Reviews, a Love/Hate Affair

In the continuing saga of looking at Boldly Reading blog prompts, we have the second such prompt about Star Trek fanfiction (and, really, about any other kind of writing, for that matter) – what do you like to see in a review of your work? what do you comment upon yourself in a review? has a received view changed your opinion on a story you wrote or were writing? and finally, has a review sold or warned you off another author‘s story?

The Good

Everybody loves good reviews. They make us feel warm, happy and special. They pull us up when we’re feeling low. Good vibes all around.

thumbs up!
thumbs up!

But really short good reviews (e. g. I loved it!) are nice but they are dissatisfying. It’s like a half a sip of really good coffee. Hence, whether I read a review or I write one, I feel that a good review should have a little more depth than that. Why is the story so beloved?

Here are a few ideas –

  • Are the original characters believable and multidimensional? Do you, the reader, understand who they are, their motivations and back stories? The answer does not necessarily have to be yes to all of these questions, by the way, but what is it about the original characters that grabs you?
  • Are the canon characters well portrayed? If they step out of character, is that explained in a satisfying manner? Can you, the reader, hear the canon character’s voice in your head, saying these words? Can you see the canon character performing these actions?
  • What’s the driver of the events? Is it a new ship or person? A conflict? A discovery? A problem that needs solving? A mystery? Was the situation believably introduced, showcased and wrapped up?
  • Where is (are) the climax(es) in the story? What is it leading to? Is it the logical release of the build-up that has occurred throughout the story?
  • How have the characters or the situation changed by the end of the story? If the story was a reset, does the resetting to the beginning make sense?

The Bad

Sometimes, a story does not completely work, but there are redeemable elements of it. When that happens, I think it’s time for suggestions. And again, a short review is not too much help. Authors need to learn (and be nice about this!) how to improve their works. It is possible to help someone become better, and writers should take the suggestions in the spirit in which they should be given.

sideways
sideways
  • I thought ___ was a bit of a hand wave. If you were rewriting the story today, how would you correct that and add more drama to that element?
  • ___ is incorrect, per (cite research). Are you looking to write an alternate reality?
  • I loved your characters but I thought the situation didn’t quite suit them. Do you have other stories with these characters?
  • I thought the situation was compelling, but I’m unsure about the placement of the characters in it. Do you have stories with similar situations, but different characters?

The Ugly

Sometimes, it’s just … oh God. You feel like sowing the ground around someone’s computer with salt. What to do?

thumbs down :(
thumbs down 🙁

One option is to simply not review at all. After all, even in a review hunt challenge, you could forego the points and just bow out of reviewing. But that does not help the author get better. Can they get better? It’s a definite maybe. There are people who take suggestions to heart. And there are others who might accept the suggestions later. Then again, there are also people who think that everything they write is so wonderful that you must be the problem.

  • Try to find something positive to say, anything! Did they get a canon character’s voice right at all? Was the situation unique? Were there any memorable lines?
  • Once again, constructive criticism is the way to go. Be specific and detailed, but also be kind. E. g. a review that says, In canon, Scotty is not an Eskimo, and I’m just not so sure I’m buying him as one. I think that’s specific, and it does not trash the author or attack them personally. Hey, someone else might be convinced, but you, the reader, are not.
  • Are they new to writing? Maybe comment on the maturation process in writing. This is not to say that you insult people by suggesting that no one under the age of 40 can write, or that you need a decade’s worth of experience to be any good. Rather, you can suggest that continued writing, over time, often changes and hones one’s style.
  • Out and out plagiarism should not be rewarded, of course.

As for me, I look at the number of reviews I get, and the number of reads. For short stories with no reviews and a high read count, that raises a red flag with me. But for longer stories with no reviews, it’s less of a flag, as there are plenty of longer stories that people just don’t stay with. It’s not necessarily due to the quality of the writing. Sometimes that’s just due to readers’ personal schedules.

And I can’t say that I love criticism, but I am a writer and I expect it and I understand it. People have told me that something looked like a hand wave, or that they couldn’t stick with something. I think that’s fine, and that tells me where to improve, and tighten things up. But I do have an ego and, like everyone else, it can sometimes be bruised.

So I ask, if you hate it, and you still choose to provide a review, I do hope you won’t just trash me. And I vow to you that I will do the same.

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4 thoughts on “Reviews, a Love/Hate Affair”

  1. Interesting insights. And I like the good, the bad and the ugly structure to this. Of course, having read this, I am now wondering how to respond to the post and give something insightful back in return. Ye gawds! I’m also left wondering if my own reviews are ‘good’ enough – do they have the depth to them required to satisfy the author? Definitely something to muse upon and there are pointers to take from this for sure.

    1. Aw, thanks for commenting.

      I admit I sometimes scratch off a quick “I loved it!” without adding much else, because real life calls for some reason or another. Or I might be trying to read a bunch of stuff, so shorter reviews are the only way that the love can be spread around semi-equitably.

      I also admit (because I’m such a writer geek) that I print or write out in long hand the better and more detailed and loving reviews for reference when I’m feeling blue. ‘Cause even those of us who torture characters and write creepy vine-headed people need love, too.

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