Writing About Books, Movies, Music: Quick Tips

Tips on writing about books, movies, and music that your readers might not be familiar with — without boring them.

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Looking for ideas on how to write about books and films in a more engaging way, or interested in writing about songs but aren’t sure how to articulate your appreciation to those who haven’t heard them? Let’s talk about how to entice readers into posts on books, movies, and music they haven’t heard of.

Novelist and journalist Jonathan Gibbs at Tiny Camels comes to mind — he blogs about books, and even though I’ve never heard of the books he writes about, his writing about reading engages me. Consider his thoughtful commentary on Peter Stamm’s All Days Are Night, which doesn’t just explore the book, but the experience of reading itself.

Or take author Alec Nevala-Lee’s many posts on television and film, for example. Alec is masterful at penning succinct, focused commentaries on entertainment, often zooming in on an element of storytelling, rather than simply focusing on one production. In “The fifty-minute hour,” he discusses Mad Men and episode length; in “The title shot,” he blogs about the opening sequences of various shows like Community and House of Cards.

If you’re looking for different ways to write about books, movies, and music — while keeping your readers interested — here are five tips:

Highlight a passage.

Call out an excerpt using the blockquote tool in your post editor (the button with the quote mark icon).

Share an excerpt from the book that you love, or that keeps you thinking about the story all day. Ideally, the passage encompasses what you want to dissect or discuss. It might be direct, like a bit of dialogue, or a piece of prose that creates a fantastic image in your mind. I love how Anna Fonte writes about the book she’s reading in “Breadcrumbs” — she starts with the passage, then uses herself as a character in her own post, sitting on a train, to help illuminate the ideas she gleaned from her reading.

Establish the thread between you and the story.

Tell us why you’re interested in this book, movie, or song/album, or reveal something about yourself that shows a connection to the material. At An Anthology of Clouds, Valerie Stivers-Isakova reviews Things I Like About America, a book by Poe Ballantine. I’ve personally never heard of this author, but I absolutely loved this post, right from the beginning. Valerie begins:

There was a desperately unhappy and bored time in my life when I learned to draw the map of America freehand, all the states named, in the right places, mostly in the right shape; the line of the Mississippi helping to define the erratic edge of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana; the jigsaw of the northeast represented accurately; some rough attempt at 2-long, 1-tall scale done with the handspan between pinkie and thumb; all of it ballooning, squashed and demented, but maybe, I thought, just maybe, representing hope if I were abducted by aliens and forced to account for my country.

She then introduces Ballantine’s book and his mastery of the American road story, and immediately, I feel her connection to his narrative — and her larger interest in why we have road stories, and what we seek when we go elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to talk about you when you’re writing about books, films, or music.

Zoom in on a moment in a scene, then work outward.

We talk about zooming in on key moments in our writing in the Writing 201: Finding Your Story course at Blogging U., and how to use specific scenes within our stories to illustrate Big Ideas. The blogger at In a Lonely Place discusses Richard Linklater’s Boyhood through the lens of time, recounting a scene in Boyhood as well as a moment in one of Linklater’s earlier films, Before Midnight, that both reveal the passage of time as a series of small moments.

Unless you really want or need to stick to a chronological plot review for a book or film, push yourself to think beyond this structure.

What results is a richer, nonlinear commentary on the larger themes within Linklater’s films, rather than a straightforward chronological review of Boyhood (which would be a pretty long post given that the movie is shot over twelve years!).

Select a specific scene, moment, or line in the book, movie, or piece of music you’re writing about and use it to anchor the ideas in your post.

Create an emotional connection.

Music rouses emotions within us. As the writer at Raishimi33 says, songs weave into “the fabric of your being” and mark the defining moments of your life. In “Songs That Saved My Life (Pt. 1),” she compiles a playlist of these tracks, and even though I’m not familiar with all of them, her personal descriptions are quite moving. Her writing about REM’s “Everybody Hurts” conjures memories of her and her father on a rainy day, when her parents were going through a rough time:

So to see my father standing there, unable to hide the tears anymore, was something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I didn’t know what had gone wrong between them — still don’t, really, since it’s not an issue I ever wish to press — but what I did know, was that words wouldn’t come up my throat….

Later, at another station where a music store was still open, he bought me the REM single Daysleeper, which was a favourite song of mine at the time…But it’ll always be Everybody Hurts, by the same band, which will stay attached to that fragment of time — when for once, it was my old man leaning on my shoulder, and not the other way around.

Take a risk, go deep, and explain why you’re drawn to a book or movie or song. Even if your readers aren’t familiar with the story or the tune, the emotions you stir are relatable, pushing your readers to think about their own connections to songs they love.

Compare the work to something in an unexpected way.

Sure, you can compare The Prestige to The Illusionist (two movies from 2006 about magicians), or Saving Private Ryan to The Thin Red Line (two epic war films from 1998). But think beyond expected comparisons and explore specific angles that interest you. Consider “The Art of the Bad Movie,” which discusses the movies of famously awful filmmaker Ed Wood to Sharknado, a completely different kind of bad movie. Or take a movie franchise like X-Men, and instead of comparing it to other Marvel tales (like Spider-Man or Fantastic Four), weave thought-provoking commentary around something else altogether.

What are your tips and techniques for writing about books, movies, and music?

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  1. This is lovely! I’m a music writer myself, and I usually like to pinpoint everything the song/album evokes in me. It can be tricky to try to write about music from an objective standpoint. Luckily, I have the freedom to express my opinions & use the words “you” and “I” freely.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I couldn’t agree more about the music. I am both a musician and lyricist and at the age of 50 decided I wanted to record and put on iTunes one of my original songs. I have always been a believer that music and lyrics should stir an emotion, any emotion, but make that connection with the listener. The issue is; Not everyone feels the same emotion so it can be difficult to express a generic observation.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Feel free to let us know what you want to learn — I can point you to past resources or add fitting post ideas to our queue for future editorial calendars.

      There’s a bit more info here besides using blockquotes — but if nothing was useful to you, I apologize! We have many new users here, so even the most basic tips are worth repeating.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Is there somewhere where there is a tutorial on the formatting of these quotes? I would love to put my blockquotes in a pretty little box like what’s shown on this post. My blockquote button though makes it large and italic. And also, hi Cheri, I am so grateful for being included on Freshly Pressed this week, it’s driven a lot of traffic! If there’s any way I can make that likely to happen again, I’d be grateful to know how.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Some great tips here. I’d like to do some book and film reviews at some point, so the ideas of going deep, connecting, highlighting and zooming in and out are smart pointers – making what may turn out to be an engaging piece for the reader. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This came just in time! I have been considering writing more about the movies and books I enjoy but I had no idea how to approach it. Those book reports we had to write in school did not prepare me for this :/

    Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These are good, basic tips. I do not write about film but have reviewed books and wrote one post about music.

    I did a book review last week and used a couple of block quotes. In this case, my own experience is quite different from what the book is about, so I wrote about that difference in the introduction.

    I also tried to relate the topic of the book to other historical events (still not entirely happy with how that turned out) and delved a little into the publication history of the book. I tend to be interested in that kind of thing–if there is any kind of story there.

    In case you are interested:

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great stuff, as a book reviewer and writer I’m always interested to see how different fellow bloggers approach the process of reviewing.


  7. Greatly helpful article. It’s so difficult to capture another’s work that has captivated you in a powerful way; no matter how much passion you may have for that work, your review never seems to do it justice!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is an excellent guide and would be a useful guide for students too. With a few of these hints in mind, I might begin a book review category in my blog, as I have been tempted for some time.


  9. You’ve hit on some fantastic advice here and I will definitely be considering this as I approach my movie and book reviews in the future. I’ve been wanting to expand beyond standard reviews anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great tips! As someone who watches a lot of movies/tv shows and reads a lot I have always wanted to start doing reviews but never knew where to even start.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey thanks for mentioning my post in this article! I spent some important formative years writing daily news in the grip of old newspaper guys who really knew how to edit. I don’t think that exists any more and it was very useful training. And then I was a magazine editor for decades. I love how on the internet one has a bit more freedom to be personal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome — great post.

      To answer your question above about quotes — the styling of your blockquotes within your body text depends on your theme. So, the way your theme displays blockquotes will be different from our blog’s theme.


  12. Great tips! I’m trying to write reviews in my blog as well so this should come in handy!


  13. Thank you. I am an avid book reader and would love to find ways to share my love of music–my true passion…You gave me some ideas about how to start…


  14. This is a timely article. I had a book review scheduled to post on my blog this morning but I just postponed it so I can add a 1 or 2 excerpts in block quotes. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Helpful read, started writing reviews of theatre and gigs again last year, and this blog has given me some thoughts of ways to go with how i write; already do discuss the emotion a little, but maybe i can do more of that and see how it reaads, thanks for the great post


  16. This post was very helpful. I write a blog about what I learn at my church and like to recommend good books to people. (I like to read very much.) This article will help me relate the books I read to the other content on my blog, so that even if people don’t read the books, they can still grasp its core ideas.