Awkward Reviewing

[Sooooo not sure if this is the right place for this.]

So is this just me, or is it awkward when you write a review that isn't absolutely glowing?

Just reviewed Worm -- which I'm not entirely fond of (though still a little fond) -- since it's the quintessential read at the moment, aaaaand...

I mean, Wildbow's obviously active here and stalking around (sup?), and it just seems like most people here are pretty active in this tight-knit little community and being critical of someone's work seems... very awkward, especially when you read with a very critical eye. >.<;

This may be influenced by my fear that it'd be pretty karmic to get bombarded by critics once my own work gets approved. xD;

Anywho, was just wondering how you guys thought of it since I see that even people who are a bit critical of a work tend to rate the stars pretty high. I'm used to doing art and writing critique, which tends to be pretty middle-of-the-road. I guess the extremes of the star ratings threw me off a bit. It seems like you might be expected to rate high almost out of courtesy, even if your review is actually critical.

Unless you just hate something and 1-star bomb it or something, since that seems to be the other extreme. xD;

To be honest, I don't think the stars help that much. Giving a book a star is in itself a bit awkward, and getting a three out of five is actually not that bad a score at all, even though it may seem like 3/5 is bad. So I agree with you on that.

The words in the review should speak for itself, and give the reader an impression of whether or not he or she should read that story. It's the review itself that really matters.

There's also nothing wrong with being critical or not liking a piece of work. Worm may not be your type of story. No big deal. Wildbow has been around for awhile and likely understands that you can't please everyone (nor would you want to!). Sometimes you offer pizza, but the person wants Chinese food instead. No biggie.

I don't think there's any such thing as karmic reviews. I'd like to think that we're all mature enough not to get all bent out of shape.

You do you. You are entitled to your opinions, and if people disagree with them they'll just ignore your reviews. The Rolling Stone gave Taylor Swift's new album 4/5 stars, so clearly there's no accounting for taste.

You can be critical of a piece of work, and still enjoy it. You may feel it's a 4.5 star piece, but know that it had many flaws. Doesn't mean you didn't enjoy it any less.

I haven't seen any karmic reviews on here thus far. I don't think you'll have a problem with that.

[Mother duck! I just realized I put this in Site Reviews when I meant to put it under Review Discussion. I am teh dumb.]

Holy cow. I didn't expect such quick replies. Haha.

But no, I don't mean low reviews in revenge or anything. Just that it'd feel like my comeuppance for being critical if it happened. :P I don't think anyone here would actually be intentionally malicious. :)

And aye, Zephy, I reviewed Worm first specifically because Wildbow seems like a cool guy who'll take it in stride and there's enough reviews that I'm not going to destroy anyone's self-worth or anything. xD I'd be very leery of leaving a very critical review on any story that had few or no reviews, I think; just because I know very much what it's like to have your baby and not want to see it get trampled on. And how discouraging it can be if that's the only feedback you get.

Personally, I've written fanfiction and at first, all the praise is great and very comforting in that "Oh gods, I can actually entertain people, yay!" way. But after that, while I still absolutely adore positive feedback, I really start loving those ambivalent (or even outright negative) reviews. The ones who aren't happy with what I wrote and tell me why. I learn what kind of readers won't like my stuff, or where I can improve. It tends to be the attitude I take with reviews that I make.

Emma, I just meant that I noticed there seemed to be few reviews in the 3 star range. I know you can be critical and still rate highly. :) I just thought it a bit curious because you'd think it'd be more a bell curve instead of the reverse. Haha. (But then again, I haven't looked around an awful lot yet, so what do I know? ;P Tis why I asked, after all. Haha.)

Thanks for the replies, though, y'all. :)

Unfortunately if a person wants to write for the public they should expect some bad reviews sometimes. Sometimes bad reviews are better than good reviews, even if it tramples your baby, because you learn more from criticism than senseless praise.

When I give reviews, I take something I learned from my teaching experience, tell the person what they did right, then tell them the bad stuff, and then give a bit more praise. That way they learn from their mistakes, but they don't feel too bad about it, unless they're really thin skinned.

So don't feel bad about leaving a bad review, just try to find a few nuggets of goodness in it to soften the blow.

I've received more negative reviews, I've received a lot of better ones. I take it all in, and I figure out where I stand. One more bad review doesn't change anything, I'm fine with it. If you count Webfictionguide and Goodreads (and ignore other sites) I've had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1150 ratings and 180 reviews; if I truly cared about a negative review at this point, I'd be a quivering lump of jelly on the floor.

I hesitated to post what follows, but as you seemed to start this thread to ask for feedback...

If you do want feedback on how to review effectively, and if you do care about how your review is interpreted, you might choose words more diplomatically. 'Utterly fail' and 'horrible slog' are bombastic terms that read more like you're trying to get attention or slap the author in the face than actually saying something, and use of terms like 'Plot Armor' or 'Mary Sue' tend to be very loaded; some people will take great offense at them. I'm not offended, myself, but I think they're lazy terms to use and the value they add to a review isn't matched by what they take away - they're overused and misused so often (especially in fanfiction circles, where I know 'Mary Sue' first arose), and they're overused and misused to the point that they lose meaning and hurt the person using them.

More than anything, though, I thought it was a little incoherent. You don't structure your review in any way, and you sort of seem to contradict yourself or don't seem to know what you're saying, going this way and that about three or four times in your paragraph about characters, and you repeat yourself four or five times (depending on whether you count the title or not).

Writing reviews like this may be fine in other areas, but I don't think the critical part of things is what you should be dwelling on.

I'd just like to add one teensy thing: Stars matter when you put them in relation to other star ratings on the site. If you look at almost every story on WFG, 3.5 and 4 are by far the most common rankings. That appears to be the 'average'. But different people will interpret stars differently.

Note that this isn't a comment on your review, just a general observation. :)

I suppose this is what I get for checking on my phone before I go to bed; I had to get up to reply to this.

First off, right away, no, I am not fretting about some kind of counterattack. I simply mentioned it because it's an illogical fear that (and this is inaccurate, but the best way to explain the ephemeral that I have right now) the universe will somehow conspire against me. You get what you give and all that. It had nothing to do with any actual logical fears that people were going to review me into oblivion. It was meant as a kind of joke. Like "haha, this is what my subconscious is giving me; let's all laugh about how silly it is."

I read over the review shortly after I posted it and you're right about the "utterly fail" part; it was a wee bit harsh. (Unfortunately, it seems you can't edit reviews once posted?) However, I don't feel that terms like "horrible slog" or "Plot Armor" are loaded or lazy. They're useful shorthand to quickly get my point across, rather than have even more of a meandering mess explaining in several sentences what I can do in two phrases. People misusing them is rather irrelevant; people misuse "literally" all the time, and I still use it properly. Besides, I'd rather write a succinct review that can quickly relay "would I like to read this?" to a potential reader, rather than an epic ballad that might be skipped over by someone looking for a quick, useful review.

Perhaps this is the wrong style for Web Fiction Guide, to write a review in order to answer "should I read this?" but it certainly doesn't seem to be the case. (Please note, that wasn't sarcasm; I am literally considering the possibility that I am not understanding what a review should be here, as opposed to say, Goodreads or Amazon.) For example, I'd write a much different review if I were talking to you directly, Wildbow.

I also disagree on the need for structure. Each paragraph makes a point about how I felt about certain things. I tend to be a pretty chaotic individual anyway, and this is how my thoughts work. It seems easiest to simply state things, rather than go back and turn it into an essay. I'm not trying to be eloquent or entertain, I'm simply informing a potential reader and maybe the author about one person's opinion. And in short a time as possible.

Part of the incoherence is because I was trying to avoid spoilers and communicate points without giving anything away, honestly. My thoughts became a little muddled when I was trying to phrase things around specific examples and ended up not using them.

Repeating myself? I tend to do that. Sometimes it's to sum up. Other times it's to drive a point home. And others, I just plain forgot I already said something. So combined, yeah, it can be a little excessive. (You should have seen my review before I edited it. Haha.)

As for contradictions, I don't really see it, but then again, I know what I'm saying. It might not be clear to a casual observer. xD Happens with me a lot. (I thank my partner for proofreading my writing quite a bit.) Still, it's not that I don't know what I'm saying, it's that part of me believes both things.

But no. Really, you're partially right that it could have been less harsh. Old habit from high school and college that I haven't gotten over. Being wishy-washy got you Cs and Bs, after all. But be a being of conviction and you had professors eating out of the palm of your hand. Haha. But I still disagree with calling it a slog as being something to be avoided. If it was a slog for me, I'm going to call it a slog.

Anywhoooooo... that was rather long. xD Don't feel like I'm upset or anything; I just felt your post warranted a full response, and I'm rather curious on your thoughts on my thoughts on your thoughts on my review. :P Of course, if you're simply saying that things might not go over well with others if I'm so brazen, I can agree. Like I said, I could have been less harsh, though perhaps not as gentle as you think I should be.

Chrysalis Thanks for the observation, darlin'! That's totally what I was looking for; if it was just my perception or if there was some major imbalance going on here. Good to know it's the former. :)

DJ Clarke Oh gods yeah. That's pretty basic critique etiquette which I love when I don't know how to structure a critique. It's far from the only way, but it's a great one. (Gods bless those painting classes. xD) This also came in really handy for when I started tutoring; you can still tell them exactly what they did wrong, but immediately shore up their confidences by giving them more praise. Did wonders for my conscience. x.X

To be fair, WFG includes 'tough slog' as a term in the star ratings when you hover over them.

When you read a review it ends with a 'helpfulness marker'. You'll see the number of members who thought your review was helpful. It tends to run between zero and five. Personally I'd say that anything above one means you did indeed write a review that had worth.

Basically it's a numerical review of your review.

As a critic, never apologize for your critique (assuming, of course, you engaged in it in honest good faith).

As a writer, never apologize for your writing (with the same disclaimer as above).

I'm a tough reviewer, apparently. I feel bad about bigfooting around on fellow webserials. I also very firmly believe that an author should never respond to a review at all. If you absolutely must, "Thank you for your review." is all an author should say. Absolutely nothing is ever gained, as an author, by responding to reviews and critics.

We're all human, and some authors are going to be more thin-skinned than others.

But at the end of the day, if you engaged in a review in good faith, whether or not the review is positive or not, don't ever apologize for it, or regret it. Be tough, be fair, be honest.

@Partick Rochefort While I mostly agree with the not responding sometimes clarifications can be helpful. My dialogue is weak, well is it a matter of poor choice of words spoken, or am I not giving enough context to the dialogue? Stuff like that can be helpful tools for me when I continue writing.

Generally, yes, you shouldn't respond to reviews on other platforms. BUT. WFG is the kind of community meant exactly for this (and with a forum section dedicated to review discussion). You should definitely not ever respond to, say, a review on Amazon.

You know that moment when there's a crowd of people having a good time, and someone says something a little off colour? And how the next person rolls with it and actually adds on, then another, then another? And then everyone gives a giggle 'cause they got a good running joke going and they take a breath and let it simmer? Then that one last guy who doesn't quite get it tries to keep it going for just a line longer and it sort of hangs there uncomfortably? And everyone knows the joke's over but they're still in a good mood from the funnier parts, and they appreciate the slightly-too-late addition for what it was, so they give a smile and nod and go back to enjoying the nice, post-joke silence like it's restarted? But then the guy feels a little on the spot for not getting the timing right and as big a laugh as the others, so he does an anxious shuffle in his spot and says, "Awkward..."?

That's this. It's awkward now.

Do you. Review how you want to review. We want your opinion.

Yes, we'll all most likely read it.

No, it won't always be stellar.

Yes, we'll recognize it's not stellar.

No, we're not going to flay you or your work for speaking your mind (but we're people too, so if you'd never say it to our face, try not to leave it on a screen). We appreciate the effort as it comes through on your part.

But don't go, "Eeee... Awkward." Stand by your opinion, or else it seems as though you were writing to impress someone specifically and suddenly realized you weren't going to get the reaction you wanted. That's not the honest feedback we're looking for.

I'm happy to be seeing some critical reviews of Worm as a complete work - and by critical, I don't mean negative, but analytical, thoughtful. A lot of the Worm reviews that were posted earlier were "Squee, this is amazing!", which is nice, but to me it's very interesting to read about people's impressions of what worked and what didn't for them, even though I may not see it that way myself. Worm is big enough to support a lot of diverse interpretations.

The only critique I'd make of your review is you could have provided more specific examples of what you meant, from the story, but of course then you run into the danger of spoilers so that can be tricky.

Honestly it would have probably worked out better had you never made this thread and never agonized about doing the review, well hopefully you can learn from this for the future. Worrying about what people think can be quite poisonous to action, and more your worry is mostly born out of self-interest, you don't want negative consequences of your actions. If you had never done this thread, nobody would have known you'd be like that.

Well, we all have to live with our choices and now you've got me inanely rambling at you. Think of it as a negative consequence.

There is nothing wrong with doing a negative review, but really you should be more polite, the impression, like how you have the impression Wildbow got bored, is that you are being quite dismissive, rather than just critical. Perception is a sword that cuts both ways.


"It seems like you might be expected to rate high almost out of courtesy, even if your review is actually critical."

This was something in your head. It is not the case. The fact that there is generally high reviews is that some people are reluctant for a number of reasons to review bad works or poor works.

Another part of it is that a lot of the reviewers are big softies. Some people are just that way, best not to shame them for it.

So, to repeat. You kind of mucked up a little bit, but not really because of the review. I don't really view you badly due to this, and I'm sure wildbow and others don't, but I'm sure some people will not be able to dismiss your minor fault.

My advice? Don't worry about them, and improve instead.

It seems like you might be expected to rate high almost out of courtesy, even if your review is actually critical."

I wanted to address this specifically with some of my own examples. It's been a while since I've reviewed anything here (I need to start doing that again) but let me give you three examples from 2011:

Improvisational Oblivion -

Memory of the Sun -


In each case I could see something valuable in the entry, but the highest rating I gave any of them was three stars.

A review is both stars AND text, and both are important. I rated Memory of the Sun two and a half stars, even though it was one of the best things I'd read, because it appeared to have been completely abandoned (sadly, still true it appears). I gave the crazy-named one two stars because it left me cold, made me work two hard, but I could see stuff in it I knew other types of readers would like (I know those readers) and in the text I did my best to point out which readers would be more likely to respond to it, and what parts of the story I found engaging.

The short story writer was probably the most disadvantaged by the review of three stars, because three stars generally gets interpreted as "meh, whatever" by the audience and there were some really good stories on that site--but I found it difficult to get attached to the work overall because I'm looking for something more unified when I go to a specific site to read webfiction. Memory of the Sun got the review it did because it was an abandoned work, but the actual writing was so good I couldn't give it a zero or one star rating.

Crazy-name probably comes out the best, because despite the two stars I go into why it's a difficult work for me, and the reader of the review can use that to determine whether it might be a difficult work for them, or may at least be intrigued enough to click over and see for themselves.

The stars are only part of the story. It is, granted, an important part because they get aggregated into an overall rating that may be push off readers before they look at specific reviews--so for example, crazy-name's two-star rating will probably cause some people to pass over it even before the reviews are read (especially since it's been out there for a while, so people won't see it on the front page).

Anyway, as to the other stuff, I can understand being a little uneasy about showing up and starting things off by giving one of the most popular webserials on the site a middle of the road review. There are a lot of communities where this would cause a shitstorm, and to be fair, the first time we were ever aware of a negative review for Worm on the WFG site there was a bit of a shitstorm in the forums (I can't remember the specifics right now but I think the reviewer complained that Worm justified rape? I dunno. I remember the reviewer was pissed, that's about it).

Just stand by what you write, and weather the reactions.

Chrysalis - Maybe that's where I got it from. :P

Sten - True, though there's something to be said for having disagreements on your review when they're not that common.

Patrick - Haha! You I like. :P Well, then again, I like most people in this thread so far. Still, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying I could have been less harsh in places. That's how you get better, after all, right?

I dunno about replying. I tend to agree with Sten and Chrysalis a bit more, but I rarely reply to reviews I receive either. But that's me. There's certainly something to be said for both sides. :)

Standing by your reviews and being honest, though? Totally with you, if with the caveat that you shouldn't stand by a review when you can see something is wrong and be willing to admit when you are wrong.

Tartra - I feel your example doesn't apply. I'm not fearing being flayed, ( I just explained this in an earlier post >.>) I simply asked because I'm usually very considerate of people's feelings, but an honest review that accurately describes how I felt about a work sometimes seems to conflict with my desire to make people feel good about themselves. It wasn't me just going "this is really awkward guys" per say (though it felt awkward more because I wasn't sure if this kind of review was okay) it was me going "is it this awkward for you when you leave extremely negative feedback but you feel you need to if you want to leave a review?" (which, yes, this was extremely negative for me). To be honest, I probably wouldn't have reviewed Worm in the first place except that it already has many glowing reviews.

Personally, when I looked through the reviews -- before I started reading Worm -- and how utterly glowing they seemed, I thought Worm was much different than it is. The 1-star reviews could have been written off as just Negative Nancys or whatever. (That is not the case! I'm just saying, it's semi-easy to discount them from the whole because someone always whines about great work. That's not what happened here, obviously.)

I did not write the review to help Wildbow pinpoint specifically what is wrong with Worm. I did not write the review for us to all sit around and go "ho hum, quite right, old bean. That point is very true." I did not write the review to feel all proud of myself for how eloquent I can put a point or how well I could back it up.

I wrote that review for the same reasons I write: I didn't see the writing I wanted to see. My review is only about how Worm made me feel and a loose reason of why.

And I do stand by it. You'll notice I never said I regretted it, nor did I say I didn't really feel that way. Honestly, the only way I could think to get across just how much I utterly hated and despised some parts of Worm in a concise and helpful manner (and without giving spoilers) were to use the words I did. I'm sorry if you feel I was trying to impress but this is simply how I write reviews. If your feeling comes more from this thread, this thread is simply asking "is this okay?" Obviously the answer is yes, even if it's a little polarizing. But due to the lack of reviews like mine that I have seen, I wanted to ask.

Fiona - I honestly completely agree with you. (yay!) The only reason I didn't was because of what you said: spoilers. I figured for my purposes, it wasn't particularly needed, but it would have been nice, yeah, so it's a valid criticism. (Plus, though, I'm really bad at remembering specifics. xD)

SnowyMystic - There is nothing wrong with asking. Pointing at something and saying "is this okay?" is not mucking things up, nor is it self-interested. It's simply being conscious of your actions, especially in a new community. Especially when your style of review isn't seen much.

Also, my "It seems like you might be expected to rate high almost out of courtesy, even if your review is actually critical." was simply an observation that could have been true or an explanation for what I was seeing. I did not necessarily believe this was the case.

Since Ubersoft brought it up, I'd like to chime in about star ratings. I think we should all try to use the criteria WFG assigned to the star ratings, where 2 stars means 'tough slog' as in, hard to read. If we use wildly different interpretations of the ratings system, it confuses potential readers, and the ratings system becomes essentially useless. If an well-written abandoned story gets 2 stars just for being abandoned (and not for being a tough slog), readers who might have enjoyed the unfinished story might expect something that's poorly written at 2 stars and not even read the review.

Also, I sometimes don't understand the correlation between review text and the star rating. If a review says 'I LOVED it and can't wait for the next update' and the only voiced criticism is a couple of minor typos per chapter, why is the rating 4 stars? The review text makes it sound like it's a compelling story (which would be 4.5 stars). I randomly made this example up, by the way, but I did read some reviews whose star ratings confused me. They make me wonder if there was some hidden criticism the reviewer decided not to share because they felt bad about it (or something). Always make your criticism clear!

I think it's possible to write reviews without giving any star rating at all. That's an option as well.