What constitutes a good review?

5 months ago | Rhythm (Member)

Redirecting an ongoing discussion a couple of us have been having on a tangentially related subject post. The question is simple. What makes a good review? Is it one that is brutally honest, or one that helps the writer to feel good. Should a review focus on informing the audience, or informing the author about the aspects of their work? Does it pay to be gentle, and should a writer feel the need to affirm themselves based on the input of others?

Glad to hear any of your thoughts.

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Page: 12

Responses

  1. nippoten (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    Honestly, yes to all of them. Except for maybe 'helps the writer to feel good.' You don't set out to write a review to make a writer's day, unless you genuinely became a fan of their work as you read it, maybe. Even then, you should still be fair to both yourself and the work.

    There is such thing as tact, as well. Sure, one can be what they perceive is being 'brutally honest,' but that line isn't in the same place for everyone. Just being wary of that can help better get your point across, letting the writer know what works and what didn't without scaring them off with the 'brutality' of your honesty.

    On a slightly related note, I do find writing reviews for serials to be kind of... funny? People who request reviews usually ask for only the first arc to be looked at. Well, yes, every story should start strong, but not a lot of stories are defined by the first arc. Stuff happens later, twists occur, the writing naturally improves as the writer continues... writing. So now we have a bunch of reviews/first-impressions for serials that haven't had the chance to get into their groove. And, unfortunately, more often than not, the serial plows forward and improves while those initial reviews end up being the public's first/only impression of a story going in. That review will probably not be indicative of the quality later in the serial. Over time, the review becomes less and less relevant to the product as a whole, yet that's all anyone might ever see, and decide whether or not they'll give it a chance.

    I'm lucky that I managed to get reviews that go past the first arc. I'm lucky that each review went further into the story than the last. And now, I'd like to see a review that was even more up to date. Like I mentioned, stuff happens later, twists occur, and I like to think I've gotten better over time. I hope so. Hell, my synopsis isn't even accurate anymore. The MC isn't even functionally the same person.

    But, I understand that asking for something along those lines can be a tall order. Web serials, by design, are long, and not everyone has the time to devote reading a serial for the sake of reviewing it. From my experience, reviewers that cover as much of the story as possible generally give a positive score since they enjoyed reading it so much, catching up/finishing it was easy for them, so there was more passion and praise to throw around. You generally won't see that amount of passion by only being asked to read the first arc of something.

    To wrap it back to your original question, I'll add that what makes a good review is how much of the story it covers. And if the story continues and grows, that review becomes smaller in the grand scope of things. I am not saying that the review becomes bad over time. I will say, however, that the review will provide a good impression of the section it covers.

  2. Rhodeworks (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    A good review is one that informs the reader accurately and honestly and fairly as to what they might expect in a work. If I was to read the review, then immediately look at the text in question, would the review have given me a good overview?

    But, at the same time, it is more than a synopsis and it is more than a marketing blurb.

    The key part of a review is that it is a critical evaluation. Anything that doesn't at least attempt to critically evaluate something is a review in name only. If I vote No on a review, it's because I feel there's no critical eye on it, little attempt to evaluate anything, no reasoning provided, and so on. If you want to say something is bad, explain why you feel that way. If you want to say something is good, there's maybe a little bit less explanation required. But still: show your working.

    Because if you're informing the audience accurately and honestly and fairly, then you're also informing the author of what their strengths and weaknesses are. The higher your star rating, the more I expect to see.

    Ideally, a review would cover the entirety of the work. This can be difficult, especially given that some serials have been in progress for years and really don't show much sign of ending, and feel like they might not actually end until the author gets bored (or, worse, burns out).

    I'm not one for brutal honesty, but I'm not going to avoid what I feel is necessary honesty. Here's the thing about writing in my eyes. It's a very lonely work and it's a very personal work. We are, at the end of the day, close to what we create. We are, at the end of the day, blind to a lot of the issues with our own work. And it's probably better to have those issues brought to light now, from volunteers, before you start trying to angle for exposure or publication.

    If you're making mistakes -- obvious basic mistakes -- then I think a reviewer, in the process of critically evalulating your work, has a responsiblity to at least mention them.

    Some reviewers will mark based on intention or enthusiasm or effort, but I feel this is very subjective. As I mentioned in the other thread, while overwhelmingly positive feedback is nice, it doesn't actually help someone improve. Yes, the author puts in effort, yes the author is trying, yes it is probably coming from the heart -- but that doesn't mean it gets five stars, or even four.

    It might not even mean they get three.

    Sometimes negative feedback stings. Sometimes that's warranted, other times it stings because you can't separate the work from you. Sometimes someone does bash your work (and I've seen reviews that I'd vote helpful, just because they accurately summise the often-overlooked flaws of a work, if not for the vitriol) and sometimes people have good points that disrupt the so-called 'hug box'.

    Sometimes those people are right. Sometimes they are wrong. But you won't know either way unless you hear it, acknowledge it, and reflect on it.

    If an author truly doesn't think a critical review would help them improve, then I'd be curious to see if they can publish what they have without alterations. Because there are two main points that inform my reviews here. We are all working with rough first drafts, sometimes written immediately prior to update, and we are all amateurs. Talented ones, perhaps, but amateurs all the same. Some of us are fine with writing our serials, but I'm pretty sure most serial authors that pick up an audience dream of genuine publication.

    So, what makes a good review?

    A good review is from someone who has read as much of the story as possible. It is accurate, honest and fair. It is a critical evaluation which talks about the strengths and weaknesses of a given work, showing the working and evidence. If anything, it leans towards being critical than being glowing. It does not bash a work, but it also doesn't puff it up.

    Note something I didn't mention there.

    Because far, far below every other criteria within my rubric of what constitutes a good review is the final part of it: making the author feel good.

    Like above, if you truly feel your first draft warrants nothing but five-star ratings, then you may need to examine your thoughts (and your work!) more closely. This also goes for the opposite, too, where if a critical review saps your motivation, perhaps you might need to wonder about why you want to write. Because if you do dream of selling your work, you're going to need to be prepared for the fact that people get far more vitriolic once they've paid for something.

    And, once the audience is paying for something, those reviews matter far more than the ones you'd get here.

    So, I think that covers what I personally feel makes a good review, and my reasoning behind why I review how I do. Let's look at another thing that I feel makes a good review: accurate usage of the star rating system.

    .5 - 1.5 - unreadable (literally what it says, can't read, difficult to determine meaning, no redeeming qualities.)
    2 - a tough slog (can get through it but it's what it says, a slog. probably had to fight the prose or make an effort to finish, serious flaws)
    2.5 - almost worth a look (it has a few too many flaws to recommend. honestly, very similar to 2, but a bit kinder)
    3 - worth a look (it's okay. has good points and bad. you might like it if you appreciate or are familiar with the genre or author)
    3.5 - fairly solid (more good than bad. but it's only 'fairly' solid -- it has some noticable, glaring flaws)
    4 - solid (generally good. if it has flaws, they aren't particularly glaring)
    4.5 - compelling (see below)
    5 - exceptional (for me, probably a theoretical rating. a work i'd give five stars to would be one i'd be surprised to be getting for free)

    Compelling is the odd duck in this list. Something can be technically great but not compelling. Something can be compelling but technically unimpressive. Compelling is very subjective. It's very easy to say, well, did I find this story compelling and leap to 4.5, and sidestep what makes you think it is compelling in the first place.

    I don't think I'll ever rate below 3, if even just the review comes with a disclaimer of 'worth a look... if you're a fan of [genre/thing]'. Because maybe my issues are really subjective and people who like [genre/thing] might like it. If my review starts getting below 3, I'll generally wonder whether I should publish it simply because the negatives are going to outweigh the positives.

    However, like a lot of review systems, 4/5 is assumed to be default 'good' and everything below it is bad. A good review acknowledges that 3 is the average and works with that in mind.

    Now, here are a bunch of things, presented in no particular order, that are basically things I'll probably vote No on.

    Extended metaphors or vignettes, What This Serial Means To Me, My Life When I First Read This Serial, etc. This isn't a creative writing class. This tells the reader more about you than the work you're ostensibly talking about. That's the kind of thing the author might like to recieve in a nice email or message, however.

    Comparing the serial you're reviewing to another work, often unfavorably. This reads to me like some form of weird guerilla marketing, especially if the review in question does not contain a star rating.

    Saying that any serial is like a combination of X and Y things. This is just lazy, and means nothing if you're not familiar with X and Y.

    Effusive praise and/or a rambling synopsis.

    Reading more like an advertisement than a review.

    Anything that can be summed up as 'read what's available, loved it, can't wait for more'.

    Missing any well-known and widely available criticisms of a particular work. If you're going to go hard on praise, then you should perhaps talk about why those criticisms aren't a problem.

    Typically, if I can't identify anything like this, and I'm not very familiar with the work the review is of in question, then I won't vote yes or no. If I feel it's an accurate review of a work I know, I'll vote yes. If I don't know the work, but the reviewer has provided an overview that seems fair and balanced, I'll vote yes (and maybe even check out the serial in question quickly, just to be sure).

    One thing I really like on RoyalRoad is the way the site has a few scores for each work: Overall, Style, Story, Character and Grammar. In many ways, that could be better than one size fits all.

  3. Typist Kid (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    I was kinda surprised when I saw all the new posts within the last 24 hours.

    I read all of them, and I'd like to add my piece.

    'What constitutes a good review?'

    I'm not really sure, to be honest. I've read what Rhodeworks and Nippoten have posted above, and I find myself agreeing with a lot of their points. But I think it also depends on the situation and the goal you're trying to achieve.

    A 'Hug Box' is not bad. A 'read what's available, loved it, can't wait for more' is not bad. A... review that's brutally honest is not bad. But what's the target here? If you think that the author is a pretty good one, but harsh on himself, a 'Hug Box'... you might help out a troubled soul. A 'read what's available, loved it, can't wait for more' I admit, *is* pretty much an advertisement... but that's what that author might need. Some readers to tell him/her that he/her isn't majorly sucking. Not to say that how good an author is doing is based on the number of readers they have, but honestly, the perspective of new authors can differ. They *could* think the number of readers defines how good their web serial is doing. And there's nothing wrong with that. All of us have flaws, and this would be theirs. They can learn, or they may not. Just nudge them in the right direction, if you're trying to be helpful. And a harsh review, should be directed to those who can handle it. After all, we aren't trying to make people give up on themselves. I'd say ask them if they can handle 'Harsh', then go on to give them a harsh review.

    And naturally, there should be content that tells the readers what to expect. Just remember to give that content the right flavor.

    I'm aware that are probably a lot of areas that I might've overlooked. And that there are a lot of contradictories to what I've said. But I just came here to pitch in, a small voice.

  4. Dary (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    As far as WFG is concerned, I think reviews are better aimed at readers, not the authors. And that means reviewing *as* a reader, not as a fellow author.

    Rhythm's recent review, for example, reads like something I'd expect from a critique group. It's not really aimed at potential readers, but the author, and so I come away thinking "why didn't they just email this?".

    There's also a habit for some reviewers to get a little bit too jargony - and you can tell those who have spent too long on TV Tropes. If a review reads like it requires its own Rosetta stone to decode, it's doing it wrong.

  5. Rhythm (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    @Dary, you know, that's actually a very good point. I did write that as a critique piece, I have now moved it to the original review request thread, where I feel it is more appropriate.

  6. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    There are just my rules for reviews.

    Reviews are for readers are mostly directed towards potential readers. In fact, they should be the focus of a review. Not so much the writer. The writer will take what they want from a review without it solely be directed at them.

    A good review doesn't spend the entire time bashing a story or spend the entire time praising it in a vague manner either. Praising to be praising and hating to be hating is unhelpful.

    A good review also doesn't go into assumption about the writer's believes, gender, and sexuality. A single sentence making a note of it is one sentence too many. Even worse when the reviewer spends the rest of their review on their own soapbox to counter and prove how the writer is wrong. Now if the writer is truly using the story as a platform, there is a better way to warn readers because such stories has certain flaw and it better to discuss that.

    A review shouldn't compare a story to another story as to boost one of the stories up further. Even worse if the two stories aren't even comparable. Comparison should be used in a way of highlight similarities and difference between two different things in a constructive way. Pedestals aren't required.

    Also, a good review will make a point and explain point but not drag it out. Yes, I understand that a reviewer is entitled to liked or disliked something but there is no need to keep hammering the head of the point when it's already flushed with the wood. It cheapens a good review very quickly.

    A good review will be honest, however will not use honesty as a shield to give them an excuse of being an ass. An honest turd is still a turd

    One should also keep in mind that a review is subjective as well. It's very hard to review something and ones personal tastes not get involved in it in some way. We aren't robots. Reviews shouldn't be thought up of hard opinions in that another reader doesn't get to disagree with the review and think differently. However, that doesn't mean reviews that aren't agreed upon need to be attacked. Not to mention that as a reviewer, one doesn't need to go out of their way to defend a writer because of a bad review. That's very unhelpful to future readers and the writer.

    A cross-genre fantasy stories about elves-->http://brotherhoodarchive.com
  7. Walter (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    I feel like the notion of 'review' is kind of bloated.

    Like, are you talking to the author, or are you talking to fellow readers?

    Well... kind of both. You are talking to your fellow readers, with the author listening in.

    I try to marry criticism with recommendations (Instead of 'dull' say 'author spends too much time on description, rather than narrating action' or whatever). Praise, similarly, I try to pair closely with specific aspects of the work. I guess I think a review is better insofar as it is a tightly bound outgrowth of the story, and worse to the degree that it is vague.

    But even that is not a hard and fast rule. I mean, there has to be a place in the world of 'review' for 'THIS IS AMAZING, read this now!' without any spoilers.

    Very good topic, hard to speak on but valuable to read.

  8. unice5656 (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    Haha, I came on to the forums to see 36 replies on what I thought was a settled question. Popped over here to put in my two cents.

    First and foremost, I consider a "review" to be something for the potential reader and a "critique" to be for the author, but according to dictonary.com, I'm making a distinction that doesn't actually exist.

    In both cases, I think a reader's honest impression of the story is what matters, what in particular stands out in their memory, good or bad. A critique might get more technical in terms of how the particular effect was created and could be changed, but the base material should be the same.

    I personally think that you get a more nuanced picture of the story from a bunch of short reviews rather than one long one, no matter how comprehensive it tries to be, so quantity is quality in this case (sorry if that's a sore spot for anybody...)

    I consider myself a technically proficient writer, with my main weak points being a torturously slow writing speed and still developing emotional maturity that's improving as I age (somewhat of a huge problem with a story that's 5 years old but I try not to think too much about how cringe-y my earlier stuff is), so I can't say I've ever taken negative advice that suggested I change anything. Rather, it was the positive aspects of reviews where people told me about specific elements that resonated with them (e.g. humour, character depth, "the balance of romance to violence and cute/ light-hearted to a little messed up") that helped me polish my writing and expand on those points to further appeal to the people who are already enjoying the story. I don't really see the point in trying to cater to someone who really hated my writing; they're probably long gone and never coming back.

    What's definitely not helpful is when people inaccurately try to psychoanalyze me based on their flawed misinterpretations/overgeneralizations of my writing. I'm probably being biased, but I always call American when I read one of those.

  9. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    @unice I hear you. I don't like it when reviewers inaccurately try to psychoanalyze me based on their flawed misinterpretations of my gender. xD

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

    Posted 5 months ago

    I have a specific system of measure, one which- contrary to LadyAnders' belief- I strive to eliminate the 'subjective' from as much as humanly possible. Reviews exist to be a *map* of a story, not a tourism brochure, and maps exist to give an accurate (if abstracted) representation of the subject matter.

    So I have a process.

    1- Identify the writer's general goals. Namely 'genre' and 'tone'- these things are a matter of *taste*, to be identified because some readers may want light and fluffy fantasy, while others might want grim and dark fantasy. Or scifi. Or mystery. Or whatever. This is all "taste", which you're free to have opinions on, but are useless on the objective part of the scale. There's no need to drop an 'opinion' here about which is better, just drop a 'what this is' here.

    2- Now that all the subjective hurdles have been cleared, there's the stuff one can measure objectively:

    Grammar. Clarity. Cohesion. That balance between 'too much' and 'too little' detail- it's actually a pretty broad bridge, with plenty of room for variation.

    Pacing, which is to say how much the reader's going to have to go through to encounter actual story events... the balancing act between 'detail' and 'major events' is a much tighter one than that between too much and too little detail. Personally, I think going more than 500 words without anything important happening is too many.

    Now what you define as 'important' changes from story to story, but you're probably wasting your breath if you spend more than 30% of the chapter's words describing scenery instead of events.

    And that's me divorcing myself from my own 'minimalist' approach, where I prefer spending less than 10% of the text describing the environment rather than the people and events.

    So I base part of my review on the not-measured subjective stuff, like a dark story vs a light one, or scifi vs fantasy, or romance vs action... let the readers know if this is the type of story they want on a subjective level. Then move on to the objective measure of how effective a given story is at delivering on the goals it set for itself using such details as writing skill, consistency of the storytelling, and other quality measuring.

    And at the end of every review, I like to give a list of the qualities I think the story delivers, so that people who like those qualities will know it's worth their time, and the people who prefer different qualities will know to look elsewhere.

    If some of that proves useful for the author of the story? Then so much the better, but it's not my goal. I'll talk to the author in these forums and/or elsewhere to offer specific tips on how to fix problems, rather than waste the review-readers time with something that has nothing to do with them.

    I, for example, don't like crime/mystery novels. Never have. I've still read much of Doyle's work, because it's freakin' Doyle, but I did so for educational reasons. He's a damn good writer, and if I were to review his books I'd give most of them consistent 4+ ratings (there are a handful of exceptions where his head clearly wasn't in the game), despite the fact that I don't like the genre.

    @unice- I dunno, the reviews that make personal attacks on the writer are useful to me, in that they show me that I need never take what this person says or does seriously. Better they prove how useless they are immediately, rather than waste your time by hiding it.

    Author of Price.
  11. Rhodeworks (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    I agree with TanaNari on all points, basically.

  12. unice5656 (Member)

    Posted 5 months ago

    @TanaNari: Mm, I don't necessarily think that a review containing personal attacks is automatically completely dismissable. I got a review a couple months ago that pointed out several positive and negative points while also criticising me for being overly narcissitic and trying too hard to push feminism. Each claim should be evaluated on an individual basis. Even idiots will accidentally make good points.

  13. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 4 months ago

    For me, a good review caters to the needs of the audience. At WFG, you have two audiences, the reader and the author.

    Primarily, you need to serve the potential reader. The reader is asking the question, “Is this worth my time?” In answering that, I describe the work and what the author is trying to do as I see it and then evaluate it on that basis. If I strongly dislike the genre in question, I’ll disclose that because the potential reader should be warned that any hypothetical review of a zombie novel that I write will be written from the perspective of a person who avoids zombie novels. I also evaluate the story’s website and/or the formatting of the story if I find something wrong with them.

    Secondarily, I’ll briefly critique elements of the work that the author needs to work on that will be relevant to the reader. I may even make suggestions as to how to fix them because why not? The author is reading, after all. That said, I don’t make this a big part of the review. The review is primarily for the reader. Helping the author is a bonus (but not a bad thing).

  14. dirtydiana (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    Being honest is quite obviously what makes or breaks a review. If a review is written for the author to feel good, there's zero educational value in it, the opposite is true. What's problematic is that not every author wants to hear the truth and some attack the reviewer instead of start working on themselves.

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