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Reviewing Tips


Well-Known Member
In order to coax a bit of you out of your reviewing shells and make 2011 a fabulous year for fiction feedback, I decided it might be a good idea to talk about reviewing in a general sense. I don't think we've ever really had a thread that had tips and tricks for reviewing, at least one that was interactive. Hopefully this thread will help ease your mind if you're trying to get in the game.

So to our experienced reviewers, or our reviewers wanting to start out, or anyone, really, feel free to drop in advice or tricks that help you review. Feel free to ask questions about any aspect of reviewing. Tell us about your history as a reviewer. Was it good? Bad? Did you learn anything from it? Perhaps you were confused by reviewing terminology. Perhaps you need some clarification on a review someone else gave you (though perhaps you should ask that reviewer first before you ask people here ;P). Perhaps you need a push in the right direction. Maybe you don't even know what to say. Maybe you have no idea how to respond to a review from someone else. Ask (or tell) anything ... well, so long as it pertains to reviewing.

I would rather keep this thread free from the infamous, "How do I get reviews?" question. That being said, if you MUST ask it because you are seriously confused about why you're not getting reviews, feel free, but let's try not to derail the thread into that discussion. To throw in one answer to this possible question, sometimes the forum is inactive; people may be busy with school, or vacations, or whatever. It doesn't necessarily mean your story is uninteresting.

To kick us off, I'll throw in some tips.

Reviewing is a skill that takes time to build, much like how we develop as writers. It's definitely a skill that you need to work on by doing over and over and by reading other examples from other reviewers. And much like how authors write in a certain style, reviewers often pick up their own "reviewing style." One reviewer may like to point out grammatical errors. Another reviewer may be more skilled in helping an author flesh out their characters. Another may focus on scenery description. Some try to be more general. Others may just like quoting parts they like and how they reacted to it. No review style is better than another ... well not unless the only thing you're contributing is "LOL WRITE MORE."

Also, there is always something to say about a story, even if you think previous reviewers got everything. It doesn't necessarily have to be critique. Saying something positive, like how you may have enjoyed the author's characters, is just as helpful because it tells the author what they're doing right. It helps them build up on that skill and refine their technique.

So, in short, give us your reviewing tips! Tell us your stories (as a reviewer or receiver of reviews)!


Just me
Dragonfree's Reviewing Guide: The Condensed Version

Worthwhile comments in a review are split into three primary types:

- Constructive criticism
- Constructive praise
- Other comments

You don't have to include some of everything or only one or otherwise restrict yourself; just make comments in the amounts that seem natural to you as you read the story. Don't painstakingly look for something to praise just to praise something if nothing honestly strikes you as praiseworthy, for instance. It's never helpful to be dishonest about what you actually thought.

Constructive criticism: Be specific. If something isn't working, mull over why it isn't working and then explain to the author exactly what you're talking about (not just saying "there are some mistakes", but actually pointing out some of those mistakes) and how it could be fixed.

Your goal is not to boast that you saw a flaw; your goal is to get the author to see the flaw, understand why it's a flaw and truly want to fix it. Taking on a mocking or vitriolic tone is usually counterproductive to this goal, as it just makes the author more likely to get riled up against you and decide you're a flamer who doesn't know what they're talking about. I am not telling you to sugarcoat anything; just describe the problems, try to be reasonably objective about it and only dwell on the presence of the problem for as long as you need to properly explain it before moving on to advice on fixing it.

Constructive praise: You should still be specific! If you want to praise something you thought worked particularly well, mull over why it worked and then explain that. Comments don't have to be unhelpful just because they're positive; in addition to the encouragement factor, constructive praise can help an author identify when they're taking a step in the right direction and understand how they can replicate their success later in their work. Explain what you think made this battle so exciting or whatever, and the author will know how to make their next battle equally exciting.

Meanwhile, it is never helpful to just tell somebody "Great job! Write more! I love this fic!", and in fact it's not even all that encouraging because it just makes it sound like you don't really know what you're talking about.

Other comments: Here I refer to mostly neutral comments such as describing your reaction to particular scenes, your theories about where the plot is going, what characters you're rooting for, asking about things that caught your interest and stuff like that. This can also be helpful in that it tells the author something about what a reader is thinking when they read their work, how they perceive the plot and characters, how well they understand what's going on and so on; it allows the author to gauge whether they should give more hints towards the plot, or make a character's motivations clearer, or explain something better, or whatever. These sorts of comments are also very encouraging because they show actual interest in the story, far more so than "great job, write more". If you're not good at determining what makes you like or dislike something in a story, go with comments like this instead of (or at least along with) vague, vapid praise: try to tell the author something about what you were thinking as you read.

Some types of comments that are not worthwhile

"Great job, write more!" - empty, uninsightful and barely even shows you read the story at all. Again, if you really can't think of any specifics to praise but want to show that you're reading and encourage the author to continue, go with general comments and questions on the storyline, characters, world and so on.

"You should add romance/battles/Digimon crossover elements" - don't tell the author to change the genre of their story just because you prefer some other genre. If you can't stand this genre, just go read something else - it is very, very unlikely the only reason the author isn't writing your genre is that you haven't yet pointed out the possibility. It's okay to question it if the situation they've set up appears to seriously call for some elements, to the point where not including them seems downright bizarre, but otherwise, it's the author's choice what kind of story they're trying to write.

"This should happen!" - you are not there to make the author write the story that you want to read; you are there to help them write the story that they want to write. Telling them you think the main character should catch this or that Pokémon or that this or that character should make an appearance or that the characters should do this is not only spectacularly rude, but in fact puts the author in a bit of a pickle because then including any of your suggestions would make it look like they're stealing ideas from a reader, even if they happened to have that planned all along. Yes, a lot of people are very, very averse to borrowing ideas from readers, even if said reader permitted or even requested it; it would feel outright dishonest to me, for instance. So don't do this. Speculating that maybe this or that will happen based on where the story seems to be headed is okay; actively ordering or asking the author to include something specific is not.

"Don't listen to [other reviewer], they're just jealous!" - even if somebody just slaughtered your favorite story, trying to drive other constructive reviewers away is just embarrassing to the author. If the reviewer is giving outright wrong advice and you're afraid the author will honestly follow it, you can chime in if you can back up your case better than they did, but otherwise becoming a martyr for the author is terribly unhelpful and disrespectful.

"Go read Advice for Aspiring Authors" - Advice for Aspiring Authors is not a magical good-writer-producing machine; it's just a disparate collection of writing tips posted on another forum some ten years ago. Telling the author to read it is not constructive criticism. Make some actual comments about what actually went wrong in their story; if you can't be bothered to do it properly, don't post.

"[INSERT ALLCAPS RAGE AT HOW RIDICULOUS THIS STORY IS HERE]" - even if it's ridiculous, you can express that in a civil way. "WTF I DON'T EVEN" is not an explanation of why what you quoted is nonsensical; it's a reaction. Reacting is fine (though unnecessary vitriol is still in poor taste), but then explain yourself properly too.


I find it helpful to make a text file and note my thoughts on specific quotes (positive, negative and neutral) down into it as I read; it's easy to forget the things you wanted to comment on if you read the whole chapter first and then start the review. The exception would be if you plan to read it more than once anyway, in which case the first read-through can be a plain one and you can bring out the text file for the second. After these ongoing comments, you can then summarize your feelings about the chapter. This is just how I do it and there are other good ways to go about it, but if you're at a loss for how to go about reviewing, it's a pretty solid way to start with.

The full reviewing guide linked in my sig goes into more detail on most of this (as well as responding to reviews).
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The magic of Pokemon
--Start with the positives; this way the author knows what they are doing right
--Give constructive criticism (i.e. "I noticed you did X; any particular reason?")
--Show them specifically what you liked or disliked

Dragonite Ernston

Novice Writer
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to actually tell the writer your opinion.

Trying to sugarcoat everything is not only unhelpful to the reader, it is also disrespectful to both the reader and yourself. If you don't give it to them straight, they won't see it as it is.

If your opinion turns out to be inaccurate, so be it. It is just an opinion, after all.

This doesn't mean, of course, that you can just bash people. Even when giving your opinion, there is some tact involved.


Pokemon Physiologist
It's time i place my grain of sand into this.

I think pointing out grammar mistakes is sometimes crucial for improving a writer's skill... Ok, everyone already knows that, but what about pointing out THE grammar rules sometimes? You know, the reason why you have to write the way you have to write

I see some of the writers here have other mother languages or are young, and it's that kind of writers who get their fics ignored (or even closed) due to many fails in grammar, structure, etc. Pointing out the grammar rules (apart from just showing the correction) would help them a lot.

Also, one of the things that would help readers is to take interest into reading the work that gets posted here and provide ACTUAL feedback.

I will use the invitation breezy gives to tell a story as a reviewer that pictures this situation.

I found a story of a new young writer (I will hide details to avoid indiscretions) with great potential. But, it was stuctured in a way that simply shooed people off, and no one ever reviewed him. I was from the only 2 users that ever posted something on it. The writer has improved his structure and yet, he still doens't gets a review from anyone other than me.

Ignored fics are one of the greatest insults to a writer. It discourages the writer to continue its work, and if no one ever tells him what he's doing wrong he will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. The result? The fic is bad.

I think it's better to review a bad fic rather than just ignore it, like i see it happens.

That's my grain of sand.
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