How to write a book report well

Although you may not think about it at the moment, writing a book report can be very enjoyable. Think about it, first of all you get to read a great book and then you get to talk about something that you have enjoyed. If you view your task in this way and follow the ideas in this article, you will soon learn how to write a book report and also enjoy it. In this article you will learn:

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The most common mistake that is made when writing about the plot in a book report is simply reiterating the storyline. This will not get you the best grades. When you write about the plot, you need to critically analyse it. This means that you are searching for two ways to write about the story. The first way is to look for reasons why you like the story. One of the best ways to measure a book’s success is if it reaches truthfulness. This doesn’t mean that you believe in Hobbits; it means that while you were reading the book, you were truly engaged with the story and even if it was about Hobbits, it echoed the human experience. If you could not find any holes in what happened in the plotline, then you can write about that in a critical manner. Writing in a critical manner does not have to be negative; it can also be positive.

The second way to critically comment on a novel is to point out the flaws in the storyline. Often students choose to always write book reports on books that they love. Although this can be enjoyable, it is actually great fun to write about a book that you have loathed. The main point to remember here though is that you can’t simply state that you hated it, you have to have good evidence from the text that it is a flawed piece. Remember, just because books are deemed classics doesn’t mean that they are all perfect pieces of writing. There are many flaws to be found in the plotlines of lots of books, you simply need to view them with a critical eye. For instance, if after reading William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, you didn’t believe that the school boys would have survived both the plane wreckage and living on a desert island without adults and all the infighting, providing you can find evidence to back up your assertions, you could put that in your report.

For many readers, it is the characters that truly make the books. So how do we write about them in a book report? Well, an important fact to remember when writing about characters is that writers are usually offering the reader a clue about their characters with every item that they state about the character. For instance, if a colour is used, it can depict something about the character wearing that colour. For instance, if we read Little Red Riding Hood which is a children’s fairy story, the red is flagging up the fact that blood will be spilt. Okay, they play with our childish heads in this one because to cause tension in the tale, the reader is led to believe that it is the wearer of the cloak that will come undone. However, because it is a story and good usually overcomes evil, it is the wolf that loses the blood in the end. You could write:

Using the colour red for the main character’s name expertly causes reader expectation and also uses it to push the plot along too.”

However, it is important to understand that when using something as simple as the colour red to write about characterization, you have to be aware that the meaning can change due to context. For instance, if you were writing a book report on Margaret Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, you could write again about the Handmaids wearing red but it would mean something else altogether. In this instance, even though it is still depicting blood, it is not blood as in death but blood as in life and fertility. In other words, you could write:

Atwood slyly dresses the Handmaids in red to depict that they are used predominantly to produce children.”

Can you see how inserting the adverb slyly into the sentence insinuates that Atwood is positively manipulating the relationship between reader and text? It only takes one word to add critical views to an analytical sentence.

Alternatively, if the colour red is worn by a female character in a 19thcentury text, it could be depicting something different again. Often, if a female character wore a red dress it usually meant that she was a fallen woman or a prostitute. Hence, when writing about clothing for characterization, there are two important things to remember:

  • Clothing often symbolizes some essence of the character. This can either be foreshadowing what might happen to the character; how the role of the character in the society is depicted in the book or how society views the character.
  • The interpretation of the clothing symbolism has to be set in context with the text.

Setting is an often overlooked aspect of a book report. It usually encompasses both the location and the period of time that the story takes place. Truly good novelists use setting as a springboard to echo characterisation, plot and theme. This is good news for the writer of a book report because there is much that can be used here. To explore this further let’s think about a novel that uses the setting so much as an echo of all that is going on that the setting’s name is in the title – Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights is set in the early nineteenth century in West Yorkshire against a backdrop of wild moorland. There are two main houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Emily Bronte uses both properties as if they are characters in their own rights. If writers use clothing to depict the characterisation of the wearers, then it cannot be overlooked that they also use setting in the same manner. Many critics have suggested that Bronte uses the two properties to depict Hell and Heaven.

Wuthering Heights is badly furnished with no carpets, a huge furnace of a fire, illiterate folks and wild dogs. In other words, it is echoing the character of Heathcliff with his hellish ways and how he treats people. Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, has carpets, lights and gentle mannered folks living there. It is probably no coincidence that Edgar Linton looks and acts like an angel. If you decided to write about setting in a book report, you might write:

When Isabella asks whether Heathcliff is a mad man or a devil, Bronte has already sublimely supplied the answer by placing him in on a windswept moor in a dark farmhouse that has a fire like a furnace and wild dogs that snap and bite. Using Wuthering Heights to echo Heathcliff’s nature cleverly leaves the reader in no doubt that Heathcliff is indeed a living devil. Cleverly intertwining both character and setting subtly strengthens the theme of heaven and hell without interfering in the reader’s atmospheric experience.

Can you see how textual information is intertwined with analysis and criticism without actually saying ‘yes, I like it.’

Themes are the overriding huge idea that brings the text together as a whole. Sometimes, it is the theme of the book which makes us really care about it. This is beneficial to anyone writing a book report because we always engage better with a subject that we care about. To explain further, let’s use an example. If we take ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, we can see that the title embraces the theme of social advancement. All the way through the novel, the reader experiences Pip trying to advance himself while at the same experiencing the class system in Victorian England. It is important, therefore, when writing about theme in a book report to try to understand how theme is interwoven with both the plot and the characterisation. If you can get this clear in your mind before you start writing, you will find it easier to get your words down.

When you are writing about theme for a book report, it is also valuable if you evaluate the use of theme in context with the rest of the novel. For instance, ‘Great Expectations’ is set in Post Industrial Revolution Victorian Britain. This was a time when the middle class mill owners rose up through the ranks of society and took their place as new money. He does not include aristocratic families with their old money. Can you see how this embraces the theme of social advancement? Context can also be written about in conjunction with theme.

Before you start to write your book report, you should make a list of quotations of text that you can use as evidence to back up your argument. This is an essential part of your report. You also need to do this when writing about plot, character and setting. If you view the text as your evidence to everything that you write, then you will find it easier to compose.

Don’t just sit down and write your report out at once if it is making you stressed. Instead break it up into sections. To make it easier for you, here is a checklist.

  • Decide which book you are going to write about.
  • Read it again and make notes while you read – pay attention to what interests you the most.
  • Make a plan to decide what you want to add into your report. Break it up into an introduction, a main body consisting of three or four points with textual evidence to back it up and a conclusion.
  • Write a first draft.
  • Redraft it to tighten it up.
  • Check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will know how to write a book report. However, if you are not sure that you can do it or you are short of time, you may need some help. We offer a full range of writing services that will take the pressure off you so why don’t you get in touch with us and see what we can do for you. The service is fully confidential so no-one will be aware that you have used us. Our services include:

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