|Artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.|
Hand with heart from the interior
decorations for Thaliad.
- Go on trust. Always assume that the writer might actually know what he/she is doing. Try and figure out what he/she is doing if it doesn't fit your ideas of what a book should be. Maybe the book's not working, and that's why it doesn't fit. But maybe the book is good but differs from your expectations.
- Don't pay any attention to the label or genre that the publisher chooses. Remember that labels are for marketing. A label can be misleading, as it may well be incorrect or reductive. Many books are complex things, not happy with a label. Instead of relying on genre conventions for an idea of what a book should be, figure out what the book is on your own. Describe what it is--not the plot, but what it is, what it cares about, what terrain is important to the book and its characters, what purposes and vision drive its events and structure.
- Think about shape. All made things have a shape.
- Each novel is its own world, with its own laws. It may resemble our world closely. Or not. You should be able to detect whether it fulfills its own promises, obeys its own laws.
- Think about what propels the story forward. Is it causality, or something else?
- Ignore the age label on the book, if there is one. It, too, may be incorrect, or the book may be what is often labeled as a crossover, and appeal to various ages.
- Does the book have energy? Is it alive? Are the characters alive?
- Does the book feel like a clone, or is it a unique individual? How so?
- Does the writer appear to take pleasure in words and sound?
- Read some of the book aloud--mandatory! Get a feel for how the author writes; hear it in your own voice. You'll know more about sound and style and the writer's ear (tin or golden) by reading one page aloud than by reading a whole book to yourself. (This one is, of course, essential for collections of poetry.)
- Rereading is the most telling reading. Even a little rereading is helpful.