|Issue #21 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your editor is: Arwee
[ Table of Contents ]
1. About this Newsletter
2. Letter from the Editor
3. Editor's Picks
4. Ask & Answer
5. Useful Links
[ About this Newsletter ]
I will be addressing Anne Light’s suggestion on The Topic Wall regarding what to look for when reviewing. While this article could pertain to veteran members of WDC, newbies to the site and to reviewing in general will get the most out of this newsletter. Those of us who have been around for a long time on WDC often forget that newer members have difficulty even navigating WDC never mind discovering for themselves what to look for when they do a review.
[ Letter from the Editor ]
First of all, this newsletter is meant to be a guideline for what to look for when you review. This will not be a technical walkthrough on how you use the review tool, how you review in general, where you go to review, or how to use WML. The answers to those queries have help files already covering them on the site. Refer to the Non-Technical Support Forum or check under “Site Tools” and “Writing Resources” for help in those areas. There are also topics suggested that may cover this in the future. For now, however, let’s take a deep look at what one can look for in an item when they do a review.
Lost on what to look for in someone else’s writing? Is all you can come up with in a review are technical suggestions to fix grammar or typos? Do you want to delve deeper into an item and really tell the writer how you feel, but don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry, many of us have been in that same situation. There are a number things you can consider to help yourself analyze a piece.
The First Analysis
Hold onto your horses, before you dive into an item, take some time to consider what that
item is and in what context it was written. This article will mostly cover narrative items (short stories, novellas, novels, etc.). But you should always look at the item first and keep in mind what the writer lays out for you.
Is this a short story item? Is it a novel? Is it a poem? All three of those items and the other items on WDC are treated very differently. You can't go into a novel and expect to review it like a poem, so always pay attention to that first! What does the short description of the item say? These short descriptions are sometimes very important and can give you a general idea of what you're in for. I always make it a habit to check out the short description because writers will often mention if the story is for a contest in them. When a story has been written for a contest, it is your responsibility as a reviewer to consider those constraints and give your writer a review that does not conflict with them (unless the writer neglects to mention any constraints).
Technical Run Through:
Before I get into further analysis, I want to emphasize that technical suggestions should
always be welcome by writers. Polishing a piece in terms of correct grammar, punctuation
and spelling is all a part of improving your writing. Technical suggestions are, as I always say, the easiest to point out and the easiest for reviewees to accept. Everyone makes technical errors which makes your job as a reviewer easier. So before you think on the piece too much, take some time to see if you spot any technical areas that need tuning up. Spotting these simple mistakes will help you loosen up for the more detailed analysis that follows this.
Now, you may also not be sure about how to or even what to look for when you suggest
technical fixes. While having a Doctorate’s Degree in English would help make you a great person to go to for pointing out technical suggestions, most of us are just regular people who just have a love for writing. You don’t need to know everything about the English language in order to offer up a technical review. Even one or two simple suggestions will help a writer and there are a few things you can keep in mind when looking for problem areas.
Are there any typos or misspelled words?
- This one is pretty self-explanatory. Even the best of writers make mistakes.
Are there any formatting problems?
- Formatting problems can relate to paragraphs that are too long, and end up
looking like big blocks of text. If you spot one, you could look for good place the writer can split the paragraph up.
- These sorts of problems could also be related to the writer putting spaces where they don’t belong, missing spaces, having broken WML tags and other areas that make a piece look messy or disorganized. Consider how a book looks, and how the formatting in the book helps make its meaning clear and immediate. A lot of the time, these mistakes
aren’t the writer’s fault. Rather, it could be an error from when they transferred their piece from their word processor to WDC. A gentle suggestion to fix this would be helpful.
Are there any words being confused?
- Confused words happen very often to a lot of writers. They could be confusing 'then” with “than” or “their” with “there”. There are a wide range of these words that are easily confused, and it doesn’t take too long to discover them. After a few reviews, you might notice the most popular culprits. To make things easier for you, I’ve compiled a short list to
look for in terms of word confusion: then/than, their/there/they’re, loose/lose, lie/lay/laid, accept/except, baited/bated. There are many more than this, but start off with these, get acquainted with them and make sure you know for sure what they mean and why they’re different. Aside from being able to help others, you also help yourself avoid the same mistakes.
Is all of the punctuation correct?
- Punctuation is a big one. While most of us have gotten pretty good at spelling and weeding out most typos thanks to our word processors and numerous free spellchecking
programs, punctuation is more difficult. It’s one thing for a program like Microsoft Word to fix your spelling, but it’s an entirely different ballpark when it comes to proper punctuation. One should never trust Microsoft Word to know what to do with sentence structure. Very often, the program makes mistakes. Therefore, it is up to you, new reviewer and Crusader of Right, to look through your reviewee’s sentences and make sure Microsoft Word didn’t butcher them too much.
- Take a look at some books that explain proper punctuation and when to use each
one. But always try to form your own opinions and allow some leeway. One book I suggest is The Elements of Style by William Strunk. Read it, but always remember that while Strunk is an expert, you also need to leave some room for originality.
- The most common punctuation errors I find are problems with using commas too
often and periods not often enough. The age old advice of reading out loud works for both
writers and reviewers. If a sentence doesn’t sound right, or if it causes you to be out of breath, take a look at how you can suggest a fix for that.
Do any sentences sound awkward or confusing?
- Did a sentence make you read it over three or more times before you finally
figured out what it was trying to tell you? Did you read it over ten times with the surrounding text and still don’t know what’s going on? If you don’t understand what a writer is trying to say, tell them. Don’t feel that a confusing sentence is a problem with you, because often times, the sentence will confuse someone else as well. Let them know that this sentence is confusing to you and doesn’t express their idea very well. The written medium needs to be clear to readers or it is ineffective, and you can help your reviewee avoid ineffective writing.
Are any writing conventions being broken?
- Some technical conventions could be, always use quotes around dialogue, always
capitalize at the beginning of a sentence, also use italics or bold to represent emphasis
(avoid ALLCAPS). Gently suggest fixing these sorts of conventions help make it easier for
readers to go through a piece. And conventions and formatting are very important for writing presented on the internet because our eyes get fatigued more easily reading text off of a screen than text in a book.
It should be noted that some writers will purposefully break convention or break the rules of English grammar. Make sure you keep an open mind, even when looking at technical errors, and pay attention to the short description. Most writers will mention that they are purposefully breaking conventions there. But always try to pay attention to how the piece reads. If the piece reads. Due to the wide variety of work that could be purposefully breaking convention, it is difficult to tell sometimes but when in doubt, point out technical problems you find but also leave room in your wording. I tend to couple a technical suggestion where I'm not sure about purposeful convention breaking with something like, "I'm not sure if this is how you intended this to be or not, but..." And perhaps, instead of suggesting technical fixes for such a piece, tell the writer if the piece was effective or not. Or let them know if them breaking the rules was an adequate representation of them waging war against the grammar machine, or if the piece was just a mess that you couldn’t understand, analyze, or enjoy at all.
Plot, Characters, and Storytelling
Now that we’ve got the business of working out technical problems out of our hair, it’s time to consider more in-depth problems that a piece might have. Plot, character, flow and effectiveness are four of a numerous lcriteria you could use when reading a piece and looking for areas to comment on. I’ll go over these because they are often seen. In this area of reviewing, you don’t have to look for straight up errors, but can also point out positive or good things the writer did.
This area of analysis is more involved, though there are fewer guidelines, and more open for interpretation for individual reviewers. As a result, this area of a review is often more interesting and more exciting to do because here is where you really get to voice your opinions. So, what should you look for?
How is the plot?
- This general question can be broken up in so many ways. When you’re just
looking at a piece, always try to pay attention to at least a few things to the plot, whether they are positive things you enjoyed or things you thought could be improved. Some things you could look for may be if the plot had any holes or unexplained phenomenon that confused or frustrated you as you read. Look for areas in the text where something just
doesn’t make sense, like if a weapon was mentioned as dark blue and suddenly switched colors later on to bright purple.
- Does the plot flow well and make sense? This question regards the timeline and
succession of events. Did those events tie together well or did the events of the plot seem like random scenes that aren’t strung together coherently?
- Take a look for any logical problems with the plot. I define a logical problem as one that occurs when there are facts that are wrong. Keep your eyes out for topics you’re familiar with, and if something sounds a little awkward, research it to see if you may need to mention it to the writer. Don’t stress out about knowing every little fact in the world, everyone has an expertise in something and you will find yours come in handy when reviewing.
- Was the plot effective for you? Look for a story's beginning, middle and ending. Or look for the relevant sections you can find if it is a work in progress. Some things to consider when asking yourself about how effective a plot was to you, was if you understood the story or if it had a coherent purpose.
- Remember, there are many criteria to what makes a good plot and there are a lot
of things you can look for. Don’t feel constrained to only noting areas that need work or necessarily to some things in this guideline, a good or positive comment is equally useful to a writer. If you can't find anything wrong with the plot explain what you like and try to express how you feel as you read the story.
How are the characters?
- The general thing most reviewers write about in regards to characters is whether or not their personality was consistent. If Bill starts off as a jerk at the beginning of a story and turns into a sensitive guy by the end, with no indication of transformation or explanation, then the writer needs to know about the discrepancy or you could note that they need some sort of explanation for the transition. Pay attention to how characters act and note any areas where you felt they may have behaved strangely with no reason.
- Another way reviewers look at characters is how the character makes them feel.
While there is no negative or positive comment regarding this, letting your writer know how you felt as you read about his or her characters helps them by letting them know what sorts of emotions their readers experience while they experience this or that particular character in the story. As a result, the reviewee will be able to determine what features of what character made them successful and apply that same logic to successive writing projects.
- What you think about the character’s interactions with one another? Was the dialogue good? Or did the dialogue seem forced? Was the dialogue for the characters
written in a way that you could imagine them saying it? Was that dialogue voice consistent? Consider how a character acts, pay attention to mannerisms, are there any
mannerisms? Do those mannerisms or quirks, or dialogue make the character stand out and
seem unique or did the character lack diversity? The key to examining characters while you
review a story is to ask yourself lots of questions and consider if any of the answers you
came up with for those questions are logical, consistent and believable.
How was the storytelling?
- The storytelling criteria could be described as how well the writer paced their story, how relevant and clear the world is to you as the reader. Was there a good balance between showing and telling? How the characters meshed together and how the plot in
general either pulled you in or didn’t keep you captivated at all.
- While one could keep plot and characters separate as they consider a piece of
writing, one must also consider them in terms of how they work together as a package. Did
the plot and characters mesh well? Did the storytelling make it seem like these people were real? Can the setting of the story be a convincing place? Are any of the situations
relatable? Is the overarching plot exciting, new or well told?
- What is often overlooked but could be very useful is how you felt as you read
the story. Try to pay some attention to how the descriptions of scenery made you feel. You
could try to tell the writer how your emotions fluctuate as you go along, or how you felt about the piece in general at the end. Pay attention to how you react when a character
does something and consider including it. Or if you felt there was a strong enough general
mood to the piece or sections of the piece. All of this could be written into a review and all of this could be useful to a writer.
My general advice for this more in-depth section is to just pay attention to how you react and note them down for your writer. If something scares you, let them know. If something is funny, write it down. Even if you find something uneventful and feel it could be more interesting write that down as well because it would be helpful to a writer. Don’t be afraid to express how you feel as you read a piece, knowing the feelings of a reader is useful because it lets us know how we can manipulate emotions in the future. Just remember, that when you go to say something, say it as politely and constructively as possible .
Overall, reviewing is, and always will be, a personal preference thing. I hope that this general guide will help those just starting off reviewing and aid them when they start to wonder what to look for in a piece of writing. I have done my best to offer some more general suggestions in this newsletter but it is up to you to use or discard them, add to them or utilize them as guidelines. But if you’re just starting out and don't know where to begin, take a bit from each of the suggestions you see above and see how you do. Develop your own style as you review more and more. Reviewing, just like writing, is another thing that gets better with practice. So don’t give up and don’t be afraid to start!
[ Editor’s Picks ]
[ Ask and Answer ]
If you have any questions, comments, general suggestions, or suggestions for editor’s pick (even your own work! ), please send them to me. I’ll be more than happy to feature them in the next newsletter and address them to the best of my ability.
[ Useful Links ]
"Feedback Central" – Send the editors some suggestions and general feedback.
"Reviewing Newsletters" – View previous issues of the Reviewing Newsletter.