Writing About Anime 101 – A Review Guideline Collaboration Post

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A collection of tips, tricks, and pro strategies to help budding young writers on their merry path into the world of writing about anime and reviewing them, written by resident authors Don Don Kun and Aleksei!

FOREWORD

In any competitive community, it can be hard for rookies to catch a break and participate. New writers/reviewers are pretty dynamic in why they want to start, but the most common are people who have more experienced/veteran peers. A common pitfall for rookies is to compare their work to the more seasoned reviewers, and develop a cognitive dissonance that blocks them from writing by feeling that their own personal work is flawed or imperfect; that dissonance can affect the quality of the writing by the mindset of the author consciously writing poorly but still doing so anyway, inhibiting personal growth.

The nature of this article is to ease the fears of new writers and offer them some guidelines and structure that they can practice and adapt to their own writing styles.

SPECIAL THANKS:  RMNDolphy, nil, and a special someone for minor fixes and spotting mistakes.

DDK’S REVIEW WORKSHOP

Hi everyone, DDK here with a few general tips and strategies related to writing reviews. While I’m no expert, I’ve been blogging about anime for a good 3 or 4 years, over which I’ve settled into a certain rhythm for writing these text walls we like to call reviews.

STRUCTURE of the review:

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The first thing to keep in mind when writing a review is its structure. Regardless of your writing style, the text still needs to follow a logical progression, otherwise readers may have difficulty understanding what you’re trying to say (especially if you’re making multiple arguments). Some of these tips may sound basic, and that’s because they pretty much are, but nevertheless they serve as a good template for starting any review.

Introductory Paragraphs 

  • Thesis (1 paragraph): Start off with a broad statement alluding to your main theme or argument and gradually make the connection toward the specific work your are reviewing.
  • Title introduction (1 paragraph): Give a basic outline of plot, main characters and themes of the work if appropriate. This is more or less a basic synopsis to get the reader acquainted with the title and should not take up the bulk of your review.

Body Paragraphs

  • Story (2-3 paragraphs): Discuss elements such as the pacing of plot events, integration of themes and how the entire package came together in the end. Some websites such as MAL request that reviews should be free of any major spoilers, so you may want to avoid those depending on where you post your review.
  • Characters (2-3 paragraphs): Give a basic outline of the main characters’ personalities, development over the course of the story, bonds and interactions with others, dialogue/quirks or anything else that made them memorable. Pretty well the same for the supporting cast if your review calls for it.
  • Technical aspects (1-2 paragraphs): Discuss the visuals, artistic direction, possibly directing and how this was integrated into the work and whether this made it stand out in any way. Pretty well the same approach for music, sound effects, and voice acting. If the technical aspects were nothing special compared to the bulk of titles or studio’s works, this section may end up very brief.

Concluding Paragraph

  • Conclusion (1 paragraph): Summarize major points of review that were brought up in the background. Clearly state if the title lived up to these aspects for its genre. Recommend title based upon different audience’s tastes or suggest alternatives (if applicable). End off with a concluding statement that ties into the goal of the review and will help people remember what your main message was.

Remember, this incredibly basic structure is more a starting block and doesn’t mean you should follow it to a ‘T’ for every review you write. In some cases, a section about the technical aspects may be unnecessary if you feel they didn’t contribute much to the overall goal of the work. Don’t be afraid to get creative and play with the formatting of your review, so long as it doesn’t come at the cost of clarity.

GENERAL TIPS:

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  • Always keep in mind that a review should not be written for the writer but for as many different audiences as possible. It is important to take into consideration all the different elements of a show and note if they may appeal to certain audiences or be a detractor for others. Basically try to remain as fair as possible.
  • Try to avoid the extensive use of unsupported blanket statements within the body of your review since they impart a strong bias on the writer’s part. It’s not that your review should be free from biases, but you want, as much as possible, for the reader to understand where you are coming from.
  • Try to be as concise as possible with points, avoid run on sentences or anything that could cause people to lose interest while reading. Keep word count fairly reasonable (I find 1200-1500 words is a good size).
  • While this may differ between individuals, try and maintain a professional attitude while writing. Making a joke or reference in a review is fine when it calls for it but don’t let that dictate the tone of the piece. Likewise, flowery or poetic language can make a review more interesting for someone to read, so long as this style doesn’t come at the cost of substance.
  • Avoid use of quotes from characters or famous people in the body of the review or as an opener to grab people’s attention. These sections should be used for clearly defining your purpose and providing evidence to support it. By using someone else’s quote, you’ve already made the mistake of letting that dictate the direction of your review. However, ending with a quote can be a nice way for your audience to remember your main point so long as it relates to the context of the review.
  • Try and ensure that one paragraph transitions nicely into the next. This can be done by ending on a topic and picking it up immediately with the next paragraph.
  • Should be a given, but ensure spelling and grammar are correct. Or find ways to make your sentences flow better (try reading them out loud).

And that’s all from me, folks! I’ll let my co-blogger, Aleksei take it from here. Now get out there and write! 😀

 

ALEKSEI’S PRO STRATEGIES

Howdy ho, there future writer! Writing in general can be quite the daunting task for inexperienced writers, and even more so when your frame of reference are better writers. Never fear though! I started off not knowing how to write well at all, that is until I practiced right here, on this very blog. With enough practice, a good group of friends, and the drive to succeed, anyone can write.

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1.) BE Introspective

It seems so, common sense. The sad truth is, most people aren’t as introspective as they think they are. Some writers give cursory glances and miss details, or some are so critical that they scan every second and find things people may have missed. Being extrospective  is very negative influence on writing, separating the personal experience from the critical experience is way to prevent bias. But entertainment’s modus operandi is to entertain first and foremost. It’s not a crime to have fun, and not enjoying something can infect the tone of your writing, and it shows. A boring article/review can be boring to read.

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2.) everything needs a foundation

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t built without a foundation either. Everyone dreams of glory and grandeur, that one day your writing will be regarded as the best or one of the best, and you can rest on your laurels after that.

Exposure is part of the equation, but it’s only a modifier. The major focus of any writer, rookie or not, is to have or maintain a core audience before seeking widespread fame, because without a good group of friends to call you out on things and to trust, the competitive atmosphere can and will turn you into a bitter, paranoid narcissist. The point of writing or reviewing is to share your opinion rather than trump the opinions of others. In early human history, writing was a tool to share emotions, feelings, knowledge, and culture to benefit the society rather than the individual, and it still is today.

The best way to build a core audience? Communicate. Participate with other writers, comment on their blogs, give tips! Don’t feel that you have to write a huge text dump to impress people when a casual and fun dialogue can have the same effect. A lack of communication has caused many beginners to quit.

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3.) write

There is no such thing as “bad” writing, only writing that can be improved. Refrain from feeling that your work is in any way inferior or of a lesser quality, because there’s nothing stopping you from going back and editing anything you’ve ever written. In the age of magnetic media,  no text is permanent unless you want it to be.

Everyone has a different writing style, and this can affect the way they write, but it stands to mention that a draft is still your number one priority. You can share your draft and get instant feedback, and vice versa, making writing much easier than it was in the past. It’s better to just push out a piece with the core ideas and the thesis ready, and add in all the good stuff afterwards. This reduces stress, and helps you maintain that healthy happy glow!

4.) BEWARE THE PEER EDITING PROCESS

Having your peers overlook your work is a handy process for new writers, but it can easily be less of a community building exercise and make a writer a mouthpiece for the more experienced editors. New writers should always ask for tips and help with grammar, but should never let anyone write for them. It’s a really serious pitfall, and it definitely will stunt personal growth of talent.

By letting a more talented and experienced writer ghost write for a rookie, feedback on the quality of the piece will directly inflate the ego of the rookie and make them feel that they’ve done some really good work, for the minimal amount of effort they put in. This can lead to another case of Cognitive Dissonance, where the writer will just allow editors to fix everything and write for them instead of improving their work. It’s a vicious cycle.

In summary: It’s okay to receive feedback and tips from more experienced writers, but receiving help on every single work is a sure fire way to stagnate.

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13 responses to “Writing About Anime 101 – A Review Guideline Collaboration Post

  1. This is a really useful writing guide. I think basic tips are the most effective – because it’s the tendency of a lot of amateur writers to make their writing needlessly complicated, rather than on communicating the message. (I do this a lot myself.) So thanks a lot for that!

    • Glad you found our post helpful! It’s difficult sometimes to strike the right balance between having a flashy writing style and a clear and concise argument. Going back to the basics never hurts, whether you’re an experienced writer or one just looking at getting started. 🙂

  2. >A common pitfall for rookies is to compare their work to the more seasoned reviewers, and develop a cognitive dissonance that blocks them from writing by feeling that their own personal work is flawed or imperfect; that dissonance can affect the quality of the writing by mindset of the author consciously writing poorly but still doing so anyway, inhibiting personal growth.

    Yes, unfortunately we people who write about anime are unnecessarily cruel toward our own attempts, in the same way a 10 year old girl looks in the mirror and starves herself for not being as pretty as models. :((

    Great tips! As far as anything else I can add, I’d say that because components such as story, characters, and production values do not always lend themselves to discrete analysis, sometimes it is better to mix them in such a way that the most essential components of the show are better reflected. The latter is the primary goal, and it should always be kept in mind that a review structure is a means of arriving there, and not the other way around. So adapt accordingly! (But yeah, an easily followable structure like yours makes for an excellent start.)

    Another tip I guess is to simply read, read, read. See what other writers do right, what they do wrong, and always examine how your writing and style may be able to improve by any techniques or phrasings they use. I for one get easily caught up in employing the same syntax sentence after sentence, and I have to catch myself or the writing would otherwise feel completely redundant. While being overly critical may hinder growth, a moderate enough measure is surely healthy and encouraged.

    • Indeed, we are our worst critics. But like you said, a bit of self-reflection and internal conflict is a healthy part of being a writer, so long as we don’t fall into some sort of viscous cycle like that 10 year old girl – who should do the sensible thing and just become a Precure like everyone else her age. 🙂

      Your suggestion about only mentioning components such as story and characters where appropriate is a good thing to keep in mind. That’s one point I should have expanded upon in my overview (I only mentioned production values, since I feel that’s the most interchangeable section most of the time), since it can detract from the clarity of one’s argument.

      I’d also agree that reading other’s reviews or just reading in general (I know I don’t read nearly enough) is a positive step for improvement. It can help expand one’s vocabulary, pick up on effective writing techniques and even break bad habits. Likewise, having a circle of strong writers on hand is an excellent resource for peer reviewing, as sometimes one just needs an extra set of eyes. I forgot to mention that point as well in my section, but thankfully I can always count on my man, Aleksei, to cover the extra ground. 😀

  3. Don’t tell me how to write my reviews, baka! Hmph! >_>

  4. B-but it’s n-not like I wanted it or a-anything~!

  5. Super helpful article! I think the first point about how often people feel discouraged when stumbling upon something written by a more seasoned writer to be a very true one: you feel like you’ll never achieve the same level of proficiency and that everything you come up with sucks. I say this because this is something that frequently happens to me, even if admittedly I do have some experience as a writer. In my case, it’s sort of like a mental block, which compounded with my lack of aptitude for writing and the fact that English isn’t my first language makes things really difficult. Yet somehow I always manage to pull it off (well, not always, but usually!), even if that means me spending hours and hours piecing things together bit by bit and struggling like a swimmer against the stream. Things like following a methodology and gaining experience by reading and asking others for feedback certainly help a lot, much like developing critical thinking does. But I believe that by having perseverance even someone who finds writing to be very difficult and is still taking the first steps has the capability to produce something worthwhile. Often the key is just a matter of trying enough. So, the bottom line is: if even someone like me can write, anyone with enough effort can! They just need the necessary means to flourish.

    Anyway, keep up the great work guys. It’s always nice to see the blog alive and well!

    • Thanks for the feedback and sharing of your personal experiences, Parial!

      I can certainly emphasize with the mental block when it comes with writing. More often than not, I find starting a new article or review to be the toughest part of the process, since it can be difficult to collect my thoughts and put them down one paper. I also feel the need to outdo myself and improve when it comes to writing a formal article, so that tends to make the task seem more daunting than it really is. That said, I do think there’s a lot of truth in what you’ve said about perseverance, as overcoming what appears to be an insurmountable task will only make you a better writer in the end.

      Finally, no need to undersell your talents. For someone whose native language isn’t English, you’ve written some really excellent and informative articles/reviews. Just because you find writing to be difficult, that doesn’t mean you aren’t talented – I don’t think there is a single person out there who finds writing to be a cakewalk; those who do probably haven’t challenged themselves enough.

      So with that said and done, we should be able to reply to each other’s text walls now. :3

    • You’re exactly right too, my efforts on Moe-Alt are pretty much all the testimony I need to prove that someone with little to no writing skills, with enough practice and the right platform, can improve their writing skills immensely. I’m a huge proponent of talent development, I wish more new and ambitious writers would ask for help more often from us, haha.

      Still I don’t hold a candle you or anyone else that has a tough time when English isn’t the native language, it takes a lot of effort and skill to write a piece in those conditions.

  6. Honestly, this is the best article I’ve read on a blog. Ever. Although it might sound selfish, it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one THAT troubled with his own writing. It is an article intended for anime reviewing but sure it’s going to help me writing reviews for mangas as well (I wonder what changes I might have to make in order to achieve a better result on that).

    As an avid manga reader, I feel like there are a large number of great (unknown) mangas on MAL with really poorly structured reviews. It’s not rare to find mangas without a single review either. I want to do them justice!

    Now I feel more confident to seriously start writing reviews! The hardest part for this task is the fact that I don’t see me writing without spoiling the show. I tried to write some but… damn, too hard to do an analysis and, at the same time, refrain yourself from releasing some info that might give away the show for some potential reader. And it doesn’t help when english is not my native language so its a double challenge, not only you have to collect and organize your thoughts but you also need to correctly translate and make them appealing enough for a language that you rarely use on daily basis (my case). But of course, the more I write the more I improve (gotta thanks DDK for exchanging monster text walls on MAL for that :p)

    Fantastic article. More pls

    • Thanks for the feedback Guigas! I can sympathize with non-native English writers, it can be a daunting task to take on all by yourself. If you even need any help from me or Don, we will try to set aside some time to give aspiring writers, like you, some help and tips (despite my part about peer editing!) or even just some encouraging words to get you going. Good luck on your writing!

    • Glad you found our article helpful, Guigas! You’re definitely not the only one out there who finds writing or reviewing a daunting task, as even those of us who have been at it for years experience the good ol’ writer’s block.

      It’s good to know that you’re thinking about reviewing some manga on MAL in the near future. I’ve also found that a lot of the less-mainstream titles go completely unnoticed by the community, so they could really use some exposure. You’ve read some interesting titles so I’d love to see a review from you sometime (hopefully that doesn’t sound like I’m putting too much pressure on you, haha).

      Finally, I can only imagine how difficult it must be writing in English when it’s not your native language. It’s hard enough as it is making sentences flow nicely and picking the right words, even with the native background. You should give yourself a pat on the back for coming this far (I guess our monster text wall exchange is to thank for this)!

      Anyhow, we seem to be on a roll lately, so look forward to more articles from us!