You might be a writer too, but reading and writing are two different thing. Whether you're a straight reader or a reader and writer, you don't just want to take, you want to give too. You realize there's a very limited way to "give" as a reader, and the most favorite is giving feedback. So, you make an effort to tell people what you think of their stories.
But, you have a major problem, theres a lot of fanfiction out there that isn't perfect. So, you feel you end up with two choices... you can ignore the bad completely and just write wonderful reviews telling everyone how great they are. You follow the code of "If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all!" to the letter. But deep down, you have a bitter taste in your mouth, because while you're being really, really, nice, you're not exactly helping either. You're starting to feel like you're out with your best friend, who's got a peice of food sticking to her teeth, and instead of telling her nicely, you're just ignoring it. While that might be polite, you're also leaving your poor friend open to having someone else tell her she's got food on her teeth in a rude manner. "Hey, whatcha doing, saving that peice of salad for later?"
The second choice is to say, "Feelings be damned!" and decide that anyone who has the balls to write fanfiction and publish it on the net, needs to grow a thick skin and if they can't do that, well, that's not your problem. You're going to tell it like it is and if you hurt feelings along the way, you'll tell yourself you could have been worse and if anything, they should be grateful to you for being rough, cause the real world is a lot meaner. Every peice of fanfiction out there, you're going to judge with equal standards. Warnings mean absolutely nothing to you, and in fact, are a flag for people who need your wisdom. Since most writers beg for reviews, you're even starting to feel that you're more important than the writer. Everyone writing fanfiction you know for fact, wants to be a professional writer, so you will judge their work as if you're a professional critic. You never make it personal, so no one can say you're flaming, but you have no problem with making sure writers know how painful it was for you to have to read their drivel. You rarely read any fanfiction where you can't find at least one thing wrong and even if you really enjoyed the story, you'll make sure they know what you didn't like in excruciating detail, but you won't give them a clue what you actually liked about the story, just saying, "But I really liked it," and figure that's enough.
The problem is that neither of those are really useful when you think about it. And, they're sorta selfish. Blasting people out makes you feel better, but do you really feel that trying to completely tearing down someone's fanfiction is going to help? Well, once in awhile, perhaps, but in most cases, you're going to have a writer who doesn't quite know how to react to you and is feeling very insecure about her writing. There's a good chance she wouldn't be too upset if someone came along and fried your computer so you couldn't check the 'net for a few days. If you go with the "nothin' but praise" option, you're milktoast. So, you try to come up with the third option, which is how to be honest and helpful without being either Suzie "Bunny Hugs" Creamcheese who finds even fanpublished laundry lists charming as hell or being the cruel bitch, ready to shread apart everything.
Take it for what it's worth, but I've had remarkable success at writing some fairly critical reviews. Yes, I've had a few people fly off the handle and get upset at my critism, but as I said, it's been really rare and in every case where it has happened, I've written them back calmly and gently pointed out that they were overreacting a bit and if they would go back and read my review again, they would see that it isn't nearly as harsh as they think it is.
Now, if you would care to know how I've had this great success,
Before we begin... I realize I refer to the writer as "she." This isn't to say that there are no men writing fanfiction, there are. But the hobby does seem to be more of a woman's game.
I'll remind you all, if you feel that a review is a chance to vent your spleen at those who dare not write to your standards, then quit reading right now. You really don't care about helping anyone, you're only going to read it, hoping to leap all over my ass and say, "But people have to toughen up, it's a mean old world out there, blah blah blah..." Yes, it is a mean old world out there and the net can be brutal. That doesn't mean you have to be a part of it and if you are a part of it, you do it of your own free will and you're still an asshole. You can be an asshole all you want, I can't stop you, but I'm not going to justify your assholism, nor will I think that you're doing more good than harm. Yes, maybe a few people will take your brutality and use it to toughen up and improve, but you've probably hurt more people than you've helped. If you aren't going into reviews on the idea of helping the writers, then don't read what I've got to say.
1: Recognize that some people cannot be helped. There are some fanfic writers out there who will not change. A well worded, decent review will not help them, so don't waste your time. Yes, you might be tempted to mock them and flame them, but why? Yes, you might feel better when you're done,but you've also lost a lot of your cred as someone who gives good reviews and helpful advice. The reputation of a reviewer works like most things in life... a million awesome, perfect, intelligent reviews can be wiped out with one scathing review that enough others feel was going over the top. This means if it says at the top of the story, "Don't say anything bad about my story!" just run away. You are not obligated to tell her that she's living in fantasy land and is mostly likely turning off potential readers. She'll just say "I said don't do it, and you did it, so you're a big old meanie!" Again, she's hopeless. The only way she's likely to change is having someone she trusts gently tell her what's up, and even that might darned well backfire on that person.
2: Never ever review a story you absolutely hated. You will not be fair and some of your disgust will show through on your review. You can't expect someone to take your critism seriously when it's pretty clear you had to hold back your gorge to finish reading the story. If you absolutely hate a story, then don't consider it worth your time and leave it alone. And for the luv of Mary Sue, do not tell yourself that the writer is owed a nasty review, because she had the nerve to waste however much of your precious time that it took you to read the story. Do that and you're the idiot. You should be able to tell in five minutes or less if the story is any good. If it starts out with: " 'Twas a dark & stormy nite when Cassadellana, often called Cat by her closest friends, the new exchange student from the United States, arrived at Hogwarts." you know it's going to suck, don't be an idiot and waste your time reading it.
3: Be sure you liked something about the story before you write your review. Yes, this sounds a lot like a rewording of rule one, but hate is a lot different from like. If you find a story bland and boring through and through, don't bother. There must be at least one thing you like about it, be it the title, the dialoge, the plot, etc. If there is nothing you liked, then consider the story hopeless and recogize that you can't help something that you feel is hopeless.
4: Respect the writer. No, you don't have to love someone's work to respect them. Remember at all times this is another human being who wrote this story, not some faceless thing on the other end of the keyboard. Treat this person with the same respect you expect shown to you. Even if she asked for reviews, she never specifically singled you out and said, "Please, write me a review!" You always had the option to ignore her, no matter how many times she wrote, "Plz RR, plz, I'll make you cookies!" As you write, try to picture this person in your head and imagine how she will react as she's reading what you have to write.
5: Remember, you're doing this to help If you're not, then stop reading this. In the long run, you should only be leaving reviews because you want to help the writer herself and the fanfiction world. If you can help a below average to average writer become a good to fantastic writer, then you've done the fanfiction community a huge favor.
6: Know the difference between opinion and fact and make sure the writer knows you know. Spelling and grammer are absolutes, most everything else is not. If you're upset about the writer's narative, don't come across like you're the Great and Powerful Oz, let them know that this is how you feel, not the law of the land. Same goes with a lot of other things. Your favorite 'ship might not be their favorite 'ship. While you might feel that one should never write a story about an adult Gohan going off on an adventure without including Videl, another person might feel otherwise.
Amendment to rule 6 The canon rule. Some folks can deal with breaks from canon, others can't. Most writers will let you know if they are breaking from canon. If you can't deal with breaks from canon and the story is labled as such, don't review it, unless you can put aside the fact that they broke canon. And, don't bother to tell them that you disliked her break from canon, she warned you. If the break upsets you that much, you really have no one but yourself to blame7: Don't point out what the writer already knows, unless you can help. Best way I can explain this one is by example. I recently wrote a Doctor Who fanfiction. I openly admitted at the top that 1: I was fairly new to Doctor Who and 2: My knowlege of Brittish slang was pretty much nill. I got a few reviews where people said, "You got a lot of the slang wrong!" and that was about it. Well, DUH, I admitted I would. Not of any help to me at all. But, some other folks took the time to point out the ones I got wrong. "We usually call it a shop, not a store. We don't call them 'shots' unless it's a vet. We call them 'jabs.'" See the difference? The ones who just complained I had to stop myself from responding with, "Thanks for telling me what I already know." But the ones who let me know what I got wrong, were wonderful, because now I could fix the mistakes! The first just annoyed me, the second helped me improve.
8:Offer to help if you can No, writing a review doesn't automatically mean you have to become their beta reader, but, it goes a long way to your own reputation and credibility if you can offer some assitance. It doesn't have to be a line by line beta reading either. I've offered to read over stories and do "what I can" to help folks, making sure they know full well I'm far from an expert in the nitpicks of grammer and spelling. As a writer, I can tell you it's really frustraiting to have people point out that I'm making mistakes, but no one willing to help me fix them.
9: Don't be cute Again, I'll use an example for this one. I got a review for a story that said, "Wow, this was very, very, very, not bad." I stared at that one for a good five minutes not knowing if the person was trying to be cute or if they were sincere. Finally, I responded with, "Not bad does not mean good, it simply means that it's not bad. So, what you wrote me was that you feel my story is very very very not terrible. It is your right to like/dislike anything I write and to tell me how you feel, but if you really feel the story is that bland, could you offer me some suggestions on how I might improve?" To which, the person responded with, "Nooo, I loved it!" Well, they didn't tell me anything they liked or disliked, so it was a little hard for me to get the joke. Maybe I'm a bit thick when it comes to my own writing, but I feel you can't go wrong with honesty. Save the cute for your friends or your journal. When writing a review, be as clear as possible.
10: Point out the good as well as the bad Mary Poppins was right when she said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Yes, yes, you might be tough as nails, able to take brutal critism from strangers, but most people aren't. I've had the best luck when I word an honest review in such a way that it's because I'm so impressed with how good they are that I must point out the mistakes. Be honest, what would you rather here?
A: Your knowlege of the basic rules of grammer and spelling are simply awful and made the story next to impossible to read.Is B laying it on a bit thick? Perhaps, but if you've followed rule #2, (always like something about the story) it isn't dishonest either. And while a writer will appreciate being thought of as good, chances are excellent she'd much rather be known as fantastic. Not only have you told her she has a chance to go from good to fantastic, you've also offered her solutions on how to get there.
B: I was so impressed with your characterization, but unfortunately, the poor spelling made it harder to fully appreciate the time and effort you must have put into this story. If you could just take the time to run a spellcheck, or find someone willing to beta read for you, I think your story will go from good to fantastic.
11:Always tell a writer what she's doing right Yes, this sounds like a rehash of the above, but it deserves to be pointed out more than once. People seem to assume that writers should know what they're doing right. Well, I can't answer for all writers, but I'm not always sure. If you feel someone's dialoge is spot on, let her know. That way, she'll know she's not hopeless, but she'll also know that she doesn't have to work on that as hard. If a writer is good at one point, then bad at another, let her know. "The dialoge between Goku and Vegeta when they were flying to meet up with Cell was perfect, yet the dialoge between the two of them when the battle was over sounded stilted." Now she can look at both peices and see what she's done right and what she's done wrong.
12: Don't be stupid Another example time. I wrote a story in which a four year old girl wanted a fluff and jam sandwich for lunch. I got a review that said "I have a complaint. Marshmallow fluff should be eaten with peanutbutter in sandwiches, not with jelly. I know, because that's what I brought for lunch three years running in elementary school."
The reviewer went on to tell me that other than that, my story was good, but to be honest? I take her opinion with a grain of salt, because she's just told me she's a moron. There is no law in the world that says fluff must only be eaten with peanut butter and it certainly isn't impossible to eat fluff without peanut butter. She came across as a complete idiot who apparently doesn't understand how to think outside of the box. Yes, I responded nicely to her review, but I really don't have a lot of respect for her. At best it came across like she needed to find something to bitch about desperately, and could only find the fact that I don't believe four year olds are fixed on things like others are, at worst she just looked idiotic.
13: Don't judge fanfiction any harsher than you would a professional novel In truth, you ought to keep in mind that fanfiction isn't professional writing, but some folks can't seem to do that. However, the least you can do is not judge fanfiction harsher than you would a professionally published story. When you sit down to read a professional written story, you don't read it looking for things to complain about. You don't feel you must find several things wrong with it, or there's something wrong with you. Offer fanfiction the same respect. Go into it expecting it will be just fine. When you do come across things you think are wrong, ask yourself if you'd feel they were wrong if it was your favorite professional writer who had written it.
Trust me, I do understand why we sometimes want to tell a writer how badly she sucks. I've writen a lot of reviews which have boiled down to, "What the hell did I just read and will someone please gouge my eyes out with a spork?" But, the difference is I don't hit the send button. Because in the long run, I'm not going to bother with a writer unless I feel I can help them, be it encourage or help improve.
It comes down to this... what do you want out of your reviews? If you want someone to take your advice to heart and improve, then improve your odds. Not everyone can take rough, mean, critism. That doesn't make them babies or thin skinned. And just because a writer is more likely to enjoy hearing "Gr8, Plz rite more thnx!" then a harsh, but well meaning critique, look at it this way... you've got two people claiming to want to date you. One tells you how great you look, how beautiful you are, how much they want you. The other tells you that you need to work out, you need to learn how to apply makeup better, you should get your hair cut. Which one do you want to be with?
Well, there is another option and that is to be the person who makes you feel good, while still suggesting ways to be even better. "You are so beautiful and I'll bet if you'd cut your hair, just get a little style, you'd be even more beautiful!"
"Your writing is great, but with a few improvements, you could be one of the best!"