So you’ve decided to help out your local writing section by posting some reviews of other people’s work. That’s fine and dandy, but there is some etiquette on going about this. So before you go and give your thoughts to the world, be sure to read what’s accepted, and what’s not in the wonderful world of reviews. First, we will be learning on what not to do, since that’s arguably more important because you want to build the writer up, not tear their poor soul down.
What NOT to do
Advertise your fic in every review
So you’re looking to get some feedback on one, or several, of your fics, so you mention one of your fics in your review, just gently nudge the other person in its general direction. This could be very tempting, especially if you want feedback on a specific one. So you decide to go along the lines of “Hey! I think you should reconsider how you handled issue X, you can read my fic, The Village of Muk, to see how I handled it!” or “I really like your main character, he reminds me of my main character Ben from my fic, The Village of Muk, you should check it out to see what I’m talking about.”
Yeah, don’t do that. It never turns out like you want it to and it only turns people off of your fic. The writer will notice that you’re only reviewing his/her work to discreetly advertise you own. They’ll roll their eyes, sigh, and move on to the next review written by someone who actually wants to help them. Others will see your attempt, and if you continue to do this, no one will take your reviews seriously. It doesn’t help anyone and you have to be a highly respected author to pull it off, and if you’re a highly respected author, you most likely aren’t going to try and pull this off.
Insult the writer
This seems like an easy problem to avoid, but sometimes something you say comes out wrong and now you’ve just insulted the writer. The most popular form of this is sarcasm. It’s been said a million times. Don’t use sarcasm on the internet, yet people think that it will come across this one time. It never does, and now you have some damage control to take care of.
Sometimes, a person puts something up online that clearly shows that they have no idea what they’re doing. You don’t want to insult them, so you carefully hint that maybe they should focus on something else for a while. I can guarantee you that no matter how bad that first chapter might seem, it can’t be any worse than my first attempt. It was literally a block of text with no formatting whatsoever. Instead of insulting me, however, a kind soul was willing to take the time to teach me the basics. Now, here I am, trying to help out the section and trying to be as nice as that first person was to me. You never know just how much the other person will appreciate the advice.
Act like the perfect, all-knowing being
Remember, all because you notice a few mistakes doesn’t mean that the writer doesn’t know what they are doing. Odds are, if you do act like you know everything, the writer probably knows a lot more than you. In fact, reviews can be a learning experience for the writer and reviewer alike.
It’s going to happen, you’re going to make a mistake while reviewing. Don’t be that person that absolutely refuses the possibility that they have made a mistake. It’s okay to explain your decision if you think the writer took it the wrong way, but don’t be hard-headed about it. Besides, if you admit fault, the writer will hold you to a higher respect level and you’ll look like a really nice guy. It’s a win-win.
Be a drama queen/king It's okay if the writer doesn't listen to every critique. Your suggestions are just that, suggestions. Don't be that guy that thinks because you said it, the writer has to take it. If the writer doesn't agree with you, it's okay to explain your reasoning, but don't bully the writer into accepting your idea. Also, if you see another review say something you don't think is correct, it's fine to state your opinion on the subject, but don't call out the other reviewer. It makes you look bad, and it starts an argument that doesn't need to take place.
Write a “helpful” review
So you picked through the writer’s story and found a couple mistakes. If this is your entire review, all you’re doing is fixing the problem short-term. You need to explain what’s wrong with it and provide a solution if possible. Remember, you’re not just there to improve the story, but rather to improve the writer. If you just include all the mistakes the writer made, all you’re doing is making him/her feel like crap. Sure, you improved the story, but you’ve done nothing at all to improve the writer.
Now that you know what not to do in your review, it’s about time we looked at what things we should include. Here I’ll be giving you a basic outline that new reviewers should follow along with a few tips on how to write a better review.
What to do
Things that fall under this category are grammar and formatting. Your review should include some ways to improve the story, whether that be by correcting a few misspelled words, or saying where a new paragraph should be formed. Depending on the experience and skill of the writer, this section could take up the majority, or the minority of the review. Just make sure you throw in a solution for the writer to go off of.
This is a section that doesn’t need to be in all reviews. Include this only if you feel that the writer should have expanded, or elaborated more on a certain scene. Explain where the story needs more elaboration, and why you think the added details would help.
Tips and Tricks
So now that you’ve helped out with various parts of the story, it’s time we worked on improving the writer. Since you spent all the time reviewing their work, you have a pretty good idea of what the writer needs to improve on in general. In this section you let the writer know exactly that. Whether it’s added detail, emotion, showing v telling, whatever. Tell them where they need to improve and how to do it. Possibly follow it up with a VM/PM giving them a link to an article that you think could help them, if you have one in mind.
This section is all about the entire story, and bringing your review to a close. Here you sum up what you said and add a few points that you didn’t quite think fit in any of the other categories. One thing I like to do in my overviews is put what I think of their story concept, positive and negative. What I like and didn’t like about the story and how the plot progresses. There should be a couple points made here, but nothing too major.
Now that we have the basic outline, we’re ready to move on to what actually makes a review a good one. These tips will help you help the writer, and in a good way.
Don’t include just negatives
This one is simple, include some things you liked about the story. If you liked a sentence, point it out. If you liked what a character said, let the writer know. It’s not all about what the writer is doing wrong, it’s also about what the writer is doing right. If you let the writer know that you liked something they did, then the confidence of the writer will increase and they’ll be happy.
Write a review chapter by chapter
If you’re reviewing a fic with more than one chapter completed, take the time after each chapter to write a review of it so you don’t leave out anything that came across your mind. This will leave a more detailed review for the writer to improve on.
Quote grammar mistakes
With this trick, it’s not simply enough to point out their mistakes, quote them in your review. This is already commonly practiced and taken as common knowledge, but make sure you quote the mistakes as you see them. This way, you won’t forget them later on.
This is probably the most important thing in this guide. Even if their fic is like my first attempt, and nothing good can be said about it, it’s still possible to leave a constructive critique. Basically, it’s all about being assertive, without being mean. Here’s a couple examples so you get what I mean.
“Do you really think I can read this? Next time think about formatting before you post stuff. Until then, I’m not reading anything by you.”
“I would suggest, first of all, to space it out. As it currently sits, it’s just too hard to read, plus the wall of text isn’t good for the eyes.”
Both critiques are saying the same thing and are similar in length, but did you notice which one was the constructive critique? If you guesses example A, congratulations! You’re wrong. Example A is saying things that attack the writer directly and isn’t providing any solution to the problem. Example B, however, is still saying something negative, but with an easy solution. Plus the reviewer isn’t attacking the writer directly, all of the negative things are kept to the story. It’s a hard line to define, but easily noticeable when it is crossed.
A couple of things before you go off to review the world. Remember that it took a lot of courage from some of these writers to post their work. All they want is their story to be read, and appreciated. Make sure to take your time with the review, it won’t help anybody if you rush through it. This is a learning experience for both the writer, and reviewer. Don’t be a Negative Nancy, but don’t be a Positive Petey either. Now that you know how to write a (constructive) critique, go make some writers day by giving them a review. Who knows? Maybe you’ll become friends.
One thing I can comment on is where you say to achieve balance in a review between positive and negative. When I told you that I always strive to not be completely negative or completely positive, it's because I've been doing this for so long that I could find something the author could improve on. Same with a lot of the other experienced people, which tend to not be the ones who need a guide on how to review. But new members who aren't sure how to review might not be ready to find something negative about the review, and can only write a completely positive review. They shouldn't have to feel forced to find something for the author to improve on if they can't, because that might lead to them being mistaken on something. It's fine to be only positive so long as it's a constructive review.
Only other thing I can think of to add is pretty much "Don't create drama. Don't fight back with the author, demanding that they obey every word in the review. Don't duke it out with other reviewers if they see something you don't agree with."
Okay, I added the drama section and took in your points.
I edited the finding a balance section a little bit, but I couldn't find a place where I was happy with it. I agree with you and because I couldn't find that happy place I just ended up scrapping the section. Let me know if you think of anything else.