|Issue #32 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your editor is: Satuawany , utilizing Arwee ’s format, with permission.
[ 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 ]
With Arwee ’s permission, I’m going to be using her last newsletter as a springboard for mine. (I’m getting her permission for a lot of things.)
She discussed the use and abuse of the Public Review Page, as per Topic Wall
suggestions from spidey and esprit . I’m going to go over some reviewing tips suggested by esprit , but I’m still going to have a focus on public reviews. Also, I’m going to stealthily steal Arwee ’s acronym for the Public Review Page(PRP). If you missed her last newsletter, be sure to check it out in the archive, linked in the fifth section of this newsletter.
[ Letter from the Editor ]
I have recently gotten myself into a list mode, and this plays well into discussing ideas on when to keep a review private and when it’s generally acceptable to make it public. The items on this list come straight from esprit ’s Topic Wall suggestions.
Dude, don’t do that.
Spoiling the ending.
Here’s a chance for you to show off your reviewing skills. Can you discuss a superb or ending twist without giving it away? Of course you can, and it can even tease a PRP peruser into checking it out. It’s easy to check your exclamation of “I can’t believe Colonel Mustard did it!” in favor of a comment of how well the author misled you and whether or not any clues were undeniable in hindsight, or didn’t build it quite well enough.
Sometimes, I find myself needing to point out some specific clues I thought were
masterful or might need tweaking. I am, however, a self-confessed in-depther. If I can find no way to state my thoughts in a way that I know the author will understand my meaning without giving away the ending, I keep the review private.
If a reviewer is particularly good at misleading readers, they can whip up a review that teases PRP readers into wanting to know more while still giving the author useful commentary. A reviewer who is able to do that should also have some great ideas for a story that depends on misleading readers.
Let’s say, for instance, that Colonel Mustard did do it. (I always favored Colonel Mustard as the prime suspect when I played Clue. It shouldn’t be necessary that you know that board game to understand my examples.) Let us say there’s a clue to the colonel’s guilt earlier in the story that you want to point out, to illustrate the plot’s progression. Let’s say the passage has to do with him trying to hide the candlestick he’s carrying around.
For a private review, it’s fine to make a remark along these lines:
“Dude! When Mrs. Plum found Colonel Mustard with the candlestick, I mistook his nervousness as stemming from the shock of the murder making him have flashbacks of the War. And he made me believe he was looking for a candle, just in case the electricity went out in that awful storm.”
But if you’re gearing toward a public review, you should try for more subtlety:
“I was sure Colonel Mustard did it when Mrs. Plum found him shaking all over, clutching that candlestick, but then we find out he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And in the meantime, Mrs. Plum is carrying that lead pipe around for seemingly no reason. But then we get an excellent explanation for that as well. Every time someone did something suspicious, there was always a perfectly plausible reason for it, but looking back, I realize I should have seen whose actions weren’t quite on par with the character introductions at the beginning.”
Now you have PRP readers wanting to read to see about those character introductions, and maybe even wondering how carrying around a lead pipe could be
explained. You’ve given them a clue, which can make a reader feel as if they have a leg up, which is a very tempting thing. Even if they think they figure it out very quickly, they’re still going to have to read through to see if they’re right.
The story doesn’t have to be in the mystery genre for this advice to hold true. Yes, it is most important to be clever when reviewing stories with some kind of twist, but respect is essential when reviewing any story. One of the most disrespectful things a reviewer can do is tell so much in a review that there’s no reason for the PRP reader to check out the story.
Sharing personal experiences.
I have to admit to enjoying hearing what memories some item of mine brought back
for a reader, but it is disheartening to get a review that contains nothing but the reader’s personal experiences. It’s not a review. Sharing a thought or two is fine, so long as it doesn’t take away from the review, but writers put their items up for review to hear about their stories, not to hear about a reviewer’s life history.
Sometimes, personal experiences from the reviewer can be a boon for the writer. For example:
“My uncle served two tours in the Vietnam War and he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. So I can say that your characterization of Colonel Mustard is right on target, especially the way he...”
However, don’t point out that your uncle shares a lot of traits with Colonel Mustard just so you can go into the dates of your uncle’s tours and how he was a Navy aircraft navigator whose pilot crashed them into the carrier’s deck one day. It’s an interesting story, but it’s not a review. It doesn’t help the writer, as their Colonel Mustard was an Army infantryman. And because they couldn’t, in good conscience, use your uncle’s story, anyway.
Rating and reviewing emotionally.
You’re not required to be an emotionless reviewdroid. Sharing emotional reactions is good for a writer; it lets them see what sort of emotions their writing evokes. But make sure it’s the writing and presentation of the subject matter that has gripped you, and not the subject matter in and of itself.
I see a lot of “reviews” on religious and political pieces that would have been better suited as emails. I’ve seen even more that would have been better suited as internal rants that never got typed out.
Reviewers who rate and review based on their love of an item’s subject matter are just as unhelpful as those who do so based on hatred. If a reviewer’s excitement about the subject blinds them, they forget to make suggestions on how to make the presentation of that subject better. They’re also cheating other writers who may tackle the subject with more skill.
Say a reviewer finds an article all about the sin of using multiple punctuation marks in formal writing. You know what I’m talking about?! They’re so happy someone said, “Don’t do that,” that they type up a review immediately, patting the author on the back for saying what the reviewer wanted to hear someone say.
But wait, reviewer. Settle a bit so you can see the multiple typos in the item. Pay attention to how clear the writing is. Look at it as a person who might disagree with the opinion presented therein. If the writing is bad and the opinion is presented the way a five-year-old shouts about hating the color pink, then how can you be proud of holding the same opinion?
It’s easier to say that a reviewer who rates and reviews based on their hatred of subject matter is unhelpful. That’s easy to see. How is a writer supposed to learn the best ways of presenting their subject when all they hear back is:
“I hate people who say I shouldn’t use multiple punctuation marks. JK Rowling does it, along with a lot of other published authors, so you’re just stupid.”
For one thing, don’t ever use the fact that “published authors have done it” as an excuse. Use it as informational commentary or musing. Professional editors miss published authors’ consistent mistakes all the time. (Thank you for allowing me this tangent.)
Sometimes, reviewers who dislike the subject matter in an item can do the best job of critiquing. They are better equipped to see the holes and faulty logic. But when a reviewer forgets the writing and presentation in favor of their ire, they cease to be helpful. They also have a good chance of having their review ignored and deleted.
Rate and review fairly. If you give a story about a clichéd romance 4.5 stars, it doesn’t mean you’re advocating clichéd romances. It means that you recognize that this one did it well or put a new spin on it. Likewise, if you give that same story a 1.5 and your token line, “Clichéd romances need to die,” then you’re squashing the possibility of the genre getting any better.
The last thing I’m going to go over in this category is “touchy” subject matter. Whatever the subject matter, a writer deserves to be treated with respect. That could mean they need to hear their depiction of domestic violence is stereotyped to the point of leaching all emotion from it. It could also mean that they need to hear how true and heart-wrenching their depiction is, but that the writing needs a lot of work.
Never forget that however much you hate or love a subject, there are always ways
to present such things more strongly or more weakly. Don’t degrade the writer of an
excellent domestic violence story by slapping high ratings and glowing reviews on every
story of domestic violence simply because you’re timid about criticizing them.
You don’t have to leave your opinion out of a review, but it is important to be objective when dealing with the quality of the item. And it is important that you don’t get heavy-handed with your opinion.
Copying and pasting the entire item under review.
I know there are reviewing groups out there that require members to copy and paste the entire item under review and interject comments within. The ones I know of, however, do not require members to make that sort of thing public. Making them public causes problems because PRP readers who don’t know about those groups see this sort of review and go off thinking it’s perfectly acceptable to do this to any item they decide to review.
First of all, even if this copying and pasting ritual is part of group doctrine, a reviewer should make explicitly certain that the author doesn’t mind before they make such a thing public. And even then, a reviewer needs to think long and hard before they do so. My advice is, “Don’t do it. Ever.”
There’s a link to the item on your public review. Let readers read it without your commentary breaking it up. And if it’s an item on some kind of restricted access, you’re undermining that restriction when you copy the item into your review.
If you’re in one of those groups and eager to put up public reviews to show the site the work you’re doing, fine. First, do your copying and pasting job and fill it out like the group requires. Then sit on it; save it in your notepad or review tool or offline, even. Next, copy everything over to another notepad or review tool page or Word file and trim out the text that isn’t yours -- the text that belongs to the author of the item. Leave in a few words of the author’s text where it’s necessary to understand the comments you made. You may have to adjust your wording here or there, but this is the price of converting a review so that it’s publicly acceptable.
Once you have this trimmed down version of your original review, send it as your
public review. Once that’s done, you can send your copy-and-paste assignment review
in the same comment box. And you don’t even have to do that if the group you’re in has a forum for posting reviews. Just make a note in your public-worthy review that the group format review is in the group forum.
The list of potential PRP faux pas goes on and on and varies from one person to the next. I think Arwee ’s last newsletter and esprit ’s list covered some of the most universal. I know I’ve heard PRP readers complain about each one repeatedly. Hopefully I’ve given you enough suggestions on how to avoid these four and enough information on why many people consider them faux pas in the first place.
[ Editor’s Picks ]
One place I go to look for reading material is contests. I find a prompt or concept I like and dig in. Here’s a contest where you can find stories with a twist. Practice those crafty public reviews:
Or if you’d like a chance to win something for your hard work reviewing, and support other hard-working reviewers at the same time, check this one out:
Now try reviewing an item about an issue that causes emotional opinions and perhaps even
the sharing of personal experiences:
And another one:
[ Ask and Answer ]
Since I’m a guest editor, it’s best you ask any questions or leave any comments in the feedback forum, which is the first link below. Or feel free to reply to this email if you’d like to keep it private. (Should I act as a guest editor again in the future, such emails will not be displayed.)
[ Useful Links ]
"Feedback Central" – Send the editors some suggestions and general feedback.
"Reviewing Newsletters" – View previous issues of the Reviewing Newsletter.