Explanations and instructions of all things Writing.Com.
Reading and reviewing are integral parts of Writing.Com and they not only benefit the author, but also the reviewer as a writer. In reviewing another story or poem, you can see the differences between your writing and the piece you are reviewing. You can use the review as a tool to help you improve your own writing. For example, if you're weak in the area of setting or characterization, make notes of what works in other stories and try those techniques in your own writing. If you are interested in poetry, but not very familiar with forms, reviewing allows you to experience different poetic forms, note what you enjoyed, and then attempt one yourself.
Conversely, when you encounter a piece of writing that doesn't inspire you, make notes of what you feel could improve the piece and relay that to the author. Identifying what doesn't work in another piece of writing also helps to strengthen our writing. We've all been there, staring at the computer screen after reading a story or poem with nothing to say. It didn't touch us in any particular manner. It just exists. The content of the story is just as important as the format. If the reader cannot relate, there is no point in reading. If this was your story being read, wouldn't you want to know that it wasn't having the impact you intended?
Yet, how do you get this point across to the author without sounding condescending? Being vague in a review gets you out of the predicament but doesn't help the author. For example, you could respond with, "This was interesting." That statement could mean a number of things, but it isn't very useful feedback. Instead, focus on something that could improve the piece or point out something you enjoyed.
If the technical aspects of writing are your strong point, then by all means critique the grammar, sentence construction and spelling, but don't forget to discuss the use of description, characterization, and emotional impact in the writing. Could you picture the setting or the characters? Did the piece touch you emotionally? Did it leave a lasting impression or will you forget it as soon as you turn the page?
Finally, imagine that this was given to you as a writing assignment. Take the basic concept behind the story and determine what you would have written. Relay this to the author as a series of questions. For example, "What brought your character to this place?" or "Why did your character react in this manner?". This type of feedback allows the author to consider his writing from a different viewpoint. Often they don't realize that what they envision in their head hasn't been clearly translated to their reader. Taking these steps in reviewing will strengthen your own writing as it becomes habit to consider these different factors while you write and edit. By taking the time to review, you not only help a struggling writer, you raise your awareness about deficiencies in your own writing.
Responding to Reviews
Another key to reviewing on Writing.Com is responding to the reviews you receive. By responding, you let the reviewer know that the time they spent reading and giving you feedback was appreciated. If you have time, sending a return review is always welcome and the more reviews you send, the more you will receive in turn. If time is an issue, a simple thank you along with a few gift points is a nice token of appreciation. If the review was particularly helpful, you might ask the reviewer to check out a few other items you have in your portfolio and offer a set amount of gift points or return reviews as payment for their time.1