One thing I’ve VERY much learned as a graduate student in literature is that I have read and will read tons of books that I don’t like much. Sometimes, these books are just simply BAD.
The pacing is bad. The story is convoluted and difficult to follow. Characters are wooden or don’t remain true to themselves. Certain words and phrases are repeated all the time.
These are all signs of bad writing, in my mind, when they apply to a text that has been published within the last ten or twenty years. Some of the books I work with professionally are really old–written centuries ago–and I feel strange judging them as “bad” when artistic standards were so different back then.
However, there are certain negative things I could say about a book that imply it was not to my taste, but not that the novel was poorly written, incohesive, or poorly edited. Before you speak (or write) badly about someone’s work, remember that you have every right to say the following, but that statements like these can be more matters of personal opinion than a critique of artistic merit. Be descriptive when making the following statements about a book, so that those on the receiving end of your written (or verbal) review can better judge how you’re reacting.
- IT WAS SO BORING! Why? Was the subject matter something that doesn’t interest you? Was the book literary fiction, and that’s not your thing? That book might still be interesting to someone else. On the other hand, is the pacing far too slow? Does it feel like the writer’s really trying to draw you in, but the characters, say, are too ill-conceived and poorly described to make you care about them? That’s a big difference!
- IT WAS SO WEIRD! SO MANY CRAZY THINGS HAPPENED. Does this mean the book is poorly constructed? Does the writer not properly prepare you for shifts/progressions in the plot? Do characters contradict the presented images of who they are, with no given or no believable explanation for the changes? Or was it simply a sci-fi time-travel novel, when you’re more of a realist? What matters here is whether the story is cohesive as a unit, in and of itself. If it is, then it’s not necessarily poorly written if you found some things odd about it. It just might not be to your taste. Certain tones and certain genres allow for the out-of-the-ordinary to occur.
- I HATED THE ENDING. Maybe you wanted a happily ever after, for instance, and didn’t get it. Well, you’re certainly entitled to have wished for the book to end differently. Ask yourself, though: Was I prepared for the ending I received? Does it make sense given the way the story progressed from the beginning to the middle and beyond? Can I understand a reason the plot played out the way it did, even though it wasn’t my first choice? Did the author realize I might have preferred another ending, and take steps to give my closure? If the answers to these questions is “Yes,” maybe consider saying, “It wasn’t for me,” something that shows your reaction is personal, instead of something like “It was horrible” or “It’s a total waste of time.”
It’s one thing to dislike a book (or movie, or tv show, or work of art). Everyone has a right to their feelings and a right to express them. But please do consider: just because you disliked something doesn’t mean others will, and it doesn’t mean the product is necessarily flawed. When giving a negative critique, be as specific and as clear as possible about WHY you didn’t like it. Not only will that help direct people who would enjoy a good novel toward it (and those who wouldn’t away from it), but it will also provide wonderful constructive criticism for someone who needs to vastly improve their writing, if delivered respectfully–and perhaps privately.