(Author's note: this essay was not prompted by a flame on any of my own stories; this isn't just me blowing off steam for the whole world to see. This is just yet another rant about some trends I've seen on this website and the ever-increasing general stupidity of the human race. Sigh… enjoy! ~not Ross)
The dreaded flame. Not the flame that consumes houses, but the flame that consumes our confidence as writers. But you don't have to worry about them any more.
What is a flame? Definitions vary. No one really seems to know. Some people seem to think that any review that mentions that their story might be less than Nobel Prize material is a flame – and they seem to go to all measures to make sure we as readers know that they are not appreciated. My definition of flame? A review that blatantly describes a story or any part of it as "bad" without explaining how and why it's bad and/or a fix for that particular situation; or being rude in every step of the "explanation" (which tends to be very patronizing and underdeveloped); or a personal attack. I know that has a lot of parts and is rather involved, but that's the definition I'm going to be working with. Here's the simple version: there is a HUGE difference between critique and flame.
A quick note on critiques: if you can't handle a critique, if you can't suck it up and read something that may be painful to hear, yet in the long run with change your writing for the better (probably), you should not be on this site. There's no anti-critique filter. And if there is, I'm going to go destroy it.
I googled examples of flames and found a particularly good one. Here are a few excerpts:
"Nobody with the intelligence of a body louse would pretend that was a story. In fact, I owe your lice an apology for saying that."
"You're an infected boil on the buttocks of fandom."
"Calling that mass of revolting sludge of yours a story is like calling a bucket of putrid, stinking, maggot-infested garbage a steak dinner."
And note this: all these lovely sentences were from one "review." Now there's a real flame, huh?
Now here's the feel-good part of this essay: as far as I can tell, flamers really are stupid. Maybe if you're a very caring person (I do not fall into that category, needless to say), you can blame it on their bad day. But in general, flamers are downright stupid.
I'm not saying that to boost your ego, though. Any person who has a brain would at least explain why they didn't like your story. Anyone can say, "That was terrible." It's really not that difficult – try it. My theory, and this applies to more than just reviewing, is that if you can't explain it, you don't know it. And on this website, if you don't know it and you're stupid enough to pretend you do anyway, get the heck away from me!
So why do people flame? Like I said, if you're a very sympathetic and nice person (more power to you if that's the case!), you can assume they just had a bad day. But if you're anything like me, you'd prefer to psychoanalyze them. Maybe they're looking for a nasty response. I read something on this site one time totally mutilating anything within twenty feet of a so-called "grammar Nazi" (of which I proudly claim to be one). The author said things like grammar Nazis will be forever alone, they have no friends, no one likes you, no one cares about grammar, blah blah blah. I skimmed through it, not really that interested. (The worst thing about the "essays" like this is that people put them in the humor section; um, excuse me, sir, are you really that incompetent?) Then I sat for a long time, trying to decide what to say in my review. I thought of leaving a satirical review with really bad grammar. I thought of simply asking, "So now that you've changed the world, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?" I thought about pointing out that the author had, ironically, used perfect grammar in their attack (which is very akin to stopping in the middle of an attack on Muslims to bow to Mecca. Okay, that might be racist. I'm really not a racist. It's just an example. Sorry to offend). But the "essay" was clearly written to elicit an outraged response from anyone like me. So I let that guy get the extra point on his traffic stats and moved on, left him wondering why no one was reviewing his masterpiece. Sometimes that's the sweetest revenge.
Maybe they really are just that hopelessly stupid. Do they think that their "this is awful!" review is going to help you in your writing endeavors? I sure hope not, because then we must be living in the lowest IQ age in the history of the planet. At any rate, they can't articulate their thoughts. I'd better end this paragraph, or else I'll just start repeating things already stated.
Maybe they're ticked off by your 500-word disclaimer that's something along the lines of, "plz don't flame! this is my 1st story on this site an i'm new to this whole thing so go easy on me i'd love any advice but go easy this is my 1st time writing ever an i'm only gettin the hang of this so be nice! :)" And on, and on, and on, and on, and on….. I have no words to say to you people like that.
In the long run, though, who cares why they do it?
The most important thing to know about flames is that they are, indeed, written by stupid people who lost their brains while crossing a freeway on the way home from school. I'm not writing this to make you feel good – I'm not that kind of person – I'm just writing it because it's true. In fact, I'm writing in hopes of getting at least a few people to stop with the groveling exhibited in the above paragraph. This is an actual author's note taken from a story on this site (and if it's yours, I'm sorry. Think of this as critique):
"Ok, there's the first chapter of my first ever story here, I don't know what you think, just please review and tell me, because I need to know if I should continue or not... PLEASE REVIEW! :) I would be grateful if you did, I am new so don't be too harsh, but I would like something that would help me do better, at writing... so please criticize, or tell me how I can improve, but please nothing over the top. ;)"
AKA: no flames. I have seen so many irritating disclaimers like this, it's not even funny. It's like people think flames are the kiss of the slowest, most painful death you can imagine. No! Come on, fellow authors, let's think through this one. Let's use our brains. Flamers are stupid… thus what they say can be discounted as a football player feebly attempting to give input on a bad interior design setup, but he doesn't know what's wrong, so he just says, "It's bad. What the heck is that pumpkin doing there?" And let's use our brains a little bit more. Who does want to be flamed? I don't. But you won't catch me groveling at my reader's feet begging them to leave nothing but praise for my poorly-written fluffy romance story. Asking to not be flamed is like standing on a table in the middle of a crowded room at a party and asking that no one call you fat. Peoples' reactions? "Okay then…" and they ignore you, and more than likely they will even go to great lengths to ignore the creepy kid who stood on the table making the most obvious remark in the world.
Here's my take-away lesson for anyone reading this: flamers are stupid. Consequently they cannot be trusted. Consequently you may ignore them; in fact, don't even bother responding to them, it just makes them cackle. But a FLAME is much different than a critique, and if you're on this website, you'd better be willing to suck it up and read something you may not want to hear in the interest of bettering your writing. And most importantly, don't throw away every shred of dignity you have to kiss the feet of your reviewers and ask for no flames. It's not going to help you. It's annoying.