Why I Write Reviews

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Why do I write what I call reviews?

The short answer: Because it helps me think about my own writing.

The long answer:

I used to write what I’ll call proper reviews, they’d appear in Valkyrie and Ragnarok.  My review of 7th Sea produced at short notice got me the writing gig with Valkyrie so even though reviewing wasn’t what I’d set out to do I thought it was important to carry on and do the best job at it I could.  I’d think long and hard about them.  I’d spend hours carefully reading a product (and if possible playing it).  I’d consider the presentation, the content, the quality of the writing, the cost, its originality, production issues and a hundred and one other factors.  I’d try and give a balanced and fair assessment.

Then I had a run of what I will call issue reviews.  A publisher wasn’t happy with a review because I wasn’t their target market so I couldn’t apparently understand their product.  A book I reviewed that was ok but not exceptional and had a flaw won an award after sending high value goodie bags to the voting panel.  Having been asked to review a product for a magazine I’d not written for before I was told the review wouldn’t be used as they’d just signed a big advertising deal with the publisher and they didn’t think it was favorable enough.  Which was funny because I’d really worked hard to find good things in a product that I know retailers couldn’t sell.  It stank and it sat on game shop shelves.

So I stopped writing serious reviews.

I’ve been asked to occasionally for magazines and websites.  It might be good self promotion and get me some writing opportunities but I’m just not interested in running into the political side of  it again.

Now what I label as reviews here are more after action reports.  I try not to spend too long on them (although some still take a couple of hours to write).  I try to keep them personal – they are after all just my personal opinion.  I use the review label as a convenient way of lumping them all together to make them easier to find.  Maybe someone will be saved from wasting a turkey or will enjoy my insight.  I hope so because they do get a reasonable number of visits and visitors seem to spend time reading them.

Still that doesn’t explain why I write them.  I don’t see them as a great self promotion tool.  I write them to help me think about my own writing and game design.  By thinking about a Doctor Who episode or a film sometimes I see how to improve my own work.  I wrote about Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire and I knew where the script I’d written had gone wrong (using silly names and anachronism).  I’ve still not worked out what to put in their place but I think the script is tighter and funnier now without them (although one character is still called Snot because it just fits).

Sometimes the best thing happens.  I’ll get a good idea.  Not a simple rip off of someone else’s concept but a genuine tangential idea.  That moment when you’re watching something and you think you know what’s going to happen and then something else happens.  Sometimes those original ideas can take on a life of their own.  For example recently I had watched a Doctor Who episode and was writing up my thoughts.  That’s when I had a Good IdeaTM.   I’ve had a bad guy (originally a Darklord for a Ravenloft domain) floating around for a long time that I could never find a way to spin a story around and while I’ve been writing that review I now know how to make them work.  The only problem I have is they’d be fun for a Ravenloft adventure but they also fit in with a Dirk Dangerous story I’d got floating around.  I don’t suppose I can get away with using the same idea twice 😉

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