As a fan of many narratives in television shows and films, I rarely thought about works of fiction through the eyes of a critic. For the most part I just watched and enjoyed, but English 131 has taught me to look at things, while having ideas formulate around my brain with questions about what the work means and why it does what it does. There is one assignment that comes to mind when thinking about this subject, and it is one that we, as students, started individually, but then completed as a class. In February, we were assigned to write a critical/analytical essay about a work of narrative, and make enough copies of the essay for everyone in class, so that we could discuss it and give feedback to the author. I thought this was immensely helpful to me as both a writer and critic. Thinking about pieces of narrative in a critical mind set is important to improving one’s own works and learning how to give proper and helpful constructive criticism about things that you feel strongly about. Being able to critically pick apart a work done by a professional author or screenwriter assists greatly in improving your own writing skills.
Criticism can be traced back as early as the first pieces of art being created. Sculptors and artists would be analyzed by their audience and would shape their work around what they thought would leave an impression on the people. These days, critics are even more prevalent, but it seems that their opinions are having less and less value. If people are disregarding the criticisms of professionals, and non-professionals, then how do they know in what ways they need to improve their content? For example, Zadie Smith wrote several books before Swing Time, and she took in the advice of many people that she received as feedback from her previous books to shape her writing for the novel. On the other hand, as he continues to write books in the Serafina series, Robert Beatty will take criticism and ideas, and he will implement them into the literary sequel to expand the overarching story and make it as good as he can.
The feedback that I received from my narrative paper, in which I wrote about the movie The Truman Show, helped me realize what parts of my writing need to improve. As Darnell Cole says in a 2009 article, “constructive criticism includes timely and specific negative feedback with useful strategies for skill improvement, support and encouragement” (as cited in Bennett, 2009). Constructive criticism, like what I received from my classmates in response to my narrative paper, helps tremendously in letting people know where they went wrong. Critique, though, is not helpful. Critique is just plain negative feedback that gives no insight on how an author can improve their work. When I gave out feedback of other’s narrative papers, I made sure to give them very constructive criticism. It was valuable experience for future situations in which I will have to articulate critical responses to someone’s ideas.
Providing critical commentary is a major part of modern media these days, and providing such commentary assists in one’s understanding of how to ameliorate their work. Writing a review of a film, book, tv show, etc. is a medium in which you can get your writing to the masses and audiences from the internet will, without a doubt, express their feelings toward your style. The narrative essay that made us look at someone else’s work with a critical eye exemplifies this. It had all the elements of writing a critical piece, distributing it, proving feedback to others, and receiving feedback from others. One other piece of writing we looked at in class, was a review of the films Ready Player One and Lean on Pete, written by a film critic in The New Yorker. While he sees Lean on Pete in a much brighter light, he focuses almost his entire review on Ready Player One, and that is no fault. He uses this as his style. He has fine-tuned his reviewing process, so that his most memorable arguments are against the movie that he doesn’t find very good. This is a notable example of using prior experiences to shape how you write. When looking at other’s art critically, you must learn from the mistakes that you see. That is being intuitive and all creative minds need to be intuitive to give their body of work the flow that it needs to be original and consistent.
Possibly one of the most famous critics in history was a film critic named Roger Ebert. He reviewed cinema for the Chicago-Sun Times from 1967 all the way until he unfortunately passed in 2013. He was, by far, the loudest and most important voice of critical commentary and his reviews shaped the way that many film fans and critics watch movies. He was quoted during a speech in 1994 saying “art is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels” (Ebert, 1994). This has shaped many people’s views and his work still holds incredible weight in the minds of modern movie-goers. Much of the work we have done in class follows, loosely, the same precedence that Roger Ebert has set. We learned how to think critically, how to send criticism in a well-mannered way, and how receive criticism to use as a catalyst for our work. This class has helped me immensely to watch a movie and think about the things that make it the way it is.
Bennett, Andrea. “The Benefits of Constructive Criticism.” USC News, University of Southern California, 16 Mar. 2009, news.usc.edu/13831/The-Benefits-of-Constructive-Criticism/.
Ebert, Roger. “Roger Ebert.” The 11th Hour. 1994
Beatty, Robert. Serafina and the Black Cloak. Disney/Hyperion, 2015.
This novel tells a story of fantasy and heroism that is enjoyed by many fans of the young-adult genre. When reading this book, I noticed, not only how different it is from our other studied novel, but how much less I like it than Swing Time. If I had not thought critically of this book, I would have never come to that conclusion.
Smith, Zadie. Swing Time. Penguin Books, 2017.
This first novel we studied was a combination of coming-of-age and rivalry. It eloquently observed the behaviors and actions of two people throughout their lives. When critically thinking of this book, I thought about how complex the characters are. I thought they were completely fleshed out and well-written. I thought this would be an informative book to support my claims to that thinking critically is important.
Lane, Anthony. “Reality Hunger,” Review of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and Lean on Pete, directed by Andrew Haigh. The New Yorker, 9 Apr. 2018, pp. 80-81
Since this is literally a critical review of two films, I thought that it would an important source of inspiration when explaining how feedback can shape a person’s style. When reading the reviews, I found that it gave well-written insights on ways to look at two different pieces of art.
Lewis, Michael. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, Chapter One Excerpt. Norton, 2006. pp 15-16
This book, that was eventually adapted into a motion picture, is wildly popular and has received much criticism, as most pieces of art do. I read this excerpt form the first chapter and thought critically about what areas can be improved, and it inspired many of points in this paper.
Kichener, Caroline. “Why So Many Adults Love Young-Adult Literature.” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/why-so-many-adults-are-love-young-adult-literature/547334/, 1 Dec. 2017, Accessed 9 Apr. 2018.
I thought this article was a good critical analysis of the behaviors of modern populations and their interests. It explains, in an insightful manner, why people love the contents of a genre that are targeted at a much younger market. It tells about what types of things people enjoy experiencing and what makes them feel.
Lucas, Jane. “Peeling Away the Window Dressing of History.” Jane Lucas, 26 Sept. 2017, janelucas.com/2017/09/26/peeling-away-the-window-dressing-of-history/.
Ms. Lucas’ critical essay on the novel The Underground Railroad is a fitting example of critical commentary that gives an informative analysis of what the contents of the novel mean. It is comparable with our narrative essay assignment and shows how Colson Whitehead may be able to improve his writing.