Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Homework Assignment #1 Results: Photo-less Restaurant Reviews in 500 Words

If you read the first BFB newsletter a couple weeks ago, you probably already know about the new "homework" feature. To promote creativity, blogger skills, and (hopefully) having fun while writing, I'll be putting a blog prompt in each newsletter - an "assignment" to write a blog post adhering to certain guidelines. I'll be highlighting completed assignments in the next newsletter as well as here on the site, in a post just like this one. Want to get in on future assignments? Newsletter #2 will be going out later today! If you're not already on the mailing list, you can sign up by entering your email address into that box in the right sidebar that says "Join Our Mailing List!" Newsletters will go out twice a month or less.

The first assignment was to write a restaurant review in 500 words. The catch? No photos. This was meant to promote descriptive writing. I also encouraged avoidance of words like tasty, yummy, and delicious.

The results? Well, only three people (plus me) completed the assignment. (Did I miss yours? Let me know!) Hopefully more of you will be interested in the next one! The reviews:
The lesson: While many blogs have fantastic photography, most of us have found ourselves at one time or another armed only with a cell phone camera in a restaurant as dark as a cave. In these situations, it's often better to write a concise, descriptive review - text-only - rather than accentuate a list of every item consumed with endless dark, blurry photos that portray the food in an unflattering (or incoherent) way.

When writing descriptively, it's important not to go completely overboard, using flowery sentences and elaborate lists of adjectives. (I've always been a fan of this list of failed similes and metaphors, allegedly collected from high school essays. I'm unsure of the original source, but I know I saw them somewhere online as far back as 2003.) See also: purple prose.

A quick Google search reveals plenty of lists of overused words in food writing (such as this, this, and this.) While you may not agree with every item on those lists, they're a good starting point for words to try to banish from your blog posts. In my own writing, I know I overuse delicious, decent, and several others. I also try to avoid using moist because I've met an astonishing number of people who hate that word, and I always avoid savory because I hate that word. I have no idea why it bothers me so much. I do believe there's a place for everything, though. If you truly believe you just had the best meal ever in the history of your existence in the world, by all means, use delicious, amazing, wonderful.

In case you're curious, here's a list of adjectives used in the completed homework assignments (I skipped sections of the posts that weren't part of the actual restaurant review; numbers in parentheses indicate multiple usages):
acceptable, affordable, amazing, American-accessible, at odds, basic, best, blandest, briny, cheap (2), cozy, creamy (2), crispy, dangerous, dark (2), daring, delicious, disappointing, diverse, down-to-earth, earthy, eclectic, encouraging, exceptional, family-friendly, fantastic, fast, favorite (2), filling, flavorful (2), fluffy, friendly, froufrou, full, glistening, good (3), great, healthy (3), laid back, light (2), local (4), loud, natural, nice (2), off, ooey gooey, packed, perfect, pure, real (2), relevant, reliable (2), right, sad, salty (2), scintillating (2), small (2), soft (3), solid, straight-backed, straight-forward, strong, stuffy, subtle, superb, sweet (4), tangy, tasty, tender, traditional, typical, upscale, usual, warm (2), well (2), whopping, wide
What words do you overuse in your blog posts? What words do you wish you never had to see or hear again? Do you have a favorite writing resource (website or book) with information about writing descriptively?

Be sure to come back tomorrow; I'll be posting the first half of a guest post by Cristin Hoover (The Four Seasonings) about writing restaurant reviews!

Also be sure to sign up for the mailing list (in the box in the right sidebar) if you'd like to receive future "homework assignments." The next newsletter goes out today!

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