Writing reviews can be tricky. There is something to the adage of know your audience when you take on the task of review writing. Unless you are writing them strictly for your own personal journal, you consider just who might be reading them. You could take on a nonchalant air and write to the ether, damn the critics of those who criticize. Or you could play down to the lowest common denominator, simply stating, “this was great!” or “this sucked!”, finding synonymous ways of repeating these same phrases until you have enough words to fill the allotted space.
I began writing reviews for my local comic book store’s website. This was shortly after I was involved with a podcast for the store where we would sit around each week and discuss the new releases, good, bad or indifferent. The podcast was very low brow and we picked on low hanging fruit that grew in the bowels of the comic book industry. Not that I didn’t have fun, but I definitely needed something more. I proposed written reviews for the website and the owner agreed.
I definitely knew my audience. I hung out with them every Wednesday and then I rang up their purchases every Friday. I knew literary and film analysis from the courses I took in college. I read up on comic book techniques and methods. I studied Alan Moore’s, Writing for Comics and Scott McCloud’s, Understanding Comics. I read Neil Gaiman scripts and studied pencil and inking methods among my fellow comic artist nerds that hung out at the store.
Still, writing reviews wasn’t automatic. I bumbled my way through the first couple. Wasn’t sure of the length required. My reviews, at first, lacked structure. I would talk about the art in the first sentence, mention the plot in the third, return to the art in the seventh and so on, skipping back and forth without preamble or style. I didn’t have an editor. I was on my own.
Once I worked out the kinks though, I started to develop my technique. This was evident in the notice I began to garner from people outside the store who went to the website for other purposes and ran across the review page. I received a few nice comments about my reviews and that always motivated me enough to keep doing them. I ended up doing one hundred reviews, about two years worth.
So the shine wore off and my interests went to other places. But I’ll always remember the opportunity this creative crossroad gave me to hone my writing skills beyond fiction. If one is open enough and self-aware, one can grow as a writer and reviewer and bring to the form insights that others can appreciate and use. I hope I have succeeded in that.