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BuriedUnborn
Metal newbie

Joined: Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:01 pm
Posts: 135
Location: Argentina
PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2020 6:03 am 
 

I'm not a native English speaker, I can control the language pretty damn well in my opinion even though I commit some grammar mistakes every now and then, but I've been writing my reviews in English for a lot of time now, and although I've improved since those early ones I wrote in 2017, I'm still not convinced by my writing skills and one thing that I think that really takes quality away from my reviews is how much I repeat words.

One of my main issues is referring to the release: "this album", "this release", "this full-length", "talbum's name", "this effort"; I tend to use this resource a lot to keep things in context and explain in my reviews that what I'm explaining applies to all of the release. Same thing happens when mentioning the songs: "songs", "tracks", "compositions". I tend to run out of synonyms pretty quickly, mainly due to a lack of knowledge of the great amount of words the English language has.

Together with this, I also overuse many terms, ideas and words throughout my reviews. A lot of usage of the words "riff" and "riffage" when talking about the guitar; although it's certainly hard to not talk about the riffs and all, it certainly gets tedious when I end up repeating the word "riff" various times throughout the review and when every single one that I write has this same exact thing; there aren't many words I can't think of to replace this one; I tend to use "lick" to refer to small parts played by the guitar, like some sort of lead or a small part of an entire riff.

Another problem I've found myself with is my lack of ideas when it comes to explaining some things; while I can go on detail about how the guitar sounds throughout the album and all of what the guitarist plays, I truly suck at defining more specific things, like a certain feeling to a part of a song, or explaining the lack of bass without blaming the mix and recurring to the good olde' "bass is underrated" thing that I say, and I also fail at describing the drums without overusing the words "beat", "fast", "aggressive" or else, I just tend to explain vaguely what the drummer plays and that's it.

And lastly, I lack the creativity to make metaphors or analogies, to compare something to another thing, to explain something about the release I'm reviewing without referring to it directly. This mostly comes due to a lack of culture I'd say, since I don't tend to read too much, so these kind of thoughts don't flourish on me as easily as in others, specially when written by someone whose native language is English, thus having pretty much no language-knowledge limitations.

So, are there any tips I can follow to go improving my writing skills? I can surely pick up a dictionary and start learning new words, and read other reviews, literature and stuff like that. The only thing I've thought about is writing my reviews in my native language (Spanish) first, and then translating them into English; it does take double the effort and could work better, but I haven't actually tried this before, since it takes double the effort, and I'd rather focus on improving my skills when writing in English.

Cheers.
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colin040
Metal freak

Joined: Sat Dec 08, 2007 6:00 pm
Posts: 5992
Location: Netherlands
PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2020 6:52 am 
 

I used to have similar problems but over time managed to overcome these issues.

Some tips I can give you:

1: Check out other reviewers to get inspired.

2: Look up synonyms of words you'd normally use and use these synonyms in your reviews too - it's a great way to expand your vocabulary.

3: Play around with phrases - write in ways you normally wouldn't.

4: Don't wait for your mind to suddenly get great ideas. Just start writing for a couple of minutes and see if it leads to something.

5: Imagination is your friend! You don't want reviews to be full of vivid images only you think of, but if you manage to combine your imagination with a more objective approach, you'd probably end up writing rather well.

6: Maybe most important: remember that writing reviews takes practice. I'm not too proud of my old reviews anymore, but they're a nice reminder of where I started. Also keep in mind that some reviews will probably be easier written than others and that's perfectly fine. There are no deadlines involved.

I hope this helped!

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Twisted_Psychology
Metal freak

Joined: Sat May 16, 2009 8:22 pm
Posts: 5154
Location: United States
PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2020 7:57 am 
 

I fall into these trappings myself, even as a native English speaker (with a degree in it, no less!). I think playing with the structures and formatting of the reviews can go a long way in making them stand out from one another just as much as aiming for different word choices. Though on the subject of synonyms, "melodies" and "chord progressions" are good phrases to use alongside "riffs." They technically mean different things but I think they help in making even more distinctions when describing composition.
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gasmask_colostomy
Metalhead

Joined: Thu May 27, 2010 5:38 am
Posts: 1050
Location: Behind the wall of fire v.2
PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2020 11:08 am 
 

The problem you describe is one that a lot of us have experienced. When the Virgin Reviews contest is on, I tend to realize just how often I use the same sentence structures and vocabulary choices. As such, you can definitely try to expand the ways you refer to stuff. For instance, if I was writing a review about Opeth, I would refer to them in the following ways:
Opeth
the Swedes
the quintet
the band
the group
the instrumentalists (obviously excluding the vocalist)
the guys
and any other suitable nickname or tag that occurred to me.

However, you'll always find a finite number of options to refer to any one thing, whether that's the band, the album, or the riffs. I find that I can change my writing structure to get rid of that problem sometimes. Trying to talk about one song for a whole paragraph? Signal that's what you'll do and then don't bother to keep mentioning the name of the song or using the same markers. Tired of picking out elements one by one? Try talking about the album abstractly and descriptively, rather than as a list of elements. You don't have to do these things every time, but it certainly gives you more options. Also, if you're a good enough writer, you'll be able to make sure the reader keeps the subject in mind without constantly mentioning it. Ideally, that's the level you are targeting.
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Cat III
Metal newbie

Joined: Fri Apr 21, 2017 11:44 am
Posts: 359
Location: United States
PostPosted: Wed Apr 01, 2020 6:36 am 
 

Theodore M. Bernstein referred to writers' aversion to reusing the same word more than once as synonymomania. Because of the instruction of many English teachers*, it's a common ailment afflicting amateur writers. God knows I haven't shaken it--it appears to be terminal. Not only is it fine to use the same word multiple times in close proximity, it is usually more natural and reads better than constantly substituting synonyms. Common nouns and verbs are expected to be repeated, and in a music review no one will bat an eye reading words like "sing", "guitar", or "album" multiple times. None of which is to say synonyms are never acceptable. You'll find instances where it is advisable to change up the word choice, especially when both words are common, e.g. saying "release" instead of "album".

BuriedUnborn wrote:
I also fail at describing the drums without overusing the words "beat", "fast", "aggressive" or else, I just tend to explain vaguely what the drummer plays and that's it.

Adopt one of the oldest, and still best, writing tips: use verbs rather than adjectives. When writing reviews, the intuition is to use adjectives--you're describing something after all--and it would be impossible to never use any, but your writing will improve as you turn towards describing actions instead of characteristics. Example: "He flattens listeners with a stampede of double bass, allowing no time to regain their composure." Not a great sentence, but it illustrates you can explain music through verbs.

colin040 wrote:
2: Look up synonyms of words you'd normally use and use these synonyms in your reviews too - it's a great way to expand your vocabulary.

Thesauruses are great, but should be used cautiously. They're best for reminding you of words you're already familiar with. The problem with learning new words through a thesaurus is that synonyms have different connotations and often subtle differences in meaning so they're not merely interchangeable. Reading is still the best method of expanding your vocabulary as it gives you better insight into the proper context to use a word. Avoid using thesaurus.com; the thesaurus on merriam-webster.com is more reliable. It breaks down how close in meaning the synonyms are (or how far away in the case of antonyms), and since it's primarily a dictionary, you can easily check the exact definition of any word listed.

colin040 wrote:
4: Don't wait for your mind to suddenly get great ideas. Just start writing for a couple of minutes and see if it leads to something.

Some of the best writing advice here. Some ideas, sentences, jokes, observations and whatnot come to you while you're doing things other than writing, but the bulk of the review (or any other thing you write) will be formed while you're typing. If struggling to come up with the next thing to write, just write something and see if you can work with it. You may end up scrapping what you've put down, but it will get your mind working, formulating new thoughts on the matter.

Twisted_Psychology wrote:
Though on the subject of synonyms, "melodies" and "chord progressions" are good phrases to use alongside "riffs." They technically mean different things but I think they help in making even more distinctions when describing composition.

Another great point, and another area in which I struggle. A greater understanding of music affords you more avenues to explore. You can deep dive into subjects that are related to one another, but not identical, making repetition less of an issue.

From what I've read of your reviews and forum comments, your writing doesn't shout "struggles with English". I wouldn't even suspect you're not a native speaker. Being concerned with improving shows you're on the right track. Keep writing and keep working to refine what you write. Take some chances and make mistakes. Fuck, I didn't mean for that to turn into inspiration porn at the end there.


*Maybe as a way to encourage students to expand their vocabulary, or maybe because it's not necessary to understand the finer points of effective writing in order to teach basic English.
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Lane
Metalhead

Joined: Sat Nov 09, 2002 11:54 am
Posts: 403
Location: Finland
PostPosted: Thu Apr 09, 2020 2:50 pm 
 

As a non-English native speaker, I've found that it sometimes works if you write in your mother tongue, and then translate it. Sometimes there are weird phrases that cannot be translated word-to-word.

Gladly there are many good dictionaries online (for synonyms for example).

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nightbreaker33
Metal newbie

Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 11:20 am
Posts: 344
PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2020 9:10 am 
 

Just search on the net: "Ways to describe vocals, guitar tone, drums, sound production" etc.

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