How to Review

By Juno Magic
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5. P.S.: A Quick Constructive Review

I think one of the biggest problems of reviewing is time. Often, no, most of the time, I simply have not enough time to come up with a thorough, constructive critique for a story. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the desire to get a 36 hours day...

So there we sit, stare at a story we just read, and we would really like to give some good, solid concrit. And already we feel guilty, because we don't have the time to write the critique we feel the story deserves.

There's nothing wrong with that!

Everyone is busy. All of us have offline lives. Many reviewers are also authors with the next story already clamouring for attention. I think no author expects really long, detailed critiques. But I also believe that most authors hope for a comment. And most authors probably dream of reading more than "I liked that, please update soon".

Therefore I believe that a *short* review is better than no review at all!

Apart from those practical considerations, a review also has to fit the story it is written for:

For a really short piece of writing (a drabble, or a short short), or for the review of a single chapter of a multi-chapter story, it simply doesn't make sense to try and take into account every aspect I outlined in chapter 3.

I believe what we need is a way to write a short, but constructive and balanced critique that fits the reviewing needs of drabbles, chapters or short shorts and matches what little time for reviewing we have.

But how?

When I wrote my loooong essay I thought about that, too. I even found one idea for writing short reviews online and included that approach in chapter 3.

After I posted the essay, I was asked by many readers who found that essay helpful to post this "recipe for a short review" separately for easy reference.

So here it is: my "recipe" for a quick, constructive review.

Please remember that this is only *one* possible way of writing a short, constructive and balanced review. There are many other approaches that are just as "right" or "wrong" like this. Just like with writing a story, there are no "ultimate truths" or "indisputable laws" for reviewing.

A possible "recipe" for a quick, constructive review:
  1. We begin our comment with a short summary of the story, or, if we review a single chapter of a long story, with what we perceived as the point of this chapter.

    Just two or three sentences.

    This will show the author if the point she or he was trying to make came across. This will also put us and the author on even footing – both of us will know on which understanding of the story or chapter the following critique is based. We have to remember, the author has no telepathic powers as a rule – she or he won't know how the story came across for us if we don't tell them.
  2. Then we move on to the review.

    In a short critique, we will write only about those aspects of the story that we noticed most of all: the aspects we enjoyed most of all and the aspects which bothered us most of all. Maybe only one aspect, or two or three, rarely more.

    But even in a short review, we can use the "sandwich technique" and frame the negative content of your critique with positive impressions. This may be a detail of a description, or what this chapter tells us about a certain character...

    It is a good idea always to start with positive impressions, in order to get the author's friendly attention and to show that we appreciate the effort that went into writing this story.
  3. Only after we have highlighted some positive aspects we move on to criticizing it.

    In a short review we will probably mention only two to three aspects of the story that in our opinion still could be improved on.

    At this point in the critique, we tell the author which aspects of the story were not effective for us and especially *why* we feel that way.

    If we review a single chapter of a long story, it is very important that we analyse how this chapter, its plot and characterizations fit in with the story as a whole. What does the chapter contribute to the story?

    Even in a short critique it makes sense to quote the passage of the story that did not work for us. We should also take care to make clear *why* xyz was not effective in our opinion. For example we could say: "In my opinion the passage (...) was not effective, because (...)."
  4. Each aspect we criticized should be connected with a concrete suggestion for an improvement.

    It is not a good idea to format criticism and suggestions as two separate lists. Especially in a short critique this leaves the impression of a very harsh, uncaring review.

    Concerning this aspect of a critique, we should keep in mind the meaning of suggestion: to suggest means "to mention or imply as a possibility, to offer for consideration". We should never give orders or act as if we are some kind of "fiction police".

    Our suggestions should also be concrete, and if possible, we should use examples to illustrate them.

    For example we could say: "I believe that the passage (...) could be more effective if you do (...) instead of (...), because this (...). For example (...)"
  5. The critique should end on a constructive, upbeat note to balance its negative content.

    For example, we could quote our favourite line or give an example of what we enjoyed about the story or chapter, or relate an instant reaction to the story or chapter (an exclamation, a smile...).

    If we can say clearly what we like and why, that will help the author just as much to improve as our negative criticism. Improving means to keep doing what was good, and to work on what was not yet as effective as it could have been. To be able to do that, the author also needs to know what was good and effective about her story in the first place.
  6. Last but not least, we should not forget friendly greeting at the very end and make sure that the author has a way to contact us if she wishes to.

    After all, we want our comment to be heard and understood by the author. If we are friendly and polite in our critique, the author will be more likely to think about the negative criticism in that critique.
  7. This short critique will be about twelve sentences long and take us maybe fifteen minutes to write.

    But it will be a real, constructive and helpful review, even if it is short, and not just a comment.

    Chapter Navigation

    1. The Reviewer's Job
    2. How to Phrase a Review
    3. How to Write a Review
    4. The Author's Job
    5. P.S.: A Quick, Constructive Review
    6. Resources for Reviewing and Revising
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