On the Art of the Review
To Review and Be Reviewed
FictionPress is a unique community of writers. We, like no other website that I can find, are strictly writers of original fiction and poetry. We do not depend on other people to create characters for our pens to mold (though I go back and forth between which would be harder, to be able to have complete control over your own characters or to have to write a story based on characters YOU didn't make up), and we look to others to give us criticism. I'm not going to lie to you; no one likes those reviews that only say that the story needs work. But it also takes a mature writer to accept other people putting their two cents in on your work (and yes, to my English teacher, I know that I should not rely on clichés to express my opinion). On FictionPress, I have gotten more valuable feedback than from anywhere else. I am a lover of grammar and I will accept people telling me if I've done something wrong because let's face it: as much as the people around me worship me (kidding), I am not a god. Grammar has rules, and most of us who hope to be published one day have to follow the established doctrine to some degree. Fragments, to create dramatic effect, are certainly ok in artistic (school newspaper articles, stories, and most definitely poetry. Since when does poetry follow any grammatical guidelines? That's what makes it so great. Sorry, tangent…) writing. But other things, like INCORRECT USE OF ADVERBS/ADJECTIVES and punctuation and placing prepositions at the ends of sentences should be brought to the attention of the author because they're just not right. Sure, the author has the right to say "So what? Artistic license," and that's ok. Like now. I started a sentence with "but" and used the fragment "like now". Both of those were unintentional by the way. My essay style is like my speaking style. However, the way the writer takes constructive criticism has been a) on FictionPress, amazing, b) on Quizilla, appalling. Thus, the nature of this essay/guide/whatever you want to call it.
1. We're Laughing With You, Not At You (sort of)
I'm not going to tell you that my stories are perfect. I'm a grammar fiend, and I still make mistakes. More than likely, you do too. My English teacher, the official Goddess of English, has (gasp) made mistakes. We're not perfect, even though we want to be. We want our writing to win Nobel prizes for Literature or at least make it into the lit mag. So, if we want to get better, become perfect, and have people worship us at our feet, somebody is going to have to tell us what we've done wrong. If you've made a mistake, you're going to want to know about it so you can go fix it in that massive rewrite of yours. If you know you're writing is perfect and can't take some constructive criticism, then go ahead and skip down to paragraph three. Essentially, if you want to be good, you're going to have to take some criticism.
2. To Correct and to Serve
Imagine this scenario: You're a really good speller. You're reading through someone's piece and find a couple of spelling mistakes. You figure that if the person wants their writing to be the best that it can be, they should probably correct it, so in your review, you want to tell them where their mistakes were. You have two options, the first being the "Hey, you suck at spelling, get a word processor" approach, and the second being to name positive aspects about the story/poem/thing and in the end add "there were some misspelled words (here you would quote lines if there are just a few), you might want to run those through a word processor to see if they're spelled correctly." I personally recommend the second way because I'm moderately soft-hearted and can't tell people that they suck.
3. If You Can't Take the Heat…
Now, so you've gotten a review, and it's less than praising and throwing money and roses at your feet. What are you going to do? (!) You can either make the corrections and learn from it, or you can go cry about it and review them back with some mean, overly critical comments. Though option two may seem oddly tempting, option one will help you grow as a writer. If you can't take constructive criticism and are convinced your writing is perfect, then a) never even so much a speak to a New York editor, and b) get off of FictionPress. No one on here is flawless. No one is posting novels that you can go buy at Barnes and Noble (and I've found mistakes in those, too). We're all trying to get our stories out there to entertain, find out if they're any good, and get feedback. Most of us are amateurs. Don't fall in love with your first draft, because it will deceive you. Case in point: On another site this girl has an amazing story. It's well written, it's deep, the character development is amazing, and quite frankly it kicks my stories' asses. She has self-published it and gotten that version proofread by a professional. However, in the version she posted online, I found that she misplaced several prepositions. She had several sentences that ended in "where she had been at," and being the grammarian I am, it drove me crazy. So, I sent her a polite message that told her that I loved her story but found so grammatical errors. Admittedly, since I am the worst speller on this side of earth, I misspelled "unnecessary," which I should have know from Latin vocab, but I didn't correct any of her spelling. So, on the next chapter, she writes this entire rant about how I have no right to correct her because I can't spell and because she checked and every one was relevant. Well, there was a problem there, and there still is, but I'm not going to go back and tell her that. The bottom line: if you want your story to be adored and never corrected, don't post it on the internet.
(!)If the review is flat-out rude, don't bother taking the suggestions if you don't agree with them. If they're rude in the review, you're not required to use the typical policy of returning their review. Oh, and don't take someone's advice if it's stylistic and you don't agree with it.
There may be some that I have left out, but I think this sums up the issue of reviews and reviewing with constructive criticism. It's nice if you can say at least one good thing about their story before you launch into the corrections. Oh, and on this essay, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. ;)