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Young Writers Society
When Reviewing, Consider
Sun Nov 21, 2010 5:06 am
When Reviewing, Consider:
When I review, I look at the basics: grammar, characters, dialogue, plot and sometimes tone. However, what I fail to realize when criticizing these parts of a story is that the author might intend it. We all post works on YWS, and we all receive reviews. How often do we read the reviews and think, “I meant to do that. This reviewer just doesn’t understand.” Well, that’s right, we don’t understand. We don’t understand because we cannot get inside a writer’s head if they won’t let us in. It’s our job as a reviewer to point out the obvious things that bother us and those that might bother every reader. When reviewing, here are some things to consider that the author might intend.
I used to be the biggest nerd about clichés. In a lot of the stories I reviewed I would say, “Oh, this guy falls for that girl? That’s cliché.” Thankfully after hearing my favorite television character Marshall from “How I Met Your Mother” say, “A cliché is a cliché for a reason,” I considered that writers could use these on purpose. And that is when I started using them in my own writing.
But what is a cliché? The textbook definition is: a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect (courtesy of
). Nowhere in that definition do I see that clichés are a negative aspect to add to your writing. True, it might be losing its effect (example: how Twilight stirred so many stories, books, and television series about vampires, and now no one cares – at least not me) but it doesn’t lose its purpose.
Consider that a writer might feel as if the cliché is best. Take the cliché of a ‘forbidden love’ for example. That cliché will never disappear in my eyes, because nothing will ever be able to replace it. It will never lose its effect. No one hates a story where there is a love conflict.
A Mary Sue Character
I had never heard of a Mary Sue until I joined YWS. A Mary Sue is a character that is perfect in any and every way: good looks, bubbling personality, popular, intelligent, edgy. Sure, there aren’t really people out there that are like this, but there are people who want to be. This is why those characters are created in stories.
But who says that it’s a bad thing? Just because a quiz tells you that your character is a clichéd Mary Sue doesn’t mean you have to go and redo them. Believe it or not reviewers, Mary Sue’s do exist in stories, and for good reasons. A Mary Sue might be the easiest type of character to write about because their change would be most obvious. They will change into someone who is normal: someone who has flaws, but doesn’t want to admit it, someone who will embrace them.
When you come across a story that has a Mary Sue, consider: does this person want to have this character? Don’t go right out and say: “Change this. Your character is too perfect.” Hint to them what a Mary Sue is, and ask them if they did this intentionally.
Being Blunt/Tell Not Show
Bluntness is about the easiest way to tick off readers. Coming out and saying, “Oh he’s falling in love with her,” is not something readers want to hear. However, I have found throughout my reviews that there are ways that being blunt is the perfect way to introduce something. I’ve had a contest called “Show Not Tell” where I encouraged participants to describe something and not say it, and in reviews I would often quote the story or poem and say “You need to show this to us, not tell it.” However, I was wrong.
Over the summer I tried to read Moby Dick. I really did try. I put aside time every day to read, even though I had a job. I got to page 40. You know why? To me it was because the author told you every. single. detail. It gets boring, and frankly, I don’t want to read about how their “Hair falls over her mountainous shoulders like the waves of the sea during a storm. Her eyes were like two large lemons whose pupils dilated for nothing, and irises glowed like fireflies in the night” no. That is so stupid. That is not good writing; that is someone trying to be good at writing. So if you see that, I give you permission to scold them.
However, if you see “her hair was brown with a slight wave at the bottom, and ended perfectly with her chin,” leave it alone. Just be thankful they didn’t spend hours trying to tell you how their hair looked like brown seaweed or something like that.
When you see telling not showing, consider: it is better to be blunt than to be annoyingly over-descriptive.
There are many more things to consider, however you understand the gist, I hope? Before you quote something and start to bash it, consider: does the author intend this? Would it sound better this way, or would I rather have it the same? Would their character fit in if it was this way instead of that way? Does this overused saying work rather than them taking hours to explain it a different way?
Consider: would I hate it if they changed it to the way I think it should be?
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Spend your days thinking about things that are good and true and beautiful and noble, and you will become good and true and beautiful and noble.
— Matthew Kelly
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