We’ve had a few people tell us that they wish they could review or comment on their favourite fan creations, but they just never know what to say. Sound like you? Well, don’t sit there nodding glumly like Joss Whedon just killed off your favourite character – check out our tips for writing fantastic feedback:
- Think before you type. Sounds obvious, but work out what you’re going to say before you say it. If you’re going to ramble or just squeal, that’s fine, but remember to add something else in there (or at least make sure it’s obvious whether your review is positive or negative).
- Be constructive. Some fortunate writers and artists find they can just shrug off or laugh over the criticism that comes their way if it’s just an outright insult with nothing to back it up. The vast majority, however, find that having something they’ve worked so hard on ridiculed feels like being punched in the stomach. If you’re going to point out a fault, point it out – see the next point – and try to lean towards ‘I did think the phrasing in the second paragraph/the shading on the Batmobile’s wheels was a little off’ rather than ‘This is rubbish’ or ‘Gross’.
- Be specific. This applies to both criticism and praise. By all means start your review with ‘I loved it’ – and if you really did love it all equally, leave it like that or even add ‘I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite bit’ – but chances are there’ll be something that catches your eye. Point that out! ‘I loved it, especially the detailing on Marvelous’ jacket’ or ‘It was great; my favourite bit was when Captain Jack Sparrow leapt out of a cupboard and the other pirate scared him’ could be really useful when that creator comes to starting a new project. It gives them a particular element to be proud of, or a clear area to work on if you didn’t like a specific bit as much.
- Be open to responses if you feel that’s possible. By this, I mean sign in if you can, or leave a message that says ‘I’ll check back to see if you’ve replied, in case you want to talk about it some more’. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I certainly find that it’s handy to be able to ask a reviewer or commenter for more information on what they thought could have been better or done differently. Besides, that’s how we get to make friends!
- Pay attention to any response you get and respect the deliberate stylistic and artistic choices of the creator. The fact that you disagree with the way it was done doesn’t make it wrong, and just because you like it, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way it works. Your mileage may vary – and different people may love completely different things!
- Try that ‘compliment sandwich’ thing people are always talking about, if you are making a criticism. That is, start with something nice – however small (if you’re really stuck, I suppose you could compliment their username or their avatar) – then proceed to your constructive criticism, then finish with another compliment. For example: ‘I really enjoyed this chapter – the pacing was a little rushed perhaps, but I loved the dialogue between Fletcher and Red, that was spot-on’. A spoonful of sugar and all that.
- Admit to your fannish squee. As a fanfiction writer myself, I’ve had reviews before that say ‘Sorry, I’ll review later, but right now I need to sit in a corner and hyperventilate because OH MY GOODNESS that was awesome’. Sometimes the later review eventually arrives; sometimes it doesn’t. That doesn’t matter, because this fannish review lets me know that at the very least someone enjoyed it. Don’t forget, most fan creators are just as prone to fits of flailing and squealing as you are; we’re all fans together after all. They won’t think you’re weird; they’ll be flattered that you got so excited about something they made.
- Be sincere. If you really, really can’t think of a single thing to say about someone’s creation – or you can’t think of anything nice – maybe just don’t review or comment this time. It doesn’t hurt you not to leave feedback, and it doesn’t hurt the creator not to receive it from you. Other people will review, after all!
- Don’t flame. That means no personal remarks, no airing of grievances from elsewhere – focus on the work that’s being commented on/reviewed and be respectful of the time and effort that goes into everything a fan creates. By all means compare it to their other work, or similar work by others, but try not to do so in a derisory fashion. ‘This reminds me of [this picture by this artist], the use of texture is very evocative’ is good. ‘This is nowhere near as good as [this fic by this author], learn to punctuate’ is not as helpful. Equally ‘I hope you fall down the stairs, you should stop writing’ will never do anyone any good, including the person who leaves such a review.
- Be friendly! We’re all in fandom to celebrate things we mutually like, after all – we should like each other too. If you want to be a little chatty in a review, go for it. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Don’t be offended by a lack of reply, though – some lucky people get thousands of comments on things they post and can’t possibly talk back to everyone, or just aren’t comfortable chatting to strangers, or have nothing particular to say in response to your comment. It’s nothing personal. Find something else you like, leave a nice, friendly comment, and repeat the process until you’ve got more fandom friends than you know what to do with!
Eleanor Musgrove (suggests, on second thoughts, stopping at ‘as many fandom friends as you know what to do with’)