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Guide Last Updated On: June 19, 2009
On request, I've ported over a guide I wrote for another forum, with edits and shiny, new sections included. Feel free to ask questions if I've forgotten anything.
Introduction: The Theory of Reviewing
Reviewing is simply an open line of communication between the author and his audience. That is, it's a way of speaking to the author so the author can understand how he's doing with his work. Additionally, to review, the reviewer needs to say one thing and one thing only: what he thought about the work.
Now, okay, don't look at me and say, "Well, duh, Jax. We all know that." I know you know that. The problem is that not a lot of you know that there's a whole plethora of other questions that go into it that you, as the reviewer, need to answer in order to write an intelligent review.
Basically, the concept of what you think is actually a pretty broad category because it's possible to break it down into different other questions that all answer the same general topic. For example, the most basic questions that fall under this category are:
1. Did you like it?
2. Did you not like it?
From there, both questions have yet another set of questions underneath them: Why? What is it about the work that you didn't like? What is it about the work that you did? Why did you like or hate those particular parts? What about those parts didn't you like? Why? And it keeps on going back and forth between "what" and "why" until there's nothing left to talk about.
In other words, reviewing is quite possibly 50% analysis. (The other 50% is something we'll get into in a moment.) In order to effectively review, you need to ask yourself what works and what doesn't, why they don't work, and keep on going from there. In a review, you need to be as thorough as possible and quote from the story (or paraphrase) in order to give weight to your arguments. Otherwise… well, we'll talk about that in a moment too. Instead, let's turn to that other 50%.
See, while you're writing a review to let others know what you think of the story (assuming that that's why you're bothering and not for some sadistic enjoyment out of it), the other 50% of it must be to help the author. You're not the only one who's reading the review, after all. An author who genuinely wants to perfect the craft is and, through a good review, can learn from his mistakes, fix them, and become a better writer. Keep in mind that the writer has a natural bias towards his work (as in, a writer will always think that their work is either better or worse than it actually is), whereas the reviewer tends to see the work in a completely objective standpoint. In other words, you can see the mistakes that they can't. So, it's up to you to point out those errors, explain why they're errors, and tell the author how to avoid them in the future.
And so, with that in mind, let's move on to what isn't a good review.
Bad Example #1: The Shortie
Unfortunately, the following is a real review. I'm not kidding you. FFNet is notorious for this sort of stupid.
Um, there's no substance to it. Seriously, look at it for awhile. What does it tell you about your chapter? It tells you that the reviewer can't be arsed to write more than three sentences about your work. It tells you that you've managed to just barely entertain your reader enough that they can't find anything to say about your fanfiction except maybe one or two things. And most of all, it tells you nothing about how to improve or what you're doing right. (Really, it doesn't even do the latter. The reason why is because that reviewer could have missed the entire point of the character or story, but the author sure as heck can't tell.)
A review this is not. It's actually a borderline insult, although a lot of writers (myself included) take it anyway because at least we've managed to hold someone's attention for five seconds. Possibly no more than that, but it's something.
So, what can you do to improve if you're one of these reviewers? Find something to actually say. If you can only fill up a review in one line, then chances are, the writer is just as well-off if you didn't review at all. Look through his work. Point out areas that seem weak to you or struck you as being particularly enjoyable. Write about why they're enjoyable to you (or, if you're pointing out what you didn't like, why you didn't think it worked as well). Basically, do everything that I've mentioned in the introduction above. Just don't leave one-liner reviews, as they're not particularly helpful to the author.
Bad Example #2: The Grammatical Review
A lot of people on a lot of forums I frequent have this weird trend of leaving lengthy, quote-heavy grammatical reviews. While that's cool that you're learning, also keep in mind that:
1. Your review is meant to help the author. Don't just say that it's an error. Say why it's an error. As in, explain the rule of grammar or spelling that's being broken, the logic behind it (if you can), and how to fix it. Otherwise, the writer doesn't know what he or she did wrong or how to avoid it in the future, and your grammatical review ends up being useless.
2. LEARN ENGLISH GRAMMAR BEFORE YOU COMMENT ON ENGLISH GRAMMAR. This should really be one of those "no duh" rules, but sometimes, people tend to trip up.
Now, what the second point means is if you're going to make a grammatical review, chances are, you don't want to sound like this:
Yeah. They're filled with grammatical errors. (I've put in bold and red all the ones that are.) Seriously, if you tell someone to be careful about their grammar, chances are, you don't want to have too many in your own review for the simple reason that if you do, bluntly put, you look like a hypocrite. Possibly even just as bad as the author. As in, what sort of lesson are you teaching the writer if you tell him to write in proper English, only to not follow the same advice?
So, the rule of thumb (aside from the fact that a grammatical review should explain why errors are errors) is proofread your review before you submit it. This can easily be done the way one would proofread a story: write it in a word processing (e.g. Word, Works, et cetera) document, save if you don't have time to finish, and post it later, when you have time. There's no reason why you should post the review right away unless the writer is stupid enough to do a chapter-a-day crapfic, at which point chances are you probably shouldn't bother with a grammatical review anyway.
Bad Example #3: The 10/10 (or Five-Star or Whatever) Review
In my time lurking and posting on various fic forums, I often come across people who attempt to sound as if they're giving a professional review. Oftentimes, those reviews end up looking like this:
To see what I mean, let's look at another review that's got what has to be a completely and utterly arbitrary number:
1. The reviewer thinks his story is good but doesn't say why. In fact, he's largely apathetic about the story.
2. The chapter just "ended." What does that mean? The reviewer doesn't like cliffhangers?
3. The reviewer is capable of pulling out a completely random number to express his lukewarm feelings for the story.
That is, the author, after reading the review, walks away with absolutely no information that can tell him anything about his story. He doesn't know what he did right or what he did wrong. He doesn't know whether this number is good or bad or why he missed all those other points. He doesn't know anything. In other words, the review failed.
Same thing with giving stars or certain seals in place of numbered ratings. If you're going to do that and keep the review short, then the author has no idea why his story earned that seal or that many stars or why it couldn't get something higher. He takes nothing away from a random confidence booster that really means absolutely nothing other than the reviewer's too lazy to put his opinion into actual words.
But let's say you tack a number, a seal, or a set of stars at the end of a lengthy review. Would it work then? Actually, not really. I admit to doing this in the past, and all I learned from it is that putting that kind of thing at the end of a review is incredibly obnoxious. It has the potential of boosting the egos of certain writers who decide to tl;dr your review despite the fact that you say it's good, and if you give them a low number, set of stars, or seal, then that means you're basically grinding your heel into their fanfiction, rather than attempting to help them. As in, a high number or whatever boosts the ego. The low end of the spectrum insults the author. Granted, bad reviews may hurt, but straight constructive criticism and frank honesty usually make up for this, whereas adding a number or a star set or whatever beats them over the head with the fact that you thought they sucked. Remember that your first goal in leaving a review is to tell the reader what you thought did and didn't work for their fanfiction and why. You do not need to emphasize the fact that you thought their writing was on either end of the spectrum.
How a Review Should Really Be Done
So, I've been sitting here for a long time, telling you what not to do when you review. How about the things you should do? How do you write a review, anyway?
Start off with the theory section. When you come across someone else's work, take a long look at it. Ask yourself the basic questions, then keep going with it down the line until you have quite a bit you want to say. Go into the work with a clear and open mind. You're reviewing for the sake of not only giving your honest opinion but also to help the author.
Every good reviewer has a different style. Some like to read through the entire thing and give a long, uninterrupted (as in, lax using the quote tags, although it may contain a few quotes here and there to serve as examples for clarification) review at the end. Some like to quote the entire post and make notes as they go along. Some like a combination of both. Remember, though, that if you go with the first option, you run at a risk of forgetting parts of the story or of not saying enough to cover all the points you wanted to get at, and if you go with the second option, you also have the risk of not fully understanding a passage as it stands as a whole. It's really up to you which style you want to use or if you want to try some sort of variant (as long as it works), but the end result is you need to be a careful reader and reviewer at all times. (I'd recommend a read through first before going back and rereading it again as you review. That way, you know the context of each piece of the story beforehand as well as an idea of what you want to say.)
After that, when you start to review, stop when you need to. Like actually writing a fanfiction, you have the option of using a word processing document to save your work. In fact, it's incredibly recommended to use a word processing document, as it's easier to spot errors in your own writing as you do your review than it is just writing in a post reply box. Also, you can save without submitting the review to the public, so if you need to get up for long periods of time in the middle of your review, you can without having to tell the author, "This review isn't finished yet, so I'll get back to it later" or "I don't have time to review, so here's a short review that's far inferior to the one I would have done." Please note that good writers tend to be patient, so there's no real rush in getting a review up (unless the writer is pumping out a chapter a day, at which point, as I've said before, it's probably not worth your time).
During the review, please note that not everyone includes the same information. Just because some reviewers point out grammatical errors doesn't mean every review needs to have one. A review simply states what you thought did and didn't work in the story. If you prefer to just review the story's literary elements (plot, description, characters, et cetera), then it's okay if you just do that without touching grammar and spelling as long as it's intelligent and longer than a few lines. However, I personally don't believe that it's a particularly filling review if you do the reverse and just submit a grammatical review, as that tends to be pretentious while completely ignoring the actual story and therefore point to a review (unless the thing is absolutely unreadable).
Likewise, as I've said before, if you're going to review, please do your homework before pointing out a potential error. That means looking up the rules of grammar before pointing out a grammatical error, knowing the canon before pointing out errors in the portrayal of canon, and generally knowing a bit about what you're talking about. This tends to be a "no duh" statement, but I've seen reviewers elsewhere that have attempted to review other people's stories while giving them completely false information, which then misleads the author and causes them to, yes, add more errors to their fanfiction. So, in order to help a writer, you generally need to have an idea of what you're talking about first. Remember that Google is your friend, should you be only somewhat certain about things.
Also note that a reviewer does not write the story for the writer. If you think a piece of the storyline doesn't work because of logic/violation to canon/failure to evoke a mood, tell them why and suggest a possible solution. If you don't like the plot because you think events could be better with (insert character here) and (insert plot point here), then chances are, you're trying to write the story for the author. Also note that describing an entire ending to a story and asking the author to write about that is incredibly lame. The author will write a story about whatever he wants to write, and it's not the reviewer's job to dictate to him what you want to see. Instead, it's the reviewer's job to tell the author what doesn't work with the story so far and why, if that makes sense.
At the end of the review, it's always good to summarize what you're trying to say. It's the conclusion, so you generally want to gather your thoughts and give your last advice or verdict before wrapping up. Rating scales tend to be used here (or throughout the review in general), but it's not really necessary – only something that emphasizes what you're trying to say. Please note that sometimes, rating scales tend to discourage the author if you build it imbalanced – as in, it either takes more steps to get to the top of the scale than to the bottom or the scale appears to be generally harsh. You're here to encourage the writer to get better if at all possible, so the conclusion is really where you need to stop and say, "Yes, I know you've made a lot of mistakes, but you can get better with effort" or "It was okay, but it could be better" or "I really didn't think it was particularly good, but it's possible for you to improve if you (insert something here)."
No, you shouldn't sugarcoat your reviews. No, it's not sugarcoating if you try to say "this wasn't that great" with tact. The reason why is because there's a difference between a straightforward reviewer and a jerk. The straightforward reviewer is capable of being honest but can explain his opinion while suggesting ways to improve. They're the helping hands, even though they can be harsh critics with fiction that isn't particularly stellar, simply because they tend to be blunt about their opinions. A jerk, meanwhile, is the sort of reviewer who thinks it's their right to say that an author sucks without offering any hope of improvement. In some cases, sure, there might not be any hope for an author (if they're illiterate and/or believe their writing is the best thing that's happened to mankind since the Bible), but it doesn't mean that you have to assume that no writer wants to improve. So, rather than saying, "You suck. Stop writing." You should be saying, "I didn't particularly like this piece because (insert reason here), but I think you can improve/it would be better if you (insert suggestion here)."
Until I can think of any other type of review and how they can go horribly wrong, please keep in mind the following:
1. Not every OC is a Mary Sue. Not even most of them are, and certainly not every self-insertion is. Mary Sues are simply characters who are far too outrageous to be realistic. They're the ones that bend reality (either because the author is making things convenient for them or because the author is making things angsty for them) and rely on a set of powers/elements that make them special (beauty, super intelligence, angsty past, incredible battling skills, et cetera) in combination to make them interesting. In other words, they tend to be fairly over-the-top with how they're portrayed. Hence, you may not always encounter one in every story.
(As a note, if you want a better description of a Mary Sue, Wikipedia has an unusually good article and a list of resources on Mary Sues.)
2. Just because someone did a new trainer story doesn't mean it can't be fresh. It depends completely on the story that stems from that new trainer setting out on his journey. If, however, the trainer wakes up late and starts his journey a la Ash, then feel free to question.
3. Pokemon names, items, positions (e.g. trainer, gym leader), et cetera can possibly be left lowercase, as if they're common nouns. Look carefully at the other names in the story to see what conventions the writer is following before commenting.
4. MSTs are momentarily funny, but they're not the best way to review (hence why I only do them if the fic itself is terrible).
5. You are not God.
Thus, if you must review, review smart, for the love of all things good and holy.
The last guide was how to leave a review. Events over the past few months, meanwhile, lead me to write another one about how to react to one.
So, let's start off at the basics.
Introduction: How to Write On the Internet
Welcome to the internet. It's a vast, fascinating world where people can freely trade ideas. You, meanwhile, are the writer. You've worked hard for days, weeks, months, whatever, and you finally have that amazing piece of work you want to share with everyone. Assuming you've already gone through and proofread, you should be ready to just hit the New Thread button or upload it or what have you, and it'll be over and done with, right?
Stop right there. Before you do anything, stop and think about it. The internet is a vast place, full of people with all kinds of opinions. If you were just saving your story in a notebook or otherwise offline to just show your friends and relatives, that's one thing. However, as soon as you post your story, you're showing it to millions of complete strangers. Anyone with a computer can now come and read your story, which means all of those people with different opinions and standards will be viewing your thread.
That means that from this point onward, you're no longer writing for yourself. You're writing for an audience.
The logic goes like this: If you were writing for yourself – completely for yourself – you would be the only one who needs to see it. Therefore, you'd only need to keep it in a private place for your eyes only. If you were writing for your friends or family, you'd send it directly to them.
However, you're doing neither. Instead, you're posting it online. Why? Why would you put something so private on the internet, where anyone can come and read it? The logical answer is that you, by default, want opinions from those strangers. You're not posting so you can read your story later. You're not even posting to show your friends. You're posting for everyone.
So, with that in mind, hit that New Thread button. Post your fic. Let your reviewers come in and say something.
But never, ever assume that you can do whatever you want.
The rest of this guide is set up similarly to the first one. I take common complaints and arguments and turn them into a "how-not-to" guide, explaining why those arguments really don't apply. Hopefully, by doing this, I'll hit on the most major comments so you can realize that, yes, we've heard that before, and we're not impressed.
Argument #1: It's Fanfiction!
I've seen this argument so many times that, if I had a nickel for every time I saw it, I'd have enough to pay off my student loans already. Usually, it's done when a reviewer mentions the fact that they've done something that isn't canon, like making a character OOC or having a Charizard use Explosion. Unfortunately, it's also dead wrong.
See, the problem is that the word "fiction" in this phrase doesn't mean it's fake. It means it's literature. As in, you're writing, as opposed to drawing. (See "fanart.") When a fanartist draws something completely absurd and is called out on it, do they ever say, "Well, it's art, so I can do whatever I want"? No, because that's not what that part of the phrase actually means.
Moreover, whoever does this fails to notice the little three-letter syllable just before that part.
Ever wonder why it's called fanfiction? It's not just because you're writing in the universe of a fandom (like Pokémon). It's because you're doing this because you're a fan. Yes, that's right. Fanfiction is done out of love. It's done because you choose to acknowledge yourself as a fan, and it's done because you want to show that you're a fan by expressing your love for the canon. If you write fanfiction, you must respect the original canon, not because we're anal but because you're defeating the purpose of fanfiction if you don't.
If you don't like the original canon, after all, why are you calling yourself a fan?
Argument #2: Don't Like; Don't Read
This argument is usually in response to a generally negative review. It baffles me, really, because the logic is, well, confusing. If we don't like a fic, we're obligated, as reviewers, to say something about it. It would be a lie to you if we told you that we loved it or if we said nothing at all and let you go around with the thought that you're the best writer ever because everyone loves your work. (Not that we actually target you because of your egotism. What I mean is that we're here to help you. If we don't help you improve, then we, as reviewers, would be failing to do our job.)
Not to mention it's backwards. How can we determine that we don't like something if we don't read it first? This argument only applies if the fic contains an element (like character death, violence, drug abuse, or gay sex) that's seen as offensive to a number of people, and at that point, it's usually stated in a warning in the first post. Otherwise, we read it. Be glad.
Argument #3: I Don't Like Grammar/I Suck At Grammar!
Obviously in response to anyone who says their grammar can use work. The truth is that while it's okay to have weaknesses, there's always the option to learn.
First and foremost, this is the internet. It's full of fantastic sources and guides to teach yourself grammar if you feel like Googling long and hard enough. In fact, to make things easier for you, try OWL at Purdue. They have guides complete with examples and small quizzes to make it easy to understand the inner workings of the English language.
Second, you're on a computer. You should be typing your story in a word processor (like Microsoft Word or Open Office) anyway. Now, hit F7 or click on Tools or do whatever you have to do to familiarize yourself with the thing called "spell check." If you're not using a word processor equipped with spell check (which is odd, considering the fact that Open Office is free), there's plenty of online spell checkers. While no method of spell checking is perfect (because that's technology for you), using them removes some of the most basic spelling errors. Anything else can be picked apart with things such as online dictionaries to be absolutely sure that the word you're using is the word you want to use.
Third, you have unlimited access to communities full of fellow writers. Some of them are willing to read over your work and help you iron out the small problems in order to get your story as good as it'll get. These are called "beta readers." Get one, love one, respect one. They'll be your lifeline when it comes to editing your story before it's published.
And yes, you really want to edit your story. Without a doubt, every story is better after the first or second revision. Alternatively, you'll want at the very minimum to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Point is, if you know you suck at grammar, then good. The next step is to actually make an effort to fix that.
Argument #4: I'm Doing This Just For Fun!
Yes, you are. Fanfiction is a hobby. It's something you do with your free time.
However, like all hobbies, if you want to be good at it, the only choice you have is to suck it up and improve.
Let's put it this way: Football is a hobby. Baseball is a hobby. Dancing is a hobby. Rock climbing is a hobby. Even drawing is a hobby. In all those activities, people receive feedback (from coaches, art critics, what have you). Sometimes, this feedback is negative, and sometimes, your coach will be harsh with you to get you to improve. If you get that negative feedback, are you just going to snap at your coach and say that your quality of work is fine as it is?
No. No, you're not. Or, at least, I hope you're not.
Writing is really no different. It's something that, fundamentally, you do just for fun. You start off as someone who really sucks (and we all do), but through coaching and criticism, you can learn to get better. Of course, like all those other hobbies, you have three options:
A. Be open to your critics' advice and get better.
B. Be the one who constantly warms the metaphorical bench.
C. Quit the team.
As harsh as it sounds, yes, if you don't open yourself up to criticism, you'll never get better. And while you may get the sugarcoated review now and then from a nearly illiterate reviewer who hasn't read the first guide, if you want to really be popular and well-liked, you're going to have to opt for listening to your critics or at least thanking them politely. The only thing being rude to your reviewers gets is an audience of ticked off reviewers (or at least a bunch of them laughing behind your back).
Argument #5: Everyone Else Likes My Stories!
If you ever utter this argument, smack yourself. After that, realize that your reviewer isn't everyone else. Yes, you may have gotten positive reviews. Again, those reviewers may or may not have actually followed the above guide and may or may not actually be sugarcoating everything they say. However, reviewers like them won't be following around and kissing your feet everywhere you go.
Every last fiction community is different from the last one. Every one of them. It's because every community is populated by a different sort of reviewer and writer. Some have better standards than others, and this is especially apparent if you cross over from a small-time community (a board with less than a thousand members) to a larger community (like PC). Even then, it all depends on who the big players of a community are. Reviewers and writers will try to emulate the bigger names, even on a vague level. If the bigger names leave one-liner reviews stating "lol plz rite more," then so will the other members of the community. If the bigger names dice up fanfiction, then the other members will feel free to do so as well.
Back to the point, not every community is the same. Getting fame on one community for your fanfiction doesn't mean jack on another community. Beyond that, your reviewers most likely won't care what you did on another community because they have no intention on going over and seeing the responses you've gotten elsewhere.
So, you're essentially in foreign land every time you post a new thread for reviewers to check out. You've got to learn how to adapt, and that's by falling off your high horse and into a puddle of mud. After all, no one likes an egotistical badfic author.
Argument #6: Don't Hate Me! I Have RL Problems!
Some authors attempt to get pity by telling their critics that they have real-life problems.
So do the rest of us. Grow up and get over it.
As harsh as that sounds, think of it like this. Yes, you're sick, you're stressed, your parents are getting a divorce, your pet hamster died, you're being bullied at school… whatever. How do you know your reviewers aren't going or haven't gone through the same thing? How do you know that you're telling off a reviewer whose father died when they were a child? How do you know that you're not angsting to someone who's failing out of college? It's just incredibly insensitive to use your real-life problems as an excuse, especially if your reviewers can still function, despite possibly having worse problems than you do.
On top of that, real-life problems don't really mean jack when it comes to writing, either. J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book when she was a struggling waitress without even enough money to heat her apartment to keep her kid from freezing. Stephen King wrote a number of his books while he was struggling with drugs (to the point where he can't actually remember writing one of his longer novels due to the drug-induced stupor he was under at the time). Ernest Hemmingway was a drunk who suffered from extreme depression. All of them are well-known authors who, despite real-life worries, managed to produce some pretty well-known titles. If they can produce decent work, then why can't you? Hell, let me repeat that: Stephen King was high when he wrote a number of his books. What does that say about your quality of writing if his can hit the bestseller lists?
Point is, don't try to use real life as an excuse. It doesn't work.
Argument #7: It's My Story! I Can Do What I Want!
In the same vein as argument #1, authors who try to argue this point usually do so with the intent of convincing his or her readers that, because it's their story, he or she doesn't have to acknowledge certain elements. The definition of "certain elements" include:
1. Plausibility of plot.
2. The basic laws of physics.
3. The basic laws of the English language.
The truth of the matter is you have freedom of creativity within reason. Remember, this is fanfiction, so first off, you're bound by canon. You can't have canon characters do just anything they want to, nor can you have events that directly contradict canon for no real reason (like an Exploding Charizard).
Likewise, you're bound by the laws that make sense for the fandom. For example, while, yes, there's magic abound in Harry Potter, the basic laws of gravity still apply. (And if anyone doubts this, go read the part about Harry falling off his broomstick because of the dementors.) Same for the Pokémon fandom.
Above all, you're also bound by your audience. If you're going to write about magic and the sort, you need to have a believable plot. That is, you can't just have a Pokémon suddenly wielding swords in the modern-day Pokémon world, for example. Nor can you have a Pokémon that isn't a Psychic-type or capable of learning Psychic moves randomly get psychic powers, a character who gets a legendary as a starter with no consequences, or any other such oddball ideas. Now, you may be thinking this all is a bit too restrictive for your tastes, but think of it like this: your story simply has to make sense. Period. If it doesn't make sense because you throw things in "because you feel like it," then your readers are going to be turned off by it. There's a very good reason for this that can be summed up as such:
Your audience is not you.
That is, some things make perfect sense to you because you're the one who thought of it. Your audience, meanwhile, starts off with a blank slate when they go to read your story. If something doesn't make sense in the story, they'll want an explanation so it does. They're not going to be impressed with your characters or your really awesome plot if they can't understand what's happening. Why won't they be able to understand? Because they can't see into your mind. The little things that work out in your eyes do so because you know all angles of what you're writing about. You're essentially God. However, with your readers, we're going into your story knowing nothing because we don't know every aspect of your story.
In short, you know a lot more than we do about your work. You've got to make an effort to present your world and all the little bits so we can understand what's going on. If you defy the laws of gravity, you'll need to address how you did it because the reader won't know. (Even Harry Potter does this by reminding the reader constantly that magic exists in its world.) Otherwise, you end up with what feels like a deus ex machina, which really dampens your story in the eyes of the reader.
Argument #8: Stop Flaming Me!
Whoever uses this argument doesn't know what a flame is.
That said, there's a difference between a flame and constructive criticism. A flame is simply defined as an attack on another user. Constructive criticism is defined as a blunt opinion aimed at pointing out the weaknesses of an individual in order to help them see what they did wrong and learn from there.
Okay, so what's the difference?
In order to make this simple, let me give you two scenarios:
Scenario A: Judy posts her fanfiction. Paul reads her fanfiction and leaves a one-liner review stating that she's an idiot with no future.
Scenario B: Judy posts her fanfiction. Jane reads her fanfiction and leaves a scathing review that states explicitly several times that she can't write and that she should quit writing.
Scenario C: Judy posts her fanfiction. Adam reads her fanfiction and posts a lengthy review, pointing out all the errors and telling her why they're wrong and the correct way to do things. At no point does he say she's personally a bad writer. Instead, he says she can improve, but right now, she needs a lot of work.
Which ones are flames?
A and B.
Notice how Paul and Jane set out to insult Judy and make her feel as crappy as possible? Sure, Adam might as well, depending on how blunt he is, but the core of his review is not just to point out Judy's mistakes. It's to tell her why they're mistakes and how to correct them. It's helping her, not insulting her writing. However, Paul and Jane do nothing but insult her.
Therein lies the difference. Concrit is not flaming. It may be hurtful to you because it's blunt, open, honest, and exposes all the things you did wrong, but the reviewer usually isn't in it to insult you. They're in it to tell you their honest opinion and suggest ways to improve. Most likely, they may read your later work and congratulate you for improving (if you take their advice). Flaming, on the other hand, only sets out to be malicious. The reviewer is completely open about the fact that they don't like you (or your writing), but they either don't say why or tell you to stop writing.
In other words, you can draw conclusions about concrit all you like, but unless the reviewer explicitly tells you that you're no good and have no hope to improve, it's not a flame. Learn the difference.
Allow me to quote Simon Cowell for a moment:
The object of this competition is not to be mean to the losers but to find a winner. The process makes you mean because you get frustrated. Kids turn up unrehearsed, wearing the wrong clothes, singing out of tune and you can either say, 'Good job,' and patronize them or tell them the truth, and sometimes the truth is perceived as mean.
(Quoted from this.)
The point is that no matter how you look at it, the moment you post your work on the internet, someone you don't know is going to read it. In addition to that, if someone you don't know comes along to read it, that someone has every right to say how they feel about your work because of the concept of freedom of speech (within reason). Some of what they say may be compliments, but some of what they say may be blunt.
As Cowell points out above, the observer's primary job is to be blunt and honest. If they don't, then what they're doing is essentially patronizing you. They're patting you on the head, but secretly, they may not think what you're doing is all that great. In order to be a good reviewer, however, one needs to tell the truth, and the truth can hurt like a mother if it's coming from someone more experienced than you.
However, you can't fight fire with fire on the internet. Hostile responses and a blatant refusal to take advice won't get you the pats on the head you're looking for. People who deserve good reviews will get them, and the only way to get a good review is to be a good writer. But what defines a good writer other than the opinions of others? You can think you're a fantastic writer. Your friends can think you're the next Shakespeare. However, to someone who doesn't know you and therefore doesn't look at you with the same bias as the people you know well, you might write the most cliché, incoherent POS that's ever graced the community. You, of course, wouldn't know unless they told you, and because you stuck it on the series of tubes, they're going to feel completely and perfectly entitled to tell you just what makes your writing bad in their eyes.
The thing to remember is the difference between a reviewer who's trying to help you and one that isn't. Rather than immediately take a defensive stance when you get a bad review, step back. Take a few deep breaths. Even leave the computer for an extended period of time. Then, come back and reread the review carefully. Unless they're telling you right to your face that you suck warm sick through a short straw and that you have no hope in improving, they're probably trying to help you. Even if it's the harshest review you've ever seen, if it's not telling you that you as a person suck, take a long, hard look at what they're saying because it's most likely advice.
In that case, the proper response is, "Thanks for the review. I'll keep what you said in mind." It might even be, "Thanks for pointing all that out. I'll go back and edit." If you respond politely, then what you get in response is a happy reviewer. Of course someone is going to come back and read the rest of your story if they know you're open to their thoughts on your work. A friendly response to a blunt review implies you're listening to them, and anyway, it's a lot easier to interact with someone who likes having you around than it is someone who attacks you and refuses to listen to a word you say.
So, to make a long story short, most of us – your reviewers – aren't here to badmouth you or make you feel like crap. That's a waste of time and energy on our part, and talking crap to someone's face always circles back to hurt us in the end. Sure, there's still going to be someone out there who's a jackass and only wants to hurt you, but for the most part, we're here to help. In response, you've got to be as patient with us as we are with you.
Yep, guys. There's another problem with reviewing that I've encountered on the internet, and unlike the other problems, this one ticks me off so much this is more of a rant than a guide. As always, you're free to respond directly to this thread -- to any part of it, actually -- to state your own opinions. In fact, it really only helps the guide.
With that said, welcome to installment #3 of Reviewing and You, something I'd like to call, "Etiquette and You."
You write fanfiction as a hobby, yes. You review fanfiction because you read it and (assuming you've read the first guide) decide you want to talk about it (as opposed to assert your dominance because you're two walnuts shy of being a real boy). However, in turn, you're also amateurs. You don't get paid to do either task, and as a result, you also don't have the professional editors equipped with a red pen to tell you whether or not you're doing it right.
Some amateur writers, however, are more amateurish than others. Everyone sucks when they start out doing one or the other. That's a given. When I started writing Pokémon fanfiction, my first fic was a terrible little piece of crap about how Ash found out Pikachu was actually his father reincarnated (because Pikachu suddenly gained the ability to talk for no reason I can remember) and reacted to it by literally jumping off a cliff. Most people thought it was a comedy. It wasn't. And, by the way, it was written in a post reply box. I couldn't spell worth crap, and naturally, logic wasn't exactly a priority in my writing. (But please note that I could punctuate and capitalize correctly.) I was also ten years old at the time.
I didn't actually get remotely good until about 2004, after I learned that I couldn't actually spell and that Microsoft Works (the predecessor of Microsoft Word, for those of you who aren't old as Jesus like I am) was a better program for writing than Notepad. TXTs – the format Notepad saves documents in by default – were the only other option for submitting work to FFNet back then besides DOCs, and Works could not save documents in DOC format. And even then, I didn't fully understand the spell checker or fandom-related things like Mary Sues and how to avoid them, so it took me about halfway through a fanfiction called Warp Series to realize what I was writing was completely crap. I got rave reviews back then, but I also had my fair share of concrit and flames.
How did I react to the latter? By learning from it. It was hard at first for me to read a review that told me what I was doing was crap, but if it had helpful advice, I tried to take it. If, however, it was an outright flame and told me nothing (which happened once to the best of my recollection, to the last original trainer story I've ever tried to write), I took down the story and tried again with something new. I didn't flame the reviewer back. I didn't make excuses. I wanted to get better, so I did without whining about it.
In turn, learning how to write also helped me learn how to review, so my reviews went from one-liner sugarcoated pieces of crap to something that actually said anything helpful to an author. Yes, I even sucked at reviewing when I first started out, but I acknowledged that and made an effort to improve.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the root of a problem in this fandom and a lot of others. Too many of you automatically assume either:
A. This is a hobby, so you don't have to improve because you don't have to put any effort into it.
B. You're the best thing that's ever happened to the fandom.
Well, as usual, Jax here is about to tell you that, no, you do have to improve, and no, you're not the best thing ever.
More specifically, in this guide, I'm going to teach you how to react to both reviewers and reviewees who don't exactly give you the response you're looking for. Now, you may notice that I've already covered the most common excuses writers give in response to a reviewer. That's nice, but apparently, some of you need a more in-depth guide that tells you why making excuses means you're fooling yourself. Likewise, I see a lot of egotistical reviewers out there, so let me expand on the "you are not God" point I made in the first guide.
In other words, I'm teaching you how to be decent people in this fandom because, apparently, your parents haven't.
The Writers: An Expanded Guide
Let me outline that lifestory for you again. I started writing Pokémon fanfiction when I was ten. I sucked. I got a little bit better as the years wore on and as I learned new stuff, but I didn't really get passionate about writing until I was fourteen. I am, as of this writing, twenty-one.
For those of you who can't do math, as of this writing, it's 2009. When I started writing Pokémon fanfiction, it was 1998. Times seriously changed since then. School curriculums have changed, writing has changed, and guess what? The internet has changed. Why, when I was ten years old, Google literally did not exist, people didn't have guides to grammar a quick search away (Yahoo or otherwise), and communication wasn't exactly that great. Then, when I started with FFNet in 2001, you'd better believe it was bare-bones. We didn't have most of the fancy things people have today like Document Manager or an index of beta readers for each fandom. We had to find our own beta readers off the site (or poke random authors to see if they did beta reading as well), and we had to make sure our fics were perfect before uploading them because there was no in-between step where we can upload our document and not have it appear in the index. Things were simpler back then. Way simpler.
The point that I'm trying to make?
STOP USING YOUR AGE AS AN EXCUSE. STOP USING YOUR SCHOOL SYSTEM AS AN EXCUSE. STOP USING ANYTHING ALONG THESE LINES AS AN EXCUSE AS TO WHY YOU SUCK AT GRAMMAR.
Caps lock of death, yes, but the point is still the same. I didn't have all those tools to help me improve my writing. All I had were the reviewers I'd eventually get after years of trying. I didn't have Google searches where I could easily look up how to use a comma. I didn't have an index to point me in the direction of someone who could beta-read my work. Hell, Microsoft Works's spell check even sucked. In other words, I didn't have the shiny tools to help me get to where I am.
And how am I doing, by the way? Anima Ex Machina is my current baby, complete with its own beta-reader and maybe one grammatical error pointed out to me a chapter. Usually, this also comes with zero or one logical fallacies. I'd say I'm a long way from that Ash-found-out-his-father-is-his-Pikachu fic I did back in 1998.
Today's age is younger but wiser. You guys actually have Google-fu. You have better programs at your fingertips. You have all the shiny gizmos and gadgets to improve your work. Learn what they are and how to use them because while I had an excuse (because half the stuff you guys have now literally did not exist back then), you guys don't except out of sheer ignorance that they're there.
While we're at it, let's also get rid of that notion that your disability is an excuse. I'm sorry that you've got a learning disability of one sort or another, but I've also seen the following:
1. A kid who had problems with his eyes writing quality fanfiction to post on a weekly basis.
2. A guy with Asperger's who liked to take on writing challenges and completed them successfully with decent fic.
3. Numerous kids whose first languages aren't English but knew how to spell and punctuate with only a few errors here and there.
4. One kid with cerebral palsy who still wrote an entire novel without too much of a problem in terms of language.
Not to mention celebrity writers who had mental problems of their own. Shall I refer back to the part where Stephen King had drug problems? Sure, why not?
Long story short, if they can do it, so can you, so no, unless your disability legitimately affects the way you write because you can't get your hands to process the words correctly, don't use your disability as an excuse. What's legitimate and what's not? Well, can you type coherently enough to write a badfic and tell someone you've got (insert disorder here)? Then, you're still not terrible enough to learn how to improve. Try again, lovelies.
So, I'm saying that, yes, a ten-year-old can improve, and yes, someone with a disability (so long as they can read and write enough to be coherent) can learn how to write decently. It takes a lot of time, but those kinds of people really can. Which gets to the other part, the part about the reviewers.
Like I said, all I had when I started writing was the reviewer. A lot of people gave me sugar-coated reviews, but I also read a lot of reviews that people gave other stories. Occasionally, I would even get some of those reviews myself. And, to tell you the truth, I was grateful. Why, though? Because it was all the help I had. Period.
Nostalgia and rambling aside, writing back then has helped me keep one thing in mind: unless someone is outright flaming you, chances are, they're trying to help you. Not everything's a flame, and not everyone's trying to say you suck. Getting defensive about your writing doesn't help you at all. Like I said, everyone sucks when they start out, but there's a difference between a great writer and a merely mediocre one. A great writer realizes they suck and tries to improve on what they're doing. A mediocre one refuses to change.
I'm not saying that I'm great exactly. I'm just saying that you, dear writer, need to get the thought that you're God's gift to writing out of your head because most likely, you actually kinda suck balls. Bragging about your writing is just a means of overcompensation. You want validation, so you tell everyone else around you that you're a great writer, hoping they'll come along and agree with you. Unfortunately, the fanfiction world just doesn't work that way. You need to work in order to get good, and if you don't want to change, then you're seriously not in any condition to attempt to entertain the masses because, clearly, you're not ready to accept their opinion that you're anything less than perfect.
In other words, if you can't deal with concrit, come back when you grow a set because you're probably not as great as you think you are.
Also, stop saying your story is great. The egotism that's rampant among you youngsters says to me you don't know quality if it clubbed you in the face with a board covered in rusty nails.
The Reviewers, Part I: How NOT to be a Jerk on the Internet
For whatever reason, it's become a very trendy thing to flame the crap out of a reviewer. I've heard that, in particular, it's suddenly become fun to tell people they fail at writing and that they're doing everything wrong, that their genre is all wrong, that they're wrong, wrong, wrong. It's fun to do this without actually offering any advice on how to improve or at least making an effort to be tactful.
Congratulations. You've just become a jerk on the internet. It's probably the most well-respected status you can ever gain as a jerk, far more prestigious than being a jerk to an entire gang of Shaolin monks and surviving the ensuing beating. Yes, being a jerk to someone with a couple of computer screens between yourself and the other person is definitely the most manly thing you could possibly do.
Yeah, that was really difficult to write.
Joking aside, as I've said in the first guide, the entire point to writing a review is to tell the author not only what you think but also why. As in, if they're doing something right, it's your job as the reviewer to state what they're doing correctly. If they're doing something wrong, however, it's your job to state why as well because not everyone is a genius at writing. I can't stress this enough (and will, in fact, repeat this numerous time throughout the rest of this guide), but you sucked when you started out. They're still improving as well, so you can't just rush in and tell them they suck because, let's face it, you wouldn't have liked that, either.
No, I'm not asking you to sugar-coat your reviews or to write the story for them. I'm telling you that in order to be a decent person online and in order to see any improvement at all, you'll need to actually show some tact and patience. Talk to the writer civilly, rather than as if they just took a leak on your mother. As I've said earlier, you can't automatically tell whether or not an author is willing to improve. Perhaps they've only gotten praise. Perhaps they've just started. Either way, unless they do something exceedingly stupid, they most likely have the potential to improve. So, you can't really say, "Well, they're not going to listen unless I'm harsh."
Besides, if you're senselessly harsh (as in, someone who simply tells someone else they suck without explaining why and showing an ounce of tact), they'll respect you less. What would you rather have talking about your fic? Someone who comes in, guns blazing and telling you you suck or someone who takes the time and patience to work with you? Most likely the latter. (And yes, I'm going to ask this again in the other section of this guide, but it's just one of those things that need to be hammered into a skull.) So would they, really, which is why if you get a kid to be defensive because you're a jerk to them, they won't change. They'll just get defensive, and you're going to end up wanking even more because they're calling you mean and refusing to listen to any advice you have to offer. Which, really, would not be surprising to any third party who happens to be looking in on the thread.
Long story short, if you're not in it to help the writer, why are you there? Self-importance? Validation? You're seriously wasting your precious time and energy that you could be using to improve your own fic by ripping an author a new one if that's all you have as a motivation.
The Reviewers, Part Deux: How NOT To React to a Lack of Response (and Why Reviewers Should Be Tactful)
Now that we've covered the point about being tactful in your review, let's talk about what happens after you submit your review. You wait around, feeling proud of yourself that you just wrote pages of what the kid did wrong and hopefully how to fix it. So, what happens next in this hypothetical situation?
The reviewer blows you off. Completely. As in, not even any form of acknowledgment, or they acknowledge you but say you're wrong/flaming them.
What do you do?
If your answer is to flame them, no, it isn't. Please reread the above and come back when you grow enough of a set to know that confronting someone on the internet does not improve a situation.
If your answer is to swear at them, get out. Just get out. Don't come back to this fandom, and don't review anymore. No, seriously. You do not cuss out a reviewer. It's immature, and it causes them to want to listen to you less. So, what benefit does swearing at someone have other than as a pathetic attempt to make you feel good about yourself? And I do mean pathetic there. If you need to swear to make yourself feel mature, chances are, you're very tiny and have mommy issues.
If your answer is:
A) Responding to their points patiently by clarifying your original opinion or otherwise trying to explain to them why you think they need to fix up their work using reason and clear examples.
B) Just plain ignoring them and finding someone else to review.
…Then good for you. You're on the right track.
Look, while I can lose my patience too, the basic point is that when you review, you can't force someone else to adopt your viewpoint. You can damn well try, but in order to do that, you need to be as helpful as your patience will allow. Why? Because screaming at them, swearing at them, and/or calling them failures will, as I've said before, make them want to cooperate with you less. It's like pulling a cat's tail – really pulling it – and expecting that cat to be friendly with you when you try to pet it. Some writers do take that kind of abuse, but a lot of writers don't for one obvious reason that deserves the capslock of death again: YOU'RE INSULTING THEM.
That's right. You may be saying "boo-effing-hoo," but basically, how would you like it if one of your reviewers suddenly came on your story and told you, "You ****ing fail at life. Don't ever write again." You'd be pissed off, right? If you say no, you're lying and being self-righteous here. Yes, you would because you'd feel you don't deserve that kind of treatment.
And, honestly, neither do the writers who receive your reviews. Now, that tl;dr-worthy chunk of text about the good ol' days makes sense.
Basically, I said in the first guide that you're not God because you're not. You're also not the best writer ever. You're not even close. You're a mediocre writer, and until you have your work stabbed repeatedly by a copyeditor's red pen, you don't know how to write. You sucked when you started out, and chances are, compared to some other writers in this fandom, you probably still suck. Therefore, if a writer blows you off, don't snap at them and call them failures because you probably sucked just as much when you were still developing too. Instead, treat them with the patience you received or that you wanted to receive because they're just like you. Only possibly more stubborn.
If they absolutely refuse to accept your negative or mixed review by rejecting it with a flame or argument, you're free to calmly tell them how things actually work. But if they don't pay any attention at all and don't acknowledge you, just ignore it or, if you choose to continue reviewing chapters (and please, not out of the blue), say, "Hey, I noticed you didn't take some of my advice, so I'm going to sound like I'm repeating myself. Sorry, but this is what I think." Some will get the idea after that. Some will finally respond, at which point, you can converse civilly with the writer about why you're repeating yourself. Some will just not say anything again, at which point, you're probably better off reviewing something else.
Point of the matter is, talk to them civilly because it's just easier to deal with someone if you're polite than it is by insulting them. It saves you the trouble of dealing with wank, and if the other party's being a jerk about it in public, you can at least say you were trying to be decent and helpful.
Writers. As I've said before, there's a difference between a great writer and a mediocre one. A great writer starts out as a bad writer but listens to the feedback she gets and learns how to shape her writing based on the lessons she gleans from them. A mediocre writer grows unconsciously but closes herself off to the opinions of others, so she ends up on a plateau where she doesn't get worse but doesn't get better, either. In other words, a great writer listens to the reader and improves; a mediocre writer doesn't. You just don't learn everything about writing in school, and the reviewers, for the most part, are there to help you learn what your classes don't cover. So, rather than bite the hand that feeds you or make excuses as to why you need to stay in one place, try opening yourself up to criticism and making an effort to understand what's being told to you.
Likewise, yes, you're going to get negative opinions. Welcome to the internet, land of free speech. As I've pointed out in an earlier guide, the entire purpose of posting your work on the internet is to get feedback because, otherwise, if you don't want feedback from the populations that might give you a negative review, it's just safer to keep your work private or send it only to your friends. Not everyone's going to fawn over your work. Deal with it because it's a fact of the internet.
Reviewers. Remember that old cliché, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink"? It's very true when it comes to writers. You can do your best to explain your opinions in the initial review, and you can talk and debate with the writer in other replies to clarify your opinion and convince them that you have a valid point until the cows come home. However, the one thing you can't do is force your advice down their throats. Ergo, if someone refuses to listen to you, you can't just jump on them and flame the crap out of them. You can't cuss them out, and you can't call them stupid. All you can do is explain things to them patiently because otherwise, they might close themselves off to any sort of criticism whatsoever. Then, if they still refuse to listen to you, then maybe it's just best to move along to another story with an author who will.
The basic point I'm trying to make throughout this guide is just that it takes less energy to be civil than it does to wank and throw a flamewar. The less you enjoy your time on the internet, the more of a chore it becomes, and the entire purpose of a fanfiction community like this one is to enjoy being here. So, rather than get up in arms, chill the flip out and learn how to talk to each other like decent human beings, particularly if the other party is trying to be decent to you as well. That way, you walk away feeling better about what happened, rather than as a miserable little jerk.
And with that said, on the subject of nostalgia, I miss Saturday morning cartoons. Remember back when basic cable didn't suck? I do.
Welcome to Reviewing and You #4: Different Strokes For Different Folks.
This one's a bit of a minor rant-guide about something that I've been noticing a bit. Reviewers tend to have their heads only in their own modes of thought when reviewing, and when you're reading a story, you really can't be doing that kind of thing. It messes you up and causes you to think that something that isn't an error actually is. To be a bit clearer, allow me to go over the basic errors some people make:
1. American English =/= everything else.
Believe it or not, the English, the Canadians, and just about half the rest of the world differs from the US in more than just measuring systems and which side of the road they drive on. American English has a lot of differences in both spelling and grammar from British English. For example, Americans have "color," and when we have quotation marks in the middle of the sentence the way I did just now, we put the comma inside them. For the English? 'Colour'. Note the punctuation placement as well. (Also note that the single quote rule and the one about placing the period or comma outside the quote marks don't apply to dialogue. If it's confusing, it's probably better to look it up.)
Of course, these are obvious examples. Less obvious examples might be the fact that the English have things like storey. Realise. Aluminium. There's a plethora of differences, and the only way to know whether or not it's an error is the same way you probably learned the difference between they're, their, and there: learn them or look them up.
Yes, even if they give you their location, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what type of English they're using. An American can just as easily be living in the UK as a Canadian in the US, so their location in the postbit doesn't always mean anything. It's a good hint to help you predict, but it's always a good idea to be wary nonetheless.
2. Pokémon, pokémon, pokemon, Pokemon?
This little mistake actually comes in two flavors. The first is a matter of capitalization, and the second is a matter of accents. Let's tackle the first.
Technically, the word "Pokémon" is copyrighted, yes. Same thing with the word "Pikachu" and "Poké Ball." However, one thing you should know before going into a fanfiction is that there are two different opinions as to whether or not you capitalize these things. A bit odd, but here's the logic:
The people who say you should capitalize everything do it for obvious reasons. In canon, everything's capitalized. Why? It's not because that's how someone in the Pokémon world would do it. It's because, as I've said before, everything is copyrighted. Ergo, everything is treated as a proper noun because you can tack the little letters TM after pretty much anything Pokémon. Pikachu, Meowth, Pokédex, Poké Ball, Poffin… everything. So, it's not because people in the Pokémon world would write everything with a capital letter. It's a legal issue on our end of things. That's pretty simple and straightforward.
Now, the people who say you shouldn't go by another form of logic: technically, almost everything is a common noun. Think about it. You tend to say "a pikachu" and "a pokémon" in the same way you say "a mouse" and "an animal." Each word usually represents a non-specific item, not a specific entity or a word that would otherwise be capitalized (unless, of course, it's the beginning of a sentence or the actual name of the individual, the way Ash's pikachu is named Pikachu).
Hence, you've got two different camps with two very different opinions. How do you know when it's not intentional? Like most of these rules, you really have to skim the rest of the fic first. Look for other Pokémon names. If the capitalization is consistent (all capitalized or lowercase in situations where they're being used as common nouns), then it's okay. If the author switches back and forth between capitalizing and not capitalizing for seemingly no reason, then it's a legitimate mistake.
Now, about that accent. The letter é is a very unusual character that requires a mess of different ways to achieve. Not everyone uses Windows (and, yes, it differs depending on which OS you're using – such as how Linux has you holding down all kinds of buttons while you're trying to go through the right sequence of keys), not everyone has their character map accessible, and not everyone can use the same keystrokes. While it can be a matter of copying and pasting or messing with the Auto Correct if you know how, the simple matter is not everyone can get é to appear easily. So, it's okay to be lenient and let them simply write Pokemon, without the accent. Technically, the accent serves no real function except to stress that the "ke" syllable is pronounced a certain way. It's not actually an indication of a contraction.
Hence why, actually, the only wrong way to write the word "Pokémon" is by slapping an apostrophe in it – such as in "poke'mon."
In other words, when it comes to writing Pokémon and all things that have to do with it, pay close attention to how consistent the author is, not whether or not you personally believe something to be correct. Unless apostrophes are involved or it's actually downright wrong. (Ninetales, people. Ninetales.)
3. You want them to do what with a comma?
All too often, I see reviewers attempt to advise writers to do things like add a comma into the following sentence:
Sally went to the store and bought ice cream.
Ye—uh, no. Not everything is a compound sentence, kids.
Seriously, though, my point here is this. It's great that you want to help your fellow author. Each and every person writing for this and really any fandom is essentially an amateur author, even if they're published. They're looking for help, and like the Linux community, we're the geeks equipped with the codes to make things work and the decency to help others get that to happen. However, to go back to something that I said in the first rant-guide, allow me to put something in all caps and flashing lights:
LEARN ENGLISH GRAMMAR BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO COMMENT ON SOMEONE ELSE'S USE OF IT.
For the love of all things good and holy, please pay attention to this point. The blind leading the blind just ends up with two people hit by a car. You may mean well. You may think you know what you're doing. You might still screw up fantastically, and if you screw up fantastically in a review, you screw someone else up fantastically. Always double-check your rules and keep a guide on hand while you're going over someone's work to make absolutely sure you're not leading the author down the path to a dark, dark pit of illiteracy. Likewise, if you know you're not that great at English grammar, then comment on what you're absolutely without-a-doubt certain about (like "Oh, you need a period at the end of that sentence.") and look up X, Y, and Z if you're not. If all else fails, say you're uncertain about it, and someone else will pick it up and help you out as well.
Look, you're not the only reviewer in a community. You're probably not even the best one or the only good one there. It's perfectly okay if you leave a few shady bits for someone else to pick up. The writer should at least get the idea just from what solid points you do make, and if they're particularly clever, they'll double-check the uncertain parts on their own. So, if you don't know, it's okay to say "I'm not sure about this, but…"
Besides, as I've also said in my first guide, the point of a review is to tell the author exactly what you think, and there's multiple parts to a story: plot, characterization, logic – the whole works. Language isn't the only thing, so if it's not your strong point, find something else to comment on as well.
4. This is how to tell a story in five seconds.
One of the most common crap reviews I tend to see around Pokémon fanfiction forums is, "This is too short." Way to be specific there, guys, but luckily, I can get an idea of what you were trying to say.
There's this weird misconception going around that says "badfic = chapters are less than X number of pages." In a way, it's supported because there's a lot of badfic that do have chapter lengths of about that size and lack detail, spelling, or any semblance whatsoever that the author put effort into his work instead of wrote the thing in the reply box. However, it's not exactly true that all short fics are badfics. There is, for example, such a thing as a drabble, or a story that's exactly 100 words long. Likewise, a lot of one-shots aren't pages upon pages in length, and it's possible to write a short chapter so long as you know how to pull it off.
Basically speaking, what you want to look at and comment on is the detail, and that's probably what a lot of you who use this as a one-liner response are trying to get at. You look at a fic and see only dialogue with little action or description, and this tends to screw a story up because, understandably, it feels like there's nothing happening there. However, rather than say "lengthen this," say "I couldn't quite imagine what's happening here because there's no detail or action." Specify. That's the entire key to good reviewing, really: telling the author exactly what you think, rather than giving them a vague idea of what you mean. If you don't think it's good, why? Maybe add in some parts where things were lacking and elaborating a little. It's not holding an author by the hand. It's pointing out exactly what you thought was or wasn't good.
Back to the point, not all short fics are bad. It's all in the delivery, and some fics are simply better if they're short, rather than overly drawn out over multiple pages. In other words, think of the old cliché, "Quality over quantity." Quantity does not matter when it comes to fanfiction. It's quality that makes a difference, and it's quality that you're supposed to be reviewing. Plot, characterization, logic, spelling, syntax – those are things that you're looking for, not whether or not something's longer than a page.
The point is…
To put things very simply, the point I'm trying to make is that in order to review, a reviewer needs to read. That's a "no duh" statement in itself, but reading and getting an idea of how the writer actually writes helps you avoid making an idiot of yourself by pointing out something that isn't actually an error. Not everything is a mistake, and the writer is not always in the wrong. Just giving the story a preliminary read-through is always a good idea so you can understand what is and isn't consistent throughout the fic. That way, you have a heads up on what to be prepared to pick out and what to leave alone.
Also, I'm saying that not everyone writes the same way you do. Like all things, you need to be open-minded when going into a review so you don't pick apart what's actually extremely superficial and irrelevant (like story length). Focus on the parts that matter, like grammar and plot.
In other words, the entire lesson I'm trying to convey is PAY ATTENTION. You can't judge a fic if you can't see the whole picture. Period.
And thus concludes the fourth part to Reviewing and You. This is actually probably going to be the last part for a long while because all of this has covered just the most basic and most often repeated problems in the reviewer-writer relationship. If you can think of anything more to add or if you'd like to leave a question or comment about the parts so far, feel free.
I'd like to chip in with my two cents worth, if that's OK.
Understand the purpose of the story.
Writers write for different purposes, or to convey different things to their readers. Some will want to keep you on the edge of your seat with fast-paced action scenes that make your heart race. Others will want to make you sob your eyes out with heartbreaking tales of forbidden love. Others will want to make you feel a particular emotion; maybe hate, anger, love, sadness, joy, et cetera. Ascertaining this purpose is one of the first things you need to do when reviewing a story. Ask yourself, "What is the writer trying to show me?"
For an example, I'm going to use one of my own stories, Free Falling. Free Falling is a oneshot of less than a thousand words. Therefore, it is not going to cover very much. Its only intention is to give a snapshot of Falkner's life, ten years after GSC. I don't intend for it to have a plot. There isn't one. Falkner rudely dismisses a challenger and goes for a ride on his Pidgeot. That's it. I, as the writer, only wanted to show the reader that Falkner is even ruder than before, and still loves to feel the freedom that comes with flying.
But these details aren’t important. What is important is the reviewers’ reactions. I received a few reviews on this story. Two of them told me pretty much the same thing – that nothing really happened and it had no plot. One said “nothing really happens”. This reader, perhaps, should have looked at the story as a whole and asked himself if anything was supposed to happen.
I’m not just trying to defend my fic. It needs work, and I know that. If you went tl;dr on the last two paragraphs, that’s fine. The point I’m trying to make is that you need to understand the essence of the story; what makes it what it is? If you come across a story called “Happy Hopkins’ Magical Adventure in Candyfloss Land,” you’re not going to leave a review that says it’s rubbish because it didn’t have enough action in it, and suggest that the author puts more fight scenes in it, are you? It’s more than likely that the story is a) a parody, and therefore not to be taken seriously, or b) written for the express purpose of entertaining impressionable two-year-olds.
Telling the author that their story needs something when in fact it doesn’t is almost as bad as saying something like “yeah good story bro keep writing” which, as Jax has pointed out above, is completely useless advice. To recap, if you see a story which is clearly designed for one purpose, there’s no point telling the author that it needs something else. Like Jax said above, don’t write the story for them. A gory horror story might not need a love interest. A story that tries to make you feel as if you were the colour purple doesn’t necessarily need dialogue.
So determine the purpose of the piece, and review accordingly. Good advice, tailored to the story, is the best gift an author can receive. Don’t review all pieces by the same standard. Some pieces you will review will be written by big names – who write deep, complex stories, designed to make you think - and need to be judged accordingly. Others will be written by total newbies, who just want to write fanfiction for the hell of it. These also need to be judged accordingly.
If I went to review a fic by an established member of the community – one known for his/her epic stories and grammatical skill – I would review hard, hoping to find any little thing for the author to improve upon. It might be a darkfic, with death, doom, and destruction. Then, if I went to review a fic by one of the new kids – joined yesterday, postcount of 3 etc – and reviewed by the same standards, it would be unfair. So for my second point,
Take all variables into account before you review.
Don’t we all love maths? Let’s come up with some formulae.
Newbie to PC + Newbie to fanfiction, most likely = bad fic
PC veteran + Years of experience in writing = good fic, most of the time.
As I said above, mark according to variables. New writers may write absolute crap, but tell them so nicely, give them a gentle prod in the right direction, and give them a cookie for having the guts to try. More experienced writers will write things a gazillion times better than some of these newbies, and they’ll know how to handle reviews. If you tear their chapter to shreds and expose every flaw and weak point, chances are they’ll be able to deal with it. I’m not saying you should flame them, quite the opposite. But do you think Mr New Guy over there with his crappy OT fic could take that criticism? I doubt it.
Not everyone is as experienced a writer as you are a reviewer.
Mr New Guy, on receiving an honest, brutal review, might well give up completely, which isn’t what we want. We want to encourage him, make him want to write more. Once he’s confident, then we bring out the chainsaws and tear his story to bits.
So what other variables can we take into account? Age. Experience. First language. Genre. Rating. Target audience. Consider all these, and more, before you even think about reviewing.
I hope I didn’t double up on anything Jax already said. Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone reads this fantastic guide (my bit barely registers) and uses it whenever and wherever they review. If everyone reviewed using the above criteria, authors would really want to keep writing, and would know exactly what they were doing wrong. If you looked at this thread and went tl;dr, go back right now and read the excellent advice Jax gives you!
Damn, I just wrote a thousand words! 0.0
On the other hand, if you state it's your very first time posting, it's okay to be a bit lenient because perhaps the author doesn't know about the shinies, and at that point, it's a good idea to include pointers on what the tools are. If the newbie's been there for a bit more time and for a second fic, however (at which point, yes, they'd still be newbies to the community), shame on the author.
Meanwhile, a little point to add about the newbie to PC part (which I know was supposed to be taken as they're new to the internet and new to writing, but). Join date means jack when it comes to how good the person is. Yes, it's unfortunate that good authors get passed over just because they've got unrecognizable names, but for all you know, that kid who just joined up is one of the best authors from some other big-name board who's been writing for years. I agree, in this case, that putting on the tinted glasses and assuming the kid's terrible automatically is a really, really stupid idea.
Seriously, though, yeah, it's a good idea to read the fic and understand what it's trying to convey -- the genre, et cetera. Missing the point makes you look rather silly, particularly if you're gung-ho about ripping the story to shreds because you have those lovely Tinted Glasses o' Stupid Reviewer glued to your face.
But as another note, if all of your reviewers say they don't get it or there's something missing or it's boring or what have you, then chances are, it's something that should be tripping alarms in the author's head. After all, as the old saying goes, over a billion Buddhists can't be all wrong.
It could be that you (general you here) are simply writing for the wrong audience. Every writing community has a different set of people, and as a result, it has a different flavor of preference. While you may be thinking your work is revolutionary and whatnot, testing the waters for a philosophical piece that's just about two guys digging a grave with a test group who likes simple plot may not be a good idea. (This actually happened, incidentally, with a play I wrote for a writing class in high school. If anyone wants to know the end of that story, it's that American kids in a theater class are just taking said theater class because it's an easy A.) Know your audience before you post. While that doesn't mean you have to post fics that are exactly like the most popular ones in the forums, it just means that if no one gets it after the first chapter, they're just not going to get it, no matter how hard you try to push that kind of stuff onto them. Ergo, don't be surprised, and don't force them to like it. If it doesn't work out, there's plenty of other writing comms on the interwebs.
Alternatively, it could mean there's something genuinely wrong with your fic itself as well. While not everyone can tell you to "ADD MORE EXPLOSHUNS PLZ" to your fic titled Happy Rainbow Unicorn Candy Land, if your fic's just about watching paint dry and your readers tell you that it's boring because it's about watching paint dry, there's a chance that writing about watching paint dry needs to be spiced up, possibly with the removal of clothing. (Funny story about this too.)
In other words, this argument's got a good point in that the reviewer needs to read, but it's also got a good opening for saying that the writer needs to be wary about their audience and story too. Not sure if I've ever implied this enough, but reviewing's more of a balanced relationship. Both sides need to be thoughtful of the other in order to work towards the good author-good reviewer relationship that every author seems to want to have.
And feel free to continue commenting, including continuing the discussion or adding more guides. It's fun to have someone else do the work for me.
Okay, I'm seeing this becoming a nasty trend. Let's say I review a fic and give out pointers. Then the author replies. However the author more or less "answers the queries, problems, or questions the reviewer had in a new post. This in itself isn't bad. However, it is bad, because it still is not answered in the fic (if no revisions to that matter are made).
For example let's say I find that Bob's fic lacks characterization centered around the main character. And I wonder why the character is described as shy when he is yelling at a teacher. Well it's okay if the author answers the question with a valid reason (such as being mad), however, if this is not revised in the fic, than other readers will have that same issue.
Remember just because you understand your characters, doesn't mean others will.
Look, you're not their beta. You're not there to collaborate on their writing. You're there to give them your honest opinion and to help them when you can. If you can't help them because they don't understand what you're saying, you've got to rephrase things so that your points are clearer. If you still can't help them, then you've done your job.
As the old cliché goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. It's the same principle.
Another couple of nasty trends I've been seeing with reviewers:
1. Read the fic carefully before commenting on it. I'd put that in blinking, neon-pink letters to get the phrase to burn into your retinas, but I'm being kind. Instead, let me put it this way. Sometimes, the reason is implied or stated in the fic, but the reviewer just can't see it because they've missed the point of a paragraph or a phrase. Instead of going, "OMG you didn't explain X" or "OMG this doesn't make sense," read the scene again as carefully as you can go. Think about what each piece of it means. Sometimes, it's right there.
To give you an egotistical example, recently, someone reviewed AEM to say it didn't make sense for an intern to be given a key, not because someone else could get into the main character's room but instead because the character, as a bloodthirsty mutant, could have every opportunity to get out and kill everyone in the complex. The problem here wasn't that it didn't make sense. It was that the reviewer failed to understand that the scientists had spent two weeks learning that no matter what happened in the chamber, the MC in his current state wasn't intelligent enough to know how the lock worked.
Hence, even if I explained it thoroughly in a response, not much had to actually be explained because the explanation was already there. That and we could have completely circumvented the problem to begin with if the reader had noticed the part about how two weeks (which was actually stated in a chapter) had lapsed between one event and another. In other words, if the reader had read carefully, I wouldn't have had to explain in several posts why things went the way they did. (No offense intended to said reviewer, but.)
Point is, before jumping at the writer, make sure you understand the material first.
2. When you review, describe the concept of "why" clearly. I don't know why, but a lot of you have suddenly decided all you need to do is state the problem in one line and expect the writer to understand and change from there. I even saw one of you describe what was wrong as a pathetic fallacy without further explaining what one is. While I don't ask you to assume the reader is stupid, how exactly do you expect someone who keeps coming up with contradictions in writing that's less than five pages long to know what a pathetic fallacy is in the first place?
But back on topic, let's face it. If you leave it at one line, the writer's not going to learn from it. It's like telling a born nudist who's never worn clothes in their lives that they need to put on clothes to go outside because they'll get arrested if they don't. Don't just explain what's wrong and the basics of why. Explain why you're suggesting that solution in as much detail as you can.
For an example, let me take a line from a review I've read recently and expand it. The original was this:
Hence, you expand this one-liner into more territory. Explain what the current text tells the reader and compare it with what would happen if he or she did things better. For example, I would say something like this:
Right now, the reader can't entirely see what your attack looks like. They can compare it to canon, but ultimately, it's like they're being shut out of the action. Instead, try describing the attack in great detail. Show the Turtwig rearing back and shaking out a few leaves. Show them fly towards Scarlet and cut across his face. You'll want to even describe how the leaves break his skin and leave cuts or hit his eyes. The more painful the attack looks, the more the reader will want to cringe, and at that point, the reader will actually feel like they're right there, watching the action from the sidelines. Drawing your audience into the world of a story like this means you've got their full attention, and they'll want to keep reading because that kind of thing would excite them.
Not only that, but describing the attack in detail helps you figure out what happens as consequences. In this case, slashing Scarlet's face could have a number of different outcomes. Cuts across the cheeks, mouth, that area might just piss him off. A cut above the eye could cause blood to trickle down and temporarily blind him or affect his vision in the rest of the battle. A cut across the eyes, meanwhile, could mean permanent damage. All possible outcomes make the battle more interesting (because it calls into question who would win or throws Scarlet further into the battle), but one of them could add to the list of problems Sara faces -- which, in turn, could make the story more interesting. So, if you describe attacks in detail, including what happens as a result, you could evoke more suspense by giving the reader the possibility that something seriously negative will happen.
Now, see the difference between the practically-one-liner and the above? The writer might change that particular instance of the story after receiving the not-so-descriptive review, but she won't know how to avoid the same problems in the future. If you describe thoroughly not only what's wrong but also why it's wrong, what to do instead, and why it's better, the writer has little excuse for not understanding.
3. Being pretentious is not the answer. So, you've gone on TV Tropes and Wikipedia. That's cool. You've found out the names of different tropes and literary devices. That's fine.
And then you use them in reviews without actually explaining what they are.
Look, again, I'm not asking you to assume the writer is stupid. In fact, please don't. However, I'm asking you to not use the names of literary devices and tropes. Not everyone knows what you're talking about, and using jargon without explanation or out of context doesn't make you look smart. In fact, for the latter, it makes you look laughable in the eyes of more experienced reviewers because it looks like you're trying to sound like someone who knows what they're talking about but probably just read the definition off Wiki/TV Tropes not that long ago. Instead, what you should be doing in a review is explaining in simple terms what you thought and why. This may mean that you need to describe concepts like pathetic fallacy in detail, but that's what you should be doing anyway instead of actually using the phrase.
4. For that matter, you are not the mod. This ties in with the crap review I mentioned earlier where people would try to claim that a short fic is a crappy one. So, it's a block of text. So, it's short. So, that doesn't mean it's about to be closed, and Astinus would think highly of you if you actually did your job before trying to do hers. Blunt, yes, but you don't have the flashy, blue name. Instead of saying, "this fic isn't quality, so it's going to be/it might be closed," sit down and review it carefully or use the post report button. Trolling someone else's fic by mini-modding and offering zero help whatsoever just makes them feel unwelcome. It makes them feel like they'll never approve because you can't even give enough of a crap to help them out, even if you claim that you are. You're there to give your honest, detailed opinion. Don't just blow them off because you think so highly of yourself you call upon mod powers you don't have to avoid actually reading through the fic or explaining some basic way they could improve their writing by tenfold.
And for the stories that are blatantly against the rules of the forum, do you see the little triangular button just next to the one you click to give someone rep? You know, the one with the exclamation point in it? It's called the "Report Post" button. Make friends with it. Reviewing is not a valid way to report a bad post to a mod, but that is.
To wrap it up quickly, simply put, the problem in some cases of the writer "not getting it" could simply be the fault of the reviewer as well. If you're going to review, you need to remember these simple concepts:
1. You're not God.
2. You probably don't know the ins and outs of writing like an expert who's been doing it for thirty years.
3. The above two points do not make you better than the person you're reviewing.
4. It's a long way down from the high horse, so don't flipping get on it in the first place.
That said, explain what you mean. Look hard at the text to see if what you're about to point out isn't already explained. Don't use jargon to make yourself sound like you know what you're talking about (because it usually looks like you don't). And lastly, if they don't get it, look at how you're explaining things to see if it's vague. If it is, then you've got some work to do on your own reviewing. If it isn't, then there's plenty of other authors in this fandom. Go play with someone else for awhile.