How to Write Good Reviews

10 months ago | Is_Generally_Hostile (Member)

I'm just looking for some general guidelines about writing reviews.

I've read some here and there and no two reviews really seem to share the same format or standard, so I just wanted to hear what everyone thinks and establish some best practices for myself so my reviews will be as well written as possible.

Check out my shitty web serial at http://TheComatoseGirl.wordpress.com

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Responses

  1. AntonShine (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    ...there are guidelines to writing reviews?

  2. mooderino (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    In my experience reviews tend to fall into two camps. The first is aimed at the writer and offers a critique of their effort and how to improve things. This kind is usually offered by other writers (sometimes even when not asked for) and can be a little oppressive if the reviewer has a very fixed idea of how things should be done. One amateur telling another the 'correct' way to do things can also come across as obnoxious. It can be incredibly helpful, but generally I would say you should only give this kind of review if specifically asked for.

    The second is aimed at the reader and tells them whether the story will be worth their time, it's good point, it's weaknesses, how it stacks up against others in the same genre and what kind of reader will appreciate it. Sometimes it's just gushing, other times it can be very dismissive (I loved it, I hated it)—reviewers tend to be more likely to leave a review if they had strong feelings about a story. A lot of it is purely down to the reviewer's tastes. Most writers looking for reviews want this kind because they help attract readers, which is what you want once you feel your writing has reached a certain standard.

    The strange thing about this kind of review is that because so many reviews tend to be of the gushing variety (especially the ones writers use to promote their work) the more measured and reasonable reviews that give you the pros and cons in equal amounts can end up coming across as negative when they're just covering all bases.

  3. Is_Generally_Hostile (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    There doesn't seem to be a guideline for writing reviews, which is why I'm asking in hopes of establishing such.

    That's interesting Mooderino.

    I guess to continue on form this, is anyone a gold standard of reviews here? Can we look at someone and say that we'd more or less like to see all reviews in this general format?

    Check out my shitty web serial at http://TheComatoseGirl.wordpress.com
  4. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I think Wildbow's reviews are really good.

    Fibi has the best review writing style, though. XD

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/
  5. Fibi (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I was summoned, and so I have come. The gate unbarred! The words unleashed! THE RAIN FROM THE SKY FALLING LIKE THUNDER INTO Etc etc etc.
    --

    Reviews are hard. You're writing words about a specific piece of work in an attempt to describe the work to people who aren't familiar with it. At the same time, in these sort of circles, you also want the review to help the persons who are most familiar with the work improve it. The authors care too! In a standard review like you might find in a newspaper or blog, you don't have to worry about this last part. In these circles, the authors actually want your reviews and opinion.

    So that's a multiple axis incentive structure if there ever was one.

    I don't think you can really supply a best-practice format for that kind of review. It will depend on the story in question. No reason there to be too formulaic. Perhaps instead it would be reasonable to ask if the review is answering a set of basic questions. How you go about answering them will then be up to the person writing the review. However, if I was reading a review, what I'd be interested in knowing is something along the following:

    1) What is this story /actually/ about? Blurps and summations very seldom really describe the story-in-question, because they're meant to attract attention. If I'm reading a review of something, I want to know what I'm actually reading a review about, so tell me a little of the story itself but not enough that you spoil the story. This is the scene setting part.
    EX: This is where you get sentences like: "[DOGS IN THE VINEYARD PLAYING JAZZ] is about cats working for a government conspiracy, and so balances slie of life comedy with high octane cat agent action"

    2) How does the structure shape the story itself? Is there something I should be aware of? What thematic elements or consistencies is the writer using? This is a written work of fiction, so tell me of the stylistic choices this story is using.
    EX: This is where you get sentences like: "Most of the story is told through flashbacks, triggered upon the main character experiencing certain events. This is a novel way of revealing information as the story goes along. Unfortunately as the main viewpoint perspective is from that of an sentient deckchar on the Titanic, we are often locked into its somewhat insular perspective"

    3) Of all the myriad stories in the world, why should I read this one? Why did you read it? Why did you take time out of your day to write a review of it? Is it THAT good or is it THAT bad? Reviews are about personal opinion with an eye towards "people might like this / not like this because X", so tell me those reason.
    EX: This is where you get sentences like: "So if you want to read about a special agent cat infiltrating a time smuggling operation stealing deck chairs from the Titanic to sell for profit to vintage collectors, this is the kind of story you should read"

    4) What kind of suggestions would you offer if you were to make 1-3 small changes?
    EX: This is where you get sentences like: "The fact that the story was told from the perspective of a sentient deckchair and mostly through flashbacks made it rather confusing. I would have liked more input from the cat itself, and less dull descriptions of people sitting in a deckchair".

    This last one is the hardest part, because offering opinions on something is neccessarily that. An opinion. Everyone wants to improve, and a review is usually no good if it doesn't also include a few suggestions on what kind of pitfalls could commonly be avoided in the future. At the same time, some choices are made specifically because the writer felt that was the right choice to make. It's also the most common pitfall of offering reviews; if you spend a lot of time talking about grammatical failures, syntax mistakes, spelling mistakes and the coding of the website upon which the story is presented you're offering criticisms of the work without neccesarily criticism the *work itself*. This stuff is important but I don't think reviews should make it the main focus. Just mention if its especially egregrious.

    Reviews are hard. This is also why "Scores" is a very, very hotly argued field. You assign something 4½ stars, but what does that actually mean? The only person who really knows what 4½ stars is the person assigning the score. I try not to use them, but sometimes they're useful.

    So GUIDELINES
    1) Be polite (Authors are people too! Don't scream at something just to scream at it, even if Hate can be entertaining)
    2) Be effecient (20k words about a 2k story might not be the best approach. I am not good at this)
    3) Offer a INTRO and a SNAPSHOT SUMMATION (What is this - What's the takeaway?)
    4) Be critical, but don't critize (The word "Critize" gets a bad rep. Offering your honest opinon on something is fine, even if that opinion is "I hate this". Telling someone their work is the worst thing since the invention of Zyklon B is not productive, nor polite

  6. Fibi (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Oh just to spam some more -

    Roasting reviews can be fun. It's the entire shtick behind the glorious rise of review-fiction and youtube reviews and review shows. I saw a review of a game called The Thing by a guy called... Spoony, I think? That was funny and made me chuckle in parts, but of course it's also literally about laughing at the ineptitude of the creators of this game.

    But there's kind of a difference between making fun with something and making fun of something. I think I once describe Wildbows "Worm" as having a protein compound for a main character. This is completely, 100% true. Spider web features prominently in Worm. But I don't mean that negatively, and I was just trying to make a funny little aside quip. As format thing, for the love of whatever creation or creature you hold holy, make fun /with/ something. Don't make fun /of/ something people have spent hours of their lives and thought on, that's not so much funny as it is bullying. It's a fine line to walk.

    Anyway, I should get back to whatever it is I do when I don't randomly drop by this forum.

  7. Is_Generally_Hostile (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    Jeezo Fibi, that's a lot to take in.

    I read some of your reviews and Wildbow's reviews and I can't even imagine writing something that lengthy and thorough for a review. Little disheartening.

    Check out my shitty web serial at http://TheComatoseGirl.wordpress.com
  8. SovereignofAshes (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I think Fibi set the roof alight with her wisdom.

    Not every review needs to be a lengthy deconstruction. I do enjoy Wildbow's reviews and Fibi's as well for their consistency. One example of shorter and concise reviewing would be what I've seen lately from Patrick Rochefort on here. (Sorry to call you out Patrick, but you have a concise style.) He usually does between one-to-three paragraphs of summation for new readers and then hits the fiction with a "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Then explains his review in one last paragraph. It's short, concise and allows for some room for opinion.

    I don't use that format myself. For me the "Good, Bad and Ugly" gives too much emphasis on the negative aspects of a work. I try more for a Summation, First Impressions, Explanation, Deconstruction, Opinion and then End Notes (News, shout-outs, disclaimers, what-have-you).

    I think it all comes from where your personal priorities lie as a reader, a fellow writer, and/or a reviewer/critic. Some people like the cold and hard approach of following a set sheet to fill out for a review. Others like to throw some opinions, some flair, some jokes, and some light roasts around. It's ultimately up to you.

    I think Fibi's guidelines above are solid. Politeness is important, given that you're talking about another person's creative and emotional investment. Roast reviews are great and thoroughly entertaining, and sometimes people really do need to vent about a fiction that they simply find abhorrent or awful. They should still have tact about it, of course. For me, the worst are revenge reviews, back-biting reviews, or just simple awfulness spewed for the sake of awfulness. I haven't seen much of that, though, and they are usually taken down once in a blue moon when they crop up.

    Personally, I look to a fiction's potential more than anything else. An author can always revise their spelling mistakes, the layout of their site, navigation issues, grammatical mistakes, etc. An author can't revise the passion, creativity and drive they bring to their work. They either have it, they don't, or they need something to happen in their personal life to drive it into them. That's just me though. Everyone is different, and that's the best part of reviews and writing.

    If it was ever a demand that we had to follow a set script or a "fill-in-the-blanks" form for reviews, I feel it would be a major disincentive to continue reviewing people's work. I know I would shy away from it and start looking elsewhere. Writing and critique, for me, are about free expression. Sometimes a review will be amazing, other times a review could be harsh or make you scratch your head and wonder if the reviewer was reading the same story you were writing/reading yourself. That's where the magic is.

    It's a fine line between free expression and socially-conscious expression. All I can say to the matter is, be polite. Treat people with respect. Look to the potential that work has. Be aware of other people's feelings and investments in a work. And finally, let your personality and your own voice be heard. Same with writing anything, we're here to see your personality. Your unique version of doing things. Not to read a filled out form or something that meets all the guidelines and requirements of InfoSec, written in nicely revised Newsspeak, with a big stamp from Big Brother on it.

    I have stuff on here too! The Vorrgistadt Saga.
  9. Patrick Rochefort (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I have a formula I apply to my WFG reviews in general, as SovereignofAshes pointed out above. I don't use it on every review, but I try to stick with it for most "average" reviews.

    The Good and The Bad is pretty straightforward; praise and critique, while The Ugly is generally about the reader experience outside of the prose, IE, does your website stink to navigate or did you forget to run a spell checker, etc.

    I personally don't like to write reviews that do a lengthy plot synopsis, but that's entirely a personal preference and there's many folks who write good reviews where 80% of their woodcount is said synopsis. That's okay, that's cool. Just don't write spoilers and it's all good.

    Fight the urge to be generous for the sake of WFG harmony, or harmony at all. A writer swimming in undeserved praise is a writer unprepared for the ocean of public opinion. Without checking my own review history, I don't think I've ever given a 5-star review on the WFG, and probably only a small handful of 4.5's. A whole lotta 2's and 3's, which I think fairly reflects the average quality of clicking the 'Surprise me!' button and spending an hour reading someone's serial.

    Once in a while I get surprised, pleasantly or otherwise. I know that in a venue like the WFG where 4-and-5 star reviews are so commonplace, I tend to give a lot more critical attention and weight to reviewers who I know fairly calibrate their reviews to a publication standard, and not offering a "pretty good for free stories on the internet!" lower bar.

    Be constructive. Even if it genuinely is a terrible piece of shit someone shoveled out onto the internet, look for the ways you can help it be better, instead of dismissive. It isn't always easy. But it shouldn't be. Neither art nor critique are arenas for the lazy. Do your best to call out the gold, and the diamonds in the rough.

    Remember too that reviewing is an exercise of YOUR brand, if you're an author. It's your name and your webserial attached when you review someone else's work. Make sure that in your reviews, for positive or negative, you're remembering that what
    you write reflects back on you as much as the serial you're reviewing. (If you're not an author, well, then you don't really have to worry that much about this part.)

    From Winter's Ashes: A Detective with nothing left to lose, against a Necromancer with a world to gain.
  10. Is_Generally_Hostile (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I like Rochefort's reviews now that I've looked them up, that's a good formula for me, I think.

    I think you're either misunderstanding my question, SovereignofAshes, or we have drastically different personalities, but in trying to explain my point to you, I think I kind of answered my own question and have hit upon what I value as a review reader, which is what I think I should be putting into my reviews. Thank you for the help. : )

    Check out my shitty web serial at http://TheComatoseGirl.wordpress.com
  11. SovereignofAshes (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    My apologies for confusion, Is_Generally_Hostile.

    At first, I thought your question was focused on figuring out guidelines for yourself based on what other's did with their own reviews. Then, I think I got side-tracked when you said, "There doesn't seem to be a guideline for writing reviews, which is why I'm asking in hopes of establishing such."

    Going back and re-reading it, I understand what you meant, now. I just got worried that you wanted to establish guidelines for everyone else. Although I can get behind that in a way to have established grounds of communication for people, I also rankle a bit at the idea of it. My bad for the confusion. I must presume that you meant the former and I was misconstrued with the latter.

    Your reviews that I've seen thus far are solid. I've found each to be really good, thought-provoking, and made me want to give the fiction being reviewed a good try. Thank you for them.

    I have stuff on here too! The Vorrgistadt Saga.
  12. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    The reviews I've written for WFG start with me and then work outward. In other words: I start from whether or not I personally enjoyed the story, rather than whether or not I think it was well done or accessible from a general audience point of view.

    That approach sort of runs counter to the official and preferred stance of reviews at WFG -- i.e., that he reviews are intended to be for the benefit of the readers at large -- because it starts not with "I wonder if people will like it" but rather "I liked it/didn't like it." But once I get that part worked out I start working the audience in.

    For example, I wrote a review of Spots the Space Marine that started with "Before I tell you why I think you SHOULD read it, and why, if you do, I believe you will enjoy it, I want to tell you what’s going to discourage you from doing so." Because while I enjoyed the hell out of that story (because it's a good story) the script-like nature of the format was initially off-putting, and I figured that from a general audience perspective that needed to be addressed.

    But I also vividly remember reviewing a story that apparently isn't on the site any longer that I enjoyed reading simply because I could feel the sheer joy coming out each update. Technically, and grammar-wise, it wasn't anything to speak about, but I couldn't ignore that passion. It dripped out of every paragraph. And it made what would have been possibly a tiresome slog in other situations genuinely fun, and I put that in.

    In other words: when I review, I don't bother being completely objective, but I do try to tack some clinical objectivity on top of my basic reaction.

    On the other hand, I don't really write reviews any more because it's complicated.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  13. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 10 months ago

    My basic approach is simply that you should write it for the potential reader. What should they know before they commit to reading it? What can they expect? That includes questions of whether it's good or bad, and what things specifically (plot, characters, etc...) were good or bad. In my view, that can include issues with the website, whether the story is finished or not, the likelihood of the author updating regularly...

    I do throw in a little for the writer if I can point to specific things that would improve the work, but for the most part, reviews on this site are not for the writer. Writer's critiques should be done in the forums if the writer specifically asks for it.

    Few readers will be well served to know the specific technical reasons that a story fails to work. Writers could use the information. A good critique and a good review are different creatures and don't mix as well as you might expect.

  14. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 10 months ago

    I think Mood and Fibi nailed it. I do try to mix the , for writer, for reader, and like Ubersoft, tend to start with whether or not I liked it. And, his review he mentions of Spots is what got me to read Spots. excellent review.

    on a sidenote

    "Most of the story is told through flashbacks, triggered upon the main character experiencing certain events. This is a novel way of revealing information as the story goes along. Unfortunately as the main viewpoint perspective is from that of an sentient deckchar on the Titanic, we are often locked into its somewhat insular perspective"

    I would read the HELL out of that story.

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