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How to Write Reviews

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Whether you're an old at hand at reviewing or are unsure how to begin, here are some guidelines you might find helpful!

 

I. Content

What things should you address in your review? Here are some questions that might be of use for you to think about as you read the story and write your review.

 

Plot

  • Does the plot immediately interest you?
  • Is there enough conflict/tension/urgency?
  • Is the plot predictable?
  • Is it paced well– do things seem to happen too quickly, too slowly, or at just the right speed?
  • If the story is set within a fandom, does the story's plot fit well into that fandom, and follow its rules?
  • What are you curious about in future chapters?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?

 

Characterization

  • Do the characters seem realistic?
  • Are the characters nuanced– do they have a complex set of strengths, flaws, fears, hopes?
  • If the story is set within a fandom, do the characters seem in-character according to the original book/show/movie/series?
  • Do you care about the characters– do you sympathize with them?

 

Setting

  • Are there enough details about the setting that you can picture it?
  • If it's set in a different time period or a different world, does the author provide enough background about the time period or the world's rules that you feel comfortable in it?
  • Does the story suit the setting, or does it feel like it belongs in a different one?

 

Writing Style

  • Is there enough description, and does the description work well?
  • Does the dialogue sound natural?
  • Are paragraphs a good length, or are too many too long or too short?
  • Is the chapter a good length, or does it need to be added to or cut down?
  • Does the writing flow– if you read it aloud, does it sound natural?
  • What perspective is it in– first, second, or third– and does the perspective suit the story?
  • If the point of view shifts among characters, are the shifts clearly marked and easy to follow?

 

Grammar

  • Was the grammar correct most or all of the time?
  • If, not, were any grammar issues so significant as to be distracting, or were they relatively minor?
  • Were there any recurring problems that the author should definitely know about?

 

II. Style

How should you organize your review, and what tone should you adopt? Here are some tips about how to go about physically writing the review.

 

Organization

It's great if you liked the story so much that you have only good things to say about it, but it's most helpful for the author if you have a mix of praise and constructive criticism. You can almost always find something in a story that needs improvement, so let the author know!

 

Some people like the "sandwich" method– starting out with something nice to say, then adding suggestions, then finishing with another thing or things that they liked. Others will just jump into constructive criticism, and follow with praise; others will do the reverse. How you choose to organize it is up to you, but definitely strive for a mix of things you liked and things you thought needed work!

 

Constructive Criticism

Speaking of constructive criticism, it's just that– criticism that is constructive. That means that you're making suggestions in a respectful tone, without telling the author that they have to do something or saying that, for instance, their plot sucked. Even if you did think that the plot sucked, it's much more helpful to the author to say something like, "I had trouble engaging with the story because the first three chapters have very little action, and the characters mostly think about what they're going to do rather than doing it" than "Your plot sucked." That way, the author can go about working on their weaknesses.

 

If you're ever worried about sounding rude when giving constructive criticism, qualifying phrases can help immensely by indicating that you're just sharing one person's opinion or that an issue might have happened some of the time but not always. "It felt to me like your protagonist was flat at times" sounds much nicer than just, "Your protagonist was flat." Other ways to soften your suggestions include: "I understand you're trying to do ___, but...", "Maybe you could try...", "I'm having trouble figuring out...", "If you're interested, you could...", "Perhaps it would help if you..." and so on.

 

Length

Often people wonder how they can make their reviews longer. If you're worried about the length of your reviews, you can ask yourself: Have I pointed out multiple things that I liked, and multiple things that the author could work on? If the answer to both is yes, but your review still feels too short, double check to see if you have specific examples for each thing you talked about. You can also consider going back through the chapter and finding some of your favorite lines or moments to point out to the author. Authors love to know what specific things are working well or not.

 

If it's a multi-chaptered story, you can take some time to make predictions or muse about things you'd like to see. Even if you're wrong, these observations can be really helpful to an author who is thinking about revising or editing. Even if they're not, your thoughts might inspire them to change or add something down the line.

 

Another way to add to the length of your reviews is to write them as you read. If you read a 5,000 word chapter, you might not remember everything you wanted to say by the time you finish it. But if you jot down notes to yourself (either in the review box or in another word document) as you go, you'll ensure that you say everything you mean to say. Oftentimes, this also helps with length just because you are paying more attention to your own thoughts and reactions as you read, so you may find you have more to say than when you're solely reading a chapter for pleasure.

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Vilja

Thank you for this post, very helpful!

 

Lately my (quite recently launched) review thread became inactive (basically I have one sole author repeatedly requesting), and I'm affraid I'm doing something wrong... So it would be greatly appreciated if you could comment on how am I doing in light of your guidelines.

 

these are the reviews I've written so far on HPFF

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com/reviews.php?reviewerid=586788

 

do I need to be more positive? more detailed? any suggestions really

(please disregard my first short reviews that basically lacked content, I realized that this is not the way to do it...)

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abhorsen.

I think your requested reviews look great! (And I really appreciated the one you left me! It was really helpful. <3)  I also don't think there's anything wrong with short reviews, especially when you're just leaving random reviews; my rule of thumb have always been longer reviews for requests/swaps/BvB, but shorter ones are fine otherwise.

 

I suspect that your review thread sees a little less activity because romance isn't so much your thing, and people often write romance. (Though I'm actually headed there, like, right now, because I'm mobilizing to request a review on my James & Roxanne ridiculousness. :P)

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Vilja

abhorsen,

thank you so much for your reply - and you might be right, not reviewing romance is probably part of the inactivity in my thread

 

also I like your rule of short reviews for random reads and longer on request - now that I look, I followed this unconsicously :)

 

I'll head over right away to my thread to check your request ;-) I liked your previous stroy very much (I even nominated it for Ravenclaw April SOTM :D) it was a pleasure to review

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