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Please join us in welcoming @Irene to the staff team as a moderator for the Politics forum. Please consider her the first contact for any issues that arise in that section for the foreseeable future. Show her verdicts the same deference you show the current members of staff.

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"pls write moar": Criticism & Reviewing Tips Compendium

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by BTT, Jul 23, 2018.

  1. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    So far, we have quite a few threads dedicated to becoming a better writer. However, no good writer has ever gotten that good on their own. It falls to you to help them get better by doing your bit and writing a proper review, because those chucklefucks at FFN sure aren't going to.

    This thread is intended to give you some tips on how to do just that. I'll start us off by sharing a handy infographic that I made just now:

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Zombie

    Zombie Black Philip Moderator DLP Supporter

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    I'll back this up.
    There are way too many threads in For Review, and Other Fandom Review that have thread rates, but no comments.

    I can get behind you if you rate in your comment, but jfc, rate bombing is the most annoying fucking there ever.
    Its more apparently in Other Fandom Review because there are a bunch of 0 post threads but have a thread rating and its not just the OP rating it.

    Fucking minimum effort.

    People can do better than this.

    Thanks @BTT I'm going to save this for later use.
     
  3. Sorrows

    Sorrows Queen of the Flamingos Moderator DLP Gold Supporter

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    Give examples

    It's not always possible of course if you are talking about subjective thematic or impressionistic issues. However if you think there is a part that does not work or a problematic scene/conversation/charecterisation etc etc pointing out where you think the problem is is really helpful. Getting specific about where things are/are not working can help authors zero in on weak areas in their narrative.

    For example:

    Not:
    More

     
  4. Zel

    Zel High Inquisitor

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    I made a similar thread a little over a year ago. There were good tips about the process of critical reading, which I wasn't the only one struggling with here, including the importance of taking notes and finding patterns, shifting the focus from the work onto yourself, reading what the author is writing instead of what you think he's writing, etc. The posts over there explain those things in more detail and helped me a lot.

    Link's here https://forums.darklordpotter.net/threads/becoming-better-at-critical-reading.36283/
     
  5. Zombie

    Zombie Black Philip Moderator DLP Supporter

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    @Zel would you care to elaborate what you learned from your thread for others that might be reading this and not the other link? Or lack the ability to draw the same conclusions you do?
     
  6. Zel

    Zel High Inquisitor

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    Sure.

    Compartmentalizing helped a lot in the beginning. I looked over some detailed reviews and identified core ideas to address. Consistent characterization, distinctive character voices, detailed worldbuilding, etc. Jotting down notes and taking some time to reflect as I went along helped a lot as something is bound to get lost in mental checklists, at least until you internalize the process.

    But I couldn't write a good review without reading attentively. We can find a lot about stories while skimming; God knows I closed the tab of loads of fics because I identified tired cliches or a first chapter riddled with spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. We're usually more lenient with fanfiction and all of us have guilty pleasures, but speaking for myself, I turned my brain off a little while reading some of those, and found myself having little to say besides a few general impressions and a sense of like or dislike. This was no good when trying to leave a proper review.

    I benefited from reading well received published works as well, making notes in the process too. When you dedicate most of your reading to fanfiction, you have less to judge them by since stories written by amateurs more often than not will have less effort dedicated to them.

    So, basically, I try paying full attention to the story while reading it, scribbling down some notes and assessing the impressions the story caused on me, which means elaborating what elements triggered those feelings. It's not perfect but it went a long way to improve my critical reading skills.
     
  7. Conquistador

    Conquistador High Inquisitor

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    I might just be confused but I remember r adding that review in your infographic. Taure wrote that, right?

    That aside, this is great advice. Reviews are how I judge a doc before reading it and it would be nice if someone wrote good ones. I should prob write my first review on FF.net too.

    And in your reviews, “pls write moar”

    :wink:
     
  8. MonkeyEpoxy

    MonkeyEpoxy Totally Sirius DLP Supporter

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    As it pertains to criticism, what even is "stilted" writing?

    I see it in reviews all the time but haven't the faintest idea if it means anything at this point considering I've seen that adjective used for all sorts of stories.
     
  9. Tsar

    Tsar Sixth Year DLP Supporter

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    I'd say stilted writing has nothing to do with whatever story is being written but how the the story is written. This comes from the rhyme and meter of the text, writer patterns, the amount authorial flourish and how formal/clinical the writing is.

    Or just a short hand way to provide critism without providing any useful information. Namely, on the hows and whys of why you find the authors writing dull on a technical level.
     
  10. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    To me, stilted writing is the prose equivalent of wooden dialogue. Wooden dialogue is when your characters don't sound "human", or perhaps more accurately, they don't sound like native speakers despite the character being a native speaker. A lot of this that I've seen boils down to
    • not quite understanding the nuances of certain turns-of-phrase or words,
    • ignoring contractions entirely,
    • getting lost in certain repetitions (characters addressing each other by name every line for example), or
    • speaking in (technically) grammatically correct form at the expense of personality.
    In the same vein, stilted writing is when the narrator (that is to say, the writer) comes across very obviously as not being a native speaker, for the same reasons as listed above.

    There are probably other things that would come across as stilted to me, but off the top of my head this is what I remember based on the most recent things I've betaed.
     
  11. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    The way I see it, there are stages to reviewing depending on complexity, and depth of context necessary.

    Stage 1: Micro. These are things that can be understood or betaed for with very limited context. Rarely requires an in-depth reading of the story to manage. Includes things like: Grammar and Spelling, Speech Tags vs Action Beats, Proper Punctuation, Active vs Passive Voice, Jarring changes in PoV, Formatting

    Stage 2: The In Between. Greater context is usually required for these sorts of things, although usually short chapters can be reviewed by themselves when doing this - Dialogue and Word choice, Paragraph structure, Characterization (to a limited extent), Atmosphere (aka, the "Feel"), Worldbuilding (to a limited extent), Emphasis Fatigue (over use of said synonyms, too much italics, too many repeating adjectives or turns of phrase, etc.), Prose

    Stage 3: Macro.
    These are usually the bits that require multiple rereadings to get it and can't really be done without knowing the full story (or at least, as much of it as is already published). Things like Structuring and Pacing (i.e. the Sequence and Speed of Events), Worldbuilding, Characterization, Character Arcs, Strength of Plot.

    IMHO, Stage 3 requires the most thinking, while Stage 1 requires the most work (since it's line by line edits). And from what I've gathered talking to some friends who happen to be editors, most professional editors concern themselves with Stage 3 style stuff, and only briefly touch on 1 and 2 (could be wrong, limited sample size disclaimer)

    Personally, I'm fairly confident in my Stage 1 and 2 edits, but I'm shit at Stage 3 and my reviews on those points end up being more shallow and without concrete examples. Enembee's recent post in What's the Story, Morning Gloryis a good example of what a Stage 3 review looks like.

    So what about the rest of you?
     
  12. Agent

    Agent High Inquisitor DLP Supporter

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    Not sure if this is just something that they teach in British schools or everywhere but we were always to PEE all over out work (Exact words)

    Point
    Evidence
    Explanation

    Some teachers swapped the second e with "Analysis", it was still pronounced the same way but was a bit easier to hear for their sensitive ears.

    The same technique can be used for reviews.

    Point out what's wrong or right with the story - "There's no conflict".

    Give an example - "That scene where Harry defeats Voldemort by blinking".

    Explain why this evidence backs up your point and explain how it can be improved - "Harry didn't have to push himself like he would have had to if he faced Voldemort in a duel with his hand tied behind his back and wearing high heels".

    Of course, try and string it together as a full sentence or sentences.
     
  13. Tsar

    Tsar Sixth Year DLP Supporter

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    Halt, while I agree with you on the general content of the stages of a review and the example you gave, I disagree with the order, primarily because a substantive review that would be most useful to an author in the Wba section parallels the editing process really closely.

    Listed in order of importance: A developmental edit, focusing on structure story. A stylistic edit, focusing on clarity and flow. A copy edit, focusing on grammar, usage and consistency issues. A Word-level edit, focusing on catching spelling and such.

    Enembee's critique, as you said, does this about as well as a review for a piece of incomplete fiction could do. As the story stands its impossible to accurately track an entire character arc or a relationship or even the big picture. This makes it hard to move around and test where to best to put events for maximum impact. But that's a limitation of fanfiction and its generally serialized nature. Doing a structural review on the chapter-by-chapter level is the second best thing and this is shown through the example given. Reordering the dinner chapter ups the punch considerably. If anything enough examples like that would work as a decent enough guide for an author to use when proceeding to polish a story.

    Providing that kind of content, however, is hard and is not an inconsiderable timesink. If I had to point to something and say that its the gold standard for useful feedback in the Wba section, I would link to that particular post.

    There is no concrete guide to providing that feedback beyond having the knowledge of what makes good story or a chapter and commenting when you see someone running afoul of that. It is very much process built on feel and experience.

    You can do somethings to make it easier though. Break down the overarching plot and try to gauge whether a particular section serves to further or enhance it. Look at whether the plot makes sense and try and disentangle why it does or does not, highlighting specific sections that work extremely well or poorly in this regard. Try and answer whether the story left you feeling frustrated or satisfied.

    Analysing themes would also help in creating a structural review. This means asking and answering effectiveness, the number of prominent, and how focused the story is on any particular one. I'd put this as relatively low on the totem pole because you'd need a complete story or arc.

    Identifying issues of pacing. On your initial read when did you start scanning the story rather than reading it. And why did you do that. Too much description clumped together? Or not enough interesting things happening? Something else entirely?

    Characterisation would require you look at how rounded a character is. A general rule of thumb is the more words spent on someone the more rounded they should be. Do the changes they through make sense given the context. Can you track the pivots and is the amount time spent on it well served.

    In the end, it all comes down to hunting for the whys.

    Even just looking into one of these can provide great feedback.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  14. enembee

    enembee The Nicromancer DLP Supporter

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    Speaking as someone who has often bemoaned the quality of responses in WbA, the criticism that is useful to me as a writer is for someone to identify their 'pain points'. That is, anything that took you out of the fiction, anything that seems to lack coherence, anything that seems like bad characterisation, anything that appears to be a continuity error, anything that didn't resonate with you in the way you might expect it to, etc. etc.

    However I do think, having read Halt's post though, that authors need to do a better job of identifying what they're looking for in WbA. For instance, @Seyllian wrote two excellent Stage 1 reviews of my work this week, that I feel very guilty about because I will chop and change huge sections of that prose before it ever hits any sort of publishable state. I'm not yet in the phase of writing that particular work where I care about the finer details of writing. What I am primarily looking for is Stage 2 and 3 feedback and I ought to have specified that before I wasted someone else's hard work and good will.
     
  15. Sorrows

    Sorrows Queen of the Flamingos Moderator DLP Gold Supporter

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    I'd say, if you want some good reviews on what you're writing, go ask for some from people who's opinion you respect. A lot (though not all) of the best reviewers also write sometimes. There you have the added bonus of being able to go offer them a review swap (or just review their stuff anyway) to the length and depth you'd like to receive. I think most people don't mind reviewing something for someone if it's not massively long.

    There ain't nothing wrong with just asking.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  16. Sey

    Sey Not Worth the Notice DLP Supporter

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    -.-
     
  17. Ludwig

    Ludwig Fourth Year

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    The main reason I don't write reviews too much is that I'm insecure about my own writing. I like to think that my English is pretty good for a second language, but I still feel bad for calling someone out on "mistakes", be it characterization or spelling, because I'm probably a much shittier writer and if I try to correct someone and it turns out that I'm wrong, that really shakes me.

    I'm 90% sure that's just me being an insecure bitch, but my skin is not that thick and I don't really know what to do about it, so I just lurk and give a rating. Being lazy doesn't really help that much either, I read fanfiction/books really late at night and by the time I'm done, I just fall asleep and never bother reviewing.

    Sorry if this wasn't useful to the thread, I'm just sharing my reason for not reviewing because that might be someone else's reason as well.
     
  18. Sey

    Sey Not Worth the Notice DLP Supporter

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    Characterization mistakes have nothing to do with the technical (read: grammatical/mechanical) writing. Have at it :).
     
  19. Ludwig

    Ludwig Fourth Year

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    I get what you're saying, but what bothers me about it is that I don't know if I can do any better than some of those shitty stories with shitty characterization.
    Do I get to call out someone for doing something bad if I can't do it any better?
     
  20. Zombie

    Zombie Black Philip Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Yes totally. The whole point of reviewing is critical thinking. And the ability to put your own thoughts into words. The blueprints are in front of you and basically you're just answering if the author is on plan or they're off point.

    The beauty of broader reviews as Halt pointed out is you can talk bigger picture and work expectation and speculation based on context clues into your feedback.

    And then discuss the merits of what you see.

    No one is going to say anything about your ability the only thing that matters is that you made and effort. You will improve over time.

    Techicnal feedback is something else entirely. It covers man things, namely grammar. But there is also word choice, flow, and structure.

    If you can hit on any of those it's great but not a requirement to a good review.
     
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