I’ve mentioned it before – I’m always fascinated by the behind-the-scenes of blogging. I know when, how, and where I write my own blog posts, but I’m aware that each blogger does these things slightly (or, indeed, very) differently. I’ve recently finished When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman, which I’m going to talk about a tiny amount, because my musing on it headed me off in a different direction – about how we structure blog posts. Yep, it’s going to be a meta-post, if you will (stolen joke alert: I’m so meta, even this acronym.)
How do you start? (Sorry, non-bloggers, these questions won’t mean much to you.) How do you structure your posts? I have realised that, increasingly, I start from one or two key quotations, noted in the book (in pencil, naturally) and one or two key bullet points, in my head. Without those (especially given the gap in time between reading and reviewing) I am rather lost.
But how do I go about finding those quotations? The short answer is, I don’t know. I think my blog reviews are a little more reliant on supportive quotations than many bloggers, but I know there are some of you who also quote a lot – how do you choose? Studying English literature, especially when at undergraduate level, I was well trained in the art of reading a novel without knowing how I would write about it – usually, then, without having a predetermined essay question – so I’d just be reading, say Fanny Burney’s Evelina and hoping to find a good essay topic in the midst of reading. (In Evelina‘s case, I wrote about laughter… did you know that she half-laughs and almost-laughs and thought-of-laughing a huge amount, after the embarrassing laughter scene at the ball, but doesn’t actually laugh again until she is engaged? Truedat.)
Gosh, I am easily sidetracked.
So, how do I (how do you) choose these excerpts? I tend to have a pencil at the ready, to note down any particularly amusing or poignant sections – or, preferably, a paragraph or two which seem to me to encapsulate the feel of the book. Which is quite a nebulous and ill-defined brief, but perhaps you do the same, and thus can understand? I certainly have almost no hope of finding a useful quotation once I’ve finished reading the book. Once I’ve got that, I can expand outwards – my summary and response of the book needs that central few examples to circle out from. If I didn’t make a note of the page number whilst I was reading, then… those are the posts which don’t have any excerpts.
Which brings me onto Sarah Winman’s When God Was A Rabbit (2011), which I read recently for book group. I quite liked it; I thought the writing was good and the structuring not very good. There was just far too much in it – a bit like a soap opera. I think Winman will either go on to write increasingly good novels, or she will stop now, having put everything she could think of into When God Was A Rabbit.
But the main reason I’m not going to write a full-length review of the novel is because I got to the end of it without having noted down any excerpts. There wasn’t a single passage which struck me as being especially noteworthy – for whatever reason. Of course, you could simply say that this makes Winman very consistent; there weren’t any pages I noted down for being awful, either. But it does make it more or less impossible for me to begin to structure a post about the book. Or, rather, it would end up like one of the reviews I wrote when I started my blog – very short and very hazy!
So, there you have it. If a novel doesn’t present two or three of these excerpts whilst I’m reading, I’m all lost at sea. How about you? Do you flick back for quotations after you’ve finished, or make notes as you go along? And are there any books you’ve just felt incapable of writing about – for different reasons than those discussed in relation to In Cold Blood last week! Just because you don’t know where to start, or how to frame it.
Gosh, Stuck-in-a-Book is just becoming a place where I discuss why I’m not reviewing books, isn’t it?!