I usually practice the later. However, lately I noticed that this idea actually has few disadvantages:
1. One needs to be very focused for a stretch of time (which is difficult for me - I write only when time permit).
2. There are too many things to memorize: names, events, or even the plot - especially when one does not write the review right after finishing the book (in my case: always! :)) At times, I write a review months after reading; but mostly after 1-2 weeks).
So, lately I invented a certain method which enables me to write reviews without much difficulties, which I call: 6W1H. You might have been familiar with 5W1H; I borrowed that idea, but adding one more W. This 6W1H is only the preparation process; it helps me a lot while writing the actual reviews.
I divide the 6W1H process into two phases: Background and Analysis. And for the source, I usually use Wikipedia. Why not the book itself? Remember, I have finished the book some times before, and have been plunging into one or more books since, so at the time I'm ready to write the review, I only have limited memory of the book's contents. Hence, Wikipedia provides a good summary of the plot, list of characters, and stuffs. I still consult the book, though, when I need to pick some quotes (which I have dog-eared and marked before).
And so, here is the outline of my 6W1H preparation for review writing process:
- Complete name of main characters whom I would discuss in the review.
- Their relationships (son of A, B's best friend, etc).
No one like the idea of rummaging through the book again in the middle of writing review, just to make sure whether X is the eldest or second son of Lord Y, right?
- Title/rank/occupation (Duke of ..., a farmer, a mother, etc.)
- Age/appearances (30 y.o., a young man, pretty girl, etc.)
- Personality (reckless, prudish, cunning, etc.)
- Condition/weakness (wealthy, divorced, drunkard, etc.)
- Name of the country/village/city
- Name of the street/house/mansion, etc.
- Timeline of the story
- Real historical year/event
- Period of time (15 years after..., two days before...)
- Perpretator/person(s) involved
- The major conflict
- Why it happened? Why did he do that? What makes her do that?
- How did he solve the problem?
- How could she strive?
- What lesson we learn from it?
How it works
1. First I'd jot down on a notebook (journal), complete name of main characters involved in the story. Give some spaces between each character, about 4 or 5 rows (depend on your journal's size).
2. In the top right corner, add this list in small fonts:
- Then add in the blank spaces, some description about each character which you think the most important/related to the whole story (consult Wikipedia if you forget some details).
- Check whether the descriptions you have added for each character has covered all the 5W list. You may check or cross out the Ws when you're sure it's done. If there's a W you haven't included in the description, think if there's something you've missed. If not, just skip it, maybe it's not important. Or you can add later if it turns out to be so.
- Next, I'd work on the 6th W and the H. Do this under the character description section you've made before (the five Ws). Now, this is the harder part of 6W1H, and you need to think more critically (Wikipedia won't be able to help you on this :P).
To create a thorough review, I usually pick one topic which has struck me most or the most relevant for me, or most interested me during/after the reading. This topic can be varied for each reader, though you read the same book. But this is something that will make your review most stand out.
You might ask: What if I don't remember any strong point of the book? Well, there are 2 possibilities:
a). For some reasons you didn't relate to the book - maybe you don't like it?
b). You were distracted during the reading, to not noticing any strong point.
In either case, you might skip the WHY and HOW, and just write what you feel about the book (writing style, cover, characters, etc.) Or you might want to give the book another try, then apply the WHY and HOW properly to your second review.
But if you do find your topic, ask yourself, what is the root or cause of the conflict/problem/condition.
You find two equally important topics, and really want to discuss both? No problem, just work on two sets of WHY and HOW, then give them each subtitles. If you don't mind writing long reviews, that will be okay. I have practiced this on my review of The Sin of Abbé Mouret.
Have jotted down the root cause of your chosen topic? Let's move to the H:
Analyze some (or all) of these questions:
1. How does [the character] solve the conflict/problem?
2. How does [the character] strive from his/her condition?
3. What makes him/her triumphant in the end?
4. What should have he/she done (if failed)?
5. What did the writer try to convey?
6. Do I agree?
7. What lessons do I learn?
8. Does it happen to me? What have/will I do(ne) if I were in his/her place?
When you have worked all the 6W1H, your head will be full of ideas, you can't wait to write the review. And you will be surprised at how easy it is to write review now, as the words flow nicely. It's because you have boiled them with the 6W1H to shape your ideas, ready to be jotted down into a beautiful review!
See, writing review isn't that difficult, right? Or do you always find it easy? Do you have your own routines to write reviews? Do share! I am always excited to learn new things!