I just posted a Dennou Coil review which is worth reading if you haven’t already watched the series, as it will hopefully encourage you to do so. In the spirit of this blog being about the process behind AAW I thought I’d make a few comments on what goes into writing a review for me.
Or rather, what comes out. When I write a review my instinct is to try to point out everything about whatever I’m reviewing—goods, bads, analysis if I have any, and interesting things I noticed about it. Dennou Coil is a relatively long series with a lot going on in it, though, and with shows like that a review can get ridiculously long very, very quickly (at least it can when I’m the one writing it).
My goal is generally to either give people a solid idea of what to expect were they to watch it or to give some (hopefully) interesting observation about the show, for people who like to read reviews after they see something. Preferably remaining entertaining during the process. I may or may not achieve this, but that’s the goal.
In the way-back days, I’d just post as much as I wanted to say. At some point it occurred to me that that was a bad idea, because I can be very long-winded. Good for writing papers in school, bad for writing things that are interesting—while a ridiculously long review might succeed at the first two goals (useful and interesting) it’s almost certainly going to fail on the “entertaining” front, and it’s exponentially more likely that somebody’s just going to skip reading entirely because it’s so damn long.
So, my ideal became to say as much as is necessary to get my point(s) across in as few words as possible. The catch is, Samuel Clemens, Blaise Pascal, and whoever else the comment is attributed to were all right when they said (paraphrasing) “I would have written something shorter, but I didn’t have time.” Writing long is easy. Writing short takes forever.
So, basically, I set somewhat arbitrary limits for myself. Ideally, a review will be between 1000-1200 words; 1400 if I must, and 1600 is an absolute upper limit (and already kind of ridiculous). Trivial one-shots, I try to keep it under 800 unless I have a good reason for saying more—shouldn’t take longer to read a review than to watch the show (though Shakespeare analysis has proven it’s possible to build an entire category of literature on doing exactly that).
At first it was fun; I went back over old reviews hacking hundreds of words out mercilelessly. In some cases I nearly halved the length, and in every single one improved the quality in the process—more understandable, more efficient, more to the point, and in some cases I even said more than before. I can now see why ruthless editors enjoy their job.
But then I try to write a new review of a series like Dennou Coil. My first draft was a monstrous 2000 words, and that didn’t even cover everything. Two or three grueling revisions later and I had it down to a marginally more manageable 1380, but then I realized that I’d left out several major things and it rapidly bloated back above 1500. I eventually got it a little under the 1500 line and after poking at it for probably a full week decided I’d been staring at it long enough to call it good and post it.
So now I’m left with a combination of satisfaction and frustration. Satisfied that I’ve said quite a bit about a fantastic series that I enjoyed immensely. But at the same time, I feel like the review should be 300 words shorter, and there are probably a half-dozen things I wanted to talk about that I didn’t include (the changing dynamic between Yasako and Isako, for example, or geekier ranting on successes and flaws of the way the virtual world is depicted, or why the cute anthropomorphized pet critter in this series actually works instead of pulling a Disney). Then there’s that nagging suspicion that I did talk about things I didn’t really need to.
Still, after looking back at the me of the past and seeing how much of an enemy length is, I’ve vowed to keep up the fight. I’m nigh-positive that my writing has improved for it, and hopefully in a few years I’ll be able to come back and cut even more from the things I’m writing now.
This is, incidentally, why blog posts take probably a tenth the time of a review, and why I prefer reviews—once I hit “post” the blog entry is done, but I periodically go back to random old reviews in my spare time and see if there’s improvements to be made.
There’s also the arbitrary call of what star rating to put on something. It’s usually easy to pick a 1-point range, but with a series like this do I call it a “perfect” 5-star, because it’s got so much wonderful in it and as a children’s series is perfect, or do I acknowledge the occasional chinks as an adult viewer and shave it down to 4.5? Particularly with a 26-episode TV series—it’s nearly impossible to draw anything out that long without slipping up occasionally. Heck, even 13 episodes is hard to pull off without something going wrong (though it has been done)
Now to try and do the same thing to the 2500-word monstrosity that is my Allison and Lillia first draft. NHK, stop making me want to talk so much! (The little word counter below this post tells me I’ve cracked 900 words… but good enough for a blog post.)