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    Moderator AceTrainer14's Avatar Forum Head
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    Default Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    Hello everyone! It has been a while since the last Academy, a poor effort on my part, but we are back and stronger than ever! In response to the recent discussions over writing reviews and what makes them up, @AetherX has kindly whipped this article up for us, and it is purely amazing! You should all definitely check this out and take his advice to heart! If you want to write your own article for us, look out for our next call later in the month.


    --------------

    Hey everyone! The mods tied me up and forced me to write this for their own nefarious purposes, please someone help!

    If fanfiction is the backbone of the Workshop, reviewing is the nervous system that makes it more than just a stack of vertebrae. Reviewing is what keeps the community tied together, helping each of us improve as writers. If you review someone else’s fic, they get valuable input and might even reciprocate. The best way to get people to review your fic is to review theirs, either through the Review Exchange, the Review Game, or just out of the kindness of your own heart (no link to that, unfortunately. Sorry soulless specters, you’re out of luck).

    “But… But… I try but people throw things at me and say I’m not funny and can’t sing!”

    That’s because you’re doing a revue, not a review. Let’s start with deciding what a review actually is, compared to a regular old response.

    Review vs Response


    We’ve all seen a response. It’s a post that is made to tell the author that someone’s reading their work, and serves little purpose beyond boosting the author’s ego and perhaps discussing the story in a non-analytical or critical manner. Nothing wrong with that, I do it all the time! A review however, is something much more.

    A review should go in depth, detailing the reviewer’s compliments and criticisms. The goal of a review should be to recognize an author’s strengths and point out their weaknesses in either a general or specific manner. It can be just about any length, but tends to be considerably longer than the average response. It all depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it.

    What to write about


    A common complaint that I hear when encouraging people to write reviews is that they don’t know what to write about. I equate this to being bored while playing Skyrim. There’s so much to do that you can’t think of what exactly to do. To solve this problem (the reviewing one, that is. In Skyrim I usually just end up slaughtering guards), I did some digging through the interblag. There isn’t a lot (anything) on writing fanfiction critiques, but I did find these:

    How to Write a Book Review

    And the somewhat similarly titled:

    How to Write a Book Review

    Although we aren’t really trying to write a book review in this sense, if you scroll down a little ways on either page, you’ll see a nice list of ideas to ponder while writing your reviews.

    I suppose I should clarify something. Although reviews are meant to be constructive, there is absolutely nothing wrong with including your own personal opinion in your reviews. Your emotional response to the story is often a great place to start with a review, talking about your favorite characters or scenes.

    That said, here are some of the things I think about when writing my reviews:

    • Who was my favorite character? (Déjà vu!)
    • Did the story flow well? (From action to calm, or more broadly: from beginning to middle to end)
    • Did I see any grammar or punctuation mistakes?
    • How was the dialogue?
    • Was there a scene, character, or theme that stood out to me while reading?
    • Did the characters develop? Did they develop well?
    • How vivid was the world the author crafted?


    It’s good to have these things in mind whilst reading the story. I often go back and reread chapters while writing my review so that I can be sure I didn’t miss anything I wanted to mention. Reading a story critically and reading a story for enjoyment are two different things.

    If you come across a story with particularly poor grammar, punctuation, spelling etc. I would suggest focusing on helping the author out of that before you worry about anything else. Feel free to compliment their characters or plot, but it doesn’t help to start critiquing character interactions when the author doesn’t know their “there” from their “they’re.”

    Structure


    Now that we know what we’re writing, we need to figure out how we’re going to write it. In my time here I’ve come across many different ways of structuring reviews, but I’ll only go over the most common ones here, using my own reviews as examples.

    The Freewrite – Also known as the idea dump, this style entails writing down anything and everything you can think of. It’s usually best to go back and reorganize things so that they make sense, but in the end this is basically just a continuous stream of thoughts, comments, and criticisms. It can be helpful to break this up on a chapter by chapter basis if you’re being very specific in your reviews.

    Example <-Not the best, especially since I didn’t break things up into chapters, but this is the basic format.

    The Outline – This is my favorite, and one with many interpretations. This is a slightly more structured method than the freewrite, as it involves breaking up the review into several topics. These topics can vary. Personally, I choose plot, characters, and writing (where writing involves both the creative and technical aspects, i.e. description, dialogue and grammar). Some other ideas for topics include themes, concept, dialogue, setting, and style. It helps to say which of these areas you think was the author’s strongest and which was their weakest.

    Example <-Notice the use of a final “Overall” section to wrap things up and end with some general advice.

    The Quote-Explosion – I call it this because it’s not very neat, although it’s quite effective (you could even say it was super effective. Critical hit!). This method involves using quotes to respond to every line, paragraph, or scene that you have something to say about. This method is particularly helpful when correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation as you can directly alter the quotes or highlight the errors before correcting them.

    Example <-I couldn’t find the example I wanted, but the first part of this review is in the quote by quote style.

    In a similar vein, I thought I’d bring up the concept of numerical ratings. I’ve seen lots of discussion in the past as to whether a score out of ten, twenty, or a hundred is beneficial or not. I tend to avoid them, though they do serve their purpose when it comes to awards judging. What do you think?

    Wording


    A lot of what I’m going to say here can be found in my responses and those of others in this Constructive criticism v. flaming thread. When critiquing an author’s work, you’re critiquing something that he or she has put a lot of effort into. The best way to be sure that they heed your advice is to make sure they didn’t find it offensive. If the author decides they don’t like you because you came across as rude, then they aren’t going to pay attention to your suggestions for improvement.

    The first part of doing this is being humble. Never EVER compare your own writing to that of whoever you’re reviewing in a negative fashion. If you’re a more talented writer, they’ll probably be able to tell and there’s no reason to point it out beyond stroking your own ego. Being able to point out flaws in someone’s writing doesn’t mean you’re better than them (this is a good stance for authors to take too). There’s a difference between being constructive and being a dick. Where this line exists largely depends on the author and reviewer in question, but the best thing to do is to be polite and respectful.

    Another good way of coming across as positive is to include plenty of compliments sprinkled among your criticisms. Think of the “compliment sandwich,” where you start with a compliment, then give a criticism, and end with another compliment.

    Proofread! Make sure everything’s phrased clearly to avoid misunderstandings and think about how you would feel if this review was posted on one of your stories. If you feel you’ve come across as too harsh, try to reword things. If you feel you haven’t really given the author any suggestions, reread a few chapters with an especially critical eye. In the end, you should aim to be helpful and encouraging more than anything. Your job is to help the author, not piss them off.

    That’s all I’ve got! Feel free to ask questions, debate my points, or post reviews of your own for others to critique.

    • What do your reviews entail?
    • How long are your reviews?
    • How do you structure your reviews?
    Legacy and Gama like this.

    ^^^^ The GalacticVerse Bibliography (Thanks to Blazaking for Banner) ^^^^

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    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    When I receive a review, my favorite ones are ones that point out SPECIFIC points of criticism, not just the "ooh, it was awesome" stuff. The point of getting reviews, IMO, is to get help in hopefully one day becoming a better "real life" writer. And to do that, you need your peers to share their knowledge and point out things I can improve on.

    On the other hand though, it always nice to get praise and encouragement and hear that people enjoy what you write.

    When I do a review, I try to build people up by saying what I like about the fic as well as points I think they can improve upon.

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    CEO of the Monsters Lugion's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    Yeah, I do have to agree that it's disheartening when few people even comment to let you know they're reading.

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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    When I criticize, I do it constructively, and often in the form of a question (eg. "I noticed that there was not much detail here, any reason why?') This way, the author knows that I want them to get better, and I'm not confusing style with a mistake
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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    I think phrasing criticisms in the form of questions is a great idea. It'll make the author think, and like you said you won't be confusing something that was done on purpose for a mistake.

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    Wow, this is amazing, Aether! I haven't given it a very thorough read yet, so I will need to go over it again, but really good job on this: it's a valuable resource.

    In terms of specific points of criticism, I try to gauge it on how experienced the writer is and the kind of mistakes they're making. I don't think it's always helpful to point out every single mistake that a reasonably new writer makes because it can be overwhelming for them. What are people's thoughts on that?

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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    Thanks Gama!

    I completely agree. As the author continues to post chapters, your reviews for each chapter would go through the author's troubles on by one. The first chapter review could talk about comma issues, the second could be about dialogue, etc. That's a very good point!

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    is obsessed with Noivern! Zekurom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lesson Seven: Writing Reviews by AetherX

    In a similar vein, I thought I’d bring up the concept of numerical ratings. I’ve seen lots of discussion in the past as to whether a score out of ten, twenty, or a hundred is beneficial or not. I tend to avoid them, though they do serve their purpose when it comes to awards judging. What do you think?
    Numerical ratings are only useful to judge content. When you're trying to construct rather than judge, it's not a good idea.

    But if you're going to do so anyway, here is some advice: Above all else, be consistent with your ratings. If you're giving 7/10 for grammar to somebody who had excellent grammar as well as somebody whose grammar was mediocre, it won't mean anything. Similarly, don't give 5/10 and 9/10 to two stories who, upon closer analysis, you thought were the same quality (an exception can be made if these reviews were done at wildly different times, because, well, standards change). Secondly, make sure there's enough granularity (which helps with consistency). You don't want to lump all your stories as either 10's or 1's on your scale, but again, don't be shy about using those extremes if you really did feel they deserved them. Make sure to flex your muscles a bit and give a wide range of ratings.
    The word "quadragonal" is the only word with "dragon" in it where "dragon" is not a root word. That makes it awesome.

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