Class is back in session, good members of the PPC! Hope your pencils are sharp, your erasers are fresh, and your notebooks are free of any errant doodles, 'cause it's time for another workshop. I will be focusing on a vital yet often overlooked aspect of writing: reviewing. As per usual, I will start off with advice and observations before concluding with a writing challenge.
Many thanks to Neshomeh for beta-reading this workshop.
We write reviews primarily to benefit the author. Good reviews can help the author see how well their work reached the audience. They can see what worked and what didn't through someone else's eyes. The author can then take what they've learned from their feedback and use that to improve their future work.
Reviews can be useful for your fellow readers as well—your words might help convince others to give something a shot they normally would not have, if they trust your judgement. They also might see something that they missed during their own read-through.
Reading, Writing, and Reviewing
Making a review is, essentially, where the acts of reading and writing meet. You are attempting to properly express your feelings and observations about whatever it is you just read through writing. Creating a good review will require you to delve into the meat of the story; to analyze the work from multiple angles. Neshomeh put it very well in a post on the Board:
All of this, of course, requires you to be an active reader—that is, to notice your own thoughts and feelings as you read rather than just sitting back and passively experiencing the story. Not everyone likes to do this, but I'd point out that being an active reader will make you a better writer, too. Certainly a better PPC writer. Noticing your thoughts and feelings about badfic and being able to tell why you're having them will give you substance for your missions, and may lead to fewer missteps and missed opportunities in your own work. It's a good habit to be in.
You are all writers. Your knowledge and experience can help you see things in other people's work that non-writers might miss. You're also all (presumably) readers of fiction. Think about similarities and differences between the work in question and other pieces.
Writing It Down
Yes, But What Do You Feel?
Emotions go together with reading and writing like ice cubes in water. If you get a gut reaction from reading something, hold onto it. Remember that sensation when you get to writing the review. Put it into words.
Some things—particularly elements like comedy or romance—can be very subjective. Maybe the author's jokes don't mesh with your own particular brand of humor. That doesn't mean you shouldn't comment on it. To quote Neshomeh again:
The first step is simply reporting your experience so the author knows how their work is being received. Did you crack a smile? Chuckle? Laugh out loud? If so, when? Do you know why it worked for you? If not, that's okay. If so, that's even better. Say so! If you didn't find any humor anywhere, say that, too. Maybe you were the only one and it's just a matter of taste, but maybe not, and the author needs to work on their ear for comedy. They need to know.
All that being said, don't allow your emotions to drive you too far. Like I said in the beta workshop, you should be civil and polite. If you read something that drives you up the wall, don't immediately write a review lambasting the author. Take a break, then go back and read it again. Collect your thoughts and analyze the scene. If it still doesn't work in your eyes, explain why without being insulting.
The Devil is in the Details
When writing a review, be specific. Cite sentences or paragraphs that stood out to you in some way. Make connections between different parts of the text. Did something not quite connect? Offer suggestions regarding how you might have written the scene. If taking notes helps you to put your thoughts together, then do that. If reading the story multiple times helps, then do that.
Ideally, you should come away from the story with multiple points of both praise and criticism. No one is perfect, and if you come away from a piece thinking it was absolutely flawless, then go back and read it again. The opposite is also true: nothing is totally irredeemable. Find something that you loved, even if it's just a little thing. I personally start with criticism and end with praise, but there are multiple ways to present your thoughts. Another way is to put one piece of criticism in between two points of praise, in the vein of a sandwich.
Make the Time
If you're going to set time aside to read something, you should also set time aside to write a review for it. If the story is very long, it might be advisable to review it a day or more later. You should remember to take thorough notes if you go this route so as not to forget how you felt in the moment. Writing a little post saying that you'll review it properly later can be helpful to the author. Putting some of your gut thoughts in that note would also not be amiss. That ties into...
Where's the Beef?
Like I said before, leaving a review is meant to help the author with their writing. What's not at all helpful are reviews with little to no content. Leaving something like "This was great! Good job as usual" as a response benefits no one, and honestly doesn't reflect too well on you as a reviewer. This is not YouTube. You are not bound by things like character limits. Express yourself! Show that you are moved in some way by what you've just read. And if you felt nothing? Say that!
Don't EVER post a "review" without anything in the body of the post. No feedback post should have an (nm) in the title. This is useless for the author and useless for your fellow readers. You've got to put in some effort.
For the Authors
Handle reviews as you would a beta. Be thankful and considerate. Think about what they have to say. Do the criticisms leveled by the review make sense to you? Can you see from the other person's point of view? If you disagree with the points they made, then try to explain what you were going for. That being said, do not turn reviews into back-and-forth arguments. Being overly belligerent shows a lack of respect for your readers and might scare people off from leaving their honest thoughts on your work in the future.
We're currently in the middle of the "if you read it, review it" challenge. I would like to expand on that. For every review you write, have at least two points of praise and two points of criticism beyond notes about SPaG. Citing directly from the text to support/demonstrate your points would be a nice bonus. Check out the Constructive Criticism page to get some more help on the matter.