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I also love this thread and agree with much that was already posted.

I worked as a tutor in college, reviewing essays, and we were taught the sandwich method. I try to apply it here, but sometimes it's very hard to find something to praise. I tried doing the Review Game on the WA forum but couldn't make it through most of the fics, so I wouldn't put my name in. For several of them, SPAG was just the start of the problem. I finally found something and put a placeholder without listing my story, but that didn't stop someone from reviewing, rather poorly, the one that didn't need reviews. So I wrote my review, posted a link to the story I did want reviewed, and stopped playing.

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.

I think a good writer can write a good story that readers can appreciate, regardless of the fandom. For example, BitterKitten's SOTW Contrition was excellently written (and I admit to resorting to SPAG in my concrit because I didn't find much I didn't like about it), and I was able to enjoy it despite the fact that it had been years since I'd seen the movie and couldn't recall the scene at all. I actually don't think I've seen the movie in its entirety.

What I look for is what I strive to put into my own stories:

  • A good plot with a reasonable arc. The story has to go somewhere or do something. Even if it's a "slice of life" story, there's a beginning, middle, and end. Each scene move the plot forward, whether it's discovering more about the characters and/or the conflict. I started reading a Buffy/Angel fic that started out interesting and quickly devolved into chapter after chapter of them screwing. The plot simply stagnated, and the author burned out trying to find creative ways to stick the two characters together.
  • Believable characters. This is fanfiction, so it's okay rely on canon to tell the reader who this character is, right? Wrong. It's the writer's job to establish the character, even if that character follows canon. You don't have to be as descriptive as you would in original fic, but there should be plenty of clues to how the character fits in your particular setting. I, personally, don't like reading OOC, but I mind it less if it's established through the description and setting (although I'll still probably be annoyed). If it's your POV character, internal thoughts, dialogue, and reactions give the character flavor. If you're doing a remote narrator type story, you have to rely heavily on dialogue and physical descriptions. That leads to the next point.
  • Description. A lot of writers struggle with this. That's why "show, don't tell" is the #1 maxim in the writing world. I rely a little too much on adverbs, but I love it when writers don't use those shortcuts and, instead, describe little tics like the cheek muscles twitching when a character is trying not to show he's angry, the long stare as a character walks away and doesn't look back, or a man staring down at an empty crib, his fingers tightly gripping the satin border of a blue blanket.
  • Dialogue. People don't always talk in complete sentences. A guy dating a girl in the 1970s wouldn't use the phrase "hooking-up" with her. Conversely, you don't have to include every pause, "um", or "uh" that people really do use, or the fact that people often interrupt each other in regular conversations. Dialogue serves a purpose, and words should be chosen with care in regards to the plot and the characterization. I don't expect Harry Potter to spew words like "that was gangsta, yo" unless it's very AU.
  • 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. I once wrote a review saying that the writer's style was a little too flowery and over descriptive for my taste. She wrote back that she was a professional writer and wasn't going to change her style to suit one reader. Which is a perfectly valid argument (aside from the being a professional writer bit), and I respected her choice to maintain her style. I simply didn't read the rest of her story.

Usually, there's something in each of these categories that I can comment on, whether good or bad.

On a side note, I've done my best to respond individually to each review through PM, and I've been getting much better feedback than "Love it! Pls update soon!". I'm still getting short 2-5 line reviews, but some of them have been more along the lines of "I love the characterization here, you've got them down really well" and "Great job implementing the overall theme into this scene". I paraphrase, but that's the gist of it. I think establishing a rapport with my reviewers has made them more eager to talk about the choices I'm making in the story and speculate what I'm going to do next. It's not quite concrit, but I still like it.

10/29/2012 #31

Well as ESL I probably am one of those that will write "good job!" even if the story doesn't have proper punctuation or grammar. :D But, for me "well written story" and "story with good grammar and spelling" are two DIFFERENT things. The story can have perfect punctuation and still be poorly written, for me.

And not just because the characters are OOC. I don't care much about that, as I take every story in itself. If the writer can convince me there was a good reason to change the character, I don't care. Fanfiction doesn't have to be only about changing the plot, someone's inspiration for writing the fanfic might have been "what if the character X wasn't such a jerk" ;D - and who am I to criticize that, just because I like the character?

When I say the story is well written, I generally mean that the narration is interesting, that I can hear the narrator's voice, that the descriptions make me see and feel what's going on, that the tone and atmosphere draw me in and make me continue reading, that the characters are realistic, each with their own voice, that jokes are funny and touching scenes tear me up and fighting scenes make me sit on the edge, that the language is fresh and not full of cliches, etc.

I don't need to know neither the canon nor English punctuation for this. (I've had three betas until now, by the way - from Britain, Australia and now USA, and they told me different things about the punctuation...) Unless the grammar is so bad it distracts me from the story, I don't really care.

If I say the story is poorly written, I mean the narration is dry - if there even is any, so many writers use it only for transition and little bit in dialogue tags; that descriptions are too few/purple prose/too dry, that all characters sound and act the same, that it fails to evoke any emotions in me, that I scroll down through the fighting scenes, giggle at wannabe romantic/sexy scenes, that the language is bland.

No matter how strictly it follows canon, how IC everyone is and/or how perfect is grammar and spelling, it will still be a poorly written story for me.

Normally I try to make every review personal - so that the author would know I read the story, what I liked, how it affected me... Especially with the authors I follow, I don't see any sense in repeating "you have perfect descriptions, your characters are so amazing, I love how you use language" - they already know all that. :D So then I normally focus on my personal, emotional response to the plot. I don't think I've ever written just "good job, update please". But if I would, it would still mean that I carefully considered all of that I mention above.

10/30/2012 #32

@ Edhla

Oh, sorry, I didn't notice this was beta. I thought it was a random reviewer. Yes, I can confirm from my own experience that it's essential to have beta who agrees with you on the main things and who can correct what needs to be corrected without forcing you into another style.

I still fail to see why I should be nannying readers through a story I assume they already know. Or why I should be assuming they don't know it. :)

I don't think making the story readable is "nannying readers", and I often see, even in my fandom, that I can't assume my readers will "already know" something. In many cases, they don't. They often notice diffrent things and understand them in a different way than I do. It's up to me and my writing skills to make them see and understand things the way I do. :D But that's just my personal opinion and ambition, of course. :)

As a writer, I like to think that people would like my story, and find it interesting and believable, even if they didn't know my fandom.

Yes. :)

10/30/2012 #33

I disagree one must know the fandom to review. While I understand you might not want SPAG pointed out and you want something more about characterization and the like, review tag CAN be just as effective.

In my fandom, my readers basically give the "good job; update soon kind of reviews". Yes, they do say a little more...but not much. And they are slow to review as well. I am a writer who wants (and almost needs) immediate gratification. When I post a chapter, I want that confirmation that I've done well (or maybe not...and then I need to know what doesn't work and what needs to be fixed). Ninety percent of my reviews come from review tag, and I have gained enough followers to know how I write and what my characterization is simply through review tag.

Some of them do know the fandom, I admit. Some are old enough to have watched it as children as I did while others have been compelled to watch it simply to follow MY stories. I suppose I ought to take that as a compliment that so many wanted to do that...and I do. Others don't know the fandom at all, but they still read and enjoy what I write.

However, even though they don't know the fandom, they can still help me as a writer. They can tell me if they got a good idea of the characters and what was going on. And I am almost always told my characterization is pretty good so that even readers who don't know the fandom can easily follow. That confirms I must be doing something right. And then I also find out my weak points. I know that setting is usually a weak point for me. I don't normally describe the setting much because readers of the fandom would know it...but outsiders won't.

On the whole, review tag helps me become a better writer...and really, I'd recommend it to anyone. You might think it won't give you what you want, but it does. I know when I place in the thread, it doesn't take very long for me to be tagged. Most of them like what I write, and I know I am going to get a review I am going to appreciate. And I know now what to expect from certain reviewers in the thread.

Yes, getting a review where you don't have to do anything but write is nice...but that doesn't happen much as of review tag helps me. I wouldn't knock it 'til you tried it. To each his or her own, but I love it.

EDIT: I forgot to add that some of my BEST reviews come from review tag, hands down. -nods-

10/30/2012 . Edited 10/30/2012 #34

Drabbles I can find difficult, but poetry I usually find a lot to speak about, especially with I go into the technical details of rhythm and rhyme. Though I tend to speak more about rhythm since that is one of the things I look for in a poem: good rhythm.

This is a review I wrote long ago at a request on a forum:

You might be right in your thinking that this is more your thoughts than Alice's, but though I roughly know the story, it is too long since I read them for me to say for sure. I'll look at the poem form a more general point instead.
You have chosen not to use any form of rhyme, and that is fine; poems do not need to be rhymed even id they can be. Still it lacks something if it is to be more than thoughts strung together. You seem to recognize this because you have divided it up in stanzas and lines that do not follow the sentences. That, however, is not enough to make a good poem.
What you mostly lack is rhythm. You don't have to follow one rhythm all the time, but if there is no rhythm at all, there can be no break from the rhythm either. A good way to check for rhythm is to read the poem outloud and listen to the natural rythym of the language. Do not try to force the words into a rhythym they don't fit into, and you will be able to hear whether you have any rhythm there or not. Listen to the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables; they are what creates a rhythm, especially the stressed sylables. I'll give you an exple using your first stanca (capital letters for stress:
"INto yhe WORLD of WONderland i WENT
where EVErything beCAMe POSSible
MADness and HAPPyness SHOWed its FACes
and THINGS all SEEMed the SAMe"
The first two lines have a good rhythm (/= stressed syllable, u= unstressed syllable):
/uu /u /uu u/
u /u /u /uu
If you had then repeated this rhythm, the it would have an effect, but you don't. The next lines go:
/uu /uu /uu /u
u /u /uu /u
This breaks the pattern before any pattern is allowed to be establish and that makes the poem sound cumbersome and off. It is also, to me, not as good a rhythm as the first two lines.
The first two lines in the second stance also have a good rhythm, though I would have cut "there" for even better rhythm giving:
"the CREAtures were CERtainly DIFFerent
yet i DIDn't EXpect any LESS"
(u /uu /uu /u
uu /u /u uu/)
The problem is that this is a different ryhythm again than the one you started with.
Poems need reptitions, whether it is of words, rhythm or sounds. Rhythm is the pattern made from the repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables. Rhyme is the repetition of sounds, either at the end of the sentences or words (end-rhyme) or at the begining of words (alitteration). You have some alitteration (world/wonderland/went) though that too is not consistant throughout the poem. The places where you have the alliteration is also the places where the rhythm works best. that is becase any repetition, but especially that of stress and sound, creates rhythm.
So, to make this a better poem, I will advice that you pay more attention to rhythm. As an exercise you can choose one and stick to it through the whole poem. Read it outloud to hear how it sounds. Then, when you feel you have developed a stronger sense of rhythm, you can deviate from such strictness and break the rhythm one place. This should be at a point of special importance in the poem as that part will stick out. Breaking a pattern, whether it is rhythmic or in rhyme, is a great effect and will make that part more noticeble. A good effect to use at a turn in the poem or to signal that something new is happening.
I hope this was helpfull. I like poetry and if you do want help on the more tecnical aspect of poems, you can just ask,even if it is in a fandom I don't know.

The poem itself was a little under 200 words... To me, poetry have very many aspects to analyse, so usually I can find a lot to say f I want.

(edit to put in the paragraph FFnet ate)

11/5/2012 . Edited 11/5/2012 #35

Personally I go for the positive criticism review sandwich - as a friend of mine once called it.

Something specific that I liked about the story - and there always is something, even if I didn't like the story generally; e.g. 'I liked the way that you ...'

Some piece of positive criticism - hopefully a useful pointer, with or without a suggested solution; e.g. 'this part was really good and you can make it even better by ...'

Something generally 'nice' about their story or writing style to top it off. e.g. 'Really great turn of phrase, I look forward to reading more ...'

Jack =;-D

11/6/2012 . Edited 11/7/2012 #36

I just found this link on another forum. The whole site is great, but this link has tips for diplomatic reviews, and I found it really helpful:

12/9/2012 . Edited by Madam'zelleG, 4/25/2014 #37
Great Angemon

If you want to write a meaningful review, but are short on time, or can't do the whole concrit thing, try the compliment sandwich by using this form:

Say you liked it, or point out something specific.

Next, say something you think they could have improved on, like SPAG, or how someone was OOC.

Last you tell them that you liked the story overall, and tell them that you look forward to reading more of their stories in the future.

1/1/2013 #38

I've posted these links around before, but before I pass out in bed from exhaustion, I'm going to put them right here. I extremely recommend them. They're short and they're sweet.

- What you say and how you say it

- Diplomacy and You.

Remembering of course, that all critique should be given with the goal of it being read and taken on board.

G'night all. Try not to burn the internet down while I'm asleep, okay? And Blue, I expect a seven paragraph AtF review on how wonderful I am, stat ;) xx

1/2/2013 . Edited 1/2/2013 #39

If I may, I'd like to steer the conversation to a slightly different topic: review tag.

A good amount of us play it, and since we direct new players to this thread because of this section in the RT rules:

What kind of reviews do we expect?

  • Reviews MUST BE QUALITY REVIEWS. You should be leaving reviews you expect to get in return. We will be monitoring the board from proper reviews.
  • What is a quality review? Quality reviews are more than just one sentence. They mention specific things about a story instead of just, "I liked this, please continue." In general, I would suggest you try to follow the review sandwich method: Give your overall thoughts on the story. Name one specific things you liked, one specific thing that could use improvement, and finish with another thing you liked or more overall thoughts. If you want more tips on what constitutes a quality review, check out this thread.

So I've been thinking that we, since many of us are members who are pros in the game, should give the rookies some tips about playing review tag. The reason? Well, review tags aren't necessarily stories we'd read on our own. They're going to be in different fandoms, including fandoms we don't know. There might be pairings we don't care for, including slash. There maybe be a little smut. There's going to be a slew of things you might not be comfortable with or very excited about as a reader. So how do you get excited about this and leave a quality review?

So I thought it would be great if we could give the newbies some tips on how we do it. You can be honest about your likes and dislikes and how you get around that when reviewing a review tag. Okay? I'll go first.

Ah, well, I do my best to remember that just because I'm not excited about the fandom, that the person who wrote it does. So I always, always, always try to find at least one good thing I can say. And I'm not saying, "Oh, this was a good story." It's REVIEW TAG. YOU NEED TO BE SPECIFIC! That's the bottom line. Generalizations make it look carbon copied. You want to show that writer that you got just as excited about something in the story as they did. So I try to find something specific in the story I liked, even if it's a fandom I don't particularly like.

Admittedly, I am not really an anime fan. That doesn't mean that it's bad. I just have a hard time getting into it. So when I happen to tag an anime writer, sometimes, I might have read and reread that story more than once to both understand it and find that specific thing that I liked. I find that there is nothing wrong with rereading said story. And reading a piece more than once can help me see the main themes better.

Do not skim a story or try to get through it was fast as you can. You're going to lose sight of what the writer was trying to say. Remember, someone is giving your story great consideration and is going to give you (hopefully) and equally quality review. So give that same consideration to every review tag.

This is my advice to you review tag players.

So what do the rest of you think? What's your advice?

1/3/2013 . Edited 1/3/2013 #40
Esther Huffleclaw
So what do the rest of you think?

When I read a story for Review Tag that's in a fandom I'm not familiar with, I read the story as if it were original fiction. I know some people will Google the fandom to find out some background, but I don't do that. I often read the piece several times, just like you do, darkin. And then I review based on what's there. I begin by saying I'm not familiar with the fandom, and I explain that I will be reviewing as if it were original fiction. Then I do so.

1/3/2013 #41

I have some advice that might seem odd:

If you don't like it and don't want to read it, please, please don't tag it. That's unfair in two ways: firstly, you're cheating the writer out of a willing, enthusiastic read and review. Secondly, you're also cheating another player out of a chance to read and review something they actually like.

I try not to tag some fics. Not because I'm an awful person who hates [insert thing here], but because I'm aware that some fandoms are easier to read "blind" than others. Those that take place in heavily constructed universes (for example, anime) are much more difficult to read than, say, The Lion King. If I don't think I can do a story justice in reviewing it, I just don't tag it and wait for something better to come up.


Do not skim a story or try to get through it was fast as you can. You're going to lose sight of what the writer was trying to say. Remember, someone is giving your story great consideration and is going to give you (hopefully) and equally quality review. So give that same consideration to every review tag.

Yes, this. Nothing annoys me more than a review where it's abundantly clear that the writer has skim-read and hasn't really been paying attention at all- missing main points or repeatedly spelling a main character's name wrong, for example. In all honesty, I'd prefer such reviewers not review at all, and let someone else who *wants* to review tag me instead.

I do sometimes seem to review very quickly, but in those instances I have generally read and at least mentally reviewed the chapter before I tag- sometimes *well* before I tag.

1/3/2013 . Edited 1/3/2013 #42

In terms of what makes me a happy panda ( ;) ) your mileage will surely vary on this one, but I personally love to see an emotional reaction from the reviewer- it lets me know I'm doing something right. I really value technical feedback too, but "NOOOOOOOOOO YOUR CHARACTER IS AN IDIOT :( " makes me smile more than "Your SPaG is good." (Lyla once made me crack up by writing "he's lucky he isn't real because I want to kick his a$$ right now!" :D )

I write to connect with readers and make them feel something, so it's always helpful to me for someone to let me know if they DID feel something, and if so, what. If I want a character to be sympathetic, and people review telling me he's a massive jerk, that's concrit as well as a personal response. If everyone's "getting him wrong", the common denominator is me.

Sorry to ramble. It's late. :)

1/3/2013 . Edited 1/3/2013 #43
Esther Huffleclaw
I personally love to see an emotional reaction from the reviewer

I agree. I love it when someone leaves a review like that. I try to find something I emotionally connect with when I review as well.

1/3/2013 #44

I read the story at least twice, even if I'm familiar with the fandom. First time, I read it as any other story, I immerse in the plot, I want to know all whats and whos and whys. I rarely pay attention to how it's written, at that point.

Then when I know the plot, I reread it second time and note things I liked - that made me laugh, or tear-eyed, a witty line of dialogue, etc., and things that didn't work for me. I try to think what was the reason something didn't work for me.

Perhaps the dialogue was good, but there were too many action tags, and the character looked nervous and twitchy? (You know the type - always sighing, smirking, rolling their eyes, twirling hair around the finger, shuffling their feet...). Perhaps the description was confusing, or there are repetitions...

These are all things I don't notice during the first reading. If I don't see anything that needs to be fixed, I won't start searching for some error to report, and all I can say to the author praise. That happened few times already, too. But that doesn't mean I write something like that easily, or that I didn't pay as much attention to those stories as to those where I suggested fixing something.

1/3/2013 . Edited by Madam'zelleG, 4/25/2014 #45

Venti, I would say yes, please mention that in Tag. I know you've done it in the past, and appreciated that you've mentioned that it's consensual and both partners are adults. I prefer not to tag slash, not because of any moral objections, but because slash doesn't float my boat. I think, because of this, that if you were to play it'd be far more fair to you for me to step aside and let someone tag you who knows and likes slash or implied slash, and can give your story the review it deserves.

1/3/2013 #46

I'd like to say that all the tips here are fab.

My pennethworth is go for quality not quantity - trying to break down and explain what it is you do (and don't like) about someone else's writing can really help you improve your own.

You have to understand (and I do mean 'understand' - which is a little different from 'knowing')what's gping wrong in your own work in order to be able to fix it.

So what I'm trying to say in my rather rambly fashion is make your reviews an exercise to help develop yourself - not just to give someone else the benefit of your sage advice or tagging to get tagged - but because it makes you think about What works, what doesn't and why that is.

1/3/2013 #47

Geek & Sundry is an awesome YouTube channel in general, but on the first Tuesday of the month, they have a show called The Story Board, where a panel of authors discuss topics in modern literature. The last one was more in depth about the writing process than others, but there's a section after the 1:00:00 mark where Patrick Rothfuss and Mary Kowal discuss what they ask beta readers to look for and it's very good general advice, especially if you're not familiar with the fandom. Here's the link if you're interested:

To sum up, though, Kowal asks her readers to note down four things (listed below with my commentary).

  1. anytime they were bored - I've read several fics in my fandoms where I was bored with the story and several outside mine where I just kept reading because it was so good. You don't have to say you were bored, but something along the lines of "I started to drift here" or "I started skimming forward at (x) to see what was happening at (y)". That tells me that I need to cut to (y) quicker or change something in (x) to draw the reader's interest.
  2. anytime they were confused - This is slightly more difficult because some writers refer to the source of the fandom with the assumption that readers are familiar with it. But you can still note that down in your review! Others who are familiar with the fandom might be just as confused about the point, so there's no harm in commenting on it by saying something like "Maybe it's because I'm unfamiliar with the fandom, but I'm not sure what you meant by (x)." If something is confusing about the plot line or characters within the fic, like "I don't understand why (A) is acting like this when she's been so nice in previous chapters", that's something the writer needs to know.
  3. anytime they didn't believe something - This is sometimes a fandom thing, but it might also mean that I'm not doing enough description in my story or writing something OOC. If it's a setting thing, "Why are there pigs flying on (A)'s farm?", I might have relied too much on the source and not given enough attention to setting. Maybe I'm okay with that because I'm really just writing for people in my fandom. But someone like myself, or Lyla, who wants to write original fic would want to address that and do a little more set-up and world building. If it's a plot or character thing, then the author might have missed a few steps getting from point B to point C.
  4. anything they particularly liked - Yeah, I'd like something positive and supportive in my critique. More importantly, though, I don't want to go about changing or deleting something people like when I'm trying to fix the stuff that they don't. So, yes, write down specific quotes, plot points, character tics that kept you engaged in the reading. Conversely, tell me what you hated. If you hate character (A), that might be something I was going for. Maybe (A) has a whole character arc where she changes. Or you're not supposed to hate her, so maybe the problem is that she's a little Mary Sueish.

I think that these are all things that people can make a note of in their reviews whether or not you've read/watched the source material.

1/3/2013 #48

@ Edhla - ok, will do. :)

@ TikiPrincess - what I do, if I'm confused about something I'm not sure it's a canon or not, is that I check reviews by readers who know the fandom. It's the only time I do that. If I see readers who know that fandom are all praising it and saying what a great idea it was, etc. then I know the confusion is at my side. If there are no reactions, or only few (both positive and negative), I point it out. If I see almost everyone commented that it it was confusing, I don't mention it - it's not necessary any more.

1/3/2013 #49

I don't stray from RT often, but I'm here because of Darkin's post about review quality in the game which included a link here.

If it's a fandom I'm not familiar with, I disregard whether or not it's close to canon. I'm not going to know who the OC is (or even if there is an OC) I just read it as an original story and try to review in that way. Having said that, I do struggle with stories that are written for hardcore fans where prior knowledge of canon is essential in order to be able to follow it. If I don't have that knowledge then I find it very difficult to write a meaningful review, even when I do a little research to help me understand it. I do try to avoid these now by checking it out before tagging, but sometimes in the time I've checked it out and realised I can read and follow it, it's been ninja'd by someone else.

There have been times when I've been faced with the reviewer's version of writer's block - when I just can't think of anything to say and end up delivering a cringeworthy review. It's not necessarily because there was anything wrong with the story, it's just that it didn't get my review-cogs into gear. And I really struggle when that happens - even with stories in fandoms I'm very familiar with - even with chapters in stories where I've been leaving reviews that I've looked back on and been satisfied with.

Has anyone else experienced this? How do you get around it?

1/3/2013 . Edited by Madam'zelleG, 4/25/2014 #50
There have been times when I've been faced with the reviewer's version of writer's block - when I just can't think of anything to say and end up delivering a cringeworthy review. It's not necessarily because there was anything wrong with the story, it's just that it didn't get my review-cogs into gear. And I really struggle when that happens - even with stories in fandoms I'm very familiar with - even with chapters in stories where I've been leaving reviews that I've looked back on and been satisfied with.

Has anyone else experienced this? How do you get around it?

Oh yes, this happens to me all the time. When it does, the method I tend to fall back on a lot is to go back to the beginning of the story and begin to read it again for something, good or bad, to jump out at me. This can be anything from mentioning a nice hook at the very beginning of the chapter that really drew me in to some line that I thought was really nicely written or funny to something that was really thought provoking to some character trait that really stood out to me. On the flipside, I could also mention something that confused me or seemed really rushed, something that was really repetitive, or really anything that I felt detracted from the fic in general. Once I've gotten that written up, it usually tends to lead in to something else or gives me an idea of what else to mention, but if I'm still struggling I'll just look for the next thing that stood out to me that I want to talk about and rinse and repeat. It may not wind up being the best review the world has ever seen, but it gets the job done well enough for me usually.

1/3/2013 #51
There have been times when I've been faced with the reviewer's version of writer's block - when I just can't think of anything to say and end up delivering a cringeworthy review. It's not necessarily because there was anything wrong with the story, it's just that it didn't get my review-cogs into gear. And I really struggle when that happens - even with stories in fandoms I'm very familiar with - even with chapters in stories where I've been leaving reviews that I've looked back on and been satisfied with.

I know that Dom does a rolling commentary that's sort of stream of consciousness - where you write down your thoughts as you read the chapter. It's a different style, but somewhat authentic in your emotional reactions. You can find many examples in a lot of the RT fics since Dom plays a lot.

Aside from what I posted earlier on this page, I also posted a version of this a few pages back, which I think work for all stories, even ones where I don't know the fandom.

What I look for is what I strive to put into my own stories:

  • 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?

If you can't find something to critique negatively in any of these categories, you can always identify something that you really enjoyed. Highlight a section of the text that really stood out to you and why you liked it. Pull out a quote that made you think or laugh or angry. Sometimes, concrit isn't about what's wrong with the story, but what the author is doing right.

1/3/2013 #52

I can understand that you want to read something you like and know, but it may be sometimes unfair towards people that write in fandom that doesn't have many people in RLt... if we start doing it that, I'm bit worried that there will soon be cliques and groups and people from other fandoms, not popular here will be pushed aside - maybe not consciously, but it will be a consequence.

The "risk" that you'll end up with the story that you don't like, or the fandom you don't know, is the part of the game. And I think that, at least ocassionally, going beyond your comfort zone, can help you grow. Precisely because you will have to focus on other things than just plot and characters... as I said aboce, I sometimes have to check reviews by other people, and Ive often noticed that if the reviewers know the fandom, they will comment how they liked the plot, and perhaps give SPAG. Maybe for the first two or three chapters will try do something more, but soon they become fans of the story, and don't offer much constructive praise or criticism. I tend to do it to - and I noticed it because of "review block'.

When that happens, what I do is that I go over the list - plot, characters, dialogue, tone, description, atmosphere, and mention at least three of them. Those reviews maybe aren't so emotional, but, if the author is looking for reviews that will help him grow, they are more useful.

Plus there is always possibility that the story will be a pleasant surprise and that you will enjoy it. :)

1/3/2013 #53

Hey guys, everyone here has offered seriously fabulous ideas to improve the quality of reviews and the quality of Review Tag overall (I especially agree with Edhla, emotional responses are probably the most fulfilling) but I thought I'd add my two cents in, too.

It's already been vaguely discussed, but one thing I always do, no matter what, is check out the stories of the person I may or may not tag beforehand. I mean, I don't just look for fandom, but I look for genre (Hey, sometimes I want a good romance) and sometimes I even go so far as to skim the first paragraph to see how drawn in I am. I do all this to really make sure I won't, in any way, jip the person out of a good review, because if I am not feeling it, I don't want to tag for the sake of a review. Some days, when I'm less enthusiastic about playing, I'll tag shorter fics that I can dedicate my attention to whole-heartedly, other days, when I'm more enthusiastic, I'll tag any fic of any length because I know I'll be able to deliver a quality review.

So, my best advice I think, would be to make sure you're in the right mindset and mood and know your limits, don't push through a story you're not really interested for the sake of getting a review, but don't be afraid to branch out to other fandoms either if it sounds like something you might like. I don't know… that's just been my experience. It's great we're all having this discussion though, since I feel like we can all benefit from listening to each other.

1/3/2013 #54

Totally agree, Blondielocks. Your post makes total sense.

And regarding emotional responses - I agree too. I just in the last few moments got a 'plz update soon' review, but what brought tears of joy to my eyes (literally) was that they also said they'd stayed up all night reading it, and couldn't put it down.

1/3/2013 #55

I could not have played Tag much at all if I were to only keep to my main fandom, but there are some fandoms I have found myself unable to read. But I usually look at the stories before I tag, unless there is someone I have tagged before and therefore know if it is something I feel able to give a fair review. And if I don't know much about the fandom, I usually begin read a bit, to get a feel for the story. Unless I am ninjaed (which easily happens when I use so much time checking first), but that is a different story. Then I try to be as fair a possible: one thing is to not tag someone, another is the say that I don't want to review after having tagged. The only time I would do that, is if I have already reviewed everything the author has written. So far there are none in danger of that ;)

I find it frustrating when I work hard to create a period piece and a reviewer assumes that it's wrong.

This. While LotR can't really be called a 'period piece' in the same way, Tolkien's style is very distinct, with an archaic taste to it. Some characters will speak with more archaic syntax, and it is not out of place to have narrative parts that do the same. So, yes, frustrating. Thankfully I have not had it happen too often.

I don't think I have much to add. I have experienced "block" on reviewing as well, and it feels worse when it is for a tag review -- with other stories I usually leave something very short, and often just comment that I don't really find the words I would like to say. Works for a review (though not ideal) when it is outside tag, but not when I have promised to leave a substantial review.

Since spelling is not my strong suit, I seldom leave comments on that, but I sometimes am unsure of how much I could/should comments on issues such as style or descriptions etc. While there is no one "correct" style of writing, I don't think style should be wholly exempt form comments either. A style can be wrong for a particular story, or a writer can be struggling with a particular style, but I am not quite sure how I would handle that in a review.

1/3/2013 #56

I always assume that the writer knows what they're doing. I treat them each author as my equal - if I'm able to deliberatly choose to apply some elements, why should I doubt they are able to do that, too? And if reviews that sound very preaching, or demand and order changes rather than suggest them annoy me, it's highly probable that they will anoy the other authors as well.

If something is confusing, I first try to see if the problem is on my side - I learned dozens of words or meaning of words that I didn't know before, for example.

If I see a 'weird" syntax, but it's used consistently, I assume that it's something the author wanted. Then I try to figure out why they're doing it. Sometimes it's easy to figure it out, sometimes it's not. But then I ask. I don't say 'this is incorrect', and I say "I assume you use this style because of this and this, is that right?' And when the author replies to my review, they usually comment it.

But if the weird syntax is only in one or two sentences, then I assume that the author didn't intend that and point it out.

1/3/2013 . Edited 1/3/2013 #57

Ah, back on the real internet so I can elaborate.

Incidentally, I am so glad we're having this discussion, everyone :D

I agree that RT has been a fantastic opportunity for me to find fics I absolutely love and would never have otherwise read. Avengers/Iron Man fics like Stringy's and Blue's and Cleuq's. Dark's fantastic "Remember When." And Verran's "Mario and the Spirit from the Outer Realm" which has more than once left me a wretched sobbing mess of maternal feelings and anxiety :p

In terms of reviews I like and back to personal responses, they really are the best kind of reviews, to me. If they're honest. Highlights for me, off the top of my head, are Blondielocks admitting she'd been reluctant to tag me but that she was so glad she did (I love that kind of honesty, we've all done it), Stringy telling me a line I'd written made her laugh aloud and scare the cat, and Aiko and Bitter Kitten both telling me they'd read all 15-18 chapters of my fic in one sitting. These are so much more valuable, to me, than "your characterisations were believable", even though "your characterisations were believable" is a perfectly commendable bit of concrit, of course :)

I'll also echo something said upthread about disclaimers on being canon blind. I think it's perfectly fine and even considerate to say so- but not to occupy half your review with rambling about it just for the sake of taking up space.

EDIT: I also agree with Blondielocks' rant :p Correcting my SPaG is both fine and appreciated, but I don't like it when it takes up more than half a review :) My own practice is, if there are one or two errors, point them out (and where possible, assign them as a typo rather than a mistake), and if there are multiple repeated errors, I mention this, and ask the writer to PM me if they'd like me to go over that chapter and show them where I think the corrections should be made.

I'm also careful to disclaim about things I'm unsure about- being "corrected" on a word that isn't spelled wrong drives me bananas, so I assume it'd drive someone else bananas if I did it to them ;)

1/3/2013 . Edited 1/3/2013 #58

Everyone can improve, even those of us who write awesome reviews. :) That's what I think anyway. And we can help each other improve, which is awesome.

1/3/2013 #59

Can I stick another thought in? Please don't use lables unless the author has used them themselves.

I don't know what anyone else thinks of this point but it sort of touches on points made earlier about Mary Sue and not asuming you know the author's intentions.

What I mean is - if the writer describes it as fluff or smut or a self-insert then fair enough but don't lable it and box it up yourself.

For example I've had a couple of pleasant and friendly pm exchanges recently about the use of the word torture-porn. I don't like it (and Lord knows I'm pretty liberal) because to me it implies a deliberate attempt to titillate by using gratuitous and intensely graphic descriptions. Not going to get in to justifying myself or my story here but my point is that definition has certain connotations to me that most definitely were not my intention and I get a little prickly when someone else implies that it was.

I'm also a little concerned that it is now visible to others in those reviews and may put them off or encourage them to use it.

Smut, on the other hand, I freely admit to! Although my use of it is artistic of course. :-)

Equally though, I feel that using lables like Mary Sue etc -even if you are trying to say they are not that - can have a negative effect.

If the character is not a Mary- Sue then why mention it at all (unless the author has asked)?

If they are a Mary- Sue then don't lable them as such just explain what you didn't like about them.

1/3/2013 #60
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