First Review. I sweated blood!
OMG! I CAN'T REVIEW ANYONE!
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?
Reviewing??? OMG how can I review someone who has been on WDC for YEARS and I’ve only just joined? I just can’t start telling others what to do!
I know exactly how you feel. A year ago I was in the same boat. Sure, I had been a newspaper journalist, editor and publisher for 45-plus years and have written thousands of news stories but trust me writing a news story and a piece for “Writers Cramp” are two different things and require two separate sets of skills.
I approached my first review with fear on my shoulder and a wet back (it was a hot October and I had no tee shirt on and sitting in my new, comfy leatherette-covered typing chair.) Yes, I had the journalism experience, but I also understood some of my “prose shortcomings” already and was scared to death of criticizing someone who knew more than I did about fiction writing.
At last I started. It was terrible. I think I wrote something like, “I really liked your short story, I’m new with WDC and probably don’t know what I’m talking about but, you know, I really liked what you did. I’m a retired reporter and journalism taught us the value of a short, sweet lead or intro that sucks the reader into your story, and that’s exactly what you did in your piece.”
The rest was pretty easy...and history. So here I am, a year later, still around, (and I STILL haven’t gotten to the point of sending that novel off to a publishing house...see how chicken I really am?)
That said, may I offer you MY take on "reviewing"? I'll try to keep it short, sweet and spelled correctly (LOL, that will NEVER happen).
1. I assume the writer is a serious writer or I ignore the piece and move on to someone worthy of a serious review. By serious, I mean the author has passed two litmus tests:
Test 1. He seriously wants to be published.
Test 2, He makes it clear that what he has posted is nothing less than what he thinks is the "best" he can do.
2. I'm going to invest a considerable amount of MY time in this review because I do not feel an "attaboy" review does anyone any good at all ("Attaboys" run like this.... "I just read XYZ. Great story, I loved it; well done. Please do write more and good luck". Clearly, that did NOTHING except make the author feel good for about 5 seconds, and the reviewer LEARNED NOTHING EITHER. So, if I don't basically LIKE the piece when I look at it, I don't bother reading it. I'll try one other piece in the author's port and if it fails my two tests and my "like" criteria... I move to a new port.
3. I have about a half-dozen review tools prepared for the various groups I review for. They cover different topics and are each structured differently. However they ALL say something like this: Please remember, a review is only how I, as an individual, see your piece. Accept what you agree with, ignore that which you disagree with.. That's vital, for it's absolutely true.
I've been hit a few times following a review by an author who knows more than I do and has taken issue with what I have said. I've also received a number of "thanks for the review, I'll keep that all in mind when I rewrite"...which was a nice way of saying to me, "Lyle, shove it, you were all wrong in your review." Only once have I been answered by an author who could NOT accept any criticism... and that's easily answered on my part by....... pure silence.
Now, to the review itself.
4. Find something you REALLY like about the piece. The lead grabbed you. The story hit really close to home and your own life. The imagery was wonderful. The main character came alive on the page. The scene setting was great. SOMETHING, ANYTHING that was good. (OK, every so often you'll hit a piece that fails to do a THING for you... Move on then, keep upbeat! )
Tell them what was good...and WHY.
"I loved the way the main character came to life starting in graph two, and you quote what YOU think was good: 'he swept his black hair back with his right hand, smoothing it from a tangled nest of snakes into a velvet field of freshly mowed grass" ..
5. NOW move into the areas you thought needed improvement. See, you've fed the ego (which we all love) and now you can get to work REALLLY helping the author. If the words are the wrong ones, tell them. If they use too many adjectives for your likes, tell them (many newbies do that). If they write lousy dialogue, tell them. AND, each time you TELL THEM, you might give an example of what would read better...just don't rewrite the entire piece for them, that's THEIR job.
6. Don't tear the piece to shreds though the first time, leave them some dignity. After all, they DID pour their heart into the piece.
Sometimes I will, after a particular tough piece that NEEDS rewriting, offer to re-read what they have re-written with a fresh review.. A few HAVE done that, resulting in a better, stronger piece. Many thank me for the offer but never bother to rewrite.
How do I rate pieces? Well, honestly, unless it's 3.5 I usually don't review it. I only have awarded a 5 to about two or three pieces in the nearly year I've been on WDC, but I think my "average is right around 4.5". Which means "good piece, but needs a bit of work. (OK, I just checked: Ratings Given: 197 items, 4.24 stars avg) Incidentally, although the records don't exist, I believe that my average review is around 2000 characters...sometimes that's more than the piece I've just reviewed. Don’t be stingy with your review, take the time to HELP the author with ideas.
The best thing about doing a good, worthwhile review is the fact YOU benefit more from the review than the author does. You point out the same error beginning writers make (too long paragraphs for example) and pretty soon you realize that’s EXACTLY what you do...you write long, rambling paragraphs that go on and on at length, stringing phrases together with commas and semicolons (with the occasional “dash”) as you try to present a brilliantly-written piece for the reviewer. So you try to change.. BINGO, you just taught yourself something. By the way, this graph was a perfect example of a “run-on” graph that was confusing and too long.
I know one of the things I taught myself by reviewing just a few weeks ago...I began seeing sentence fragments in stories, and telling the authors about it... and realized I tend to use a LOT of sentence fragments in my own writing...and I’ve never noticed it before!
Will my system work for you? Maybe. Maybe not. It works for me. If it works for you too, then great, I’m a genius! If it doesn’t, it’s your fault.
Seriously, as I write in my reviews, “take what you agree with and use it, leave what you disagree with, for YOU are the author, not I.”
So, newbies, jump right in, go find a piece that you like, review the heck out of it...and walk away a better writer yourself!
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Featured in Shadows: A Paper Doll Gang Publication Volume 1, Issue 2
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