It’s true: everyone’s a critic. What makes reviews so frustrating is that they are often written by people on the sidelines who haven’t attempted a piece of art. But you are different – you’re a writer, an artist, a creator. You know how it feels, because you’ve been there. Which means you need to take steps to ensure you view this from a different angle than the ever-popular armchair.
Picture this: you are meeting the creator of this work for coffee, whether they be a writer, director, artist, etc. You’ve experienced their work – and they’ve read your review. While sharp and witty might work for the news sound bites, that’s not what you’re after – your goal is to learn how to improve your writing. To do that, picture a person sitting across from you for coffee – and not for high praise or trash talking. Here are some other things to keep in mind:
If You Like This Work, Finds Things You Hate or If You Hate This Work, Find Things You Love
When critiquing a work or creator, it’s easy to choose love or hate. But both can blind you from learning crucial lessons about the creative process and your own writing. That’s why it’s important to have a list of what works and doesn’t work in any given work.
Often times, we have to replace our fan hat with our hard hat and look at structure instead of overall satisfaction. For instance, I didn’t really like the recent “Batman v. Superman”, but there were parts of the movie I really, really enjoyed. Isolating and analyzing said parts can help improve our own writing (more on this next week).
When a writer makes a choice to pursue a certain story, they open one door at the expense of closing another. Thus, every decision a creator makes in a work has a cost. Sometimes the payoff of their decisions are worth it – but sometimes they are not. As a result, we have to analyze works beyond simple terms of “good and bad”, and evaluate the decisions and consequences of storytelling decisions.
For instance, without going into spoilers, one of the precise moments “Batman v. Superman” stopped working for me was when a story beat sacrificed theme for tension. The move dramatically upped the stakes, but heavily damaged the overall theme of the movie, causing the third act to feel unfocused and incoherent. Raising tension is a necessary element of writing suspenseful stories, but themes are also important, especially in a story of character-driven conflict. The resulting decision ended up costing the story more than it gained, creating a painful negative value in the work as a whole.
Respect the Opinions of Others
Like I said, “Batman v. Superman” is a polarizing movie, with plenty of opinions on either side. The last thing you want to do is enter into a flame war on YouTube or IMDB over the merits or lack thereof on this movie. People bring different perspectives to every work of fiction or art. It’s part of the creative process that allows us to make something our own, and it’s definitely a process we creators can learn from. Respect the opinions of others – especially those you don’t agree with.
I loved the reviews of the late Roger Ebert. I didn’t always agree with his take on a movie, but I always found his reviews insightful and well-written. And more often than not, I ended up learning something upon reading his reviews. As creators, we need to keep an open mind when critiquing a work, and part of that includes listening to the observations of others.
Next week I will post a spoiler-filled critique of what I thought worked and failed in “Batman v. Superman”, and how we as writers can learn from this.