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Rosawyn

Since several people have been asking for something like this (for quite a while now actually) and Wendy and Time have both asked me to make this thread, I'm making the thread. Anyway, the purpose of this thread (as is hopefully suggested by the title) is to help us all learn to write better reviews and also explain what we as the RLt consider to be the guidelines for quality reviews.

Good Quality Reviews

-Should contain clear evidence that you did in fact read the fic you are reviewing. Generic statements that could be copied and pasted onto any fic such as "good job" or "nice work" and the like aren't very helpful as far as feedback goes.

-Use correct spelling and grammar. Obviously, it's okay to be a little silly sometimes, but it's also important to make yourself understood.

-Are polite and friendly.

...

Tips for Writing Better Reviews

Many people have told me that they don't often leave reviews because they don't know what to say, they don't even know where to begin. I'm not the best reviewer in the world, but I do have some advice for those who are very unsure how to even start writing a review.

-Find something specific in the story that you like/enjoy/appreciate and mention it.

-If a line or a scene stood out to you as especially good, mention that.

-If you see something that you think could be improved, mention it (politely). You don't have to suggest a way to fix the problem, but if you can think of a way that you think would work, the author would probably appreciate your idea even if they don't end up using it.

-If the story made you feel happy/sad/angry/giggly, mention that. Even if it's not the emotional reaction the author was intending, it is helpful to know how the fic affected you.

...

Anyway, I'm sure I'm not the only one with good ideas, so I hope other people will suggest their own tips as well. :)


More advice:

On getting started:

zanganito: Usually when I review, I'll end up reading the story at least twice. Once, just to enjoy it as a story and get an overall impression from the chapter, and then a second time to take more detailed notes on what worked or didn't work for me.
Edhla: It should go without saying, but in a review (and especially in a Review Tag review!) try to address - or heck, at least mention - the main points in a chapter or one-shot. It's a bit baffling and, I believe, not a very good review, to fixate for 1/3 of a review on some random thing, like the brand of a character's shoes. It's especially frustrating if a reviewer does so while ignoring the major plot and its developments, or a shocking twist, or a highly emotional scene, or they neglect to even mention the main character in the scene, or whatever.
NeoMiniTails: I suggest writing the review as you're reading - maybe per paragraph, per interesting part, but not at the end of the story. It may take a little longer, but the review will make you proud to write it, probably a little more mentally tired, and your thoughts and ideas will not be missed.
The Real F'n Scorp: Review as you go. If a line jumps out at you while you are reading through the first time, highlight it. You can always go back and write your thoughts after you have read the chapter and have a deeper understanding of what is going on in the story. This is a good rule of thumb to follow because this allows you to read the content more in-depth and notice things that a skim job would fail to pick up.
taerkitty: Summarize after finishing. As others have suggested, I review as I read. However, I try to always have three other sections, however small:

- "I will consider this as the end of the intro to this chapter, and (this is how I feel about the intro's effectiveness, pull, etc.)"

- "I consider this to be the start of the conclusion to this chapter and (see above.)"

- "Overall, I think this chapter is (effective? slow? too short? etc.)"

These are in addition to the point-by-point as-I-read.

Edhla: If you're reviewing a whole chapter, please review the whole chapter. It's very frustrating to be anxious to find out what so-and-so thought of x scene, only to have them completely ignore it or gloss over it with "the pickle scene was okay, I guess." If the chapter is a huge looooooong chapter and you don't feel you could give detail to your critique of every scene, ask the writer if it's okay to split your reviews to two or more per chapter. I'm okay with it, and a lot of other writers are too – I'd sooner get a very detailed review of half the chapter than a kinda vague, rushed review of the whole one.

On what to address:

Desktop Warrior: A bit of Time!advice: remember what you've learned in your English classes about analyzing literature. Even the most widely-read classics were written by people like you and me, and fan fiction is no different. Consider the tone of the story: does the narrator come across neutrally, or do they have strong feelings about something? Are they arrogant? Naive? Scared? Look at the atmosphere being developed: how do you imagine you would feel in the situations being described in the story? Is the author building up suspense? Or is there a sense of moody despair, a feeling that things are the same mess they've always been and it'll never change? Is the atmosphere ethereal, like you're dreaming the scenario described? Look at how the story flows. Do action scenes have a sense of urgency when you're reading them? Do more peaceful ones go by slower, with more description and eloquent phrasing?

Most importantly, characterization, characterization, characterization. Who is the character? What does their personality seem like from what you're reading about them? WHY is their personality the way it is - can you maybe find out or guess from the story? Why do they act the way they do? Is there something symbolic about their name, appearance, actions, etc.? Can you identify with the character? How is the character being portrayed by the author? How do they interact with other characters, if they interact at all? What is the relationship between characters in any story and why is it the way it is? In short, does a character feel like a real, complex person to you?

TikiPrincess:

A good plot with a reasonable arc. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end, even "slice of life" fiction. Does the plot move forward or do the characters stand around doing nothing? Is the plot believable? Do the events progress in a believable fashion or do things happen too quickly?

Believable characters. How do you relate to the characters? What do you like/dislike about them? Are they consistent within the fic, as opposed to being consistent with canon? Are they compelling enough that you're still interested in reading even when nothing is happening in the plot?

Description. A lot of writers struggle with this. There's a reason why "show, don't tell" is the #1 maxim in the writing world. Does the writer give you a clear picture of what's going on? Conversely, is there so much description that you want to skim ahead to where the plot "gets good"?

Dialogue. Can you hear the characters talking? Does it sound forced or unnatural? Do you ever get confused as to who is speaking? Does it flow well? Is the manner or way that the characters speak consistent within the fic?

Style. This is the most subjective of the story elements. It encompasses a lot of things, like POV (sort of, though technically it's a different category, I'm lumping it in as authorial choice), sentence structure, word choice. Was there a word or sentence that threw you out of the story? Were there shifts in POV without a clear delineation to another character? Are there changes in tense that shouldn't be there? Is there a phrase that's over-used? Does the author use a variety of sentence structures?

SunnyStorms: In a story, if there is/are...

Dialogue: Let the author know if it sounds natural, if there is banter that made you laugh (cite sample lines), or if there are parts that could be improved. If so why? [Ex: Style of speech doesn't match the characters - too formal or too slangy etc.; Dialogue is being used to infodump so it sounds unnatural]

Action Scenes: Let the author know if the action could be clearly visualized. If there are points of confusion, point them out. How was the pacing? (Are there chunks of description or introspective thoughts that don't mesh with the frantic action and are slowing it down?) (Is it moving too fast that it's hard to picture what's happening?) Did the author make use of strong verbs and include enough reactions that you could really picture and -feel- the blows/the tension/etc.? In all these it's good and helpful to cite specific examples whether in praise or for constructive critique.

Emotional Scenes: Let the author know if you were moved by the scene. Could you feel the emotions - e.g. sadness, loneliness, anger, etc.? Were there particular details/dialogue that really hit your emotions? (cite examples!) Conversely, if it felt flat, try to point out why that was the case for you. (Maybe the build up wasn't enough, maybe because it seemed to come out of nowhere, maybe you thought the reaction wasn't proportionate to what happened, maybe there was too much telling and not enough details to -show- the emotional reaction in the characters).

Other types of scenes: If horror - were you horrified? If funny - did you laugh/smile? What details/lines especially brought out the horror/the humor/etc.?

General things to comment on the writing (don't just stop at - "no SpaG problems, great job, good writing!"):

Description: Was there too much or too florid of prose that you were bored? Or was there not enough that it was hard to picture the person/the setting/X event? (be specific, give some suggestions of what more the author might describe - smells, noises, touch, emotions) If you found the descriptions vivid, go further and cite those parts that you found particularly striking. Conversely, were there uses of figurative language that weren't quite so effective because of reason X? (e.g. mixed metaphors, awkward comparisons in similes, etc.)

Sentence length and phrasing: Were there sentences that were too long or awkwardly worded that it was hard to follow? Or too short that the flow of the story was broken? Were there redundancies/repetitive elements that could be trimmed? Or was it smooth going either because of a good mix of varied lengths in sentences or some other aspect of the writer's style?

SpaG: Were there any consistent conventions broken and if so did this make things more confusing/hard to read or was the trade-off effect clear and effective?

Characterization: If it was great, explain why. If characters felt real to you then say why - was it because they seemed fully fleshed out with flaws X and Y? Was it because of great details like X, Y, and Z that helped to -show- you who the characters were instead of the author just telling you? Or conversely, did character C feel unconvincing because their actions (which actions?) didn't make sense given who they supposedly were? Were they too perfect that you found them boring or unbelievable?

Word choices: Was there a rich and varied use of vocab? Were certain words too repetitive? Were there places you would suggest a different word choice? If so, state your reasons.

Beyond mechanics:

Plot and Twists: Did the author do something plot-wise that you particularly liked or didn't like? Was there a clever take on a cliche or did the author do something otherwise unexpected? How did that choice in the end work out better (or not) for the story? Conversely, maybe you found something to be too cliche that it didn't captivate you as much or there was a turn of events that you found unbelievable for reasons X and Y. Either way, let the author know!


On critiquing:

Edhla: Know your limits. If you are canon blind, try not to comment negatively on a characterisation – it may well be absolutely spot on. If, like me, you're not strong on grammar and punctuation, please don't critique the writer's SpaG unless you're absolutely certain you're correct. I've been a writer terribly confused by conflicting self-proclaimed experts on grammar and punctuation. Since my own grammar and punctuation sucks, I couldn't tell that I was actually being led up the garden path by information that was flat-out wrong.
The Real F'n Scorp: Don't just skim read a chapter and write up your review. You are really not building a quality review by just skimming over the story and picking out what instantly grabs you. That instant detail may be a small speck of what happens in the story and only minimally explains something that is going on.
zanganito: It's also not necessary to try and "find" something that needs to be fixed in a chapter in order for a review to be helpful for a writer. Letting a writer know what worked is as helpful, and sometimes even more helpful than letting a writer know what didn't work.
NemoTheSurvivor: Do not be afraid to tell them what you did not like. I understand trying to be positive more than negative, but sometimes, the story does more wrong than right. While cutting down the number of negative words is a good think, cutting out good critiques isn't. There's probably a fine line somewhere (that I ignore and cross more than I'd like to), but your mindset isn't wrong. Worst case scenario: Leave a positive review with some minor errors, then send a PM with all the major negatives. I find it better than listing all the major wrongs in a unchangeable review. That way, the author can edit their story, making it better, and the review won't turn off a new reader for something that isn't in the story anymore.
taerkitty: This may sound obvious, but I don't read others' reviews prior to reading the chapter. I feel a pristine read is the most valuable review.
Edhla: Please don't pad. Really, Blind Freddie can tell when you're padding for the wordcount. "Disclaimer: I'm canon blind, sorry" is only five words, and really shouldn't take up more room than that. Throwing in unrelated anecdotes or raving about canon or whatever is something I don't mind, as long as there's also enough substance in the review to make a good, detailed review. The anecdotes then just become gravy, not a disguise for a review with no real substance. If you're hitting the bases of the rest of the suggestions, there really is no need for you to pad anyway.
The Real F'n Scorp: Don't self-promote or spend an entire review talking about your own stories. This seems like a weird one, but sadly, it does happen. If you find an author that you like, and who you respect as a writer, PM them and ask to do a review pact. Worst they will say is no.

On being specific:

Edhla: Be specific. If someone asked me for only one tip, this would be it. Be specific – as specific as humanly possible. "This fic was funny" isn't specific. "The part where Bob fell down the stairs cracked me up" is better. "[quote about Bob falling down the stairs] LOL! This was great. I can imagine his wife would be really unimpressed with that. The scene was really easy to picture and very funny" is best (even though yes, the fact that we can't cut and paste unless we're on the mobile site truly sucks.) Or, if something in the fic didn't work, try to explain why it didn't work and suggest ways to improve it. It's sometimes not easy, and I'm guilty of "this sentence seems off and I don't know why". But it's really not very fair to tell the writer there's something wrong and... that's it.
StrawberryDuckFeathers: Be specific - and be specific about compliments and criticism. ( SPECIFIC COMP: I love the intro; the 'dark night' sets an eerie scene so well, and gives a great element of mystery.) (SPECIFIC CRIT: [he went into the darknes] 'darknes' needs an extra 's' on the end here :] ) Make sure to explain anything you say is 'interesting,' 'well-written', 'good' and so on. (John's motives are interesting, because it seems like he wants to care, but can't because he's too focused on his ambition of pushing anyone out of his way to climb the ranks.) Pay attention to the word choices. What words struck you emotionally or dramatically? Why did they so? Let the author know. :) ( I loved the use of 'pummel' here, since the hard 'p' gives a great sense of her punch's power.)
zanganito: Giving examples from the story is always good, (and it makes it easier to figure out what is working, what isn't, and where typos are located.If I notice any typos, I usually list them in their own section. I'll usually assume a mistake is a typo unless there is a pattern of the same mistake being repeated throughout the fic.) Be specific as possible.
Edhla: Avoid weasel-words. My favourite is "decent" as in, "this is a decent fic"; but another big, huge weasel-word is "interesting." "This is interesting" tells the writer exactly two-thirds of one-quarter of nothing about their fic.

On quotations:

StrawberryDuckFeathers: Use quotes to show which parts you liked/ are critiquing. Not only does it show you read the story, it makes it a lot easier to spot mistakes. Organise your critique clearly, so that the author can understand it. ( I really liked your use of 'acid-tongued man' to give his words that harsh, painful, lingering feel on others.) ( I think that 'raven-haired boy' can be changed to simply 'dark boy', since you can then remove the 'raven hair' cliché and lose no value in simplifying it. :) )
darkaccalia520: If you're going to quote directly from the story, be sure you're writing just as much of your own words as well as quotes do not count towards your word count either.
taerkitty: I've found that quoting the passages on which I am commenting immediately prior to the comment itself helps the author understand my comments better. Yes, you can copy and paste from FF and FP. All you have to do is change the 'www' in the URL to 'm' and reload the story. You can't select-all (Ctrl-A), but you can highlight and then copy (Ctrl-C).

On tone:

StrawberryDuckFeathers: Don't just write a huge critique and then not try as hard on positives. Try to balance them both out as well as possible. Be nice with criticism! Don't be blunt; I highly believe a polite review is better than a blunt one. SANDWICH METHOD: Positives, then critique, and then a morale booster like 'good job!' or something. Be tentative- 'suggest' things, don't make it sound it like 'have' to do it. ( TENTATIVENESS: [ he walked into the sunset] I think that 'stroll' may be a stronger alternative than 'walk' here, as it adds a calmer feel. Of course, that is just my suggestion, so feel free to do what you like.) Use the occasional emoticon to give a friendly approach. :) (' Wow, great intro! :D' ) Don't say anything in an anon review that you wouldn't write in a signed one. Don't focus on why the story is not good and needs to change- focus on how it is already good, but can improve further. No 'bad' or 'wrong'- just how to 'improve'. ( I think, to further improve this line...) ( To make this part even better, maybe you could...)
The Real F'n Scorp: Being rude or sounding supercilious does not endear you to an author. Just because you are someone who prefers harsh, rude or negative feedback does not mean that other authors do. We are all people and we all have different feelings and different ways we react to concrit. Telling someone that their dialogue is "unrealistic" or their story "boring" is not helpful (nor is it honestly necessary frankly.). Always strive to be conciliatory in your tone and to bridge the things you are suggesting need improvement by moderating your tone or adding a little :) to show that you are not being mean or nasty. More flies with honey than vinegar. If you are a routine RT player, you don't want to alienate your fellow players by getting a reputation. Believe me, we do talk to each other and we will let you know that you have managed to irritate the community.
Edhla: Start friendly, and stay friendly! "Hi!" is good. I know Neo always starts his with a friendly "Hi! Hi!" and Giry usually ends hers with "cheers, dearie!" It sets the writer at ease and is just manners, really. Even writing terrible fanfiction hasn't yet become an actual crime. The best way to review story inconsistencies, errors, etc is to treat it like it is: easily fixed and No Big Deal.
darkaccalia520: Avoid giving commands, such as "You must, you should, etc." You can get around this in many different ways, but one I like to use is, "If this were mine, I would..." I'm not telling the author to fix it that way, and whether the author changes something is his/her pregotative.
zanganito: Whenever I mention something that's at least slightly subjective, I think it's a good idea to mention that it's an opinion, or it seemed or felt this way to me. For example, I might not enjoy a story that's too heavy on description, but other readers might love it, and I think it's important to keep this in mind when reviewing. One thing that helps to stay positive, is to see any "mistakes" as potential for improvement. Formatting errors are easy to fix (and sometimes they might be ffn glitches, so I usually give the author the benefit of the doubt.)
NemoTheSurvivor: If talking about the creative aspect of the story (plot, characterization, details, etc), avoid using bossy words. However, when referring to SPAG, sometimes the writer is wrong and needs correction. Of course, there should always be a positive in the review to help soften the blow (if possible; I did read a story where I couldn't leave a single positive comment, even with a second writer helping me).
Igenlode Wordsmith: One of those (to me) daft anti-bullying slogans. seen on a poster: it occurred to me that it's actually pretty applicable to reviewing issues -- certainly to mine.

T - is it Tactful?

H - is it Helpful?

I - is it Inspiring?

N - is it Necessary?

K - is it Kind?

darkaccalia520: If you absolutely cannot say anything positive, I follow the Thumper rule. Of course, you cannot opt for this in a review tag situation, but by Thumper rule, I mean, "If ya can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all." Of course, I do believe in reviewing everything I read, and I do 99.9 percent of the time. But there are a few stories that I just couldn't for this very reason: I had nothing nice to say. I think it's okay to not review something if you cannot find anything nice to say. Or if you absolutely feel you must say something, I think I'd opt for a PM in this case, just in case the author has no interest in revising the story at all.

On reader response reviews:

Edhla: DO tell the writer how their work made you feel. I've said it above, but as a writer, my primary aim is to make people think and feel things. Some of my most prized reviews that I've received included things like, "this is the first piece of fanfic that made me cry". Tell the writer when you cry. When you were laughing so hard you shot coffee out of your nose. When you were reading with one eye open because you knew it was gonna be awful for your beloved protagonist. When you yelped in horror. Tell them!
StrawberryDuckFeathers: Give your opinions on the characters. Do you agree with their actions? Are you rooting for them, or against them? (I think that John is being too ambitious. He's even letting others die just to get where he wants! I wonder if he'll start to care for others soon? Otherwise he'll be on his own when the battle begins...) Try giving your predictions on what might happen next, if you have any ideas. ( I have an eerie feeling that the aliens will kill John! I hope not :( )
The Real F'n Scorp: If you notice allegorical representations or symbolic representations that mean something to you—point them out, please! I know that I toss little things like these in at times and those are intended to evoke a thought, a feeling, or thought in my reader's heads. Please define things that you see or how certain words make you feel. They really help to point out where I am connecting with my audience.

On reviewing spelling and grammar:

The Real F'n Scorp: SPAG! It is subjective, I know that. The rules are tricky, I know (boy, do I!) It is something that can be stylistic. Be considerate of different rules from different countries when you are pointing things like this out. If you aren't sure, phrase it as "I'm not positive, but…" most often the authors will let you know and if you are polite, you will learn something valuable (and make a new friend!)
taerkitty: SPAG .... argh. That's my strength, and I'm not ashamed of it. I will try to point out where I feel there are themes or shining examples of prose, but I think my strongest area is finding all the English 101 errors in spelling, punctuation, (a-something) and grammar. However, I'm not going to pad my review with it. If an author seems to chronically use comma splices (a form of run-on sentence), then after the third or fifth mention, I'll just add some note that "I don't want to be redundant, and this may be a conscious style decision, so I'll refrain from pointing these out after this."
The Death Frisbee: Separate the SPAG from everything else, so that it it's own thing and thus feels like one critique rather than a million little critiques. That is, it's its own thing, unless the SPAG is repeated throughout (say, a dialogue tag error that the author repeatedly makes), or it's so freaking hard to read because of the SPAG that it detracts from the fic.
Wendy Brune: For me, it's more of the people who need a lot of SPAG help don't listen to the critiques anyway. I still point out the major errors - "Your sentence structure was awkward," or "You had a lot of comma splices!" - but I don't go through line by line.

On the flip side, as a writer, a lot of times when people leave me SPAG, it's actually incorrect.

I also feel that some people use SPAG as a way to make their reviews seem longer or of a higher quality, when really, very little is being said. You are definitely not one of those people, Kate! =D But yeah. I won't name names, but I definitely seen it in review tag where people will only leave a few lines on the actual story, and I don't like that. SPAG should be extra, not considered as part of the review.

To sum up, some people can do SPAG well, and Kate is one of them. In general, though....

TikiPrincess: The thing that irritates me about SPAG reviews is that fiction often breaks grammar rules. It's okay to have fragments and run-ons. It's okay to use the objective pronoun instead of the subjective. Because that's how people talk, to others and to themselves. I'm quite aware of the rules that I'm breaking, and I think it's pretty obvious in my style of writing that these are choices, not mistakes.

On reviewing fandom blind:

The Real F'n Scorp: Don't use fandom blindness as a reason to not review. You DO have a valuable opinion that you can offer these writers, fandom knowledge or not. In fact, YOU are the reviewers that authors like me want to hear from. You can tell me if my story is interesting, if the writing is solid, if my characters are interesting, etc. I treat my fandom blindness in the same way I treat a book I am being instructed to read for a college English class: I don't know if I'm gonna like it, I don't know a thing about it… but I might well end up finding a true gem once I delve into the story.
StrawberryDuckFeathers: If fandom-blind, mention it- the author can hopefully give you some fandom guidance after reading to aid your understanding.
Edhla: If you're canon blind, don't feel that you can only review the mechanics of the writing (spelling, punctuation and grammar.) You also have an excellent opportunity to tell the writer how their writing made you feel, even though you don't know the canon characters, or don't know them well. That is an absolutely golden review for a fanfic writer.

I do find myself clenching my teeth if I get a review saying "I'm canon blind, but blah-blah is OoC (based on how I think they should behave) and blah-blah makes no sense (and you should rewrite it.)" For me, this is a particular problem if people start reviewing one of the later fics in a series of nine, and don't know anything that's happened in *my* canon beforehand, or don't know that an "unresolved" issue actually does get resolved later.

If I read something that confuses me in a fic where I'm canon blind, I'll always couple it with acknowledging that I'm canon blind and that it's more than likely just ignorance on my part than a flaw in their work. I particularly do this in fandoms where I do have a basic understanding of canon (mostly Harry Potter and Hunger Games) but don't have enough familiarity with canon to be able to quibble on the finer points of characterisation/world building/whatever.

I think it's all in how it's phrased... charging in and saying "I'm canon blind but you are wrong" is never going to go over well :p

Ragnelle: But when reviewing fandom blind, it is important to point out what made you react and why. "What character A did here (insert quoted example) seemed ooc to me because it does not fit with how you have portrayed him elsewhere" is a valid comment to make even if you don't know the fandom. Now the instance quoted might e straight out of canon, but then that points to a problem with the characterisation elsewhere, since the canon behaviour seemed off. Same with dialogue: if some of the dialogue seems off in comparison with the rest of the dialogue in the story, that is something which a canon blind reviewer can point out. The trick is probably to be very clear exactly what it was that made you react, and adding that your own canon blindness might be part of the problem.
Cheile: now if you're reading a multichapter blind and you wanted to comment on characters, you can always point out if characterization goes wonky and seems odd to you personally. Say the female MC is canonically shy and introverted, so you see from the start that she is not the type who would be the life of the party. Then in chapter seven, there IS a party and she voluntarily goes up on the stage and does a duet with the band or something--and there's no indication that something hasn't influenced her (false bravery via many drinks, mind control, whatever). You could comment on that in a polite concrit way: "Laci being a party girl doesn't seem like her--this seems OOC from how you've showed her throughout the story and it threw me out of the reading". I dunno, something like that.
darkaccalia520: Try to think of it as a piece of original fiction. Forget about the fact you know nothing of Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, or the Avengers. In fact, if you can, try to completely ignore the fandom at all. When I'm reading a fandom blind piece, I often ignore the summary, mainly because I'm not really going to know what the writer is talking about. Not only that, I'm not going to be able to comment on characterization or canon.

And remember that it's okay to let the author know you don't know the fandom. If you are reading a WIP, after a few chapters, you're going to get to 'know' the characters in your own way. Therefore, when a character does something you might not expect, you can let the author know that what you know of the character (which is through their work) that whatever he/she did seemed out of place. You might not think that piece of advice is significant or even very helpful, but I am sure it would be. I know if someone were reading my WIP fandom blind and said that, it would definitely help me to think. And I may edit my work due to that comment.

But as mentioned above, you can comment on mechanics, what you like about the story, what you don't like, etc. And don't be afraid to mention things that might be only for the canon. For example, in a recent review, I know I told a writer that a situation in the story seemed a bit odd. But then I did say that might be my fandom blindness. That way, the writer would know if they need to take my suggestion or not. Not only that, especially if you are reviewing in this forum, it is highly unlikely an author would jump down your throat. So if you're worried about that, please don't worry.

Remember that any review is appreciated. As writers, we all know how getting reviews is like pulling teeth. So when you do get a review, aren't you just thrilled? I'm sure you are. Who gets a review and says, "I'm so mad!"? Hopefully, no one. ;P Anyway, think of that euphoric feeling. Now imagine being able to give a writer that same joy? Isn't that something you'd be happy to do? I know I enjoy giving reviews as much as I like receiving them...and it's such a great feeling when you receive an appreciative reply not too long after. But even if you don't get a reply, I'm sure that writer appreciates it. You took the time out of your day to say, hey, I read your story and this is what I think of it. Who wouldn't appreciate the time someone took to say so?

The more you do it, the easier it's going to get. I promise. I used to be where you are now: afraid to read anything but seaQuest. I can't even remember the first time I read something fandom blind, but I did it...and the more I did it, it got easier. And I liked it too. Sure, there are still fandoms that scare me a bit, but sometimes, you have to be the bigger person and give it a chance because no one else might.


On Review Tag and review pacts:

Edhla: Please don't skim. Nine out of ten times, everyone can tell - and there are some fics, particularly one-shot, that hinge on a sentence and sometimes a single word. If you miss that sentence/word, or you only read half the fic/chapter and then tune out, you'll have missed the whole point of the work, which is sadface for everyone.
The Real F'n Scorp: Do try and respect an author's preferences in RT. If they are listing a story that they'd like input on, it's because that is the one they are working on and would really love some feedback on to help with the writing process. If you are absolutely NOT interested in that story is one thing, but if you routinely ignore preferences, don't expect that your own preferences will be taken into consideration.
The Real F'n Scorp: In regards to RT—don't constantly tag and then race out the clock and leave a bare bones review. Bad form. If you need the full 12 hours, then the review should be a well-written and thought out one.
darkaccalia520: Do not revenge review! If someone wrote you a critique that you don't agree with, don't turn around and to the same thing to them, just because. Remember that being critiqued is a privilege, not a right! Wait until you're not so upset/hurt from the review if you must, but don't write someone a harsh review just because you're upset.
darkaccalia520: If you have a private review pact with a member, it's probably bad manners to tag them as well. Check with that member that it's okay before doing so.
The Real F'n Scorp: In regards to review pacts—give as well as you get. If the person you are in a review pact with is giving you a review that is helpful and thoughtful and which you can utilize to boost your work? Give them the same. Giving them a review that is nothing but "this was okay, but it could be better" with a long list of SPAG is simply not appropriate. Give as you are getting. You don't need to write a two-page review, but you can give them better than this.

On reviewing poetry and drabbles:

Rosawyn:Let me just explain from the start that I am in no way an expert (despite my "all wise" claim). I do write a lot of poetry and drabbles, so I know what I find helpful to me. And I do find drabbles a lot easier in general to review than poetry. In fact, I find drabbles easier to review than longer fics, because I can keep the whole thing on the screen while typing up my review, so there's no scrolling involved (I kind of hate scrolling when trying to write a review).

Most drabbles (and poems as well) focus on either a character or a relationship. That works out well for me, because characters and how they relate to each other are the biggest things I tend to notice in writing. Even if it's a character I don't know well or have never even heard of before, generally I can comment on the characterization in the poem or drabble. There's not a lot of room in a drabble or a short poem to describe a character in detail, but the details that are included are usually important. Maybe the character seems naive or arrogant or responsible or kind. I usually mention that. If there is a relationship between two characters, that relationship might be sweet or distrubing or funny. That's something else I can mention. As with all reviews, the more specific I can be, the better. Maybe I noticed that a character seemed conflicted or unsure about something. Even if that wasn't the intention of the writer, I figure it's worth mentioning.

I have studied poetry at a university level (under the general umbrella of "English Literature"), but I'm not an expert on forms. I won't usually comment on technical stuff in poetry unless it jumped out at me as working very well or not working for me. I've actually had to google poetry terms used in reviews on my own poems, and said to myself, "Oh, so that's what I was doing there!" Comments on technical poetic stuff can certainly be helpful to me as a writer when someone puts that in a review, but I'm very unlikely to change a poem at all once it's published and I'm also unlikely to have any idea what the reviewer is talking about without the help of google if they use technical terminology. My study of poetry focused mostly on Shakespeare, John Donne, Robert Frost, and the like. If I use a certain poetic thing that I learned from reading and studying other poetry, I'm probably doing it on purpose, but I also probably have no idea what it's called. So I don't tend to use technical terminology in my reviews. I'll say something like, "I really liked this line" and quote the line, but I'll do that in any review if a particular line stood out as being awesome.

Most poems and drabbles will also employ description to some degree. That's also something I'll comment on.

I guess the main thing about drabbles and short poems is that they are basically just like any piece of writing, but condensed. I find it a lot easier to notice specific details in short pieces rather than long pieces, so I tend to find short pieces easier to review. I generally work from the assumption that most people are like me and want their writing to be noticed more than they want it to be praised. And when the entirety of a piece of writing can fit on my computer screen all at once, I find it so much easier to notice things in it.


On reviewing WIPs:

TikiPrincess:

Plot - For me, each chapter has a mini-plot that feeds into the overall story. Or, at least, I try to write it that way. Do my characters have clear goals in the chapter, and are those goals met or deferred? Do the events in the previous chapters reasonably lead to the events in the current chapter? Like, is there something that doesn't quite fit or seems like a stretch? It's okay if that's something that gets explained in later chapters, but I want to know if I'm pushing the boundaries, breaking your suspension of disbelief.

It's always fun for me when reviewers try to guess what's going to happen in upcoming chapters. What are some plot developments that you liked? Was there anything that surprised you? What are you hoping to see?

Characterization - In a couple of my stories, the POV shifts for each chapter, and it's hard to keep those characters' voices unique and consistent. For the ones that stay in one POV, I do like to know what readers think of the character's development. Does the character change? Is the character making choices, affecting the plot, interacting with others? Or is the character being acted on? Is the character static?

Another thing to comment on would be any characters introduced in the current chapter. How do they interact with others? What are your feelings about them and how do you think they'll come into play later down the road?

Style/Description - Were there any lines or phrases that stuck with you? Either because they were good or bad?

If there's action, is the action clear? Can you picture the body parts in the right places? Kicks to the face and whatnot, get your minds out of the gutter! Unfortunately That type of action isn't allowed on FFN.

Is the setting clear? Can you picture the place where this is happening?

Emotional - Did anything resonate with you on an emotional level? It's okay if nothing did. Some chapters aren't meant to be emotional. They're meant to kick butt!

7/27/2012 . Edited by Luna Rapunzel, 9/19/2015 #1
Desktop Warrior

A bit of Time!advice: remember what you've learned in your English classes about analyzing literature. Even the most widely-read classics were written by people like you and me, and fan fiction is no different. Consider the tone of the story: does the narrator come across neutrally, or do they have strong feelings about something? Are they arrogant? Naive? Scared? Look at the atmosphere being developed: how do you imagine you would feel in the situations being described in the story? Is the author building up suspense? Or is there a sense of moody despair, a feeling that things are the same mess they've always been and it'll never change? Is the atmosphere ethereal, like you're dreaming the scenario described? Look at how the story flows. Do action scenes have a sense of urgency when you're reading them? Do more peaceful ones go by slower, with more description and eloquent phrasing?

Most importantly, characterization, characterization, characterization. Who is the character? What does their personality seem like from what you're reading about them? WHY is their personality the way it is - can you maybe find out or guess from the story? Why do they act the way they do? Is there something symbolic about their name, appearance, actions, etc.? Can you identify with the character? How is the character being portrayed by the author? How do they interact with other characters, if they interact at all? What is the relationship between characters in any story and why is it the way it is? In short, does a character feel like a real, complex person to you?

EDIT: These are just a couple things to get people started. There's obviously a lot more to think about when writing a good review, but it's important to note that writing critics think about the exact same things in their reviews that authors do for their stories.

7/28/2012 . Edited 7/28/2012 #2
darkaccalia520

Well, I always give my famous darkin520 chapter rundown, pointing out what I liked and how I felt when I read it, etc. If you've gotten a review from me, you know what I'm taling about. IF there is any criticism, I often save it for last...but I always say something at the end after this like, "Overall, well done. If you fix _______, it might be better."

That's my advice. Hope that helps. :)

EDIT: Forgot to mention I try to be as tactful as I can about my criticisms.

7/28/2012 . Edited 7/28/2012 #3
songstar13

It doesn't work so well with the new review set up on the site, but my advice to readers: Write the review as you read! If something made you snort milk out your nose because it was so funny, pause in your perusal of the story for a moment to make note of that! I know I personally enjoy reviews that are constructed this way, as I almost get to experience my story anew through the reader's eyes.

Another possible strategy, though one to be used sparingly: It's fine to directly mention or even quote (once again SPARINGLY) lines from the story that you especially liked. I have a rather faithful reviewer who is always pointing the lines she finds to be the most striking and well-written, and adding her commentary on why she liked those lines so much. It really helps me to target the areas I'm strong in, which is just as important as discovering where you need to improve. Once again for emphasis, this really just needs to be the salt on the substance of the review; AT LEAST ninety-five percent of the review should be your own original words. The author doesn't need you to rewrite the entire story in the review---at that point this strategy becomes a bit useless if you liked EVERY line.

Just my two cents!

Happy reading, good luck with reviews!

7/28/2012 #4
truces

It doesn't work so well with the new review set up on the site

Ugh, I completely agree. I love reviewing as I read, and now my reviews aren't as long because I forgot some of the things I wanted to say.

My advice is: make sure you always point out something that could be fixed. Even if you think the story is flawless, try to find one thing to make the review not a massive praise-pile. Be polite, of course, but most authors love getting praise, but love it even more when they get polite, meaningful critique. Also, point out exactly what you like, as "I luved it!!! Updatez sooon" really isn't helpful, whereas "I loved the way you used _____ and ___ was really well written. You also have excellent grammar/spelling" is a lot more useful because we know what to do next time!

7/28/2012 . Edited 7/28/2012 #5
Desktop Warrior

More Time!responses/advice/whathaveyou:

On critique: Every story has something that can be critiqued. It might not be a flaw as much as something that wasn't explained properly and that leaves you confused. Try to be as objective as possible when reading any story. Being tactful is good - and justifying your critique is the most important thing of all - but don't fall into the trap of softening your critique to spare someone's feelings. The most effective critique assumes a high level of maturity on the author's part, characterized by an unconditional willingness to improve, and recognizing that critique of one's writing is not a personal attack. To answer Neotenial's question, a review that is completely non-complimentary is perfectly alright, as long as it shows a serious engagement with the story.

On fandoms: Having reviewed stories for multiple fandoms during my time at the RLt - many of which I'm completely unfamiliar with - I'd say knowing the canon definitely allows for a more substantial, engaging review. That said, don't be discouraged from reviewing something in an unfamiliar fandom. At the end of the day, writing is writing, and the fandom is only a small part of the story. Keep in mind the suggestions I made in my first post: these issues are common to all fictional works. A good review from outside the fandom will help the author view their own fandom from a different perspective, and may in fact help them bring their story closer to canon.

On reviewing "formulae": Don't limit yourself to a single reviewing format. Yes, writing is writing, but each individual story is different, and therefore, you'll need to focus on different things for each review you write. You want to review the story, not break it up into pre-defined categories.

7/28/2012 #6
The Bitter Kitten

In essence, I think what I enjoy in a review is evidence that someone really engaged with my story and is telling me how it affected them/ they reacted to it- whether my spag /formatting was distracting from the story, whether my characters are engaging and real and not ooc, whether the newest plot turn dives right off the edge into unbelievability or is a great twist and if they saw it coming. So specifics are good- show that you've done more than skimmed the first three sentences, and it's hard to go wrong.

7/28/2012 #7
Ventisquear

If it is all right to give completely non-complimentary review, it should be all right to write completely complimentary review as well. In other words - if you didn't like anything, you don't have to force yourself to write compliments and praise. But if you liked everything, you also don't have to search for problems.

I guess it depends on whether you want to write a review or a critique. They are not the same, though both should be appreciated.

Review gives the reader's personal feedback - what the reader liked or didn't like, emotional reactions, etc.These can be both negative or positive. Critique tries to be more objective, and focuses on how the story is written - style, tone, characterisatio, pace, setting, dialogue etc. Critique - or at least constructive criticism - should always include both praise and criticism.

7/29/2012 #8
darkaccalia520

I tried posting in here twice yesterday, and the site ate both my posts. :/

So let's try this again. I have some more things I'd like to share. This is based on MY personal experience. Whether or not you agree with me is completely up to you.

First, I don't think every review needs to be critical. I go by the phrase, 'if it's not broke, don't fix it'. If your story isn't terribly confusing nor does it have spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, I will most likely not say anything critical, especially if I don't know the fandom.

If I am familiar with the fandom, I am far more likely to pick out things that are OOC or something, but it's rare that I see it.

It's not that I never say anything critical because I do. But for every critical review I write, I probably write about ten non-critical reviews. I see nothing wrong with giving a personal cheer for someone because everyone needs to hear that sometimes. I try to give the kind of review I'd want to receive. I was told that by someone a long time ago, and I use it. And I really like to get reviews that are nice, so I try to do the same.

Now, it's not that I cannot take constructive criticism because I can. However, the most critical and hurtful reviews I have ever received have come from fellow RLt members. The people who gave them will never know how it affected me because I didn't let on that it did. But it cut my confidence for a while. For every nice review I get, it only takes one negative to get me worried...to make me think I am not very talented. Of course, every person has a different idea of what is tactful and what isn't. And every person has different sensitivities. Some have thick skins while others don't. My skin is not as thick as I'd like it to be, and I can't help how I felt. But again, this is why I think tact is extremely important. There are a thousand ways to say, "Your story needs work." But you don't need to say it in such a way that belittles the other person or makes him or her feel stupid. You don't need to be condescending.

Have I always been nice in my reviews? I may have hurt a person or two, although no one has ever mentioned. But when I am writing a critical review, I write it out and reread it before I hit submit. I do my best to think, "What if this were a review I was receiving? How would it make me feel?" And I hope I deliver it tactfully enough that it doesn't hurt the other person because, let's face it, any critical review can hurt. It's up to the reviewer to try to say it in a gentle way.

Now, for the writer, I'd like to deliver some advice as well. I know not everyone does this, but I reply to all my reviews (well, the ones that are signed, at least). But when I receive a negative review...one that's not so gushing, it's hard to be grateful. That's why I see nothing wrong with waiting for a few days to take that initial sting away. The reason being is that it's difficult for me not to sound snarky in my reply to a negative or critical review.

To be perfectly honest, I must be lucky. I do have a following in my fandom, and they are so kind. I never get critical reviews...and I'm serious. So when I play review tag, that's the ONLY time I get critical reviews. While I am grateful for the review, it's really hard when I get a critique, especially from someone who DOESN'T know my fandom. So waiting a few days does help. Then, I say something like, "Thank you for your help. I'll take a look at the things you mentioned. I appreciate it."

Now the reviewer thinks he or she did help, and they have been thanked. They don't need to know I disagreed with their review; they don't need to know if their review hurt me a little. All they know is that I was grateful.

I don't have to agree with what was said, I don't need to take the advice. Everyone has his or her opinion and much as I'd like to, I can't please everyone. While I have met lovely people who really seem to genuinely enjoy my stories, there are some who just don't.

Have I always been kind in my replies? No, I may have had a time or two I wasn't. But I did go back and apologize shortly thereafter. It's not always easy to be grateful for negative reviews. But it's best not to engage and cause a debate because it's highly unlikely either side will be convinced otherwise.

So, that's my experience, my advice. Take it if you like, or don't. But I'm often told my reviews put a smile on the writer's face...and I love hearing that. It makes me feel good to make others feel happy. And I see nothing wrong with that.

7/30/2012 #9
Ventisquear

If I don't like the story or its style, I won't review it. If I have to - e.g. I promised help, or in a review game, I'll try to forget my personal preferences and focus on more objective things - the same way I did it at uni, where I had to read dozens of books I hated. :P But I'll try to write something helpful and useful.

And, I'll add a point to 'how to write a review'. Very important thing, before you start reviewing it, is, you know - READING it. Not just skimming through it. Reading it and paying attention to the text.

Because if the reviewer mixes two protagonists, because they didn't notice name in the dialogue tag... or if they skimmed over explicit explanation of what will happen in the next part and then they are confused... then 'I don't know the fandom' is only a cheap excuse. If something is confusing in the story, say what. If something is confusing because you didn't really care and just skimmed the story just to have it done, then don't mention it.

8/4/2012 #10
The Bitter Kitten

I think there's a balance to be found.

Something that focuses strictly on the structure of a story- from the characters and how canon they are, to the plot and grammar, can seem clinical.

Alternatively, something that's solely "OMG JOHN WATSON IS MADE OF KITTENS" is less than helpful, however true it is. It does however, show that your writing is solid enough to evoke a reaction, carried though it may be by the source material.

I think a review that pays attention to the structure and building blocks of the story is good and necessary, but detailing the enjoyment or lack thereof is also important as well. That's what we read and write for in the first place, after all, and knowing that your story is resonating with your audience is valuable feedback.

8/14/2012 #11
DA7

Bitter Kitten, I think balance is a good thing. Most of my opinion on reviewing is strictly within the fanfiction world. Because with fanfiction, there are other factors to consider: Knowledge of the fandom (canon-wise), knowledge of the fandom (fans-wise, like favorite pairings, certain character traits that were created for characters within the fandom by the fans' stories.) If I were reviewing something actually original, my reviews would be more balanced out. And this is more of a personal thing, but most fanfics rarely elicit an emotional response from me. I don't hate them or like them, the feelings just neutral. However, if I story does catch my attention, I will mention it, even if it's just a brief sentence.

8/14/2012 #12
The Bitter Kitten

Those are factors to consider, definitely, but it doesn't take away the fact that it's first and foremost a story. As such, you're meant to emotionally invest in the characters. There's at least six stories that I've read (by six different authors) where I've been halfway familiar or completely ignorant of the fandom, and the writing was strong enough to get me invested-- so much so that I looked up the canon (or picked it up again). Sure, it's nice to know if this particular story is an AU, or a fix!fic, or set 50 years in the future, or a gap-filler in a sparse canon or OCs in the canon world, or just wanton shipping of the writer's favorite characters, but if the writer has the chops, it really doesn't matter as much as it would seem.

8/14/2012 #13
freestyler901

Hi, I just want to ask how do you review a story in a category which you have never ventured before?

I have always wanted to participate in the review tag but I find it extremely difficult to review stories that I am not familiar with. My fanfic categories are rather limited - Fairy Tail, Naruto, Bleach, FF8 and within these groups, I would narrow down to selective characters which are a pathetic handful. I tried to review but failed each time because I can't seem to know what to write. I can't discuss about characterisation which in my opinion, is the most important part of a review for a fanfic.

9/3/2012 #14
The Bitter Kitten

I'd say a disclaimer that you don't know the fandom, and then try to pay attention to story structure, plot, and character development. Obviously I'd be more lenient on the last if I didn't know what's going on, but any character that time is being spent on should be well-rounded and have their own little arc of growth or the lack of it, whether they're borrowed from canon or OC.

I'd say this is where the emotional reaction part can play a bigger part in the review. What's your first impression of the characters? How does it change over the course of the story? Do you like their reactions to the plot? Why or why not? Don't be afraid to say whether or not something made sense.

9/3/2012 . Edited 9/3/2012 #15
darkaccalia520

And just to reiterate what Kitten said on not having fandom knowledge, yes, always let the writer know you're fandom blind. But try to read it with the same enthusiasm a reviewer would give you. Judge based on the writing. And if you need, you can always do a quick wiki search, especially for older fandoms. That always helps me.

9/3/2012 . Edited by Madam'zelleG, 4/25/2014 #16
PlainSimpleGarak
I have always wanted to participate in the review tag but I find it extremely difficult to review stories that I am not familiar with.

Sometimes you can tell by the summaries which stories are more general consumption and which ones are more based within than fanon. I tend to look for stories to read that fall within my general knowledge, even if they are not a fanfic category that I frequent. For example, I do not write LotR fanfic and know nothing of the community on FFnet, but I have seen the movies. I find it fairly easy to read and review a fanfic that concerns itself with an adventure in the LotR world; but much more difficult to read a parody fic playing on the conventions of LotR fanfic.

When reading unfamiliar or only partially familiar fics, concentrate on whether or not you enjoy the experience. I usually find that even people who know very little of a fanon can pick out when an author is abusing a character - sometimes moreso than people familiar with that fanon. Certain things stick out, especially character bashing. You can also focus on description, ease of reading, how smooth their use of language is and so on.

9/3/2012 #17
Ventisquear

freestyler91 - characterisation is very important part for any story, I agree. But there are many other important things. For example:

- pace: does it flow smoothly? Or does it break the action for some background info or explanation?

- dialogue: does it feel natural? Are all characters talking the same way, or do they have their own voice? (especially if they're of different age or profession. There are few more irritating things than a tough fifty year old cop talking like a teenage girl.)

- description: is it done well? Is it full of cliches, like 'sparkling orbs of azure'? Is it so overdone it disrupts the story and distracts from other things? Does the style of description fit the style of the rest of the story? E.g. if the story is ''scientic", the description shouldn't be very lyrical, etc. Or, if there isn't any description - was it disturbing? Did you feel you needed it?

- characters: are they always reacting the same way, no matter what the situation is? Is it possible to say which character(s) the author hates, by the way they are bashed in the story?

Etc. :)

I hope this helps.

9/4/2012 #18
katriaine

I rarely read or review stories in fandoms that I'm not familiar with, mostly just if it's by a must-read favorite author but if I do I just approach the characterization like when reading any original story in which I know nothing about the characters when starting the read, trying to figure out who the characters are from the things they say or do. My interpretation may differ from the canon but if it makes sense in the context of the story it can be a good read anyway and it's a sign of a great writer if they can pull me in to a story and make me start to care about or get a feel about characters that were complete strangers to me to begin with, despite the fact that the story was probably written for people who are somewhat invested in the fandom and they're supposed to know all kinds of fun facts about the characters that would perhaps explain their motivation. So I might comment on the characterization from that perspective, remembering to include the disclaimer that I'm unfamiliar with the background.

If the author doesn't succeed with this I would probably abandon the story without finishing the read and not leave a review, figuring that it's unfair since I'm not the target audience.

9/4/2012 #19
Ventisquear

I always consider concrit as a bonus - more than welcome, but not expected and definitely not demanded. :) What I expect from the review is an honest opinion, positive or negative. If I write a crack or a comedy, I'm always anxious to hear if they got it and found it funny; or if I'm writing crimi, if they could feel the tension. I want to know their response to my story, what they liked and didn't like. The only kinds of reviews I don't like are generic ones, where it's clear the person didn't really read the story.

I'll give two reviews, by the same person - one of my favourite and best authors on ffn (of course she does use capital letters in her stories). The reason I love her reviews is that she mentions what she didn't like, but she also mentions it when I improve or fix something. Thanks to her (but also few other amazing people) my writing in English improved a lot.

Here's the first one:

you did a fantastic job with this, and covered a lot in a short amount of time. i had to laugh out loud a couple times. :)
i'm afraid you've slipped back a little into confusing me with who is saying what. or which 'he' you mean, especially. the supposed 'rule' of grammar is that a pronoun refers to the most recent noun that matches it. for example, if you have a paragraph where zevran is thinking about 'airam' or 'that crazy kid' etc, and the next paragraph says '... he said'; that 'he' should refer to airam, because he was the last 'he' mentioned. it's always difficult with two guys (or more).
i think i've become paranoid about confusing people in my own story and started using their names more often than usual. but you might try that ;)

And the scecond one:

heyas, kl- er, vent! :)

i like your story quite a bit. i really enjoy seeing a different zevran. -not meaning to say a 'wrong' zevran, but he is always hiding his true thoughts and feelings behind his cockiness and bravado. i like seeing his inner doubts, thoughts, and turmoil.

i talked to you on BSN about your early chapters; these later chapters (i'm on 12 now) have improved greatly. the past two have gotten more in-depth, and less about the dragon age story and more about your own story. i like how erwin and jowan are taking on bigger, more permanant roles. and how zevran is wandering around denerim while the others do their thing.

i think it is interesting that your zevran notices and disapproves of airam's untidiness, because i have the same trait with my zevran. but what can you expect from someone whose life may depend on knowing exactly where all his weapons are at any given moment, hm? ;) that's a great detail.

keep working! i seem to be nearing the end of what you have written so far...! :)

Edited for typos and missing words. *blush* Evidently I still have a lot to improve. :D

9/21/2012 . Edited 9/21/2012 #20
Dawnandspike4eva

I agree, a review is meant to help the writer. You need to put more into it than a short comment. I mean it doesn't need to be a page long, as long as it addresses the important and helpful parts of a review. Sometimes people search for "helpful" criticism though (I have noticed this on other people stories when I go to review it and read the other reviews), when I don't think it is always needed to gut the story until the writer feels like dirt about it. Just a suggestion that sometimes we read it over and make sure our criticism is actually helpful. I try really hard to do that, to make sure if I am saying something that is not positive, that is can actually help the writer in a positive way. Also I think some people don't like to "sugar coat" it, but I prefer to do so actually. Sometimes it is hard to take the criticism, so it is best to give it to the writer in a way that they can take it without just pushing it aside because they are hurt. I personally don't mind a harsh review, I can take it for what it is and try and use it to help better my writing, even if it is harshly said. But there are some people who don't do so well with the harsh criticism.

Just a suggestion and a comment to try and be helpful. Also I have not seen anyone in this group do this before, I just wanted to comment about it because I have seen it in the PAST.

9/25/2012 #21
Ragnelle

I have gotten some really helpful reviews over the years, and helpful in different ways. Of course those that point to specific weaknesses are very helpful, but I have also would that reviews that tell me what they liked, also helps be become better. A specially when they are detailed on what they liked or not. Hearing what worked, helps me since then I know what I need to aim for with the things that don't. If that made any sense.

I have gotten one review that on the surface don't seem too helpful, but I found it very helpful never the less. It goes in its entirety:

Horrible, horrible, horrible! This is so good!

The reason I fond this really helpful -- as well as encouraging -- was that it expresses the response I was aiming for in that chapter: horror of what is happening to one of the characters. And it tells me that the reader felt that. And that at the same time it was well written.

The most recent review that helped me a lot, was this:

I didn't read your first book, but the 2nd as you said, is perfectly readable on its own.
So let's start with the good: Your writing shows much care and thought put into it, as a result the chapters feel very polished. I don't see any major typos or grammar mistakes in it. Well that's not strictly true, there are a few such as "the fist book" and "a great tank to the reviewers", but those were from the A/Ns so I don't think they count.
I'd just like to say how wonderful it is to finally read a LOTR fanfic written in a similar style to the original book. One of my biggest beefs with LOTR fanfic in general, especially since the movie came out, was the the jarring shift in tone and language. I always found it very off-putting to read characters like Aragorn say something modern like "shut up" instead of "be silent".
Your style however, is absolutely lovely and evocative of Tolkien's, and fits like a glove for a LOTR fanfic. I applaud you on that.
In fact, you're going to be disappointed, I can't give you any concrit on the technical writing aspect, I think you're pretty much at a high level of mastery at that.
All that said, there's still the bad, and it's to do with your storytelling aspect.
Although I did enjoy reading this story, I also did have some problem with wanting to keep reading it after the second chapter. You see, after a while I realised I was pretty much reading an overly long account of the main characters being captured and dragged around and forced to do the nasty stuff defeated survivors of armies do. It was all beautifully written, of course, but after a while, it all began to blur into each other and drag and I found myself wondering "Why I am reading variations of the same thing again? Is it necessary to go into detail on the characters' experiences for ages like this and oh no don't tell me it's yet another scene where the healer complains to the guards about mistreating his patients but nothing much seems to be happening?"
In short, your pacing crawls. And after a while I can't help but feel a little irritated. Then I see that this entire story is intended to six books in total then I realise that this meandering kind of story progression is what I'm in for. Then I can't help but wonder: it neccessary for the story to be so stretched out? Can't the story be a bit more condensed and too the point?
It doesn't help that the tone of your story is constantly somber and depressing. Yes I know it makes sense because of the context, but reading chapter after chapter of such prolonged downers without humour or hope to give the reader a break doesn't make me want to keep reading. Tragedy and despair is great for stories, but too much of it's too depressing. I can't find any incentive to keep reading because all I can foresee coming up is more of the characters I love being killed and maimed and made to suffer without anything to look forward to.
So overall, while I love the story concept, your writing style, and the artful way you tell the story, there are a lot of scenes that feel unnecessary and bog the pace of the story down. It took three chapters to get from the main POV character's capture to him being transported to Car Andros when it could have been told in less than two. (and FYI, it's the Aragorn scenes that are dragging. Haldor's was fine.)
Anyway, hope this comes in useful.

And it did. It both told me that I was able to write well, and that I had gone off track some of the places. And it was detailed enough that it helped me rewrite -- though I did need some PM-contanct with the reviewer to identify exactly what I needed to look for when it came to which scenes to target beyond just the character's names. Since the most dragging scenes also were with my main character, I could not just hack away at all of them. And the reviewer came back after I had done my revisions and commented on how they worked out, and that really made a difference as well.

I fear I have not quite managed to balance my reviews yet. Or, not always. But I think I am getting better. I've just had reviews where I have tried to be super-respectful only to have the author yell at me for flaming, and then others where I have not tried at all, and the author thanks me for helping. That makes it difficult to find a good tone.

(edited to put in the spaces ffnet ate)

9/25/2012 . Edited 9/25/2012 #22
Wendy Brune

Personally, I go for the review sandwich, though not limited to just one of each. I'll usually open with general thoughts. The next section is usually more specific (but not line-specific) things I liked or I thought worked. The next section is any critiques I have, and I do think you can usually find at least one. However, I also don't approach it as a rule that I HAVE TO find one. It also depends on whether I'm doing a long-form or short-form review. If it's short-form, then I'll not go searching, so to speak, if nothing really jumps out in my mind. If it's a long-form review, I'll go back and re-read if I have to.

Finally, I close with line-specific stuff I liked, where I'll often quote actual lines or words that worked. End it with more general thoughts and an encouragement to keep writing, and wah-la!

I used to delve into SPAG errors, but I only do that now if there's just one thing. Honestly, I'm not a fan of reviews that delve into SPAG.

10/10/2012 #23
The Death Frisbee
Honestly, I'm not a fan of reviews that delve into SPAG.

Ha, my ears are burning. I do SPAG, because I notice it, and that is how my brain works -- minutiae first, then larger picture. However, I also try to:

A) Separate the SPAG from everything else, so that it it's own thing and thus feels like one critique rather than a million little critiques.

B) Keep SPAG errors away from the critiques that I give. That is, it's its own thing, unless the SPAG is repeated throughout (say, a dialogue tag error that the author repeatedly makes), or it's so freaking hard to read because of the SPAG that it detracts from the fic.

If I take a look at the last review I have open here on this machine (not the last review, as that was on the netbook), I have the following:

  • Five paragraphs of critique -- three of which are positive; two of which are not so much.
  • 20 SPAG errors in a couple thousand words, two of which are 'fix this ongoing pattern'-type critiques, and two of which are 'This isn't ungrammatical, but I'm not sure what you mean since I'm not that knowledgeable in the fandom'. So 16 legitimate errors, most of which are self-explanatory.

There is some benefit to SPAG for everyone as far as I'm concerned, because there are things that even people who write pretty error-free prose don't notice: I've had two or three recent nitpicks on my stuff that I'm grateful for, because even with my fairly critical eye, I make mistakes, and certainly don't proof fanfic chapters as closely as seminar papers!

10/10/2012 #24
Wendy Brune

For me, it's more of the people who need a lot of SPAG help don't listen to the critiques anyway. I still point out the major errors - "Your sentence structure was awkward," or "You had a lot of comma splices!" - but I don't go through line by line.

On the flip side, as a writer, a lot of times when people leave me SPAG, it's actually incorrect.

I also feel that some people use SPAG as a way to make their reviews seem longer or of a higher quality, when really, very little is being said. You are definitely not one of those people, Kate! =D But yeah. I won't name names, but I definitely seen it in review tag where people will only leave a few lines on the actual story, and I don't like that. SPAG should be extra, not considered as part of the review.

Edit: So wait, to sum up, some people can do SPAG well, and Kate is one of them. In general, though....

10/10/2012 . Edited 10/10/2012 #25
Ragnelle

I'm always happy when people point out my mistakes for me. Well, I have some issues I am rather stubborn on, but not spelling. And really only one grammar-conected on. But incomplete sentences and (on occasion) unusual sentence-structure I will be a little harder to make me change. At least some of the times. I'm almost obsessed with rhythm, so I will sometimes sacrifice other concerns to keep a rhythm in the narrative. Typos, though? Hate them, and can't rid myself of them without help. So I always appreciate corrections to them (as long as I am able to find them).

But I don't correct typos much when I review. I struggle too much myself to pick out others. Grammar I might comment on, but I mostly I try to comment on other things. I tend to do different things for different stories, though, so I can't really say I have a norm.

10/11/2012 #26
Ckorkows

When I review I try to sandwich the bad between the good. My mother once told me that it's easier for somebody to take a critique if you say something nice first, shovel in the bad things, and end with a compliment. Of course at the time I had made my best friend cry because her story was abismal, and we were in third grade.... But it's advice that has stuck with me.There are three topics I like to hit when I offer a review, and I try to sandwich them as 'two of these were mostly well done (or amazing!) and one of these needs more work'.

I like to talk about the overall flow of the story. This means if there were grammar mistakes but they didn't jump off the page and attack me I am more likely to forgive them. Also, if it makes sense how the characters got from point A to point B and why. It also encompasses overall structure, were the paragraphs well written? Did they transition well from one to the other? Did the sentences make sense and sound nice when read outloud? Sometimes all it takes is one word to throw an entire fic off for me. I like to mention what that was and why.

Second I look at overall plot. Did it intrigue me? Why? Why not? What threw me off of a certain point or really made the story for me? I know that I don't like some genres. Participating in Review Tag I try to read them anyway and always preface my critique with the fact that I don't usually like this sort of genre. Sometimes I am surprised by a story and suddenly fall in love with a horror fic. Even though it gives me nightmares. Other times I can tell what the author wanted to do and where they missed their target. I like to help them with that.

Lastly I like to look at grammar and spelling in general. Usually a fic is well written and I just put, 'There were no glaring grammatical errors'. But sometimes I get one of those fics where you want to correct each sentence. And I do....but usually not in the review itself. It can be very off-putting for an author to receive a public review that picks apart their story and remakes it. Sometimes I'll put some of them up publicly, but if there are a lot I will simply put, 'I have PM'd you with some technical errors and options on how to correct them' or something like that. This makes it clear to the author that their story was not easy to read....but protects their fragile ego to an extent as I don't publicly disgrace them.

Like I said before. Usually an author does at least a good job on two of these things. I put those first and last. Then I put the area they can improve, and how, in the middle.

Of course there are those fics where you have to struggle to find anything good to say. Usually I like to double check the author's profile and see if they are ESL (English as a second language) - I can usually tell right away by the way they structure their sentences but I like to check first - or really young. I structure my reviews based on what the profile says. If you're a fourteen year old I may forgive more than I would if you are in your twenties. I also check and see when the fic was written and how many fics you've written since. This tells me if it was an earlier work (usually poorly reviewed in the excitement to share it, or lacking detail because you weren't as mature an author) or if you have improved at all since your earlier works. Sometimes I'll even read a later (or earlier) fic to watch for progress and growth. If you've written 13 fictions and they all show the same lack of respect for basic grammatical errors or actual descriptions I'm going to be rougher on you. Somebody has to let you know that it's time to grow and improve.

In terms of getting reviews, I love any review that remarks on the content of my story. If you can tell me that my subtle hint actually worked (or was not subtle) that is more helpful to me than a list of grammar errors. Also, if you hate it tell me why. It doesn't help to get reviews like this:

Not so entertaining.. Seemed more like a girl silently flirting with some guy.. No offenes.. 6/10, good detail and spacing, not so good entertaining wise.

I always try to reply to every review I get, but the one above was hard. I simply said, "Thanks for your review. It was indeed a fic about a woman flirting with her coworker so I'm glad that came through." The reason I struggled with this review is because it doesn't tell me anything about my fic other than the fact he hated the premise. That's nice, but did it work? Was she subtle about it or was it too glaringly obvious? Did the conversation seem boring or stinted or did it flow well and you simply don't appreciate romance? I want to know why. And what detail was good? If you have something bad to say at least say it so I know...

On the other hand it is very helpful to get a review like this:

This was really enjoyable! I love how you portray these two characters. If this was my fic, I'd rate it T just because of the heavy-ish flirting, and the fact that she's checking out his butt. Teehee... But, that's really your call. I would just consider this more at the age level of teens and up. Anyway, I think it's awesome how you basically showed (without telling, at all) the personalities of these two people. I'm able to not only get a strong idea of who these two are as individuals through this short fic, but also what their relationship consists of (when they're not doing 'unusual' things like ogling and flirting with each other.) I'd say he's rather nonchalant, a typical guy in most ways, and has a playful side. She seems more conservative, but is receptive of his teasing, and she also finds him attractive, which makes these two a fun pairing. Another thing that made me think T was this: "A drive into the country with Nico could mean one of three things...and she really didn't think he wanted to kill her." ...If it's implying what I think it's implying. There are a few missing commas here and there. Some examples: "So, cranberry, huh?" needs two commas. And the sentences with names, such as, "So what are you doing on your day off, Doctor?" Slicked-back, I think, needs a hyphen. But, yup, this was really good, and I've never even heard of this fandom before. Nice work!

(Both of these are reviews to my story 'A Day Off')

This is helpful because it does several things. First, it doesn't make me cry in a corner like a scared little girl. The author of the review makes it clear that my fic wasn't perfect but highlights exactly what worked and where I can make improvements. While I might not go back and revise this fic, I will take these comments into consideration as I continue to write. This is a review that makes me a better author.

Well... I'm sure I've occupied enough space in this discussion. ;)

10/13/2012 #27
Rainhealsme

I'm not sure if this will be helpful to everyone or not, but here's what I've been doing for about a month now inside and outside of the Review Tag thread; whenever I'm reviewing someone's stories, I try seperating my review(s) into three parts.

  • One part praise: find the things they did well and comment on them first.
  • One part pain: Identify a few of the major flaws (if any) and briefly describe them--there is no need to extensively hammer on minor issues, especially if others have already made note of them.
  • One part prescription: Give a suggestion or two for how to fix the flaws I pointed out, and/or ideas for future development.
10/17/2012 . Edited 10/17/2012 #28
Legendary Biologist

I always see reviewing as something that increases the skill of the readers (and the writers too if there is concrit in the review). There are many great stories in the website and when you read, you can learn how to write better. For this reason, I think that reviewing is a courtesy because you have (perhaps) gained experience, whether about SPAG, flow, or vocabulary. My general review format is like this:

1. Opening: praises, including thoughts and comments on the plot, and what I like in the story

2. Concrit and suggestion to fix the mistakes, but I skip this when there's nothing to be criticized

3. Ending (sometimes I switch the position with the concrit part): conclusions, thoughts about cliffhangers, guesses, and best wishes

10/28/2012 #29
Edhla

This thread is fantastic and I love it.

A couple of things that have occurred to me recently in the reviews process:

- If you're making a small criticism of spelling/grammar/syntax or whatever, consider whether this could also be done as a PM rather than a review. Some time ago a BRILLIANT writer posted an amazing story- with a tiny grammatical mistake that I can't even remember now. Something along the lines of "seeked" instead of "sought." I knew this writer was very good and that "seeked" was a mistake anyone could have made, so I PM'd her something like "psst... just saw..." so she could change it. Because it was obvious to me that she really did know better (she did) and would respond with "dang, thanks for the headsup, bit sleepy today" (she did) and change it immediately (she did). I didn't think it fell under the idea of a "review." If her fic was rife with errors, that may have justified mentioning it in a review. To tack on "you wrote one word wrong" in a review that was otherwise discussing the fic on a much deeper level seemed petty.

- When reviewing something you don't like, I think the reviewer should try to be objective. Is it at all clear what the writer intended, and do they accomplish this (or partly accomplish this?) Even if you dislike the plot, is it cohesive and well-structured? Even if you hate a character, are they vividly depicted? Does this person use punctuation incorrectly, or do you just prefer the way you do it? Things like comma placement are fluid and no one particular way of doing it is right or wrong.

I don't think it's helpful for someone to leave a review that more or less says that they dislike the writer's entire plot choice, or their take on a character, or their unique voice. It kind of implies that the writer needs to make drastic changes (i.e. a complete rewrite!) to please one reviewer. I've seen some reviews on the works of other writers, some of which blatantly say "I don't like Ron/Hermione, you should write Harry/Hermione instead" when the conclusion should be no, the reader should simply go and find some Harry/Hermione.

Chiming in on the "OH WOW DIS IS GUD RIET MOAR" subject ;) I get few reviews, so on the one hand, I'll take whatever I can get- and on the other hand, because I do get so few reviews, it really IS a major disappointment to see a notification, get all bouncy and excited, and see:

I love this! Write more please!

Sweet and appreciated, but so unhelpful, particularly if it's from an anonymouse. You love... what? Write more of... what? :)

10/28/2012 . Edited 10/28/2012 #30
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