What makes a good review?

I’d like to hear from other bloggers and social media users. In your experience, what makes a good review? I’ve been writing book, TV and film reviews since the summer. Here are a few of my ideas.

A review should give readers a flavour of the story. We check out reviews to help us decide whether to invest time in a creation. It’s helpful if a review gives some idea of genre, tone and theme. That way, the reader will know if the story is likely to suit their taste.

It’s not too difficult to identify a story’s genre. Often, we can find it in the details on the packaging. Popular genres include sci fi, fantasy, horror and romance.

There’s much more we can say about tone. Tone is what the story feels like. Netflix describes Star Trek Voyager as ‘family watch together tv.’ That’s a way of saying that Voyager feels warm hearted and safe (despite some of the difficult issues it tackles). Voyager could also be called hopeful, idealistic, feminist and challenging. There’s no one right way to talk about a story’s tone. What we highlight as reviewers depends on what we most notice ourselves.

A story’s theme may be easy or difficult to pick out. Many feel-good romances carry messages such as “love conquers all” or “all problems can be solved with good communication.” But what’s the theme of troubled rich people shows such as Succession, Dynasty or Gossip Girl? I’d suggest “the devil makes work for idle hands.” What do you think?

It’s also helpful if a review gives the reader an idea about a story’s quality. Is it brilliant or not so great? I don’t like blogging negative reviews. Creators could read them. Feelings could be hurt. I’ve never written a book or made a TV show or film. Who am I to look down on anybody’s work?

To avoid writing negative reviews I take two approaches. Firstly, I don’t review anything that I really don’t like. Secondly, it’s nearly always possible to find something good to say about a creation.

With TV and film, look for things to praise about any of the following:

  • Costumes and make up
  • Scenery, locations, lighting
  • Composition of the shots
  • Dialogue, story elements
  • Quality of the acting
  • Extent to which you care about the characters
  • Message of the story
  • Was the story predictable or fresh?

When reviewing fiction, see if you can say something good about any of the following:

  • Dialogue
  • Descriptions of settings and characters
  • Structure of the story
  • How the characters develop
  • How did the story make you feel?
  • Did the story inspire you to think?
  • Were you impressed by any details of the story?

It is possible to criticise a story without being rotten about it. One method is to praise three things before criticising two things. For example, “I loved the characters, the dialogue and the locations but the plot was slow and predictable.” Giving praise alongside criticism is a lot more balanced than simply savaging someone’s work.

Writing reviews is a great hobby. I love doing it because it adds a dimension of enjoyment to my experience of TV, films and books. I also like sharing good stories with other people. If I love something, it feels good to tell everyone about it! Do you write reviews? Why do you enjoy reviewing? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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