Tips for writing reviews and other Muppety stuff
By Annika Abel
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing for Muppet Central. We’re concentrating on reviews because they constitute the majority of user content on the site, however many of the tips are also applicable to editorials and other articles. These are not rules, just some general guidelines you may find helpful.
1) Organize your thoughts.
Remember in junior high when your English teacher made you write an outline before writing an essay? It seemed tedious and pointless then, but really, she had a point (and I’m saying that as someone who used to write the outline after I’d finished the essay). By planning what you want to say and how you want to say it your review will be clear, concise, and easier to read. You’ll avoid repeating points and related thoughts will be together. Remember to begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion that pulls your piece together.
2) Use proper paragraph structure.
Generally speaking, a paragraph consists of an introductory sentence which states the basic point, supporting sentences which back up the assertion made in the first sentence, and a concluding sentence which raps up the idea. If you are talking about the special features on a new DVD, don’t throw in a sentence on the cover art. Cover art should have its own paragraph or be grouped with a discussion of other graphics. Readers get confused when paragraphs jump all over the place and you are more likely to repeat yourself (thus boring your audience) when you jump around.
3) Show don’t tell.
The old writer’s axiom, show don’t tell, is a must for a good review. You can insist that Series 97 is the absolute best wave of Palisades Muppet Figures ever, but unless you give me some reasons to back it up, I’m not likely to believe you. Do the figures have more articulation than any of the others? Does this latest DVD have some cool special features? Have songs that were cut out of previous video releases been restored? These are reasons that show why something is great and they give the reader far more information than just your personal view. Don’t get me wrong, a review is all about your take on something, but you still have to back it up with some facts.
4) Write what you know.
Many of us have a tendency to reach for the thesaurus when we start writing. Resist the urge! Your piece will be more powerful and your message clearer if you use language with which you are comfortable. I don’t mean fill your article with slang and sentence fragments. But big words don’t make you sound more intelligent or give your writing polish. A solid understanding of your subject matter and straight forward writing style will be far more effective.
Think about what you are writing and think about your audience. Are you writing one of 18 reviews of a DVD? If so your intro should be short, in fact, you can even skip the traditional intro and jump right into your take on the DVD. If you are likely to be the only person writing a review on a particular subject you need to a lengthier intro. If you’re writing about how the Henson kids are managing the company, you probably don’t need to include five paragraphs on the sale to EMTV, bankruptcy and the sale back to the Hensons. Most of us know that stuff by now. Whatever style you take on, be consistent! Don’t switch from a tongue-in-cheek, humorous tone to one of dead seriousness in the middle of an article; you’ll only confuse your audience and they’ll miss your point.
5) Proof read.
Muppet Central does not employ a fulltime copy editor. We do our best to proof articles but jobs, spouses, kids, flame wars, Henson sales and life in general cut into our editing time. If you are writing something for publication—and a fan site counts as publication and yes, you can list it on your resume—be professional about it. Proof read it before you turn it in. Good proof reading requires a little distance from the material. Proofing five minutes after you finish writing will not be as effective as giving it 24 hours. When you are too close, you are likely to see what you intended to write rather than what you actually wrote; you know what you meant so it all makes sense to you. With a little distance you are more likely to catch typos, spelling errors (spell check is your friend!) and lapses in logic and sentence structure. Having someone else proof read your work is also very helpful. If English is not your primary language ask a native speaker to look over your piece.
6) Trust your instincts.
My favorite rule for good writing is one I learned from a poet years ago: what works is what you can get away with. In other words, if your piece flows and makes sense you can ignore every rule in the book. However, if something stops the reader—if it interrupts the flow and gets in the way of your message—throw it out. It may be 100% correct in terms of grammar rules and sentence structure, but if it stops the reader it doesn’t work. If you think something works, don’t worry if you bend a rule or two.