What Do You Find Useful in a Review

7 years ago | Kaleb Lynn Thomas (Member)

Hi, I'm relatively new to the community and am trying to get my head around writing reviews of other people's work submitted to WFG. I'm an active critique partner and have coordinated a writing group for 3+ years. While I see some authors find critique-like reviews helpful, I'm not sure that is what potential readers are looking for in a review.

Having been active in a large movie community for over a decade, I know that I don't find it helpful when a review tells what the movie-making team did wrong, or what the reviewer wished the movie had been. I've stopped reading reviews before watching a movie since I dislike the prejudice it creates in my mind - I prefer to watch a movie cold, with as little information about it as possible. Instead I compile lists of suggested titles to watch and go from there. However, I have no problem rating each and every film I see and have worked out a system for doing that as critically and objectively as I can muster.

I'm finding this is my preference for literature as well. Thus I wonder how useful my reviews might be to other readers.

So, my question is: As a reader, what do you find useful and helpful in a review?

Read responses...

Page: 12


  1. Kaleb Lynn Thomas (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Oh, one further question. Do you expect the reviewer to have read the entire work - novel, collection of short stories, anthology, webserial - before writing a review or can it be based on an initial reaction to the first chapter, a particular short story, whatever, if clearly stated as such?

  2. AGreyWorld (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Just put "My impression of the 10 chapters I read..." or something. I'd consider going past five or so (if they aren't huge) polite, unless you really can't make it - in which case making it clear should be fine.

  3. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I want an idea of the flavor of the story, and a general impression of the quality of the writing. If the basic premise/theme is interesting, and I'm told it's pretty well written, I'll go take a read.

  4. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Lots of reviewers do "initial impression" reviews and with low-rated stories sometimes that is all you need to give evidence of why it is low-rated. It is also enough for an enjoyable story, because maybe it gripped you right away.

    However, there are lots of those. I personally get more out of literary analysis and lively discussion. "This story is awesome" is kind of a waste of a review. Good reviewers (from my perspective) are Fiona, Wildbow, any of the editors (beyond first impression reviews). There are some new reviewers that I've been pretty impressed with but I don't know them as well yet, I've been offline a lot. I've written over 100 reviews though so some of those might be helpful.

  5. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Reviews are probably the more useful (and interesting) the more you can explain WHY you feel a certain way about the story; what you especially enjoyed about it and what may have put you off. Having said that, sometimes I find that hard to put into words myself. Serious writers, like GS Williams and Wildbow, are able to point out specific literary techniques that the author used or failed to use; my own reviews, I think, are more impressionistic, since I'm "just" a reader. It's all good!

    I know what you mean about not wanting to read things that will spoil your own impressions of a work. However since there is SO MUCH to read on the internet, reviews really do help to bring projects to the attention of those who might enjoy them. Looking forward to reading yours!

    And no, you don't need to have read it all.

  6. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    You should stress, however, that you haven't read the entire work. You can't read five chapters out of a 300 chapter story and then lead readers to believe you're describing the entire story.

    Things I generally try to pay attention to:

    Originality - What makes this stand out from the pack? Does it adhere to usual tropes or conventions or break away? No story is truly original at its core, but at the same time, I should be able to read what I'm reading without feeling like I could see the same story elsewhere. The Smell Collector is a story with high originality marks, because it's something new and offbeat, and No Man an Island was unique enough, even if I ran into other issues that kept me from finishing it. Diary of a Runner did get a less than stellar review from me, and part of that was because it read like Walking Dead fanfiction.

    Fluidity - how easy is it to get into? How well does one section connect to the rest? Does it maintain interest? Do the chapter endings feel like endings? Are there elements (grammatical, flavor, stylistic, or continuity-wise) that interrupt the flow of things? Is it amusing or does it drag? I pay a lot of attention to this in my writing and in stuff I read, and it tends to feature heavily in my reviews. I remember Interviewing Leather was the sort of work that grabbed me and swept me up into the story. At no point did I stop and think, "I should stop reading for today." I've reviewed several works, though, that slogged. Because they're works I stopped reading fairly early on, as a general rule, I can't remember them well enough to name names.

    Structure - Worldbuilding, premise, key narrative elements, character. The big building blocks. Does it fit together, on a macro level? Can I sum the world, premise, story or cast up in one paragraph? In one sentence (admittedly abbreviated)? Can I grok it, on a micro level, with individual characters making sense in how they're put together? Individual setting elements? Is there verisimilitude? An internal logic?

    Elegance - How's the presentation? Is it clear the author made an effort, are there obvious errors that detract from the story? A top notch story with a bland site is generally going to get high reviews from me, but a bad site with glaring visuals can take away from the story because it makes things physically painful to read. Effort goes a long way, and a lack of effort conveys a lot about the rest of the story. Caelum Lex gleams with polish. So does the now-defunct 'Life in Motion', which unfortunately lost marks in this department, because the beautiful, well-crafted site had neon green astroturf in the background, so garish it left pink afterimages in my eyes for a full minute after I looked away. The Ballad of the Emerald Bard had sloppy writing that could have been fixed with a once-over, an interface that made page loads take a full minute, and falling snow that obscured the text and distracted the eye.

    Above all, though, I try to speak from the heart. I go into any story with a genuine hope that it's going to be a good read, and I feel a genuine disappointment if and when it isn't. In such a case, I try to convey to the reader why it wasn't what I hoped it might be, where it maybe hit the right marks, and where it fell short. I'm honest and I try to be upfront about everything I can. I think that's all any reviewer can expect of themselves.

  7. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Back when I was reviewing, I always wrote reviews for readers, not the writer. I aimed for between 400 and 800 words, and would usually read one or two of Roger Ebert's film reviews first, to get myself into that rhythm. I'd cover my personal reaction to the story, touch on the main story points or themes, talk about the effectiveness of the writing, and try to close with a recommendation. I tried to report fairly, while still having a voice and a viewpoint. And I always tried to put in enough detail that somebody who didn't share my tastes could still tell from the review if they'd be interested in the story.

    These days, I seldom have time to write more than a few sentences on the stuff I think people should notice. :(

    Anyway, not that I expect you to read them, but I was feeling nostalgic and had a look through. These are the reviews I think I did the best job at:



  8. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Oh yeah. I wish you were still reviewing.

  9. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    yeah, you were a regular Carlos Ross of webfiction.

  10. Kaleb Lynn Thomas (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Cool, thanks!

    I was a bit nervous since I asked similar questions of my critique group partners and each who responded indicated that they expected the reviewer to read the complete work! That just made the prospect seem more daunting. But then most are novelists.

  11. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Well, there's a few reasons for it being different with web serials. Some are open-ended, and may go on for years. And writers really appreciate getting reader feedback at the early stages, as this gives direction and incentive to continue posting. You can even go back and add to/update your review later on if you want.

  12. casanders (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    To me, a perfect review would be two lists: What I did right/ What I did wrong.

    The Watchmage of Old New York. At Jukepop Serials http://tinyurl.com/agwvhq3
  13. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    As a reader, I don't want much in a review. It's not a purchase as such, so I don't want details. I want a snapshot. The gist of the story. Just so I know if its the sort of thing I would want to read. I find a great deal of the reviews here are overly critical, problems and things that bugged the reviewer.

  14. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Fans of series show their enthusiasm with "snapshot" and "gist" rviews here all the time. Editors do that with "first impression" reviews.

    Critical analysis, like actual literary critique and review, is something some of us do because this is a site for both readers AND writers. I studied literary analysis in school so I apply it here. The only way that the best of web fiction is going to be taken seriously as a real branch of literature is if we take it seriously as an art form, which includes scholarly analysis that looks beyond the surface.

    This site is good because it combines all of the different outlooks - something for everyone. In the future it would be interesting to see fan sites, scholarly sites, etc. But web fiction has not yet reached that point.

Reply »

You must log in to post.