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.
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.”
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?
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?