These guidelines should be useful for writing reviews of nearly any of the kinds of things that GothPunk.com(Munity) deals with: movies, books, music, and clubs. While you probably can skip these if you have prior reviewing experience, they should form a useful starting point for any review, whether you’re an old hand with a writing block or a first-time reviewer who’s wondering where to get started.
You can take a wide variety of tones, from objective and impartial to chatty and friendly, from savage and derisive to wittily scathing. Each of them will have a definite effect on the way your readers react.
You needn’t feel like you have to pan everything just because “that’s what critics do” — a critic who hates everything is just as useless as one who likes everything. (Readers of Mark Jenkins of the Washington DC City Paper will know what I’m talking about!)
Remember that there is a middle ground between adulation and excoriation — indeed, most things fall somewhere between 3 and 7 on a ten-scale, and so should get a mixed review that details what their strengths and weaknesses were. If you say something complex like “the acting was good, the special effects were sort-of good, the costumes sucked and the script was strong on plot but weak on characterization”, that’s not only OK, it’s actually very good!
Whether you give something a review that’s good, bad, or the more complex options in between, say why you think so. Whether you’re lauding or savaging some particular aspect of the thing, giving an objective reason for doing so makes the reader trust you more.
A good length for a review is around 600-800 words, not counting the “peripheral” information. The peripherals include the basic stats on whatever you’re reviewing — for a movie, that would be: title, director and major actors, rating and running time. For an album: title, artist, label and track-listing. For a book, generally include the title and author, publisher, number of pages, and maybe the ISBN. For a club, see the “Vital Statistics” in the section on club reviews.
Since this is the Web, and there are no real space constraints, you can go over that 800-word cap if you need to, probably up to a thousand words or so. (Past about 1200, your audience may tune out.) Don’t drop below 600 if you can possibly help it — a 500-word review is painfully short, and leaves the reader feeling like they still don’t have enough information to decide whether or not to be interested in the thing.
When reviewing a movie, you should always pay attention to the following items, both while watching the movie and in your review:
Additionally, some movies will have other important features that are worth mentioning and discussing in your review. A big one is any major themes, archetypes, or symbols that appear in the movie. These can really make or break the movie — for example, I think mainstream critics mostly panned The Matrix not because they thought Keanu Reeves’ acting was bad (though they were happy to use that as an excuse), but more because they didn’t understand or relate to the themes of alienation, of society being an alien construct and harmful to freedom, of rebels from outside the system trying to set everyone free.
If this movie is an adaptation of a previous work (novel, play, comic, graphic novel, etc.), people will want to know how faithful an adaptation it was. If you can’t actually get familiar with the source material before writing a review of an adaptation, you should at least get someone who is familiar with it to look over your review before submitting it.
Finally, in movies where such things are important, other aspects to look at and evaluate include: costuming; set design and lighting; authenticity of historical period; mood and selections of soundtrack; and maybe some other stuff.
With music, it really eventually comes down to “Does it move you?” But if you want your review to be useful to someone who doesn’t necessarily share your tastes (or doesn’t even know what your tastes are) you should probably touch on the following points when talking about the album:
You might also want to give attention to any recurring themes in the music or lyrics (Heavily political? Recurring bird imagery? Lots of baroque counterpoint?). Additionally, you might say how many tracks were on the album (or EP or whatever), and anything else important about them. (Are the tracks generally really short or very long? Do they use some funky instruments on some of them? Is this a concept album? And so on.)
Finally, it’s good to listen to how different the songs are from each other. Do they all blend together and sound like the same song over and over again? (Of course, if the music is techno, that’s probably intentional...) Does the band show a decent range of emotions, rhythms and lyrical styles?
Reviewing books is more like reviewing movies than anything else, because many of the same elements apply: pacing, plot, and characterization are all fairly similar. But after that, the similarities end.
The special effects in a book are as good as your own imagination can make them; ditto the lighting, costumes, cinematography and everything else. So the only major factor to look at (aside from those mentioned above) is the author’s use of words.
Is it smooth? Is it awkward? How well does the author keep your interest? Since characters can no longer be delineated by the actor’s voice, or gestures, or body language, the author must bring all the characters to life simply with his or her words. How does he or she handle that? Are the characters alive? Are they all easily distinguished from each other?
Are the chapters too long, too short, or just right? If the chapters are named, do the names contribute to the overall reading experience? Does the structure of the book help move you through it as you read, or add another dimension to the symbolism and thematic nature of the work? (This may not be obvious until after you’ve finished the thing and thought about it some, of course.)
Clubs, like music, can be pretty subjective; what one person really likes, another may hate. Here are some guidelines for reviewing a club in a way that will let a random third party figure out whether they’ll like the place.
You should visit the club you’re reviewing at least three times before writing your review. If it’s an every-night club, rather than just a once-a-week thing, you should definitely visit it on three (or more) different nights of the week — and not all weekend nights, either! When you’ve got a good feel for the place, include as much as possible of the following in your review:
On a more physically-apparent level, are there a lot of yuppies and wannabes around, or is the club pretty much “just us freaks”? What’s the age ratio like — are there a lot of old farts or a lot of young whelps, or is there more of a mix? Does the crowd look like it’s heavily biased toward a particular sub-group or style? (Are there lots of cyberpunks, for example, or übergoths, or whatever?)
Aside from reviews, the GothPunk.com(Munity) could use a bunch of other stuff, from clip art and spot illustrations to poetry to essays to rants. Send submissions to webmaster@GothPunk.com.