This section assumes that what you want to review is a piece of fanfiction, but most of its basic principles apply to all reviewing, be it about stories, artwork or websites.
There are two basic types of reviews: there are reviews posted for the author to see, and there are reviews posted for potential readers in order to advise them on whether a story is worth reading or not, such as the book reviews you see in newspapers. The latter are not very common when it comes to reviewing fanfiction or other material on the Internet, but they exist. As with most other things people bother to split into multiple types, there are fundamental differences between the two types.
Reviewing for the Author
Reviews posted for the author should be as helpful as possible and go into as much detail as possible, preferably providing constructive criticism and/or constructive praise as well as other general comments, and should not fear speculating about possible later happenings in a half-finished story, discussing important plot points that have just been revealed, asking questions or otherwise assuming that the person reading the review knows the story up to this point already. They are also frequently posted for each individual chapter of a story, allowing them to go more in-depth than otherwise.
Your primary concern when reviewing for the author should be to help them. You should never review to make fun of somebody or break them down; only do it if you genuinely want to tell them something that will be of worth to them. The best help you can give an author is constructive criticism, but you can't always find much to criticize in every story you read, and then you can also resort to constructive praise, pointing out what the author did right instead of what they did wrong (or, even better, do both).
It is never any use when reviewing for the author to give the story any kind of a numerical rating. A number is never helpful in itself as it does not tell the author what is wrong, and when you're detailing what is wrong anyway, you might as well just leave the number out.
Imagine you are mountain-hiking with your friend through some beautiful landscape. The sun shines and there is not a cloud in the sky. You finally reach the top and are sitting there admiring the view when you notice, delighted, an eagle flying in the sky.
"Wow, look at the eagle!" you comment to your friend.
Maybe he has seen the eagle already himself. Then that will do; then, in fact, your comment was unnecessary altogether except perhaps to confirm that he was not hallucinating. And perhaps just the mention of it makes him look quickly around and find it. But maybe he hasn't seen the eagle, and then he won't think twice before asking you, "Where?"
Constructive criticism is not too unlike you trying to show your friend the eagle. Maybe the author of whatever you are criticizing already knows there is something wrong with whatever you point out; then the criticism doesn't matter except perhaps to confirm that knowledge. But it is an altogether more important case when he hasn't and doesn't see an eagle, and then you can't just sit there saying there's an eagle but getting cross and accusing him of not being able to cope with the existence of eagles if he, perfectly naturally, asks you to point out its location. You need to tell him where the eagle is if you're going to be of any help. This is the most important rule when giving constructive criticism: Don't just say there's an eagle; point out where it is. Instead of just telling somebody that there is a problem with their story, at least try to tell them exactly where that problem lies and how to fix it.
But then we return to the mountain. You have pointed your friend to the eagle, sure, and maybe he can see it then. But maybe he isn't much of a bird person. He squints at the spot and asks, "How is that an eagle? It's a big bird, sure, but why do you think it's an eagle?" And then you ought to point out, say, the size and wingspan of the bird, the color, maybe other parts if it's close enough to make them out. You need to argue your case, try to convince him that it's indeed an eagle; maybe hand him your binoculars. You haven't helped him if you have just informed him you can see an eagle; the ultimate result should be that he can see the eagle too. It may be difficult to get there, and perhaps you'll end up giving up after trying to point out its eagle-like features for a while in vain while he is still stubbornly sceptical about its species. But if it's a particularly beautiful eagle - and they are rare, after all, something people really want to see sometime in their lives - you will feel enthusiastic about at least trying to make your friend see it. Or you ought to, at least. Perhaps you're a person who only points out that there's an eagle to be able to boast that you saw it and your friend didn't. But if you're that kind of person, you're some pretty awful company on mountain hikes in general.
To wrap up that lengthy analogy, the eagle is a problem you see with somebody's work. You might not be looking for eagles as you walk. Eagles aren't the only interesting thing you can see on a mountain hike; there is pretty scenery too, for instance, and you might prefer pointing out the spectacular views over looking for eagles, but then there are those who go on entire mountain hikes without saying anything at all, or if they say something it's not really an attempt to enhance the friend's hiking experience at all. And sure, they're company. But are they really the best company for the friend to take on a mountain hike? The analogous reviewers are those who make comments like these:
I love this story. When will the next chapter be up?
Wow, this is amazing. Keep up the great work!
This story sucks. Go away.
They're nice (or well, the first two are, anyway). They're company, in our analogy. But they're not helpful. It's nice to have them, just for the sake of having a friend to tag along (though, the third one is more like the grumpy great-aunt who for some reason insisted on coming even though she is obviously in a very bad mood today). But if you want to be somebody your friend will really want to take on a hiking trip, you'll have to add something to his experience of the hike. In other words, you need to have the common courtesy to bother trying to point the eagles and views that your friend hasn't noticed out to him.
Okay, so you're going to point it out when you find an eagle. Here are some hypothetical "Wow, look at the eagle!" reviews:
I like this story a lot, although there were some mistakes. Keep writing.
This really wasn't very good, sorry. It's badly written, the main character is a complete Gary-Stu, and it completely defies all logic in too many places to count. The plot looks horribly generic as well.
Like the analogous comment about the eagle, these reviews really don't tell the author anything of worth unless they already know what you're talking about, which kind of defeats the point. To be useful, you need to point out exactly what the problem is, usually either by quoting or referencing specific parts of the story. This is not only a matter of principle but also practice, because when the author sees a review like this, he is very likely to become defensive and start protesting ("What mistakes? How is it badly written? What is so Stuish about the main character? What's so logic-defying? What's so generic about the plot?"). This is very natural for somebody who has been hit with a review that is not specific enough, and it is not yet time to decide that the author can't take criticism; anyone would need elaboration before being able to agree with something like this. To slip into the analogy again, this is where you need to point out exactly where the eagle is. Here's a couple of possible "The eagle's over there" reviews:
I enjoy this story, but you seem to have some problems with homonym confusion, such as in the sentence "He excepted the Pokéball." The word you're looking for is "accepted"; "excepted" means leaving something out. You should maybe get a beta-reader to fix problems like these, or maybe look at this website.
This really didn't work out the way you wrote it. You tend to word things in an extremely clunky way, and this really detracts from the scenes that are meant to be suspenseful, particularly this here paragraph:
"He walked down the corridor. It was dark so he was really scared. As he was walking down the corridor he heard a sound. It was like a squeak."
This just really didn't get across the effect you wanted. Try to show more how he's scared instead of just saying he is; have him momentarily think he sees a movement in a corner or something like that, or maybe have him get the feeling there's something creeping up on him from behind. That shows the fear a lot better than just "he was really scared". Then you repeat "walking down the corridor"; you've already said he's walking down it, so there's no need to mention it again. He's also supposed to be scared, so use some more evocative way to describe the sound than just "he heard a sound"; have him jump as he hears a sudden, high-pitched sound from just ahead of him, or something in that direction. Both chapters in their entirety read a lot like that paragraph; this is just the scene where it's the most glaringly problematic.
Aside from that, Troy is a blatant Gary-Stu. His parents were murdered by Team Rocket and he has somehow managed to take care of himself in his house since he was ten years old by running a website that's so popular he can sustain himself on the advertising revenue? No ten-year-old kid could do that, and somebody would definitely notice and do something about it. You need to think about stuff like this. And then there's the whole deal with Mew randomly appearing in his house injured and making friends with him. Why would Mew, a legendary Pokémon, be hunted down by a pack of Houndoom and be hurt so badly it needs to teleport into some random kid's house? Why didn't it teleport away from the Houndoom in the first place? Why would it teleport to his house and not to, say, the nearest Pokémon Center, where it could get professional medical care? How could Troy know enough about medical care to make it heal fully within two days if it was dying? Sorry, but none of this makes any sense, and it all reeks of being an excuse for you to make Troy go on a Pokémon journey with Mew as his starter.
Then there's the plot. From what I can tell, it's going to be Troy going out and beating all the Kanto Gyms and the Pokémon League with his Mew (which nobody appears to find strange a random boy would be carrying) while fighting Team Rocket on the way. Haven't we all seen this a hundred times before? It would be possible to put an interesting new spin on it or make it enjoyable for other reasons than the storyline, but forgive me when I say that I'm really not getting the impression you have a good enough grasp on character development and writing in general at the moment to be able to pull that off for now.
I don't know exactly where you were planning to go with this, but at the moment it really doesn't seem to be working out and I can only recommend that you seriously think about this before continuing. Have you really thought this through?
That latter review is very negative and pretty harsh - but the reviewer has thoroughly pointed out exactly where all the numerous eagles of this hike are, and provided the author is willing to consider the advice, it should be very helpful, particularly because it suggests example fixes to most of the mistakes. This basically, is the kind of review you want to write. There may not be as many mistakes in what you're reviewing as in this nonexistent story, and there might also be good points you want to talk about, but in general this is the spirit of a good review: being precise in exactly what your complaints are and generally making a good case for them. Your goal is, after all, not just to point out the mistakes, but to get the author to also realize that they're mistakes and should have something done about them. A review like that last one should make a sensible writer realize that the story isn't working out this way.
But what if it doesn't? What if the author asks, "What's a Gary-Stu and why is that bad? Why does everything have to be realistic? Why can't he have a Mew as a starter?" Then you have a slightly different problem: an author who, rather than being unaware of his or her story making certain mistakes, simply can't identify them as mistakes. (Admittedly this was likely to happen with this particular story, because the mistakes were too blatant for anyone who knows, say, what a Gary-Stu is to really be able to make them.) Now you will probably, unless you feel like giving up on the guy already, want to hand him your binoculars and tell him just why that spot on the horizon definitely is an eagle in a follow-up response:
A Gary-Stu is a kind of unrealistic character who can do way too much or has too much luck, such as how Troy here can apparently take care of himself at the age of ten and has an ultra-popular website and then happens to be the one whose house Mew teleports into and with whom Mew then makes friends. It's all way too convenient for him and indicates that the world of the story revolves around him; I'm willing to bet the only reason those Houndoom were chasing after Mew, Mew didn't teleport away until it was injured and then into Troy's house was that you wanted Troy to get Mew. In other words, the Houndoom and Mew's actions here are chosen to fit Troy's needs. You want him to get Mew, so you make Mew and the Houndoom act in such a way that it will happen, even though it doesn't make any sense from their point of view. This is not the way you should write characters. Each character, Mew and the Houndoom too, should have their own reasons and motives for how they act in the story rather than just doing whatever you want them to do, because they're individuals with free wills of their own. It's a lot less entertaining to read a story about characters who don't act like real people or Gary-Stus for whom you know everything will go just right. It makes the story less exciting; we can't relate to the characters as much.
For pretty much the same reason, you'll want to make the events of the story realistic, obviously not in the context of our world but definitely in the context of the Pokémon world. While Pokéballs and Psychic attacks aren't realistic in our world, they are in theirs. Ten-year-olds running websites with advertising revenue to sustain themselves, on the other hand, aren't realistic in either world. You need to make things conform to logic and common sense within the world you're writing in order for the story to make sense as a whole and feel like this really could happen in the Pokémon world.
The author won't necessarily agree just because you tell him something like this. There are many people who have difficulties taking criticism well, particularly when they're new to writing, and will just end up telling you that it's their story and they can do whatever they want. But eventually, if the author plans to become any good, he will have to learn to listen to critics. If a nice, calm attempt to explain yourself is entirely dismissed, then it's probably most productive to just back out and leave it to them to figure it out.
So to summarize: explain your concerns properly to the author or the review won't do any good and will probably just get the author up against you.
Also note that you aren't always right. You may have misunderstood something. You should be able to recognize when an author is dismissing your advice out of pure denial and when they disagree with some particular point you made on a reasonable basis.
"Don't like it, don't read it!"
When an author tells a reviewer that, they generally intend it to mean the same thing as the trite saying "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." They are really not in the right if they do this; by posting their work on the Internet and accepting comments on it, they are inviting people to say what they think, and it is really quite ridiculous to think that they can censor comments on their work to prevent people from saying so if they didn't like it. Additionally, if you wrote a good review they ought to be thankful that you took the time to try to help them rather than dismissing your advice purely because it's negative.
There is a grain of truth in "Don't like it, don't read it", but it isn't what those authors think it is. That grain of truth is the principle that you have to approach the story on the author's terms. If, for instance, the author is writing a Pokéshipping fic (a romance between Ash and Misty) but you think Ash should be with May instead and that he obviously likes her more than Misty, it won't do the author any good to review their fic with a rant on why they ought to be pairing Ash and May instead of Ash and Misty. Ultimately it is the author's choice what their story is fundamentally about, and if you don't want to read about Ash and Misty getting together, you really should not be reading a Pokéshipping fic. Shipping fics in particular even tend to be labelled with the shipping they support, so it is not exactly the author's fault if you wasted your precious time reading a story about a pairing you don't like.
The same applies to many other situations. For instance, some people like to write Pokémon as very intelligent creatures with their own language and cultures while others write them as more animal-like. It is little use to tell an author that they're doing this wrong because you think they should be written the other way; there are arguments for either side and ultimately it is up to the author which way to go about doing this. If somebody is writing a fic set in Hoenn with Team Aqua as the main villains but you like Team Magma more, it is no use pointing this out. If you want the main character to catch your favorite Pokémon, it will never be anything other than annoying if you feel the need to say this. If somebody is writing a romantic Pokémon-human relationship and you find it gross, you can either tolerate it or stop reading. And so on.
Basically, you are not helping if you criticize something that is obviously a matter of individual opinion or that is clearly an important, conscious part of the central concept of the story. Sure, if somebody throws a Pokémon-human relationship into a story with a plot unrelated to that seemingly just for the heck of it, you might as well point out that there are people who are squicked by the idea and that they will lose readers if they do it. But that's not very likely to happen; if they're writing a Pokémon-human relationship, chances are they planned it all along and it is a large part of the point of the story. And if you're writing a story about a Pokémon-human relationship and somebody tells you to remove the relationship, what's the point of the story anymore? You can criticize its execution all you want, of course, and if within the context of the story the theme in question obviously seems not to work you can point it out (more to suggest how the context could be changed to make the theme work better, since the theme is then probably the more important part), but to suggest the removal of something that is obviously important to the very reason the author is writing this fic at all is ultimately unhelpful. Point out the flaws in it, by all means, but don't just insist the author shouldn't write the fic they're trying to at all.
Or, in short, you are not there to decide what story the author should write; you're there to help the author write the story that they want to write. And if the story that they want to write just isn't to your taste, then you really shouldn't be reading it.
Criticizing Early Works
When writing constructive criticism about something that a writer wrote long ago, you are always at a risk of landing yourself in a situation where the author is already aware of everything that you comment on. This is the reason why it is generally not a good idea to give much of a constructive review on a completed story that is years old - you're simply too likely to be wasting your time, and unless the author rewrites the story in its entirety, it is also unlikely to be of much specific help for them.
The first chapters of a story that is still being written, however, are a bit of a different matter. The author is obviously still interested in the story, and presumably wants to make it the best it can be, but the early chapters might have been written years ago - how do you go about reviewing those?
The absolute best way to review a long, ongoing piece of work is to read it in its entirety (thus far) before posting a review of any part of it. That way you can have a better overview of what the author has grown out of, so to speak, and what they have not. If the writing is clunky in the first chapters, you might find that it's fine in the later ones, sparing you the need to comment on it more than briefly, for instance. If the main character is a Mary-Sue but stops exhibiting those qualities in later chapters, you can probably presume that the author knows better now. However, this does not eliminate the problem from the story, and thus, if the author has not actually admitted to, say, a character being a Sue, you should point it out anyway just in case so that any possible rewrite will do it right from the very beginning.
But often it is difficult to read through the entirety of a story and then review it. Maybe you don't even know if you'll get through the whole story. Then you might as well review just a few chapters at a time, but you have to be conscious of the possibility you might just be beating a dead horse. It might be good to try to find out what the author thinks of the early chapters - if the author talks about them being badly written or the main characters being flat in them, say, it is probably not worth it to spend a lot of words criticizing those things.
Remember as you review, even early chapters, that whatever applies to them applies in part to the story as a whole. Don't think it wouldn't be right to comment on, say, a character being a Mary-Sue in early chapters just because she might not show those qualities later on; while it wouldn't be fair to judge the story as a whole based on such elements, exactly, that does not change that the story would be better without them and that they should be changed if the author were to rewrite the story.
It might be a good idea to be a bit more apologetic than usual: "This might have improved in later chapters, but..." "You could be aware of this already, but..." It shows that you know there are limits to what you can judge based on only part of the story so far and thus makes the author less likely to feel annoyed at you for it.
Now, there's a term you don't hear very often. Praise, surprisingly enough, follows many of the same principles as criticism, hence why I will continue the mountain hike analogy. While the mistakes were eagles, the good points are beautiful views of the valleys and rivers below. It is often best for the friend's experience of the hike if you point out all the eagles and views you see; while the eagles are more remarkable, the breathtaking views do look more spectacular when you see them.
Praise, obviously, serves a different purpose than criticism does. While criticism is aimed at helping the author improve specific points in their writing, praise is helpful in a far more subtle way. Primarily, it is encouraging; depending on the person, authors can feel unmotivated to continue if nobody appears to like their work, and in general you make them happier and give them confidence if you tell them what they're doing well. (Do not make them overconfident, however: it is not healthy for anyone to be repeatedly told that, say, they are writing the best piece of Pokémon fanfiction ever written, especially because that is probably not the case.) Praise can also help to balance out criticism, in the sense that if an author has difficulties taking criticism they may feel more inclined to consider your points if you have also praised other aspects of the story. (Of course, it is never good to be dishonest about how much you like anything or to specifically look for things to praise for the sake of praise, but if you have genuine positive comments as well, they can help your criticism get across, particularly if you start and end on positive notes.) Finally, praise can also be constructive by telling the author what they did right, and then it is just as important to be specific as it is in constructive criticism. Let's see an example:
Ooh, I loved the battle in this chapter. It's a great improvement over the previous chapters because there was a lot more strategizing going on; your battles have been awfully limited to ordinary damaging attacks, but here they were using all sorts of moves (which were well interpreted and described; I particularly liked how you wrote Trick Room, because even though how it works doesn't seem to make any sense, you got it to work out perfectly). It really made the battle more interesting since it wasn't as much just trading blows until one Pokémon fainted.
That's a nicely specific review, and it is purely constructive praise. While it doesn't tell the author to do anything they hadn't already figured out how to do by themselves, the positive response tells the author they were taking a step in the right direction, and by being specific the reviewer managed to tell the author exactly what it was that made this particular battle so good, making it easier for them to know just how to make the next battle they write as exciting as this one was. It is especially useful if you're a regular reviewer to a story to point out and praise where the author has improved on whatever you have criticized before; it confirms to the author where they got it right and thus gives them a far better idea of how they should continue than if you were silent.
When praising somebody's work, it is always better to praise specific things as opposed to writing an "I love it, write more" one-liner, in all aspects of what praise can do for the author. Ultimately, writing one-liners generally gives off the impression you don't really know what you're talking about; it's that "couldn't think of anything better to say" vibe, in addition to just not having much content to it in general. Pointing out specific lines, scenes or whatever that you particularly enjoyed is a much better way both to tell the author you liked what they did and to help them somewhat. A long review with good, specific constructive praise can be very helpful to an author and always very uplifting and encouraging, while "I love it, write more" generally doesn't even give you much of a fuzzy feeling, making it awfully pointless even on the scale of all-positive reviews.
You should give constructive criticism and praise according to how much you honestly see worth commenting on positively and negatively. Striving to give equal amounts of both, only one type or always some of both generally doesn't help your review. The author gains the most by seeing exactly what you thought, not watered-down versions one way or the other. People have different reviewing styles, however, and if you generally prefer sticking to one, it obviously does not invalidate your points or make you worse as a reviewer; this is mostly thought as a counterpoint against various reviewing advice that tells people they should always criticize something or that they should always name the same number of positive and negative things. There are no such restrictions. Write criticism and praise in the amounts that feel natural to you as you read this particular story.
When you enjoy a story (less often when you don't), you'll often want to make comments that are neither praising nor criticizing anything in it, but rather questions or comments about the progression of the plot, speculation about future events, general questions about the story, or your internal reaction to particular lines or scenes. These tend to add to the review: an author writing a plotty story will benefit from feedback that shows how readers perceive the plot so far and can help them determine how many more hints it would be wise to drop, for instance. If one wrote a particular line or scene to spark a particular emotion or reaction it is also always good to hear how successful it was. By all means make such side comments if you have any; odds are the author will appreciate it.
Because of this and the fact that it is easy to forget what you were going to say in the way of either criticism or praise, I now like to start every time I read a fanfic by opening up a text file, and then I write down quotes and comments into it while I read instead of trying to remember all of it after finishing. It's an easy habit to get into and it results in nicely thorough reviews; I highly recommend it.
Responding to Criticism
So somebody has just posted a critical review of a story. How to respond?
As the Author
If the review upset you in any fashion, the absolute first thing to do is to calm down. If you are not very used to criticism and respond to a critical review the moment you see it, you are very liable to say something stupid while in 'post-crit shock', even if you think you're being very reasonable at the time. Trust me; I've been there. Just read the review, take a few deep breaths, and go do something else for maybe a couple of hours. Of course, there is much less need for this step if you weren't bothered by the review, though it is very often easier to understand what a reviewer is talking about after your mind has had a little while to mull it over.
Either way, now go back and read the review again. First, is it honest constructive criticism or just flaming? This hinges on how specific the criticism is. Is it just an "OMFG THERE ARE EAGLES ALL OVER THE PLACE YOU IDIOT" or does it point out individual instances of what it's talking about as they appear within the story and suggest how to fix them? Does it contain snide comments about you, the person, as opposed to just the story and characters? Does it back up its complaints?
A review that backs up its complaints, is specific, suggests fixes and does not insult the author personally is not a flame. Period. It can hurt to be told there are grave problems with your work that you hadn't realized, and the critic may be harsh, but if they bothered to point out exactly what is wrong and tell you how you could improve it, they must be aiming to help you continue and not to break you down. The reviewer only wants to help. Always keep this in mind when considering a review. Don't get offended or take any of what the reviewer says personally, no matter how harsh it is on your story.
Now, assuming that you've calmed down and the review is not simply a flame, it's time to consider the reviewer's points one by one. For each point the review makes, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the reviewer misunderstanding your intentions somehow or making unwarranted assumptions about you or the story? If so, politely explain what your intentions were. Consider why the reviewer would misunderstand your intentions; can something be fixed to make your intentions clearer? Remember, if a reviewer got some particular impression, others might get the same impression; it's likely to be a problem on your end at least as much as on the reviewer's. If you conclude there's something you can do to fix it, note this in your response; just saying they're wrong is going to sound dismissive.
- Are they suggesting a change which would undermine the very point of the story (generally, removing an element that is very important to the essence of the story)? If so, explain this carefully and why it is important. Be very, very careful with this: criticizing the execution of an element is not the same as demanding the element itself be removed. For instance, if it is vitally important to your story that the main character should obtain an Eevee, and you have done this by making the nearest Pokémon breeding center have one they need to find a new trainer for just as the main character happens to stop by, a reviewer who says this incident is far too lucky and convenient for the main character cannot be dismissed on the grounds that the Eevee is important. You could still, after all, make the trainer get the Eevee in some more believable way that doesn't make him seem as Gary-Stuish.
- Is the comment something plainly subjective that you disagree with? If so, say that. Also be very careful with this: don't decide it's "just a matter of taste" if you or your current fans just happen not to be bothered by it. I'm referring to comments like "I think character X should catch Pokémon Y, because it's cooler than Pokémon Z" or "Ash loves Dawn, not Misty" here, not "You're punctuating dialogue incorrectly".
- Is their suggestion bad advice? Be extremely careful with this too. You should never conclude this unless you are absolutely sure you have logic on your side: it is a requirement here that you can back up your case in a more convincing way than the reviewer backed up the original complaint. Saying "I like it this way" is not an argument. If they give advice that doesn't seem to make sense to you and haven't backed it up at all, politely ask them to explain why they think so.
- Is it too vague? Basically, do you understand what they're talking about exactly or not? If not, ask for an elaboration on what exactly they mean by this point.
If you have the impulse to think "But it's fine this way!" about something a reviewer complained about, don't give in to it. Try making the change they suggested in your head, get used to it, and see if it doesn't turn out to work just as well as whatever you did originally.
Always remember to thank the reviewer for taking time out of their day to help you, even if you concluded that all or much of their advice was bad or misunderstanding something. Reviewers who go into detail and make suggestions generally put a lot of effort into each review; always at least appreciate the fact they went through the trouble of giving you constructive criticism at all.
Most of the time, constructive criticism is made on the assumption that you're ready to edit what you've already written or else to rewrite the story later with modifications. You will get comments on how events in the storyline could be changed, sometimes drastically. Rewriting older works later is often a good idea if you're attached to the story, but you may not be planning to do that in the foreseeable future, and changing events without a complete rewrite can often be very difficult, particularly if the suggestion is about something that occurred many chapters ago and you have written more that hinges on the current chain of events.
If you really don't think you'll be able to actually implement a reviewer's suggestions, you can politely tell them that, but don't just dismiss them or ask the reviewer to stop making them. Being told where the problems in your storyline lie can prevent you from making similar mistakes in the future and allows you to possibly retcon some sort of an explanation into the story later (which doesn't fix the problem, but is better than nothing). Additionally, you never know when you might end up rewriting the story.
As a Reader
So somebody has just torn your favorite story apart in a review for the author. How do you react?
First you should keep in mind that the author is going to see the review; they don't need you to elaborately respond to all of the reviewer's points. Mostly, if you are certain that the reviewer is giving bad advice (see above) and you're not sure if the author knows better than to follow it, it might be a good idea to bring it up in order to present the author with the alternative and prevent them from making a change for the worse. This does mean you need to argue your case well enough to be convincing.
Do not, under any circumstances:
- Tell the author to ignore the other reviewer - you can argue that they're wrong, but ultimately it's the author's choice who he finds more convincing, and additionally it is extremely rude towards the new reviewer.
- Post just to agree with somebody else who disagreed with the other reviewer, even if that is the author. If both sides have been presented, a bunch of other people flooding in to agree with one of them is nothing but ganging up on the other. Just wait unless you have something important to say that has not already been said.
- Insult the other reviewer and generally make them feel unwelcome. They're entitled to their opinion, whether you like it or not.
- Flock to the reviewer's own fic so that you can announce it's worse than the fic they were criticizing. For one thing, you'd be previously biased, and for another, people can be better at picking out flaws in other people's work than in their own, so even if their fic is bad, it does not automatically invalidate anything they said.
Reviewing for Readers
When reviewing for readers, one should briefly summarize the plot of the story while staying away from any possible spoilers and then give a general idea of the quality of each individual element of the story. You will generally be reviewing a complete work or otherwise one to which nothing further will be added, since otherwise the story could dramatically improve (or decline) after you review it and the opinions presented in the review would be outdated. This advantage allows you a better overview of the story, its plot and exactly what it is about before you start trying to summarize it.
Reviews for readers should generally begin with some sort of a plot summary, explaining briefly what the story is about. As the readers are here potential readers who have not read the story already, it goes without saying that the information you give should mostly be limited to what is explained in the exposition of the story: Meet Character X, a [description], who after Event A sets out to Do Something. In fact, you could sum up the exposition of most stories in that exact format:
First season of the Pokémon animé: Meet Ash Ketchum, a boy from Pallet Town, who after his tenth birthday where he received an unruly Pikachu sets out to become a Pokémon Master.
The Troy story: Meet Troy, an orphan who has been taking care of himself since he was ten, who after Mew appears in his house sets out to avenge the death of his parents.
The Lord of the Rings: Meet Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, who after the wizard Gandalf tells him that the invisibility ring his uncle Bilbo owned was in fact an evil object that can raise a Dark Lord to power sets out to destroy the ring.
The first Harry Potter book: Meet Harry Potter, a young orphan, who after finding out that he is a wizard sets out to go to a wizarding school.
Star Wars: Meet Luke Skywalker, a young man who lives on a distant planet, who after the murder of his aunt and uncle with whom he lived sets out to become a Jedi Knight.
Things can get more complex in less traditionally structured stories with a larger number of main characters, and obviously this is not how you should word your plot summary, but it gives a basic idea of what you'll want to say in it. Then you can add in hints about the following plot: "Ash then meets a hotheaded redhead named Misty and a lovesick Gym leader named Brock, and together they travel across the region of Kanto as Ash tries to fight his way into the Pokémon League. Meanwhile, a gang of thugs named Team Rocket tries to capture his Pikachu." Never include important plot points or ending details - don't then go on to say "At one point he releases Pikachu but it comes back to him" or "He places sixteenth in the League Finals", because that's information readers will want to find out as they read the story. Just include the information that is presented in the exposition at the beginning of the story, including whatever big revelations may be made there, and then give a basic idea of how the plot progresses from there.
After the plot summary, you proceed with an evaluation of the story's qualities. Are the characters interesting and believable? Does the plot make sense? Is it exciting, if that's what it was meant to be? Is the writing style readable and appropriate? Does it get the emotions the author was going for across? Is the pacing well done? Is the ending satisfying? When it comes to Internet-posted fanfiction, are the author's spelling, grammar and punctuation acceptable? Tackle these topics and whatever else you might think of as being relevant in whichever order you like. Unlike in reviews for the author, you'll not want to be too specific; you'll want to grade how the story overall fares in these areas and perhaps note if some particular aspect becomes notably better or worse as the story goes on. If particular parts of the plot really warrant specific comment, you can briefly explain them if they are unimportant or just refer to them as "the big twist" or "a particular revelation" if they are too important to spoil.
Again unlike in reviews for the author, you should generally try to point out both good and bad aspects in order not to sound like either a crazed fangirl or a grumpy old man. Find something that could have been done better and some redeeming qualities. It makes you more credible as a reviewer.
After evaluating each individual quality of the story, you'll want to sum up the review. Mention each of the aspects you commented on and what you thought of them again. Then present an overall evaluation of the story as a whole: did the good outweigh the bad? (Remember, you were supposed to find something good and something bad.) Was it enjoyable overall? Did it do what the author meant it to do? What strengthened it and what dragged it down? How much? Is it, ultimately, worth reading?
When you have answered those questions, just wrap it up and consider yourself done.
In reviews for readers it is often good to give a numerical overall rating, whether a grade out of ten or a hundred or a number of stars out of four or five in order to clarify your overall feelings and have a quick grade that people can look at if they're lazy, can't be bothered to read the whole review and just want to know if they should read it or not.
When grading in numbers, remember not to be too keen on giving perfect scores. Five stars, ten out of ten or whatever should be reserved to true masterpieces only. Likewise, there should be very few things you read in your life that deserve a zero (or one, whichever is the lowest on your scale). Use them sparingly and go with the mid-numbers more often.
Here's yet another one of those hypothetical reviews, this time one for readers, written for some sort of a hypothetical general Pokémon fanfiction e-zine (which would be kind of neat, but unfortunately does not exist to my knowledge). All names and plotlines are the first things that popped into my head and have no connection with any real-life stories or persons. Yes, I find these fun to write. You noticed?
Pokémon Ultimatum: Balance of the Dragons has hardly gone unnoticed by anyone as it finally came to a close last month after its three-year run. Its author, SilverSuicune146, has tirelessly promoted it at multiple forums as a trainer fic with a twist for all this time, but now the last chapter has been posted and the story has been moved to the archives for ages to come while the author plans a sequel and an official website.
The story starts out innocently enough: a hotheaded ten-year-old girl named Sarah Cleaver sets out on a Pokémon journey in the made-up region of Libertania with the Squirtle she receives from her local tree professor, determined to become the first female League Champion in the region's Pokémon training history. She catches a number of Pokémon and starts to collect badges, but is soon distracted by the mysterious Team Photon, which she soon finds out is plotting to capture and kill or weaken the legendary dragon of darkness, Myrkian, in the hopes that it will eliminate evil from the world. After a teenage boy she meets, Damien, convinces her that this would disrupt the balance of the world and possibly destroy it, they set out to stop their plans.
It all sounds rather clichéd, and it is. While the team's goal is refreshingly noble, the team members seem like your average thugs more than people with high ideologies, and only the team leader really comes across like he is actually doing this to eliminate evil in the world. Even then, the team leader makes it very clear from the moment we first meet him that he is the main antagonist and truly deserves to be stopped, thanks to how violently he speaks of his hatred towards the dragon Myrkian (there is a particular scene where he describes in graphic detail how much he would like to bathe in its blood while watching it scream in agony, which has to qualify as pretty disturbed). Throughout the story it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the author could have done so much more interesting things with Team Photon than to make it another stereotypical evil team with a different name. There are elements of the plot which make it slightly more interesting than your average fight-the-evil-team story (most notably the prevailing question of whether Team Photon could really rid the world of evil if they did manage to neutralize Myrkian's power), but the team itself is not utilized to its full potential. The ending is rather predictable by the time it comes along; though the final battle is nicely climactic and well written, one could see it coming from quite a few chapters away and knew how it would end before it began.
The characters start off as being rather stereotypical, particularly Sarah, who seems like the average newbie trainer who dreams of being the League Champion with a bit of a feminist twist. She shows some worryingly Sueish qualities at the beginning when she wins battles against great odds and everything seems to indicate that it will be a breeze for her to reach her goal (even as the reader wonders why she would be the first girl ever to be capable of this), but this was pointed out in reviews; by chapter ten or so this has been greatly toned down and is not a problem for the rest of the story as she quickly grows more human dimensions. In general her character is reasonably well done except at some points where she seems unusually mature for a ten-year-old. Damien doesn't get as much development, but his relationship with Sarah is well portrayed, particularly towards the end, and one does get a sense of him being a person who has been out chasing this team for a long time by the time he comes into the story; admittedly it never becomes fully believable why he felt the need to tell Sarah about his quest to stop Team Photon after having been doing it alone for so long. The minor characters are more of a problem, sometimes seeming shallow and stereotypical, and particularly so the Photon members as mentioned before. Pokémon characters are generally decently portrayed; the (non-legendary) Pokémon are intermediate between the animalistic and humanlike views of Pokémon intelligence, and it works out well enough although none of the Pokémon characters are overly interesting.
The writing style and settings are probably the fic's most solid parts. While SilverSuicune146's wording and sentence structure were a little awkward in the first chapters, this being his first step into writing, it did not take him long to develop a nicely readable, descriptive-but-not-overly-so prose style which has helped the story become as popular as it is. The dramatic moments are written to feel dramatic, the battles are intense and his spelling, grammar and punctuation are all good; no complaints there at all. The setting of Libertania is also interesting, especially helped by the fact that SilverSuicune146 has chosen to give every Gym in the region a unique set of creative rules which makes them particularly memorable and intriguing. This is one of the primary factors in making the story as enjoyable as it is.
Pokémon Ultimatum: Balance of the Dragons, despite the clichéd title and plot and rather underdeveloped antagonists, is an entertaining read. The main character develops through the course of the story and feels like an old friend by the time you finish it, somewhat weighing out the shallower minor characters and antagonists. One cannot help thinking, however, that such an obviously talented author could have done so much more with the fascinating region and interesting basic concept than what he ultimately did. The story is pulled down towards the end by its predictability and the weak antagonists, although Sarah's character manages to keep the interest from falling down completely. It's enjoyable on the whole, but not for those who like to be surprised.
So yeah. I hope that gave you a basic idea of what a review for readers looks like and that this guide helped in general.
Page last modified February 05 2012 at 01:33 GMT