Jay Boyar’s Guide to “Five-Star” Writing


Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Jay Boyar, a writer for Orlando Home & Leisure and an adjunct film professor at the University of Central Florida and Rollins College.

I was excited to meet Jay because for more than 20 years he was the movie critic at the Orlando Sentinel. An avid moviegoer, I wanted to get his take on some of his favorite movies and was eager for him to explain to me exactly why he gave Batman (the one with Michael Keaton in 1989) five stars.

Jay is not only a nice guy, he’s a big believer in meeting the younger generation “halfway” with his teaching methods.

For example, he maintains a blog where he posts upcoming discussion topics for his students. He says they come much better prepared for dialogue after reading the blog as opposed to him just announcing the topics in class beforehand.

Jay is still “traditional old school” on some things, though — like the importance of grammar and clear writing. Below he shares some of his timeless writing tips. Enjoy!

Prof. Boyar’s Timeless Writing Tips

  • Imagine a reader who doesn’t know anything about the subject you’re writing. Don’t suddenly introduce information (such as a character’s name or a specific scene) without providing at least a few words of context or explanation.
  • Wikipedia is never a valid source. Never.
  • Use who when referring to people, that (or which) when referring to things.

So it should be: The barista, who made the latte, used too much milk.

And it should be: It’s the magic hammer that allows Thor to fly.

(And it can also be: Thor has a magic hammer, which allows him to fly.)

  • When referring to plot events in a film or book, usually try to write in the present tense.

It’s: Harry and Hermione walk into Hogwarts.

Not: Harry and Hermione walked into Hogwarts.

  • Here in America, commas and periods go inside quotation marks. (Semicolons, oddly enough, go outside quotation marks.)

It’s: “I like ice cream,” she said.

Not: “I like ice cream”, she said.

  • Always proofread your work, preferably after letting it sit for a few hours or even overnight.
  • When proofreading, always ask yourself two equally important questions:

Is anything important missing from this paper?

Is there anything in this paper that doesn’t really need to be there?

Doreen Overstreet enjoys writing and movies. She thinks Jay Boyar should start a local film club and would even be open to watching Batman again to re-evaluate her 1989 opinion.


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