I don’t just watch tv. Tips for writing reviews, part 1

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As some of you may know, I write reviews for a site called Haunted MTL. And yes, being a critic has always been a dream of mine. I think it’s probably a dream a lot of people have. I won’t lie, it’s pretty awesome. I get free books and foreign screeners. And I get to do my favorite thing, talk about fiction work that I love. 

That being said, it’s not always easy. I’ve turned a relaxing activity into work. Because a lot more goes into writing a review and cultivating a career around reviews, than one might assume. So today I thought I’d talk about how I do it. How I write reviews, the work that goes into them, and how I manage my critical career.

It starts with a fresh watch or read

When I review something, I like to read or watch it myself and get my first impressions down before I let the opinions of others pollute my own. I’ll watch the content with a notebook in hand, making notes about scenes or actors as I go. This scene went on too long, this was gross in a good way, and this was gross in a bad way. That sort of thing.


Once I’ve consumed the content, I’ll go into research mode. Who was in this piece? What else have they done that my readers might have seen? What Easter Eggs were hidden in the content? What references might a casual viewer have missed? These are all things to consider in writing an entertaining and informative review. 

This is not, of course, the main focus of the review. So it’s best not to get lost in the research too much. But it’s fun, especially for nerds like me. 

Making stylistic choices

In any form of writing, you’re going to make some stylistic choices. Some of those will depend on genre, others on your personal preference. For instance, I write for an audience of horror fans. So I tend to write using more adult language and about adult subjects. For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word boobies here on PBW. It comes up often on Haunted. 

The important thing here is to pick a style and stick with it. Yes, your style is going to change over time, but you want to avoid any dramatic switches.

Conveying information about the content, without giving too much away.

Spoilers suck. I will never get over having the death of Rita ruined for me in Dexter. And if you as a critic are spoiling the endings of things all over the place, you’re not going to be a popular critic. So you’ll have to learn how to tell part of the story, without telling it all. 

The way I do this is by focusing more on my opinion of the story, rather than explaining what happened. 

Now, there are some situations where it’s really hard to avoid. For instance, when I wrote a review of The Mist. A big reason why I hated that movie was the twist ending. But I didn’t want to give the ending away in case anyone still wanted to see that piece of shit film after reading my review. (The book was way better.) So, I had to sort of dance around it. I let on that the ending was different than in the book. I called it intentionally mean, and unsatisfying. And I mentioned at the start of the review that it might be spoiler-esq. It’s tricky, I’m not going to lie. But it’s vital. 

Knowing why something works or doesn’t work.

What’s the difference between a critical review and asking a buddy if they liked a movie? While your buddy might tell you a movie sucked, a critic will tell you why from a professional standpoint it sucked.

Many critics are professionally trained in film school, or deeply involved in content creation like myself. The reason is that it’s not enough to say that something is good or bad. Why was it good? Why was it bad? 

I do this in part here, with my Why It Works series. But while that series is aimed at teaching you how to write better, a review is aimed at telling a fan exactly why I wanted to pitch my remote at the screen in disgust. 

This is something that is best learned by watching a lot and reading a lot, then considering why you liked or didn’t like what you consumed. Was that film really hard to see because the lighting was bad? Was the dialog realistic? Were the characters likable? It requires an understanding of good writing and good film work that you only develop over time and practice.

But there are worst ways to spend your time.

Watching and reviewing bad content

Speaking of worse ways to spend your time, I want to end off with this. Sometimes I have to review stuff that is just terrible. And I have to watch the whole thing, to explain to other people exactly how terrible it was.

Several times, this has meant I have had to watch a movie that I pray no one ever knows I watched. There was one whose title I will not mention that emotionally scarred me. Sometimes it means I have to finish a tv series that I would have given up on long before the end.

There is an upside, though. Bad content is often really fun to review because you can use some of your most colorful languages. I despised the ending of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and enjoyed explaining in detail how lazy and damaging it was. It made me feel like watching the ending hadn’t been a complete waste of time.

There’s a lot more to be said about writing reviews, but as we’re nearing a thousand words here I’m going to stop for now and continue next week. But I want to hear from you. Do you enjoy reviews? Who is your favorite go-to critic? Have you ever dreamed of being a critic? Let us know in the comments. 


Personal Writing

I have a secret. The writing that you see from me here, on Haunted MTL, and in my novels, is not everything that I write. If I were being generous, I’d say maybe half of the writing I do is ever seen by another human being. 

That’s something to consider, isn’t it? I’m not exactly Stephen King, but I do put out a considerable amount of work every year. Usually one new book or podcast season, at least 52 blog posts, and just under 100 critical reviews. Then there are all the short stories, poetry, and micro-fiction I post on Instagram and Mastodon.

So, what is all this other writing? Am I holding out on you? Well, no, not really. Most of the writing isn’t all that interesting. It’s the compost, as Natalie Goldberg would say. It’s the freewriting and writing exercises that are to a writer what a practice sketch is to a painter. These are vital pages, even if they’re mostly nonsensical, out-of-context work. I have been practicing a lot of description writing recently because I realize my descriptions suck.

In my sketchbooks, you’ll find bad poetry that I wrote just because it was fun. You’ll find story ideas that went nowhere, little things that stuck out to me through the day, and little angry notes from things that piss me off at my day job. I also talk a great deal about things that are worrying me in my sketchbook. A lot of things worry me, and there are just only so many ears that care to hear my woes over and over again.

My personal writing falls into three categories. Writing that is practice, writing that is memory keeping, and writing that is therapy. 

Writing practice happens every day. I try to start my day with ten minutes of freewriting, kind of like stretching. Later, usually in the afternoon, I’ll try to do a writing exercise. This doesn’t always happen, of course. But I try to make it happen most days. 

My memory keeping is much smaller. There are little notes jotted in my bullet journal, my sketchbook, and my grimoire. I also keep a dream journal and a gratitude journal. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ll write one line about the day each day on my perpetual desk calendar. All of this takes maybe five to ten minutes in the morning. I just want a few snapshots. Later, I want to be able to visit with who I am now. 

Finally, of course, I do a lot of therapeutic writing. I’m no stranger to negative emotions, of course. I’m often angry, sad, depressed, and stressed out. These emotions aren’t bad, and they need space to be expressed. They need to have space to exist. There are reasons why we feel how we feel.

The healthiest place I’ve found, to let these negative emotions have the space they need, is on the page. 

Whether you’re a writer or not, these forms of writing can be great for you. Writing is fun, frankly. It can be fun to write a little poem or story idea, even if it never goes anywhere. Memory keeping is a wonderful thing to do, both for your future self and your loved ones. And of course, I think we all have emotions that we need to get out of our heads and give another space to live. If you want to get a little witchy with it, you can burn the paper afterward. It’s therapeutic.

So, I want to hear what you think. What sort of writing do you do that is just for you? Let us know in the comments. 

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My review of Shut Up And Write The Book

I received an arc of this book in return for a fair and honest review. And that’s exactly what you’re getting today. 

Jenna Moreci’s Youtube channel is one of my favorites for smart, sweary writing advice. So, when she announced that she was publishing a book about writing, I had to get my hands on it. When I found out she was offering arcs to select reviewers, I jumped on that like a rat on a pizza slice. 

Shut Up And Write The Book is essentially a step-by-step manual to, obviously, writing a book. It is specifically tailored for fiction authors, so if you’re writing nonfiction, this one might not be for you. But as I don’t write nonfiction, it was delightful for me.

I will say that, as an experienced author, some of the information was redundant. I did find myself skimming some of the early chapters especially, because of course I’ve read a ton of writing advice books. I’ve also written writing advice for writers since 2014. And watched the vast majority of Jenna’s Youtube videos. 

But if you feel like you know everything in this book, you are wrong. It’s an egotistical fool who dismisses advice because they think they know everything already. So I always do my best to come to every bit of writing education as a novice. I never regret this.

The first thing I loved about Shut Up And Write The Book was that Jenna writes how she talks. I can hear her voice as I’m reading, which is delightful. She has a quick, supportive way of talking about writing that makes it feel more like a small business project instead of an ethereal endeavor that we mere mortals have no sort of control over. 

If you are one of those people who feel like writing a book is overwhelming, this is a book you need. It walks you through every step of the novel writing process. And I mean every single step. If you have nothing but a desire to write a book, but not a single damn idea for that book, that is perfect. The first chapters start with brainstorming in a realistic and accessible way. Then, it continues to walk you through each step of the process.

Now, I did think that the outline and brainstorming section of the book was a bit heavy. I don’t generally go into as much detail as Jenna does with her character creation and world-building. But, to be honest, maybe I should consider trying this out for my next book. It can only help.

Each chapter ends with a summary of the information that the chapter included. At first, I thought this was a little irritating. I mean, I just finished reading all this content. I don’t need a summing up. And yes, while doing a read through there’s not any value in that summary.

However, as I go through the book again and use it as it’s intended, as a workbook, I find that summary to be really helpful. Because I can check in with the summary and see if I need to re-read this chapter, or if I have the basics down.

I found that as I got closer to the end of the book, I found it more and more useful. I certainly have my writing weaknesses, and one of them is finding beta readers. I learned just a ton about that process, which I’m looking forward to utilizing as my current novels come closer and closer to completion.

If you’re a writer, this is a book to grab. It’s full of smart advice that’s easy to use. Here’s a link to pre-order it now. This is not an affiliate link.

How Nickelodeon made me a better adult

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I was born in the mid-eighties. That means that I need aspirin for my back most days, I will never own a house, and I grew up in the golden age of Nickelodeon. I can recall the premiers of the first three Nick-toons.

Probably I’m biased, but I think people my age are pretty cool. We have twisted senses of humor, a love of horror stories, and are more politically active than generations before us. Some of that’s because the internet became more and more prevalent as we got older. But I think some of the credit goes to Nickelodeon.

Or, without making sweeping generalizations, I am at least convinced that I am the funny, horror-loving socially aware person that I am at least in part because I grew up with these five shows.

Pete & Pete

This stands as one of the weirdest shows I have ever seen. It’s the adventures of two brothers who were for some strange reason given the same name. And their world just gets weirder from there. They exist in a world with adults who take their jobs far too seriously. The bus driver who nearly runs Big Pete off the road. The school principal who makes the whole school attend an assembly on ear hygiene. A quality inspection agent who inspects everything and demands perfection. A mail woman who keeps careful verbal notes on her route every day. And Artie! The strongest man… in the world!

The show certainly gave me a taste for the quirky, with a slight touch of darkness. It also taught me that grownups are just big kids. No matter what we might tell ourselves.

Are you afraid of the dark

Maybe one of my favorite shows from childhood, Are You Afraid of the Dark was a creepy anthology series. In each episode, a group called the Midnight Society came together to scare the hell out of each other around a campfire. There were stories of ghosts coming back for a visit, demons that came out of comic books, killer clowns, and hypnotic music boxes.

My love of anthology horror was sparked by this show. But something else was sparked. These kids were telling decent stories, stories they wrote themselves. It led me to think that maybe I could write a story.


All That

I’ve always considered All That to be kind of like a farm league for Saturday Night Live. Long-running cast member Kenan Thompson got his start on All That.

All That was funny. Sometimes it was smart funny, and sometimes it was just dumb funny. But it was always a good time. 

I was, sadly, a pretty serious child. All That was one way I got a little bit of much-needed funny in my life. It was also my introduction to some iconic musical artists. It was the first time I saw TLC, Coolio, Brandy, and Outkast. It was an important musical education for me.

Nick News with Linda Ellerbee

I didn’t grow up in a very politically aware house. I’ve never seen my mother with a newspaper. She never turned the news on, and never seemed aware of world events. Whenever we talked about ‘current events’ in school, I was largely lost.

So watching Nick News was instrumental in me realizing two things. One, there was a big world out there where people were living very different lives than I was. And two, I might be able to understand it.

Nick News talked about some topics that were amazing to hear about. I remember when Magic Johnson was on for a special episode to talk about his HIV diagnosis. I remember kids my age asking him honest, intelligent questions, and getting real answers. Wars, politics, and environmental issues were laid out in a way that was attainable for a kid, but not condescending.

Kids Pick The President

After everything I just told you, it should come as no surprise that voting wasn’t a huge thing in my house growing up. I can’t remember Mom voting for anything but American Idol. 

And yet, I have never missed an election. Not presidential, not local. I have voted every year since I turned eighteen. And I was able to do that because of the education I got from Kids Pick The President. It seemed fun as a kid to vote, which led to me being ready to register to vote as soon as I was old enough. For kids who don’t get that education at home, Kids Pick The President was a blessing.

The point of this post isn’t just to take a self-indulgent trip down memory lane. Though, that is a perk. No, I told you all that to tell you this.

Some of you reading this, I assume, write for children or young adults. I write young and new adult fiction, at least some of the time.

If you’re writing for kids, teens, and young adults, I feel like you’ve got an obligation to give them something real.

I’m not saying you’ve got to teach them the state capitols or some great moral lesson. But I am saying that you should give them something good. Something that will help shape the kind of human being that you want to have around. And if you want to do that, you could do worse than emulate the qualities of these classic Nickelodeon shows. 


My 2023 goals

The holidays are over, the new year is upon us, and it’s time to start making goals! 

I mean, technically you can make goals anytime and I as a creative small business owner reevaluate my goals every three months to make sure they still work for me, but hey! It’s January and we’re all making goals now! It’s fun! It’s peer pressure for good, encouraging us all to be better people. Or at least, make some better choices.

So in the spirit of positive peer pressure, I’m sharing my list of 2023 goals today. And I’m hoping that you’ll share your goals in the comments sections. In this way, we can hold each other up, and reach for better things in 2023.

This year, I’m focusing on just five goals. While there are smaller goals I’m reaching for, they all feed into these main five things. While in the past I had very specific goals and used the SMART goal planning to achieve them, these are a little more nondescript. But I think they’re still going to help me. Because these five goals will instruct everything that’s going to end up on my to-do list. If the item doesn’t move me closer to one of these five goals, then it doesn’t belong there.

Goal one, paying off debt. 

We have a mess of debt we need to pay off. I honestly don’t think we’re going to get it paid off this year. But I’d like to take a big dent out of it. 

Goal two, finally learning Spanish

I think I say this every year. But more and more, I feel like I need to learn Spanish so that I can communicate with people in the countries around me.

Goal three, creating good stories

This, of course, is for you. It’s also for me because creating stories is still the best thing I can do with my time. So, it’s really for us. 

We’re launching season two of AA on Haunted MTL soonish, heavy on the ish. I’m also working on the final Station 86 book.

That’s right, I said the final Station 86 book. Everything’s coming to a thrilling conclusion either quite late this year or early next year. Depending on how much hustle I can manage, of course.

I also want to make more for you all on Instagram and Mastodon. I want to make more poetry and word art, so keep an eye out for that. 

Goal four, taking better care of myself

My word for 2023 is self, so I’m working on taking care of myself. I’m making doctor’s appointments, drinking tea, and exercising more. I’m getting towards that age where if I’m going to make any improvement in my health, it should probably start now.

Goal five, make some significant progress on a political topic

I can’t go into much detail here, but there’s one cause I’m particularly interested in. And I’ve decided to get active about it. No, I’m not running for any office. But I am stepping up more. Writing letters, showing up at politicians’ offices to ask questions, and organizing people. 

This is something I encourage all of you to do as well. I am absolutely sure that there’s something you care about enough to want to make a change. So do it. Make your voice heard in your neighborhood. Make the changes you can make, and make sure your local politicians remember that they work for you. 

Now, it’s your turn. What are your major goals for 2023? Let us know in the comments. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you can, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi.

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