The TCM Staff consists of a group of diverse individuals from all over the country and the world. We have different tastes and ideas about what is “good” and what is, well…not. That, being said, as of January 2012, we put our heads together to come up with some questions we could ask of ourselves as we go about reviewing various products on the site. Obviously, we make room for personal preference, but we want to operate with a developed sense of what makes something good or bad, provide our readers with that information, and let the chips fall where they may. We freely admit that our questions are not exhaustive and we welcome your disagreement with our final assessment (via our comments section). A good review is not an endorsement of a particular theology and a bad review is not a smack in the face to an artist or author’s ministry to the world. A review is a review. Take or leave it. That being said, below you will find what each of our numerical ratings mean and the questions we ask ourselves as we consider various books, albums, and films.
OUR NUMERICAL RATING SYSTEM
- Content - Is the artist actually saying something or are they just taking up space with their words?
- Takeaway - What do I walk away with after listening to this album? Am I moved? Encouraged?
- Creativity - Is what’s being communicated (music/ lyrics) being communicated in a way that is clever, smart, witty, thought-provoking?
- Musicality - Is it technically good? Have they used the same formula throughout or are they masters of a diverse range of skills? Even within a genre, variety is key.
- Coherency & Consistency - Does this album have an ebb and flow to it—ordering of tracks, choice of content—that creates an overall experience or do the tracks create several standalone events?
- Album Length - Is the album too long, too short, or just right for this particular artist?
- Drawbacks - What did not work for the album? What could future albums benefit from?
- Replay Value - Will I come back to this album often or am I pretty much done after 1 or 2 listens?
- Accessibility - Is this a niche album for serious fans only or does the album have appeal to a wider audience?
- Monetary Value - Should I just download top tracks or should I invest in the vinyl? Will the project mark the beginning of a collection or will it soon be forgotten unplayed on my iPod?
- Engagement & Entertainment - Am I willing to lose sleep over this book? Does it have me turning pages, wondering “What happens next?” Is this novel just a fun read? Would this book make a great movie? Is this story fun and is it worth our time?
- Originality/Predictability - What does the novel bring to its genre? Is it formulaic and typical for the author? Did it have me guessing all the way to the end? How does it twist a conventional plot or storyline and turn it into something that we haven’t read already?
- Realism & Edginess; Fantasy vs. Reality - Is the author able to create believable situations and characters? Or do they shy away from controversial topics?
- Spiritual Connection & Speculative/Supernatural Elements - How does the author integrate the spiritual concerns of the characters or overarching themes of the novel? Does the author realistically address spiritual matters within the plot without preaching to the reader? Do the supernatural elements add anything to the story? Are they inventive and fresh or recycled from either previous books or other authors? Are they believable? Can the reader accept the premise and explanation for the supernatural elements?
- Investment - Is this a book I’ll want to buy a copy of to read again or lend to friends? Or is it one to borrow from the library or download to my eReader?
- Characters - Are the main characters developed enough for the reader to care about what happens to them? Are there an appropriate number of characters, or are there too many for the reader to keep up with without having a list? Can I connect with the characters and really get inside their head? Or am I told how they feel rather than truly understanding their internal conflicts? Are they realistically flawed?
- Plot Progression & Pacing - Does the story flow well, or seem disjointed? Unusual plot progressions can work, but can sometimes jerk the reader out of the story and make them think about the flow of the novel, which is never good. Oftentimes ill placed spiritual themes or circular romance can upset the pacing as well. Is the novel driven by the characters and their struggles and dilemmas as they develop and grow? Or is the plot moved along by a series of scenes and events that prevent the characters from progressing in their journey?
- Content & Appropriate Content - Is the author actually saying something or are they just taking up pages with their words? If it is a series, does the plot have enough depth to be told over several books, or is there only enough material for one? Does the author go for a shock value with graphic descriptions and strong language? Or are they innovative enough with their writing to display the necessary details to realistically depict scenes and characters without alienating certain readers?
- Prose - Is there good sentence/paragraph structure? Do the scenes flow smoothly or do they jump around without the reader being able to keep up? Is the writing style central to the novel, or is the prose so simple and basic that it detracts from the development of the story? Do grammatical errors or stilted prose jerk the reader out of the story and cause them to notice these mistakes? Is the writing flowery and peppered with metaphors? If so, does this add to the themes or time period of the novel and enhance it, or bore the reader or make them feel out of their depth because of the complicated phrases and words used? Do the descriptions enhance the story or are they too focused on the mundane tasks of life and minute details of the environment?
- Dialog - Is the dialog natural sounding and does it add to the story? Does the conversation progress naturally or does it feel forced to make a point? Is the exchange so long the reader forgot the point or where they were at in the story? Are the romantic exchanges sweet and endearing or incredibly cheesy? Does the character’s dialog reflect their personality? Is the language appropriate for the target audience?
FIRST NOTE: As we are becoming more focused and tougher in our reviewing process, a 5-star rating is more difficult to come by on The Christian Manifesto. As this is the case, any item we review that is given this rating is AUTOMATICALLY nominated for our site’s end of the year Lime Awards. From this list, we will pick the best of the best and present them to you in late December of each calendar year.
SECOND NOTE: While we stand behind our reviews and ratings of the last 4 years of the The Christian Manifesto’s operation, we acknowledge that the process may have been more based on personal preference and therefore the numerical ratings given were admittedly more arbitrary. We hope that these questions and the new description of what each rating means will help to remedy this situation. We’d like to thank all of the authors and artists over the years who have given us input on this process. We are still growing and hope to serve you and the public well into the future.
–The TCM Staff