|Issue #47 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your editor is: Satuawany , utilizing Arwee ’s format.
[ 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 ]
A well written piece engages readers and makes them think, makes them question, but when such a piece is read with an overly critical eye it can result in confusion on both sides.
[ Letter from the Editor ]
Consider with me a quote by the very witty Unknown. (I’d like to meet him someday.)
"If things get any worse, I'll have to ask you to stop helping me."
He posts his quote and gets this review:
Wait. I don’t get it. Why would you want people to stop helping you when things get even worse than they are? I think you should explain that.
Unknown sighs and makes a revise:
"If things get any worse, I'll have to ask you to stop helping me because, you see, I’m thinking that the help you’re offering is what’s making matters worse."
Next reviewer comes along:
Oh, man, that’s so true. But, I mean, it’s not like you have to accept the person’s help or follow their advice. You have to use your discretion. Quotes like this frustrate me because it implies that we’re not responsible for things we do when we can just blame our mistakes on the advice we get.
Unknown lays his head on his desk for a moment, thinking this over. Grinding his
teeth, he goes in for another revise:
"I’m working on something, trying to get better, and I feel that I must consider all the advice I’m given on it. I want it to be as good as possible. Now, I know I don’t have to take your advice, but it’s hard to know what advice is good for me and what’s not. Any work you could do to restrain yourself from making suggestions I don’t need would be great. If you’d just pay attention to what I’m trying to do here before you rattle off your critique, then I’d know if I needed to follow your advice or not. I’m just saying, if things get any worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping me because, you see, I’m thinking that the help you’re offering is what’s making matters worse."
Good job, reviewers. You just ruined a perfectly good quote.
Yes, it is up to a writer to use his or her discretion when deciding what advice to follow, but this newsletter is about making ourselves better reviewers. I take that to mean we all want to know what we can do to make our reviews more useful, and that means knowing when we’re making suggestions that don’t need to be made.
For this newsletter, I’m focusing on the tendency to suggest a writer answers questions that don’t need to be answered.
Step One: Read
People, you gotta read. Turn off the inner critic and try to remember what it was like to pick something up just to find something to read. Don’t assume that every question the item invokes is a mistake on the writer’s part. Some of the greatest literature out there is great because it leaves lingering questions.
Step Two: Remember to Think for Yourself
It’s not a writer’s job to explain every little thing to the reader. The basis of fiction is to tickle the imagination, not pound it into submission and make sure it goes on the same path as everyone else’s imagination. And yet, there’s voluminous evidence on the Public Review Page of reviewers who seem to want that. When did we stop wanting to think for ourselves? When did we start wanting writers to spoon-feed us every idea within their stories, every metaphor in their poetry?
Step Three: Question It
Once you’ve read an item, you can think of it as a whole. At that point, you can consider which questions frustrated or confused you. And you can consider which ones make the story stay with you, which ones give the story a life beyond itself because they keep you thinking. Because they make you wonder.
Still, it comes down to the individual personalities and experiences of the reader, but before you suggest a writer clear something up, consider why you think it should be done. Is it because the idea isn’t properly conveyed or is it because you’re miffed that you didn’t get it?
[Chy, c’mon, now. That’s a difficult distinction to make.]
Oh yes, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s not about turning your brain to mush trying to decipher a writer’s intent. It’s about reading as a reader instead of a reviewer, about giving the writer the benefit of the doubt and seeing what comes of it.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see when the writer goofed up. Sometimes, no matter which way you tilt your head, some aspect of a story just doesn’t make sense. For example, let’s say you’ve read a story about a guy who visits a haunted house. Now say he’s misophobic, has no interest or belief in the supernatural, and there are no outside elements such as friends goading him into proving he’s “not scared.”
It’s possible that some explanation for why he’d go to that house is included in the story, or even as a punchline, but you’re not going to enjoy it if your inner critic is at work, tearing it down before it even has a chance.
It’s also possible that there’s never any clue for why such a guy would look twice at such a house, much less step foot in one. In that case, the author definitely needs to know that he or she is not suspending belief enough for you to get on board with the story.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see when you’re supposed to be asking questions. Mystery stories are a good example, but many stories use a little bit of mystery to keep you hooked. If your questions keep you interested, keep you reading, then it’s a good bet that they need to stay. Furthermore, it’s great to tell the writer what questions you had, and which ones kept you furiously scrolling. When presented that way, your questions help a writer discern which elements should stay and which he or she might want to clear up.
Sometimes, it’s a dice throw. Take the quote I used in the beginning as an example. When I first saw it, I immediately laughed. It made me think of a line in Orson
Scott Card’s Shadow of the Giant.
" ‘I’m juggling too many balls to want some volunteer juggler to come in and try to help.’ "
Let’s say, too, that I relate. But everyone I showed Unknown’s quote gave me little more than a polite, “Heh.”
I’m the reviewer who’d say:
Man, that is so true. I know just what you mean. I’ve been there many times.
But even if I didn’t quite relate or it rubbed me the wrong way because of the way it assumes one has to accept the help of others, there are ways to present those thoughts without making it sound as if change is mandatory. Leaving it open can inspire.
I’m not sure I understand. Why would you want people to stop helping you when things get even worse than they are? When things get worse for me, I need all the help I can get, and I know I’m free to discard any that I don’t need. Then again, I know it’s hard to refuse the help of some friends, and even some pushy strangers. Also, on a site like this, if people see you don’t heed advice, fewer people line up to review you. So maybe I do understand, but I wanted to make sure this was your intent. If so, good job. But if not, you might consider a revise.
I ramble, even in a theoretical review comment, but you get the idea. This approach puts less pressure on the author to change something that might be better left as it is. It’s more likely to make them think about what they wrote and why, instead of just scrambling for a way to “fix it.” And writers need to learn to think for themselves as badly as readers do.
Another good thing about this kind of review is that it’s more likely to illicit discussion between reviewer and reviewee. Discussion and questions about my reviews are two of the main things that have taught me to be a better reviewer. (Admittedly, I am a long way from perfect, but I like to think I’m a lot better than I once was.)
At this point, we could go into a discussion about writers who reply to review
questions with answers that should be incorporated into their item. But that’ll have to be the topic of another newsletter.
In closing, a salute to the reviewers who come in behind such a mess as what I went over at the beginning, the ones who say, “You don’t have to explain this and this and this.” I always smile when I see one of those reviews.
[ Editor’s Picks ]
This first article has some great advice for avoiding author intrusion. The first step is recognizing when it happens, and that is an excellent tool when reviewing. You’ll need a passkey, and with the author’s permission, I tell you the passkey is 43492.
Another great article to give you something to think about while reviewing:
One of my favorite articles about the “Show vs. Tell” argument. Sweet and simple, with examples:
The best teacher is experience. The more you work and experiment with writing, the more
you can help others. The more you help others, the more easily you see what you need to
do with your own writing.
[ 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.