects to pin down. I could love the traits of a character in one book, but then hate a character with the same traits in another book. It is totally subjective and relies heavily on what story is being told. I do tend to enjoy characters who are more action-oriented, witty, and clever. I like protagonists who are wholly good, but also enjoy the anti-hero if he/she is done well. For antagonists and villains, I like the really super ridiculously evil ones and the ones who are tortured or torn over what they are doing, especially if that kind of character started out on the side of good. Character growth is also important. Watching a character change over the course of a novel is really enjoyable and if there is no growth, it can make the whole story feel stagnant.
This is the part where I mention stuff that didn't work for me. This could literally be anything, but I try to keep it to stuff I haven't already mentioned in the above sections. A lot of times it is related to plot, pacing, or specific events in the story.
Cool stuff is the stuff that makes me happy, which usually involves laughter, smiling, bouncing, and squeeing. Often YA authors like to be clever and sneaky and sometimes I catch on and it makes me happy and this is where I talk about it. Or if it's too spoilery, I don't talk about and just tell you to read the darn book. ^_^
After evaluating these areas, I arrive at a Verdict. This is where I sum up my feelings on the story. I try to use a few words to describe what kind of story it is, what I liked, and what I didn't. This is also the part of my review that I post on Goodreads since it gives enough information for those who just want the basics while those who want more details can follow the link to the full review.
Last comes the rating. I basically go with my gut and adjust if I think it is needed. If I absolutely adored a book and it had nothing that I thought of as a Downside, automatic 10. Lots of problems but still readable usually ends up around a 5. I've never had a zero (not that I've reviewed officially anyway). When I figure this rating for Goodreads, I half my rating, and if it ends up with a .5, I usually round up, unless I don't think the book deserves the boost, which brings me to...
Now, there comes a time when my review and my rating for a book won't match up. This is due to some intangible qualities of a story, an "it" factor, that are hard to define or explain and are often personal and utterly subjective. How could this happen?
My best example is Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer). Despite all the flaws that Twilight had with characters, writing, plot, etc., it was still a book I thoroughly enjoyed. That is why, if I reviewed it on my blog today, I would give it an eight instead of the four it may technically deserve. Same goes for if a book was extremely well written, perfectly plotted, etc., etc., but I couldn't connect at all to the story or characters. It may deserve a 10 because it is technically good, but for me, I'd probably give it a 7.5 or an 8.
It is this essence of a story that makes it so difficult to rate and review because it means that sometimes a book will just speak to you in ways that others do not. You may not be able to adequately explain your feelings, and that's okay. When I do my review for Timepiece (by Myra McEntire), I'm going to be hard pressed to explain why totally screwed-up, mistake-making Kaleb is my favorite character. The real reason is because he reminds me of my husband, but to explain how would be difficult.
Is that something I should say in a review? Maybe; maybe not. I do think when you truly relate to something in a story, it's best to share some part of that if you can so that others not only get to know the book better, but they also get to know you a little better too. I always enjoy reviews more from people I know at least a little something about. It gives the review perspective and relates back to trusting certain people's reviews more than others.
So what do you think? Do you structure your reviews? Do your ratings and reviews always match? Do you have trouble describing the "it" factor for books you love? Let me know in the comments!
Don't forget to check back soon for the last post in this series, Part 4: Resourcing Reviews. Thanks for reading! ^_^
note: term definitions taken from dictionary.com and about.com