Reviewing reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, but I thought I would go a little deeper into it from a writer’s perspective.

When you put your writing out in the public eye, you invite feedback.  Some will be good and some will be bad.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Amazon and the reviews for your most favorite author of your most favorite book.  There will be negative reviews.

Part of whether a review is good or bad for any given work has to do with personal preferences.  I have a friend who adores certain books/movies/music, and while I agree with some of it, others of her favorites I dislike or feel ambivalent about.  Personal taste.  It doesn’t make either of our opinions right or better than the other, they are just different perspectives.

There are also trolls out there.  We see them all the time on the Internet.  Their sole purpose in life seems to be going around actively bashing anything and anyone, usually in the rudest possible manner they can muster.  Ignore them.  They are not worth anyone’s time or energy, either to read what they’ve written or bother responding.

There may be other shades of types but we’ll group most of the remainder into people expressing a well-meaning review (admittedly some are less well-meaning than others).  They are trying to give honest feedback, and they may or may not accomplish it.

Trouble is, some of them don’t/can’t express themselves very well, so it gets lost in the translation.

Others, give “feedback” that says very little: “loved it”, “great story”, “this is amazing”.  While they’re being honest, and it may make us feel good, it isn’t particularly helpful.  What did they love?  Why was it a great story?  What is amazing about it?  Do they think the characters are brilliantly realized?  Do they consider the storyline utterly fascinating?  Is this the most original and unique story they’ve read in a long time?  What was it they particularly liked?  Writers need some idea of what it was they did right.  Similarly, they need to know what didn’t work.  “It was great for the most part” doesn’t give me much idea of where I need to improve.  What is wrong with the ‘non-most part’, and what in particular was it?  Did I put the characters into a completely unbelievable situation, but it was brief and you forgive me and just ignore that part?  What?  Details and specifics can help.  Examples can help.  Vague praise or criticism doesn’t do me much good.

The other sort of feedback that I see a lot of in fan fiction is quite specific (though sometimes presented a little nastily).  You can tell me you didn’t like something without being nasty about it.  Try really, really hard – you can do it!  Some of what they express is on-the-nose accurate.  Yes, I did mess up that part.  Yes, the story did fall a little flat in that part of chapter two.  Yes, I could have done more with that character.  But writers – DON’T take the reviewers’ words as gospel.  I’ve had people tell me I’m wrong about something when in fact they were the one that was wrong.  I’ve also had them express an opinion – but it WAS an opinion and not based in anything concrete.

If they offer criticism, examine what they are saying and try to honestly determine if they are right.  If you believe they are, then take it to heart and try to do something about it in your future writings (or fix the current one if that is possible).  If they are wrong, thank them for their input and ignore it.  I’ve seen some reviews and I’m curious about the person who wrote it so I go to see what they have written.  Many times it turns out that they haven’t written/posted anything, or what they have written is so poorly written that I wouldn’t even read it all the way through.  That being the case, why would I (or anyone else) listen to their criticism of someone else’s work?  But if I find that they have published stories and they are extremely well written, then I sit up and take notice.  They know whereof they speak.  I can learn from them if I will.

For those of us who post online in a format that allows making changes, we have the option of fixing things if we wish.  Hardcover or paperback books don’t have that luxury.  Any errors must remain until the next printing, and even then remain unless the book owner buys a new copy that fixes the error.  Since I write in the Lord of the Rings universe, and it is a huge, rich universe, there is a learning curve.  Early stories have detail errors that I only discover later.  I don’t necessarily go back and fix them if they are a major part of the story, I just don’t repeat them in the future.  Other things are trivial: I had given a male horse a certain name that someone pointed out would actually be a feminine name in Tolkien-verse.  That was easily changeable and so I made the correction.

But only once did I rewrite a scene after a reviewer said they felt someone acted out of character.  I agreed with them after reading their very specific comments, and it was easy enough to replace that scene in the story, so I rewrote it to try to bring it back into line with the character.  They were astonished, not expecting me to do that, but it was my choice not to leave that error in the story.

So, bottom line, take all reviews with a grain of salt.  Honestly examine what is said and try to fix what you can, either in the present or in the future.  And while you’re at it, try to leave constructive reviews for others, the kind of reviews that you would like to get.  There likely will never be a “best writer ever”, but we can all be better writers collectively, and help others toward that goal.


This Might Interest Some of You

via Pixar Rolls Out Free Online Storytelling Course | Mental Floss

Noticed this on Mental Floss.  Those of you who write might want to see if it offers anything you can use.

In case the link doesn’t work:


I May Look Like a Grown-up…

but I can’t fathom why anyone allows me near a kitchen.  Whether actual innate clumsiness or simple carelessness, small disasters tend to occur when I become culinary bent.

I don’t even have to turn on the stove, either.

Years ago, I worked such that I put in a few hours in the morning, had several hours off midday, and then went back for an hour or so in late afternoon.  While home midday, I was fixing lunch – dishing some cottage cheese into a bowl.  Bowl in left hand.  Spoon in right hand.  Watch on left wrist.  Then I remembered there was something on TV that I meant to watch so I checked my watch to see what time it was.  Yup.  Entire bowl of cottage cheese now on the floor at my feet.  You think that stuff only happens on TV or in the movies, but no, I can attest to it really happening.  Likely such things on TV or in a movie are based on a real-life event.

Not convinced yet?

I decided to boil some eggs in order to make egg salad.  I put them on to boil and went in the other room, where I became involved in doing something else.  Some time later, I hear a strange periodic pinging sound.  It went on long enough that I wondered what the neighbors were doing down on the patio of our apartment complex, and got up to go see.  No one was outside.  But while looking out the window, I remembered the eggs and thought I should go check on them.  I found the pinging sound.  Eggs that are boiled dry explode.  Egg all over the kitchen – walls and ceiling and floor.

My roommate happened to be housesitting for someone at the time and so was not home, but we worked at the same place.  The next day I went into the office, and stood in front of her desk.  She looked up questioningly and I told her, “There are some things a girl’s mother should tell her.  But, failing that, her older but wiser roommate should tell her.”

Without missing a beat, she asked, “What have you done to my kitchen?”  Sadly, my reputation preceded me.

Fast forward to today.  Decided to make some jello.  What’s hard about jello, right?  Jello packet contents in a bowl, pour in hot water and stir, then stir in some cold water and refrigerate.  Two “ingredients”.  Easy.  Unless you’re me.  In which case, while stirring to dissovle the gelatin in hot water, I attempted to put a potholder under the bowl – and then manage to slosh it on my hand, the counter, the microwave (sitting on the counter nearby) and on the potholder.  Sigh.

Yes, you do have permission to physically restrain me if I’m ever at your house and trying to enter your kitchen.  Best not to tempt fate!

Story ideas, from whence they come

The Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak

“Peter Maxwell was a respected faculty member of the College of Supernatural Phenomena—until the day he was murdered. Imagine his chagrin when he turns up at a Wisconsin matter transmission station weeks later and discovers he’s not only dead but unemployed…

Today both BookBub and Early Bird Books were offering this eBook at a discount price.  I usually glance through the descriptive blurb to see if a book might interest me, and noticed the bit I put in bold:  “he’s not only dead but unemployed…

I’m a writer (not professionally), so not unexpectedly it sparked an idea.

“Hey, man, I’m sorry.  You’re dead.  We had to let you go.”

“But I’m standing right in front of you, and I can work.  Help me out here!”

“Pete, do you have any idea the problems that come up when you have a dead person on the payroll?  It would be a nightmare!  It just isn’t worth the hassle.  I wish I could help you, but I’d lose my job if I did.”

He turned away and then stopped dead in his tracks, his expression clearly indicating he didn’t believe he had just spoken those words to someone.  Then he gave a little shake of his head, obviously not wanting to think too much about it.

You just never know what will trigger an idea!

Water, redux

I now live near a creek.  Possibly soon to be reclassified as a river, if size is the determining factor.  I didn’t use to live near a body of water.  But rain, rain and more rain has turned a usually-dry drainage ditch into quite the roaring rapids.  Still, I do enjoy the sound of rain on the roof…right up until it takes out a hillside and washes homes away…

First sign of sunlight, I’m going looking for rainbows.

Happy rainy Friday night to you (in Southern California anyway).

Wait, didn’t I say that LAST Friday, too?

Uh oh!

When I started this blog, I figured I should start jotting down things to post – try to stay ahead of the game, as it were.  Just realized that I’m down to only 3 unposted items in the queue!

I’d better hurry and come up with a whole lot more to say pretty soon, or this blog will bite the dust.  I think you have to actually post stuff for it to be considered a blog…  Isn’t that a blogging rule?

I need to get more opinionated quick.  Okay, no, I’m already opinionated enough.  Most of the time, though, I realize it is best to leave some things unsaid.  I need to come up with more valuable things to say…yeah, that’s the ticket.

Happy rainy Friday night to you (in Southern California anyway).

Do Something. Anything.

A couple of years ago, a friend and I were talking and we both agreed that we would like to do more to make the world better, but we had limited time and money available to feel like we could have much of an impact.  As I pointed out to her, though, even if I can’t save the world and everyone in it from bad things, I can do SOMETHING.  Maybe all I can manage today is to hold the door open for someone who has their arms full, or offer to carry one of their bags to their car/apartment for them.  Yes, those are small things and the world doesn’t know that I did them, but that one person does.  Maybe others even witnessed it.  What if that person then made a greater effort to do something similar for someone else?  What if the witness made a greater effort to do something similar for someone else?  And what if every time something good was done, someone saw it and tried to emulate that behavior?  I might think holding open a door for someone was a tiny thing, but for all I know it could have broad repercussions.

If you have time and/or money to give to worthy causes to help others, wonderful.  If you have money but no time, so be it.  Start with where you are and what you can do.  If your situation changes (more time/money or less time/money), then adjust accordingly, but always try to move forward.  There’s a lot of ugliness and suffering all around us.  If we pull our eyes away from our cell phones, we’ll see ways to help.

I once sat in a large waiting room and saw a woman approaching the non-automatic door using a walker.  That entire waiting room did nothing.  I was seated on the far side of the room and walked across the room to hold the door for her.  Mind you, these were not sick and infirm people (at least not all of them).  Many, like me, were simply there waiting for someone who was having physical therapy.  But they did nothing.  I hope they felt ashamed of themselves after seeing me do that.  Yes, the friend I was there with had health issues that made me more aware of such things, but it was obvious that this woman was alone and going to have to wrestle a walker through a door trying to close on her.  I shouldn’t have been the only one to offer assistance to her.

Let’s not make excuses for doing nothing.  Let’s find ways to do something.  Anything.