I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time. Now I am.
This mini-column is intended to be a guideline on how to do good reviews. It’s entirely from my own limited perspective, so please don’t assume this is How Things Must Be Done. It isn’t, by a long shot.
That said, there are some things that should be observed in reviewing. There are certain seemingly contradictory elements to consider, the biggest being that you must encourage an author or artist whenever you can, but at the same time you must make sure you are giving them a correct opinion. Mollycoddling someone simply because they happen to be your current favourite isn’t the best idea in the world. On the other hand, flaming someone because you don’t happen to like them isn’t a nice thing to do either.
The important thing to bear in mind is that, in general, you are here as a volunteer. Stick to your principles, but be nice. And try to review as much as possible, because in doing so you will find that your own skills improve as you start to look at things with a more critical and seasoned eye.
And some of that goes for the artists as well. Remember, the reviews you get aren’t a right. They’re offered opinions on your work. You can accept them, ignore them, print them out and frame them or whatever, but you cannot demand they always be favourable, because that isn’t going to happen. Be nice about it. I know how frustrating it is to write your masterpiece and then get absolutely no comments on it. I’ve been there. It ain’t fun, but it does happen from time to time.
Anyway, on with the real column. Reviewing is an arcane art that requires poise, delicacy and a balanced mind. Alright, the balanced mind is optional.
As a reviewer you have to be aware of several important things. The most important of these is that the artist you are reviewing has (usually) put a lot of effort in to the work you’re about to tear apart. Occasionally it will be obvious when something has been thrown together in five minutes on a sugar bender, and in such cases you are free to ignore, but you must always be aware of who might be behind the art.
Following that, the reviewer would be wise to always try and find at least one positive thing about the work and – remember this – comment on it first. As the song goes, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” You will find your comments are much better received if you wrap them in something nice first.
When offering constructive criticism, try and phrase your ideas in the form of choices for the artist. People like to presented with a small selection of choices, and tend to feel more positive about a presented idea if they are given the opportunity to pick it for themselves instead of having it thrust upon them by an overbearing nitwit (as they might see it). For instance, if you are reviewing a piece of writing and feel that it could use some work in some minor plot-point, suggest a couple of alternatives. Make sure your language doesn’t look like a demand, too, as this can put people off your ideas.
If your ideas are completely ignored, don’t fret. Definitely don’t post accusative messages demanding to know why the artist didn’t include your idea. At the end of the day it’s their work, not yours.
And finally, if you can’t find anything good about a piece of work, your best bet is to suggest, nicely, that the artist has a good long think about what they’re doing before carrying on. It isn’t always possible to be nice in such situations. A simple post explaining in basic terms that you find their work isn’t up to your standards should suffice. Whatever you do, don’t flame unless you can see absolutely no other choice.
As I said at the start this is merely a guideline to reviewing. It isn’t a definitive checklist, and I would hope that people reading this will take it for what it is: a place to start.
Ok, now I’m off to be a hypocrite and flame people. Ta-ta folks!
— Piet Hein - Grooks
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I have to add, I always think a review of a fic should be fairly in-depth and analytical. I don't think simply saying something was "good" and that's all has any point or use, it gives the author nothing really. Points that a reviewer liked and disliked just quoted with no reason behind it (especially regarding disliked) don't really help either. Quoting lines or scenes you thought were especially good is fine and helpful though, and often doesn't need as much depth, but if there's a negative one, you need to tell them why, and, as Graham said, offer some solutions to the problem if you can.
I personally can't just skim or read a fic I'm planning to review normally, I have to spend time analysing every line I can. Sometimes I get into the flow of things when I'm enjoying a story and miss things, but I try to avoid that when possible. I don't think a simple "read" does a fic justice when it comes to reviewing, because you can't just look at the story and jokes, you have to see how it all fits together, how it flows and how the characters act in the situations and with each other.
When it comes to something I don't like, I'll usually say it bluntly and flat out, and will only add some sugar or a positive side to it if I find one. I think it's good to be honest and let the author know how you feel about the parts you dislike and not beat around the bush. But you should, IMHO, tell them why you don't like it. Just because you're being direct and blunt doesn't mean you have to be flaming them, it's in how you say it, not what you say.
I think that about covers it for me. Most of all, I think it's good to try to see what the writers trying to do. Look at the story and try and work out their perspective, and if things are in multiple parts with chapters to come, make sure you give them the benefit of the doubt about certain factors you may dislike, because you really don't know where they're taking it until they do. Make your opinions on whatever it is known and tell them to be wary, but don't condemn it outright until you see it all.
"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."
Now Watching: Babylon 5 - Season 3
Now Playing: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, Pokemon Heart Gold
Now Reading: Catch 22
Actually Graham, this was a very good idea and will no doubt prove helpful to many people hoping to improve their reviewing skills...like me.
You wrote..."...you must make sure you are giving them a correct opinion."
That's the plank I hate walking out on...so much of writing is subjective and I find myself doubting a lot of what I find "wrong" as possibly being a matter of taste. I think I'll start re-reading a lot of the reviews from previous fics, especially by THE premiere reviewer of all time...just my opinion, but it's a "correct" opinion, so you better damn well listen...Stan the man. Whatever happened to him anyway? He's very much missed in here.
Anyway, great topic...you should sticky it.
I've no idea where Stan went. I miss him too...
Kenny: thanks for that bit of input there. It adds a lot.
— Piet Hein - Grooks