Writing: Reviews

Recently, Kathy Joy, author of Lexus, wrote reviews for The Chronicles of Tearha: Keep Walking and Ryan Watt’s Flocked. The fair and well written reviews came at a chanced time since I had been planning on writing a post on reviews themselves. In an exchange with me, Kathy pointed out a few good points on reviews, which I wanted to share and perhaps explore a little more here.

For writers, a review is a high ladder taller from a comment. It is a set rating. It’s not a ‘like’ or a ‘+vote’, but a rated, critical, and hopefully, informative overview of a story. It is also the sword that could either protect or stab the author.

A review can make or break a story depending on the person writing it, how in-depth it is, and how constructive it is. Let’s go for it at it’s best. At it’s best, a review is honest. It points out all the good and bad with impunity. When someone is honest, there can be no complains on the issue. Let’s take some cuts from Kathy’s review of Keep Walking.

“The only other ‘flaw’ was the amount of exposition.  For such a short story, there was quite a lot to grasp. ”

“It’s not like the information is irrelevant either – far from it.  After all, we are crossing a war zone and facing Titans.  Still, I think a work around is needed.  Perhaps adding a few extra scenes would spread it out and make it less overpowering.”

Now, this is constructive criticism! She pointed out the flaws and gave it a good jab. It’s honest and unbiased. She saw an issue and said, “Hey, everyone, here’s a problem.” Doing it without demeaning the quality of the work from what it is.

There are many other points in which a reviewer can tackle. Character development, plot points sensibility, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, storyline, originality, all of these can be a target in a review.

Now, a negative review is not the same as a bad review though. A review that rates the story negatively but based on honest opinion is negative, but still an honest and constructive review. The problem comes when these review are ‘destructive’.

A review with ‘destructive criticism’ focuses on damaging a story based on false merits. It’s basically a review where the reviewer pokes hole at the story where there were otherwise none of stuff that could otherwise be overlooked in works of fiction (and to a certain extend, non-fiction as well).

These reviews sometime just seems like ‘negative reviews’, because the point out more flaws than good. But these bad reviews usually point out flaws that aren’t there. I was once called out for my plot point felt like they did not have a conclusion, even though I was still on my 5th chapter out of 51 chapters to be written.

The review, of course, was written out of spite. I had recently wrote a negative review on a related piece of short story posted on the reviewer’s blog, and he countered it. That bad review damaged my story’s reputation for a while, and though I’ve managed to fix it, climbing up the ladder was tough. Becoming good is hard, but falling down in shame is ridiculously easy in life.

This practice of countering reviews with their own has let to a practice I’ve seen in a lot of writing circles, including JukePop. Budding authors would fear writing negative reviews, even if the stories they’ve read were utter shit, all out of fear from receiving an equivalent counter from their peers.

Likewise, some writers, unable to take criticism, takes any and all negative reviews as a personal attack (like that stupid Stephanie Meyers) and counters. Others, sell good reviews in hope that the person on the other end would do the same in return.  These broken mentalities can lead to a depreciation of readers.

While these practices of bad and counter reviews has not shied me away from practising my honest reviews policy, I am more critical of the authors I choose to read and interact with. Just like in real life, should the person seem sketchily inviting, I avoid them. Here are some of the things I look out for in potential stories and authors to read online:

  1. If a person is commenting or reviewing my stories on the first one or two chapters positively, but with naught an action to follow through to future chapters, I will assume they are hunting for a good review back and will straight out ignore these authors. This is because if I were to read their stories and they are terrible, and I were to review them, the chances of getting a ‘bad review’ in return is too high.
  2. Do a quick check of the reviews. If they are short along the line of “Great story!” or “Nicely written!”, those are probably meaningless. These are fine as comments, but short reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt.

At the end of the day though, I were to review a story, I make sure to do it completely honestly, even if it ended up being a 1 star review. I don’t hold back my punches, but I also give claps for all the good points made. I believe that so long as I continue to write fairly, a fair reader will return to me in turn.

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4 Comments

  1. Wonderful, thought provoking post! It was interesting for you to point out both the negative reviews but also the positive ones. I think the uninformative but positive ones like ‘this is awesome, write more.’ for example can be just as toxic as destructive reviews. It is great to hear that my work was enjoyed, but it would be great to hear what exactly you liked most. Even if it was just a single line, or something a character says or something.

    Strangely, I learn more from negative feedback (provided it is constructive of course) than the most constructive positive feedback. I want to grow as an author, for my work to be the best it can be, but I know that even then there is ALWAYS room for improvement on even the finest work.

    Like you, I try to be open and honest in reviews because as you say this is the only way to actively help an author. I try to structure my reviews to point out what worked really well and what didn’t work so much, as opposed to what I ‘liked’ and what I ‘hated’. ‘What could be done better’ to me feels like a much more uplifting and useful way to look at things.

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    1. I think the difference between a good writer and a bad one is their ability to take criticism. If you look at people like Rowling and Koontz, they are very humble, and many says they have low self esteem. But I think they just know their strengths and weaknesses in depth. Reading their works we can see powerful characters shine through. On the other hand, weaker writers like, dare I say it, Stephanie Meyers, have a tendency to counter attack against critics, even lashing out at their own fan base. And in return, they have generally extremely weak characters in terms of presence and personality.

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      1. I have noticed that. I could never get along with Stephanie Meyers writing style. I understand that your work is important to you, but there’s no need to take it as an attack. At the end the of the day, people who can’t take negative critique are basically saying ‘my work is perfect’. They do not see their work as a constantly evolving process and so their work will always be shoddy – it will never be as good as it could be. A real writer cares about their work, and cares about making it as good as it could be, and then, seeing if they can make it even better. The best ‘revenge’ for negative critique is prove them wrong – improve your work, learn from it, but understand at the same time that people can’t all like the same thing. I can’t expect everyone to like what I write because although I have quite a broad pallet when it comes to reading, there are still some things I just can’t get along with. That doesn’t make them bad – it just makes them not my cup of tea.

        Conversely, I think anyone who reviews anything and says it is terrible and insulting the work and/or the author instead of constructively outlining what didn’t work for them is not a reviewer – they’re a troll. And we all know just how useful the words of a troll are.

        As you say in your article, it is possible for a constructive critique to be positive, negative or a mixture of both.

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