scared to review?

‘But I don’t know how to review!’

Having been around writer’s workshops a bit, this is one sentiment I’ve heard from new members who are new to commenting on other people’s writing.

To which I say: rubbish.

You’re a reader, right? You like or dislike a story, its characters or its world. You have an opinion, therefore you can write a review.

Because that is what the writer most wants to hear: where did you stumble and which characters held or didn’t hold your interest. Where in the story did you start checking your Email? Most importantly: why? Give simple reasons: the character was too nasty. I didn’t believe so-and-so would do such-and-such. I thought the dialogue was too stilted, and made me laugh where I don’t think that was your intention. I think this story sounds too much like [insert name of book]. Stuff like that. You can keep it brief and general, but tell the author WHY you felt a certain way. There is really nothing to it, and you don’t need a degree in literature.

But what about the nitty-gritty details?

If you feel inclined to comment on style and grammar, again, I’d stick to general impressions:
– The dialogue punctuation isn’t always correct.
– Try to vary sentence length
– Re-word some sentences so they don’t all start with the subject
Stuff like that. You’d have to trust that the author can make his or her own decision about doing something about it and finding help to do so, if they need it. It’s not a good idea to quote writing books/blogs at fellow writers

Don’t waste valuable time rewriting other people’s sentences. A writer isn’t so much interested in people who will re-write their prose, even if only for the simple reason that they write in a certain way and the person rewriting their prose… is another person writing in a different way and the two will never happily coincide. They may say ‘thank you’, but rest assured, if you can’t hear the teeth gnashing in the background, you’re not listening.

It’s good to know what stage the draft is at. First drafts are good for overall plot comments, but at that stage, pointing out typos would be a waste of time. In a final draft, those two would be reversed. If in doubt ask or stick to short comments.

There’s really nothing to it. Give your reaction to the piece. Any reaction will do.


3 comments on “scared to review?

  1. Great post Patty. I’m with you on the teeth-gnashing. Very frustrating and useless. Comments on the plot, characters, tone and pacing are much more important. Your word choices mean nothing to me.

  2. I’ve been absent from OWW for a few months but plan on jumping back in after NaNo. Thanks for this insight/reminder, because I’ve always been a little heavy on birddogging the typos–oh, I always try to hit the bigger elements as well, but not with the same intensity. I’ll be using this approach now though. That’s why were there, after all. To be better writers, not better spellers. 🙂

    • Spelling and grammar ARE very important, and for some writers, it’s what need to be fixed before they progress any further, but I suggest not going through a piece and correcting every little mistake (with some pieces, you’d be doing it for hours), just sticking to the overall. Tell them as friendly as you can make it: use a spellcheck before you submit and get your grammar fixed. IMO, if they write back asking where to find such advice, then it’s OK to point them to some writing books

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