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Honors Critic's Corner

A critic is not someone who simply "criticizes," 

but a person who studies, analyzes,

and then renders a rational judgment of what he/she has seen.

    Each term PJHS Honor students are required to attend a musical or a play (or an approved cultural event). It must be a high school, college, or professional production. Please avoid any elementary or junior high productions for this assignment. If you are unsure whether an event is suitable for this assignment, ask your teacher prior to attending. Writing a review for an event that does not meet the above requirements will not be graded. Attending four events a year requires planning and sometimes adds an additional expense for students.  After attending a play or musical (or other approved event), the students are required to write a review analyzing the event.

Critic’s Corner Checklist

    1. _____Attend the event with an open mind; try to be objective
    2. _____Take notes (the program is always good to use for this)
    3. _____MLA format
    4. _____Double-spaced
    5. _____Catchy headline (good rule of thumb is to use a verb)
    6. _____Grade-level punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.
    7. _____Proper nouns capitalized
    8. _____Name event, who produced it, and where it was, noted in the lead of your review (who, what, when, where)
    9. _____A lead that is catchy, professional, and catches the reader's attention
    10. _____Highlight 4-5 main events--do not give away the ending if it is a play or musical. This summary should not be more than 1/4 of your review. Do not bore the reader with a litany of songs or plot sequences.
    11. _____Address  staging, lighting, special effects, acting, make-up, costumes, directing, choice of music, script, choreography, etc.
    12. _____Use professional language to set a professional tone (but use voice!)
    13. _____Sound intelligent--like you know what you are talking about
    14. _____Vary word choice (avoid words like great, awesome, super, fun, etc.)
    15. _____Use strong adjectives to describe what you saw (serious, comical, realistic, etc.)
    16. _____Newspaper writing breaks text into smaller paragraphs (keep in mind while you write)
    17. _____Analyze the worth of the performance. What did you enjoy? Why? What bored you? What fascinated you?
    18. _____What elements of literature could you identify? (foreshadowing, turning points, symbols, metaphors, similes, etc.) Why were they used?
    19. _____Rate the event using 1-5 stars (1 lowest: 5 highest). Try to show why your response is valid
    20. _____Be objective and honest, but not nasty
    21. _____When possible, leave the reader with something to think about in a well-developed concluding paragraph.
    22. _____Authentic review. No reference to an assignment or class. It should be publishable quality.

Know Your Subject

Too many beginning critics are eager to write, but know painfully little about the chosen topic. If you want to write reviews that carry some authority, then learn everything you can. Want to be the next Roger Ebert? Research before you attend. But don’t carry this idea too far. To be a truly good film critic you don’t have to have experience as a director, or a professional musician. That kind of experience wouldn’t hurt, but it’s more important that the critic be a well-informed layman.

Read Other Critics
Just as an aspiring novelist reads the great writers who came before her, a good critic should read accomplished and respected reviewers, whether it’s the aforementioned Ebert or Pauline Kael on film, Ruth Reichl on food or Michiko Kakutani on books. Read their reviews, analyze what they do and learn from them.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Strong Opinions

Read great critics and you’ll notice something they all have in common – strong opinions. But newbies who aren’t quite confident in their opinions often write wishy-washy reviews. They write sentences like “I sort of enjoyed this” or “that was okay, though not great.” They’re afraid to take a strong stand for fear of being challenged. But there’s nothing more boring than a hemming-and-hawing review. So decide what you think, and don’t be afraid to state it in no uncertain terms.

Avoid “I” and “In My Opinion”

Too many critics pepper reviews with phrases like “I think” or “In my opinion.” Again, this is often done by novice critics afraid of writing declarative sentences. But such phrases are unnecessary; your reader understands that it’s your opinion you’re writing about, not someone else’s. So leave out the “I.”

Give Background

The critic’s analysis is the centerpiece of any review, but that’s not much use to readers if he doesn’t provide enough background information. So if you review a movie, that means not just outlining the plot but also discussing the director and his previous films, the actors and perhaps even the screenwriter. Tell a little about the artist, her influences and her previous works.

Don’t Spoil the Ending

There’s nothing readers hate more than a critic who gives away the ending. So yes, give plenty of background information, but not - I repeat not – the end of the story.

Know Your Audience

Whether writing for a magazine aimed at intellectuals or a mass-market publication meant for average folks, keep the target audience in mind. So if reviewing a film for a publication aimed at cineastes, you can wax rhapsodic about things like the Italian neo-realists and the French New Wave. But when writing for a wider audience, such references might not mean much. Even the most knowledgeable critic won’t succeed if he bores his readers to tears.