Review Guidelines

Review Layout

Each review is written as a stand alone, with an opening outline to establish the premise, followed by a careful evaluation of the story, focusing on what seems particularly striking about the story. The analysis is intentionally vague, to provide a sense of what the story’s strengths and weaknesses are, without citing specifics, leaving audiences free to be surprised.

Along the bottom are 5 keypoints, using +/- to designate strengths and weaknesses, while * represent characteristics that could be either, depending on the audience.

A Quick Look at Ranks

Last is a rank, ranging from .5/5 to 5/5.
4 and above I recommend in general.
3 and above I recommend to fans of the genre.
2 and above I recommend to audiences looking for something specific, i.e. a story that focuses on life at sea, political intrigue, or social misunderstandings.
Below 2, I don’t recommend.

Most stories start as a 2.5, which is a commercially successful story that is a fun read, but lacks innovation. When reviewing I try to balance my own personal preferences with a story’s broad appeal.
In general I tend to rank stories approximately .75 lower than most reviews.

Ranks In Depth


1. The plot is repetitive or incoherent, making the meaning obvious or impossible to discern.
2. The ideas are vague, garbled, and/or contradictory, leaving audiences confused.
3. The characters either lack complexity or serve only to advance the plot.
4. The writing is bland, with stinted vocabulary and repetitive sentence structure.
*. The story lacks coherence. It fails to engage the audience and becomes a chore to read.


1. The plot is too simple. It needs additional steps, setbacks, or complications.
2. The ideas are incomplete and/or vague.
3. The characters have no personality or role beyond advancing the plot.
4. The narrative style is too repetitive.
*. A single aspect of the story may show potential, but as a whole the story feels rudimentary and in need of further development. The story becomes a chore to complete.


1. The plot fails to create a strong sense of meaning. Events simply unfold.
2. The ideas expressed leave no room for debate.
3. The characters are defined by a single trait, lacking any complexity.
4. The writing is dominated by bland language that quickly becomes a chore to read.
*. The story may contain rudimentary virtues, but they are overwhelmed by glaring weaknesses. The story becomes a chore to complete.


1. The plot is an awkward attempt at a familiar pattern.
2. The ideas are vague and poorly executed.
3. The characters are defined by a few key characteristics, but lack depth and complexity.
4. Weak and repetitive writing styles undermine the tone and/or meaning of the story.
*. The story fails to create a rich experience for its audience. The intentions may be clear to some, but understanding the story is far from effortless.


1. The plot is predictable, sometimes awkward, sometimes engaging.
2. Ideas are loosely expressed by the narrative, but fail to provoke a dialogue with the audience.
3. The characters are dominated by a single trait, but show brief glimpses of more.
4. The writing style is a mix of familiar and experimental techniques. The familiar are well executed, but the experimental remain unsuccessful and awkward.
*. The story is fun, but bland. As a casual read it has some merit, but veterans of the genre will find plenty of room for improvement.


1. Subplots and details add a few unique touches to fun, but ultimately predictable plot.
2. The ideas being expressed are simply entertaining, reaffirming familiar beliefs.
3. The characters are three dimensional but familiar.
4. The narrative uses a straightforward writing style, easily understood.
*. The story is well crafted but lacks innovation, or, some aspects are innovative, while other aspects are severely lacking.


1. The plot is a unique take on a common pattern. Small changes help to disguise what’s familiar. Scenes use self-contained conflicts to organically advance the overall plot.
2. Ideas are familiar but diverse, raising questions that rarely have simple answers.
3. The characters are strong, with rich inner conflicts that help explore more diverse ideas.
4. The writing is straightforward and accessible, with some strong passages.
*. The story is strong. Audiences may be able to predict the outcome, but most are too engaged by the story to notice. Most aspects are well done but familiar, with a few innovations.

(Character, Setting, Plot, Idea-a 3.5 can have three out of the four strong, but one is lacking. For example, Harry Potter 1 has some strong, unique ideas, but after that those same ideas simply echo. In contrast, the Mistborn trilogy continues to present new strong ideas throughout each volume.)


1. A humble start grows into a unique narrative, with plenty of plot twists that more than earn a fitting ending.
2. The story raises familiar questions, but offers some unique answers.
3. Rich perspectives and complex relationships help characters create strong subplots.
4. The writing is artistic while maintaining clarity. Strong vocabulary and sentence structure.
*. Small innovations blend with familiar tropes to create a refreshing story.
(Characters, Setting, Plot, and Ideas are all strong and not generic.)


1. From the beginning the story begins planting questions and clues; guiding the audience through a series of epiphanies as the plot unfolds, culminating in the denouement, when everything suddenly makes sense.
2. Familiar ideas are approached from a unique perspective, presenting readers with unique questions, and provocative answers.
3. The characters actively embody the ideas and questions threaded throughout the story.
4. The writing subtly reinforces the other aspects of the story. Sentence structure, length, and vocabulary combine to create an almost musical rhythm.
*. The story turns the familiar on its head, and it works.


These stories simply leave me in awe. Every aspect is strong and everything fits together. I wouldn’t change a thing.