Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Write a Critique or Review 101 by Prof. Tuma

So, you’ve just read a book or watched a movie that you want to write a review for. How do you go about writing a good one that will actually be helpful to others as they decide whether or not to give said book or movie a try? How do you write a review that will NOT annoy me because it isn’t serving its purpose of giving an objective critique?
Pull out your pens and paper and begin taking notes. Prof. Tuma will tell you what you need to know.
To begin with, you need to understand the purpose of writing a review; the duty of the reviewer. It is more than simply stating your opinions: “I loved it”. “I hated it”. “It was blah”.
You ultimate goal as a reviewer is to figure out the author’s/director’s purpose as you read or watch. Was the goal to produce a light-hearted romantic comedy, or a dark, magical fantasy? Your review is then in turn an evaluation of how well you believe the author or director accomplished those goals.

What do you look to critique?

1. How well does the work incorporate/include the elements necessary for its specific genre?
For example, in a fiction novel, it is necessary to have a story or plot sequence. There needs to be an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Authors can deviate from this by adding several climaxes, or beginning with the resolution, but this basic structure is usually in place for a good story. As a reviewer, you need to evaluation how well each stage was developed. Was the beginning informative and successful at pulling you in? Was there appropriate rising tension before the climax occurred. Was the resolution satisfactory and realistic in terms of the story already set out and genre of the work? These are the kinds of questions you will answer in your review.
2. How enjoyable, engaging, exciting (etc) is the author’s writing style (use of literary techniques or movie techniques) in respect to the genre of the work?
Does the mystery novel have an appropriate suspense build-up, or mystery movie have an appropriate eerie soundtrack. Does a historical novel/movie use time-referenced language or setting? How well are flashbacks portrayed? Sexual tension revealed? etc How you answer these questions will reveal how well you think the author succeeded in their goal for a particular genre or topic.
3. Are there grammatical or punctuation errors? Are there inaccuracies in facts or numbers?
Sometimes simple grammar or fact errors can make or break a novel. It can show carelessness on the part of both the author and publication company. It may not seem like a big deal, but errors make it hard for readers to delve into the work and can even make it difficult to understand.

What NOT to do in a critique?

1. Do not critique a book based on the criteria of a different genre.
When reviewing a book, do not criticize aspects of the book that are not necessary for the main genre or the author’s purpose. For example, do not criticize a fantasy novel’s lack of realism, when the very essence of the Fantasy genre is to be unrealistic. Instead, critique the author’s writing style in not being strong enough to enable you to believe anyway.
2. Do not Critique a book solely on whether or not it meshes with your own views and values.
When reviewing a book, try to remove your personal views as much as possible (though I know 100% objectivity is  impossible… unless you’re a robot). Do not state that you hate a romance novel simply because you didn’t like the fact that the lead female slept with the male within a week and so she seemed slutty. Try not to let your personal issues color the novel and its quality of writing. Same with movies. Do not give a bad review simply because you don’t like a particular actor. Reviews based on feelings like these are completely useless to someone who is trying to decide whether or not to give it a try.
3. Do not join the idiotic bandwagon, please.
Meaning do not say a novel/movie is great, simply because everyone says it’s great. Especially if everyone is under the age of 16 (half-kidding lol). And vice versa, do not say a work is horrible, simply because it seems as if the majority believes it so.
4. Do not critique a book based on or using parts of the respective movie.
Oh, god. Please don’t. This drives me nuts. “But the book was great!” “Yes, I know, but the movie sucked”. Or vice versa. When a movie is produced based on the book, I believe that the two are completely separate entities. Words and Live action are two different vehicles in which to portray the same story, using vastly different methods. So, if you’ve watched both the movie and the book, you should have TWO separate reviews.

Well, those are my suggestions for now. What do you think? Think any of them are a bit off? Do you have a tip of you own? Leave it in the comments!
Happy reading and Happy watching!
Until next time,

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