Friday, June 17, 2011

The Art of the Review: The Meat of It

Well now that you have your direction in reviewing your product of choice, you have to let yourself and the material shine.  Part of discussing cast, characters, or music is a bit of marketing, indeed.  Here is where you spin the critical points of your analysis and sell why you feel the way you do about the pieces of your material and how they affect the whole.  However, don’t forget to let your honesty and evidence show through.  You can gush about how much you love love loved it! But you don’t want to sound like someone’s agent or a publisher’s pet, either.  Say how you feel and let the reader know you mean it. Just like fiction, there’s nothing worse than something that comes across too forced or at the worst, fake.

Cast, Characters, Vocals

For a film or television report, tell us something about the major actors involved. Do they fit the role of the character and create a convincing, realistic portrayal?  In a book, if the character is out of place or underdeveloped, say so.  Whom did you like? Whom did you dislike? Be sure to give thoughtful reasons as to why you like or dislike a persona. ‘Sucked’ doesn’t cut it in a professional review.  If there are many players, how is the chemistry or ensemble as a whole?  When discussing music, tell us how the vocals and music sounds. Does the material fit the vocalist’s range-if someone in the band isn’t up to snuff, tell us why.  Try and group similar players or who you liked or didn’t like together in two or three paragraphs. You don’t need to be an actor to talk of performance or play instruments to know music.  You are a customer relating your response and what you have to say is of value to another customer.  But if you are an expert or have a special insight, by all means, share your specialties and let your voice standout.

The Action, Effects, Horror, and All the Extras

If a show has fine stories and characters but the set design, costumes, visuals, or graphics stink, tell the audience why.  Reviewing means mentioning everything that struck you in your product experience- where one piece may persuade a reader another part may put off the audience.  Well balanced and objective applies just as much to describing everything here as it does in presenting a non-one-sided report. Is the picture dated, low-budget? Do the bad effects hinder the finer points of the material? How are these seemingly negative aspects potentially a good thing? If there’s something iffy about a book-the format or the cover design, again share how this affects the joy of the subject.  If we’re talking about science fiction, fantasy, action, adventure, or horror- say if the product lives up to the CGI, car chases, history, scares, and gore expected of its genre.  Was the comedy funny? Was something so bad that it wasn’t meant to be funny, but was just that bad?  In our efforts to please or appease sometimes we forget the most simple thing that could make or break material- what if that romantic comedy had no romance nor laughter? 

The Video, Medium, and the Bads

If your disc skipped, or if the DVD has a lot of extra worthwhile features, mention these good or bad. Frankly, are the bells and whistles worth the price of admission?  If there’s some sort of good or ill packaging or any other issues or specialties, let the consumer know.  If the material is currently available, provide the possible prices or stores and online options.  You can write something of merit and depth, but the instant yay, nay, where to buy should always be presented.  Also for the fiction writer, remember your audience.  If you have established a family friendly review blog, be sure and mention any appropriate or inappropriate material.  If a film is PG-13, mention what is too mature for children.  If you have a mature following, provide all the adult merits. If a song has some derogatory lyrics or an album has a warning on it, concur if this is a warranted warning or not. 

Don’t be afraid either to say if any language or literature offended you, either.  If you can’t finish analyzing material because it is that bad or inappropriate, your time and effort have not been wasted.  Never think any opinion you have to offer is undervalued.  Even today where everyone and their grandma can have a blog or post a social quip every fifteen minutes, by remaining true to yourself, your product, and your thoughts on the matter, you can write an article of substance.  Don’t get dejected if there aren’t many comments or hits or tweets and whatnot and all that relaying your work.  Write with an audience in mind- Who would want to read this book?- but make your statements first and foremost true to your feeling.  If you write quality material that accurately reviews the product, readers and thankful informed consumed will follow. 

Now, here’s a link to a somewhat negative review I wrote several years ago for a book called Fantasy and Your Family.

Though of an intriguing subject matter, the execution here was faulty.  The uneven representations of the author’s pros and cons and referenced materials was so askew that the evidence was compromised at best and off putting at worst.  As the author here- whether in articles, essays, or fiction- we should keep some of these mistakes in mind.  Give it a go, be realistic about the goods and bads of your material, and say what you have to say!  Even if you think no one is reading your work- take heart in that you are writing a damn fine essay!


Heather Haven said...

Wonderful stuff, Kristin. Easy to follow and well put. There is certainly an art to it! Thanks for sharing.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Heather! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment.

Actually, I first thought of breaking down the review process when my tween niece was interested in writing and I spelled out a few things for her. A lot of the same principles apply. Say what you mean, no fear!