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October 2nd, 2013 (12:11 PM). Edited November 7th, 2013 by Nolafus.
You might have noticed that this is my second reviewing guide. The reason I decided to write another one, was because I felt like my last one didn't do a great job. It left out a lot of things that I should have touched on and lacked a little pzazz. So, I'm back with an even better guide. I combined my ideas with ideas from an older guide (found here) to create a mega-guide.
How to Write a (constructive) Review
So you’ve decided to help out your local writing section by posting some reviews of other people’s work. That’s wonderful, but there is a good way, and a bad way, to go 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. You will notice that I have used a lot of quotes in this. Believe it or not, each of these quotes were actual reviews I found online. As much as I wish I made these up (oh how I wish I made these up), every quote is a legitimate attempt at reviewing. First, before we move any further, we must answer the basic question. What is reviewing?
Reviewing, an introduction
Reviewing is simply a form of communication between the writer and the reader. Basically, the reader is letting the writer know how their work is doing. Your entire review, no matter how long or broad it might seem, can be summed up in one question. What did you think of the work?
Before you roll your eyes, thank captain obvious for the tip, and skip the entire guide, hear me out. That question is quite obvious, but what’s not so obvious are the questions behind the big one. Before we get to the more complicated ones, we’ll stick with these two simple ones, for now.
Did you like the work?
Did you not like the work?
These are very basic questions that should be answered somewhere in your review. Where you put it, I don’t care, as long as it is obvious what you thought of the story. Underneath these questions, we discover, yet more questions.
Why did you like it?
Why didn’t you like it?
What did you like?
What didn’t you like?
Why do you like those part?
Why didn’t you like those parts?
Etc… As you can see, these questions form a pattern of Why? And What? As a reviewer, all you need to do is continue to ask these questions until there’s nothing left to talk about. If you want to leave the best review you possibly can, take the time to answer these. It won’t help anyone if you just skim through the story and hastily write the review. Speaking of not helping people…
Short and not so sweet
What NOT to do
Now that we have a basic understanding of what reviewing actually is, it's time to look at what's not acceptable in any way. I repeat (just for clarity) DON'T DO ANYTHING ON THIS LIST!
Okay, here we have a few guys who thought they left a good review. Short, but sweet. As a writer, I would be very disappointed to receive any of these reviews. It might seem helpful when you write it, but let’s take a closer look. There’s nothing here that helps the writer improve. In other words, there’s no substance. It’s obvious that the guys liked it (well, at least the top two, I don’t even know if the third person can type), but there’s nothing here saying what they liked about it. The poor writer has no idea what they did right, and no idea what they could improve on.
In fact, this could be taken as an insult. What these reviews are actually saying is that the story was only good enough to receive a couple sentences at best. Unfortunately, a lot of writers still take this because at least they were able to hold the reader’s attention for the five seconds it took to write it out. It’s pathetic, and you look like a complete idiot if you post it.
Suggest ideas for the future
Unless the story is interactive, or the author is specifically asking for help, don’t suggest how they should continue the story. Odds are, the writer is pretty aware of how they want to continue. All you are doing is pestering how you want the story completed, how you would do things, what you want put in. In other words, you want the story to be yours, tailored to your needs. It becomes very annoying and you could end up looking like this guy, and trust me, you don’t want that.
Advertise your fic in every review
You’re looking to get some feedback on one, or several, of your fics, so you mention one of your stories 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.” Then, there are these people.
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. You’ll be “that one guy” that no one wants to be associated with. People won’t respect you, your story will go unread, and everyone is unhappy. 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 it.
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. The story isn’t good, and frankly it’s a little embarrassing to read. You tear the story apart, but you don’t stop there. You sneak a sentence in there that deals with the writer directly, and not in a good way. Now, you’ve just crossed the line from being harsh, to a bully. Never attack the writer directly, whether it is intentional or not, keep all negative comments to the story itself. For some writers, it took a great deal of courage to share their story. If you attack them, you’ve just realized all of their worst fears, and that’s never a good thing.
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. So don’t be afraid you’re not doing things correctly if you learn a bunch. This could be an indication that you’re doing things right.
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 messed up. 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. You don’t want to force the writer to accept your ideas, because you then look like a total jerk. Besides, if you swallow your pride a little and 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.
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 there to improve the story, but rather to improve the writer. If you just include 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.
Thankfully, this is a trend that’s dying out. Or, at least it took me a while to find that review. Ratings might seem like a good way to conclude all of your ideas into one thing, but it’s never a good idea. Just trust me on this. Even if it’s at the end of a long, detailed review, and here’s why. If you give the writer a low number, they’re going to think their writing sucks and be discouraged, ruining all the positives you might have mentioned. If you give the story a high number, the author is going to think that their writing is really good, and then they become arrogant. It’s an unnecessary addition that really should be avoided at all costs. It doesn’t add anything to the review itself and actually ruins what you said. Effectively, making a review worse.
Now that you know what not to do in your review, it’s about time we looked at what things we should include.
Use proper grammar
What to do
This one seems like a no-brainer. Yet time after time, I see people not even proofreading their own critique. I mean, would you trust someone like this to provide intelligent feedback that you should go off of?
Please, just read over your stuff again. You’ll catch some mistakes you would be pretty embarrassed of otherwise, I guarantee it. I do, in every review I write. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing your credibility and now you’re being laughed at.
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. Also, make sure you quote enough of the text around the mistake, so the writer can pinpoint where the mistake was made. Or else this happens.
Critique what you know
This one is easy. If you know the story can be improved, but can’t think of anything negative about it, it’s okay to just leave positives. Don’t make up some critique and hope it applies. The critique might not even be relevant, or worse. The last thing you want to do is tell the writer to do the wrong thing. Then, the writer’s skill decreases and you look like a complete idiot. Only mention things you are certain about. This way, everybody is happy and getting better at the same time.
This is probably the most important thing in this guide. Even if nothing good can be said about a story, 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 catch my drift.
So now that you know all there is to reviewing, it’s time to go out and share your thoughts. However, if you’re concerned that your review will look like a jumbled mess, follow the simple guideline below. I use this basic format just about every time. You don’t need to follow it exactly, but be sure you cover all the bases to the best of your ability.
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.
Include this 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.
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 flame, you’ll be hated by all. 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.
Pair ✎ PC sister