Updated: Aug 18
In preparation for writing this post, I purposely tried to look up a less loved fantasy novel. Essentially, I went onto Amazon.com, typed in “fantasy novel” and scrolled down, searching for something with a lower rating.
My purpose was to find bad reviews. Because, as I’ve said before, you can learn a lot about how not to write by other people’s mistakes.
That’s not a call to shame anyone for their mistakes. Everyone makes some, after all. And thinking otherwise is arrogant to the point of being destructive.
Besides, to some degree – with a stress on the word “some” – the concept of bad writing is subjective.
Take the fantasy novel I finally stopped on (mainly because I got bored of looking after 60 seconds). It actually has a relatively high rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars. The top positive review as of August 4, 2020, at 8:30 was by BlessedWithJamHands, who wrote:
I read this in one weekend. I love the legend of Arthur and Excalibur. This is a fresh interpretation. It introduces familiar characters in a new and exciting way…
But not everyone agreed.
The top critical review was by Particular, who wrote:
If you liked The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel José Older, The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, anything by Hayao Miyazaki, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, then you may regret having spent your time reading [this book].
Apparently, this person couldn’t be bothered to explain why the fantasy novel in question deserved such one-starred contempt. But there it was nonetheless.
Other reviewers went into far greater depth, of course. (And no, I’m not saying what book it is.) But their responses were far too long to include here.
All in all, 57% of reviewers gave it five stars, 21% gave it four and 12% rated it at three. The remaining 10% were evenly split between one and two.
So who do you believe? The majority? Or the mavericks?
Personally, after reading a few of the more descriptive two-starred commentaries, I’m guessing I would side with them.
But even so, would my minority opinion matter when a solid 78% of the 129 readers/reviewers thought it was good or great? And another 12% considered it “fine enough”?
The answer is really rather complex.
For obvious reasons, I’m rather attached to my opinions. I’m sure you are too. So I’m not going to say they don’t matter at all, regardless of whether they’re in the minority or majority.
But I will say that my taste might not be yours. And yours might not be mine.
As this week’s creative writing series says, everyone has their biases.
To some degree, that’s okay. And, to a much, much, much, much greater degree, that should be expected.
As such, you should never expect to please everyone. You can only work hard to engage everyone by:
Varying your sentence structure appropriately to create different reader reactions in the same way you choose your words
Embracing creativity without obsessing over originality
Working within reality enough that readers can relate to what you’re writing about.
We’ll go into further depth discussing each one of those points in future blogs. But for now, those are three basics to up your star count.
After that, it’s oftentimes just up to personal taste.