Everybody has a point of view but it takes more than just an opinion to be able to write a review that other people will want to read. Your job as a reviewer is not just to tell your readers if you thought a book, play or movie was good or bad but also: to argue why, using examples to back up your opinion; to effectively share your experience of a particular work of art with people who probably haven’t seen/read/heard it; and to be as honest as you can without being either unfairly harsh or not critical enough.
A review should not just be a guide to whether or not you think someone else should see/read/hear the work of art you are writing about – your review should be a work of art in itself. This means you should aim to be entertaining as well as informative. You should always try to do more than just retell the plot of the novel you have read or the play you have watched. Your readers can find such things out for themselves easily online – they want to know what you thought, and they want to know how you arrived at your opinion. Above all, they want to be entertained. So always aim to keep their interest by making sure your reviews are lively, polished, and have excellent spelling and grammar.
There is no one way to write a good review, but here are five tips to help you get started:
1. Your first response to a book, movie or play will usually be ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t like it’. You should try to look beyond this. Think about things like plot, acting, style, special effects, sound, music, originality, stage design, direction and dialogue. Ask yourself if these things were successful or not and why.
2. Remember that, most of the time, the people reading your review will not have seen the play/film, read the book or listened to the album you are writing about. Try to give your reader some idea of what it was like to do this but remember to not just describe the story – and always try to avoid spoilers, especially those that give away the ending!
3. Be firm but fair. If you really loved or really didn’t like what you’re reviewing, always say so but remember that real people are involved. You should always be as honest as you can but there’s no need to hurt anybody’s feelings. At the same time, don’t just say everything was great if it really wasn’t!
4. Always back up your opinions with evidence. If you thought the dialogue in a movie you’re writing about was terrible, give an example. If you thought an actor’s performance in a play was great, don’t just say it was great and leave it at that – try to explain to your readers what the actor did that impressed you so much. Did she have a great voice? Was she funny? Did she make you feel emotional?
5. Remember – a review is a piece of writing, a mini work of art, not just your opinion written down. Be sure to proofread carefully and check that the spelling and grammar is top-notch. Be entertaining. And if you’re writing to a deadline – don’t be late!
Ben is a writer, editor, critic, essayist and playwright. He has written about theatre for dB Magazine, RealTime, Fringe Benefits, artsHub and the Daily Review. Twitter: @BenMBrooker