22nd May 2011, 5:28 PM
Review Guide & Hall of Fame (Updated: 6/21/12)
Shipping Fanfiction Review Guide
A guide with tips, questions to think about, and ideas for leaving great reviews.
Check the post below for The Reviewing Hall of Fame for examples of good reviews.
If you have any questions about this guide or reviewing, please PM me or ask here.
Reviewing is an important part of the fanfiction writing process and goes a long way to create a connection and a dialogue between readers and writers and to foster improvement. Unfortunately… readers don’t always take that step to review. I think a lot of the time they worry that they can’t think of anything worthwhile to say (beyond the spammy “Good fic! Write more!”) or they don’t know how to put into words their feelings about something. There is so much that you all have to say as readers that sometimes I think you just need the questions put out plain and simple and then you can give really awesome, impactful critique. So please give it a shot. Remember, if you read a fic, if you enjoy a fic, the writer of that fic will never know unless you say something. People put so much effort into these things and deserve to hear some feedback.
Things can get complicated and there’s a lot to analyze, but even if you don’t want to go too far beyond the surface, you can leave a great review if you just ask yourself these simple questions about the story…
The simple questions:
-What did you like about this fic? Why did you like those things?
-What did you dislike about this fic? Why did you dislike those things?
-What do you predict/hope will happen next?
Following a few easy tips can help you leave better reviews as well...
Tips for reviewing:
-Refer to the text.
Giving examples directly from the text gives the writer a more direct idea of what you’re talking about. In any case, given a mixed set of fics and a mixed set of reviews I should be able to tell which review goes with which fanfiction.
-Take notes while you’re reading.
I know it sounds silly, but I always keep a word document open when I read a fic to take down little notes. It helps me remember the things I wanted to say when I get to the end and it keeps my reactions to things fresh in my mind.
Saying something like “X needs to act more romantic” or something is fine, but even better is to get specific and say “It would be great if X and Y could have a conversation about their future, and then X could say…” This applies to characterization, plotting, description… actually, pretty much anything.
Well, a good text should make you ask questions. These questions aren’t always to interrogate the writer (though sometimes they might be), but questions that the piece raises to you. If the piece made you think, the writer would love to hear that.
If you think something could be improved, be polite about it. Writers put a lot of effort into their pieces and their work is very personal to them. It’s not quite the same as criticizing someone’s baby, but… well, just be gentle. Leave constructive criticism, not destructive criticism.
-Understand that the ultimate decisions are left to the writer.
Critique is great and all, but the writer may disagree with you. It’s their piece and their right to do so. That does not mean that they ‘can’t take criticism.’
-You do have something worthwhile to say!
So please, leave a review.
Now, if you want to go beyond that, there are plenty of elements that you can focus on when looking at a story. If you ask yourself all these questions… then your review might end up longer than the fic itself
which, hey, isn’t necessarily a bad thing so if you want, you can just focus on what elements seem especially important to the fic you’re reading. Use these areas to help you generate ideas on what to ask yourself…
Elements to consider: Characterization, Plot, Description, Emotion, Pacing, Dialogue, Exposition, Style, Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation, and Growth.
-Do the characters behave in a believable way?
There’s always room for character interpretation, but the most important thing for believable fanfiction is having the characters act… well, like the characters. So you can isolate what actions/thoughts made you say “Ha! That’s so Ash!” or “Hmm… I can’t imagine that Ash would say that.” It’s awesome (but not necessary) if you can actually state precedent for this too, if you’re that amazing: “When Ash was at the BLANK gym in BLANK city he said BLANK which is very consistent/inconsistent with how you’re portraying him.”
-Do the characters interact with each other in a believable way?
Basically a reiteration of the last question, but from the interaction standpoint. This is very important in shippy fanfiction. If there’s actual interaction in the show, you can base your interpretation on that, if not, you have to extrapolate from what you know about the characters and their reactions to things.
-Is the characterization fair?
This is a question about turning characters from the show into stock characters… which none of us really want to do. If you feel like someone is demonizing a character and turning them into a 2D villain… that’s a problem. It’s also a problem if someone is only highlighting a character’s good traits and making them out to be an angel when they’re not. This is a question about what kind of balance the writer strikes.
-If there are original characters, are they well rounded? And do they fit well in the group of canon characters or do they seem out of place?
Most people read fanfiction to see their favorite characters in action, but original characters often pop up to become part of the supporting cast. It’s very important that these original characters flow well into the group and don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but it’s also important that they don’t become so bland that they’re just there to perform a function. How do you feel about the new characters brought into the mix? How are their introductions handled? What is their purpose in the story?
-Is there progression in the characters and their relationship?
Do the characters grow? Does their relationship grow? Or are they flat characters with flat relationships that go nowhere? Is the growth believable or does it seem sudden and out of nowhere?
-Does the plot make sense? Is it believable?
-Are there any plot-holes/continuity errors?
My favorite writer Terry Pratchett once said that there are no continuity errors, just alternate pasts. But he's Terry Pratchett. It’s best to keep our stories straight. If you see a logical issue, it’s worthwhile to point it out.
-Does it keep you in suspense?
This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the way of “Who’s the murderer?” but does the writer keep you wanting more?
-Is the plot interesting and new or is it clichéd?
New and creative situations are awesome for readers tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Clichés are… well, they’re just something we all want to avoid. And this applies not only to plot, but to description (for example, how many times have you heard eyes described as “chocolate brown” or “sky blue” or “windows to the soul?” A lot. It’s gotten old.) But that doesn’t mean clichés are useless. A good writer can use a cliché and the expectations it brings and turn it on its head. So if you see a cliché, evaluate its use. Is it expected, or is it used in a whole new way?
-Is the description artful? Does it paint a picture in your mind?
-How does the description serve the story?
It might be very pretty, but was it just there to fill space? My old creative writing teacher always used to say never to do with your words what a camera can do better. So look for significance in the description. Does it advance the plot, provide symbolism, create mood, or communicate the psychological state of the characters? Or is it just… pretty?
-Is the description concrete?
Does the writer avoid plain abstractions like “It was hot in the car that day” and go for the more imagistic descriptions like “The air shimmered over the molten highway as the supposedly frigid air flowing out of my broken-down ’96 Jeep Cherokee’s vents dissipated pointlessly into the superheated oven of the black interior.” Pulling out descriptions that you liked is very helpful. Pulling out descriptions that could use some work is also helpful.
-Does the writer show you what the characters are feeling, or do they just tell you?
It’s that old ‘show, don’t tell’ rule and it can apply not only to character, but to plot, description and… pretty much everything. As a reader, aren’t you more likely to connect emotionally to a character when you see through their actions and their thoughts that they’re in love with another character than when the writer just tells you that “X loved Y?” Part of the enjoyment of reading is being able to make the interpretations. So when the writer tells instead of showing, it’s important to point that out, and important to suggest ways that they could show the sentiment more subtly than just stating it outright.
-Did you feel an emotional attachment to the characters?
How much do you care about them and their plight? It’s the writer’s job to make you care about them. If you don’t care, what could make you care? What actions could be added or taken out to make them more sympathetic?
-How do you feel about the characters/events unfolding?
-Did anything make you laugh? Did anything make you sad?
This is a very genre-specific question, but if it’s a drama (or has dramatic parts) are you feeling the drama or does it leave you cold? If it’s a comedy (or has comedic parts) did the jokes make you laugh or were they not funny? I know that, as a writer, I wish that I could watch all of my readers as they're reading and take notes every time they laugh or don’t laugh. …But I can’t do that. It’s probably for the best as that would be very creepy, but the next best thing is to hear what you felt like when you were reading certain parts.
-Is the pacing smooth?
This is basically about how events are ladled out. Does it seem like in one chapter NOTHING happens and then suddenly TOO MUCH happens? Does it start too slow or end too suddenly? Did something happen too fast or drag out for too long?
-How is the passage of time handled?
-Is the dialogue/action/exposition placed for maximum impact?
This is basically about finding the right rhythm and applies both to comedy and drama.
-Is the dialogue conversational?
Does it sound like a real conversation between people or does it come off fake-sounding?
-Relate back to character.
Do the characters talk like the characters do in the show/manga/game or has Ash suddenly developed an Irish brogue? (Alright, I kid. That wouldn’t actually happen. But everyone has their own unique ‘voice’ and vocabulary-set and when that’s off it can really take a chunk out of character believability. So evaluating how the dialogue flows is very important to characterization.)
-Do you as a reader have a clear idea of what’s going on?
Wait, why are we suddenly in Fargo? Did I skip a chapter or something? Who’s that guy? What’s he talking about? *weeps* I’M LOST!
If you’re lost and confused, that’s something the writer needs to know so that they can make things clearer.
-Is the exposition exciting and interestingly written or do you have the urge to skip it?
-Is the exposition well-integrated within the story?
Is it all situated in the beginning like a pitch for the story or is it all at the end when you’re already confused beyond belief? Does it relate well to the action, or does it just seem kind of randomly thrown in there?
-Is the word choice precise?
As Mark Twain said, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.” If the words used to describe something in the story are just right, then that’s applaudable. If you think a different one could capture the situation better, then that’s worth noting.
-Is the vocabulary overwhelming, underwhelming, or just right?
Writing that sounds like it’s ingested a thesaurus doesn’t come off any better than writing that’s never even seen one. A writer is constantly trying to strike a balance with their vocabulary—so that it is neither too florid nor too plain. Your input can be really helpful in striking this balance.
-Is the text lively or static?
Does the writer use a string of action verbs to create a sense of movement in the piece or do they stick with boring old static verbs like am/are/were/is/was/be/become/became? Static verbs are unavoidable sometimes (See? I just used one.) But if you can think of a way to change the sentence so it’s more dynamic, that’s almost always better.
-Are the sentences rhythmic and pleasing to the ear?
Reading the fic, or at least parts of the fic, aloud can really help decide this question. Stumbling blocks are probably areas that need work.
-Is there a strong voice?
Voice is hugely important to how the reader relates to the work. It’s basically about the ‘narrator,’ whether it’s an omniscient one or an actual character, becoming a character and stamping its personality on what they write. If someone’s managed this, then they deserve a pat on the back. If they need help, feel free to make suggestions.
-Is there rhetorical flair and variety?
If you know what metaphor and conceit and synecdoche and personification and all those other hairy critters are, then your input can be extremely helpful. But this is basically about what artful techniques the writer uses in their text and you don’t need to know the vocab to pick those out and appreciate them.
-Does the writer show a strong grasp of the language and its principles?
This is both extremely important in that it’s expected and extremely unimportant in that it is… expected. If this is something that a writer is struggling with, then pointing it out and giving corrections can be very helpful because it’s hard to understand things that aren’t written with proper grammar/punctuation/spelling and it reflects poorly on writers if they don’t understand these principles.
That said, we all make typos and errors occasionally (I’m sure there are plenty in this), and while these things are important to point out so that they can be corrected… if critique begins and ends at these technical issues then it doesn’t give the author much of a chance to improve on the bigger things.
-How has the writer improved as the piece goes on/from his or her last piece?