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Thread: SPEW Review for September

  1. #1
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    SPEW Review for September

    No, you didn't read the title incorrectly, and you didn't miss the other threads. Because there aren't any.

    This month will be different for all of us. A growth period, perhaps, for both your leadership and yourselves. While there are only a few of you at the moment, this actually provides a great chance to engage in a wonderful teaching tool recently developed by Soraya and myself.

    While the recently hosted Reviewing class was only meant to lay the foundations for proficient and comprehensive reviewing, I thought (and my partner in crime agreed) that there isn't a single member of SPEW that wouldn't benefit from engaging in a bit of self-improvement. We're just going to make it mandatory.

    With that, welcome to boot camp!

    Below, you'll find every lesson we posted in the Reviewing Class, if you've not read them already, and your requirements for August/September, SPEW, is to complete all of the assignments. Difficulty-wise, it requires about the same amount of effort. However, in terms of leaving room to procrastinate to the last minute, I hope you'll take my word for it that this will NOT be a good idea. Nor would it be a good idea to rush right through it. This will take work throughout the month, little bits at a time.

    However, I am confident that, with pointed and comprehensive groundwork laid for you, most of you will see a spike in your RAC scores in the very near future. In fact, I'm certain of it.

    You'll find that the Vault 713 forum is freshly cleaned out. Here, you will make a thread for yourself in which you will post your completed assignments. Failure to do so or to complete all the assignments by the regular SPEW deadline (September 15th, 11:59 US Pacific Time), as you may guess, will result in a penalty review and a 'strike' against your SPEW membership, just as a regular month would earn.

    I look forward to seeing all of you get something out of this, and hopefully, we can make boot camp (or back to school, considering the timing of this) something we do once a year or so.

    Now, let the games begin!
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    Student Syllabus


    Reviewing has always been a fundamental part of the fan fiction culture, both in giving and receiving. One of the most widely held beliefs, however, is that “I don’t know what to say” or “nothing comes out but stupid flailing”. Well, we’re here to show you that crossing over from one-liners to meaningful feedback isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think. This course is designed to get you started.

    Lesson 1 — Tone: The Language of Reviewing
    Lesson 2 — Reasoning: What You Think and Why
    Lesson 3 — Organisation: Making the Most of your Review
    Lesson 4 — Pulling It Together
    Lesson 5 — Exam



    Intro

    Hello, and welcome to the First-Years level reviewing course. Your professors this time around will be Soraya/babewithbrains and Jess/ToBeOrNotToBeAGryffindor. As the most tenured members of the SPEW organisation (Society for the Promotion of Evaluation for Writers) on MNFF, we’ve travelled the road most of you are on now, wondering how to take the thoughts in our head and make words happen.

    One thing to bear in mind is that this is NOT a master class on forming the most flawless reviews ever; it is a stepping stone for those of you who are either uncomfortable leaving reviews for fear of having nothing to say or anyone who would like to branch out from one-liner territory. However, even reviewers who are currently at a higher level can still take away valuable things from this class and improve their method from the base up.
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  3. #3
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    Lesson 1 — Tone: The Language of Reviewing


    When reviewing is stripped down to the nuts and bolts, one theme remains prevalent as the most vital and key to communicating with an author: tone. Tone is defined as “a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, or spirit”. Now, stepping away from the dictionary, what it really means is how something comes across or is perceived.

    In the writing world, perception is everything. What makes great writers great is how they manage to give us thoughts and feelings of characters and scenarios using crafted language and devices. Sure, sometimes people don’t ‘get’ the point or see something differently, but does anyone really doubt that the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone wasn’t meant to make us hate the Dursleys and latch onto Harry as someone who needs our care and protection?

    Tone in review is just as important. It’s not just about sounding polite, even when you’re disagreeing with something the author wrote or simply don’t like an aspect of the story. It’s about saying what you mean to say instead of unintentionally saying something different.


    Vocabulary

    Vocabulary is key in this. For instance, here is a word that may or may not drive authors nuts:


    Interesting


    Interesting can mean so many things. Bugs can be interesting. Story arcs can be interesting. Vehicle collisions can be interesting. Plant biology can be interesting . . . I guess. But the point here is that ambiguous words like ‘interesting’ or the dreaded ‘awesome’ can mean good things AND bad things, so using them in the correct context is key. Leaving off a comment as ‘interesting’ can either make the author feel like their work in interesting in the captivating and positive manner, or it could convey the ‘interesting’ in the ‘that’s weird, so let’s poke it with a stick’ way.

    Some of the best ways to avoid ambiguity is to couch it with similar terms. For example, instead of:


    I thought the first chapter of this fic was interesting.


    Try:


    I found this chapter to be interesting and very entertaining.


    The difference between these two is obvious: the former has the potential to sound like a polite way to say something is bizarre or unexpected in a bad way without meaning to be, and the latter specifies that the chapter is interesting in the entertaining way.


    Context

    Now, this isn’t to say that you should be terrified of words that can be taken out of context. All you have to do is create context. This can be achieved either by coupling ambiguous words or phrases with more pointed ones or to simply explain yourself. We’ll talk a bit more about reasoning next week, but it’s just as much a part of tone as anything. Let’s have another example:


    I really enjoyed the classic ‘once upon a time’ method of storytelling in the beginning of SS/PS because its child-like atmosphere fit the main character – a child – well.


    You see what I did there? Calling something ‘childlike’ or ‘classic’ has the potential for labelling something as unsophisticated or recycled, but explaining why I liked it as well showed that the comment was indeed complimentary and not unintentionally derogatory.


    Attitude

    Attitude is another one of those ambiguous words that can mean vastly different things, but YOUR attitude also largely determines what you mean and what the author you’re reviewing thinks you mean. This is where ‘telling’ becomes an issue. Where you might feel like you’re offering good advice for an author so they can either improve their story or improve their method for the future, you might actually sound, to them, like your interpretation is more important than theirs. This is what we call condescension. Don’t do that. Don’t. Here’s why.

    Condescension is the practice of portraying one’s own opinion as being of higher value than another’s and then talking down to that person like you’re doing them a favour. This is, in your professors’ opinion, one of the worst things to do in a review, or in general, really. No author, whatever their skill level or experience, should be left to feel like their point of view doesn’t matter. I doubt you’d appreciate it if that happened to you, so it should go without saying that all writers’ feelings and thoughts should be respected regardless of whether you agree with them.

    However, condescension is easy to do, especially if you aren’t looking at what you’re writing before you hit Submit. Let us examine an example of such condescension.


    I didn’t like the use of second person in your story. I'm generally not a fan of it, and I don’t think it was necessary in your story. I can see why you used it, because I didn’t know until the end of the story who Helga’s lover was, but I thought that was a cheap trick to use purely as a plot device. I think your story would have stood fine using third person, to be honest.


    There are several things wrong with this passage. Firstly, just to be clear, your professors strongly recommend never using the phrases “I didn’t like” or “I’m not a fan” in reviews. Not only does it put the author down, but you as a reviewer are then putting yourself on a level higher than the author’s. (This is the condescension bit.)

    Secondly, the fact that the made up reviewer described the use of second person as unnecessary and a plot device begs the question: why review something when you disagree with such a significant aspect of it? So, golden rule, dear reviewers. Don’t review a story you don’t like. It’s that simple. If you feel the need to criticise a large portion of the story (the premise, the point of view, or some other aspect of the story that, if removed, would make the story fall apart), it will probably work better in both your favour and the author’s to just choose another story to review.

    Which brings me onto the biggest criticism of this made up review: the reviewer suggested a massive change in the story with no justification other than personal preference. This isn’t like pointing out a canon error or a minor plot hole that can be fixed with a bit of tweaking. Either the reviewer is saying, essentially, “Rewrite your story like this”, or else the reviewer is insinuating, “I can write it better than you”.

    And that, really, is the crux of the question. Why do you review? Is it because you want to rewrite things for people and suggest what you would have done if you wrote it, or because you just want to offer feedback to authors trying to make a name for themselves in writing? Your professors hope it’s the latter, in which case, if you have any criticism, it should be sound and worded in a way that won’t offend the author.

    Finally, one rule will always be absolute: BE POLITE! It cannot be stressed enough that behaving in a cordial manner is the best way for your review to mean something good. If you behave like Dudley whining about not having thirty-seven birthday presents instead of being thrilled with getting thirty-six, then reviewing is pointless. As an author myself, I know that, despite having a thick skin for criticism, I will be far more likely to listen to what someone has to say about my story if I like them than if they make me feel defensive and hostile. Even compliments posed in the wrong way can come across as rude or condescending.

    For instance:


    The subject of self-injury is a really sensitive one, and it’s important to handle it correctly in case you offend someone. It’s especially important to highlight the reasons for the self-injury and ensure the situation you present is plausible and realistic because, so often, I read about or see something about the issue where it’s totally misused or misinterpreted. For this reason, I was apprehensive when seeing the warning for this story, but I thought you addressed it well overall.


    The problem with this, primarily, is that the reviewer goes on and on about how self-injury should be handled. But s/he (your made up reviewer is genderless XD) barely discusses if the author fulfilled all of these requirements, if you will. This can actually really worry the author, both because they don’t know if they’ve handled a sensitive issue well and because the reviewer has come across as pretty condescending here. The reviewer seems to be almost instructing the author what to do, which can come off as patronising, too.

    So, the tip here would be to explain to the author why they’ve done something well. Don’t instruct the author or tell them what they should have done (even if you meant that they did what they were meant to do). The bottom line is, if you want to compliment the author, do so clearly by saying you liked something and why — NOT by telling them how you think something should go.

    This is why tone is so very important. How something is delivered is just as important as what you’re saying. People are wildly different, and it’s not easy to know how to talk to people on an individual basis. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know how a certain word or phrase will be perceived by someone, but generally, most reasonable people give others the benefit of the doubt. Don’t violate their trust by coming across in a way you don’t intend, and almost as a rule, they will be far more receptive to your viewpoint and what you have to say, even when you’re saying something might not work in their story.

    Because, really, reviewing in fanfic is not like giving something a star rating on Netflix or seeing if the new film out got a decent score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s about building a sense of camaraderie with an author and helping them understand how well they did from an outside perspective.




    Assignment

    Go to your review page on the archives and find a review where you believe you used good, clear tone that said what you meant and did so cordially.

    Now, go find one where you think you could’ve done a bit better in these aspects. Identify the parts where you could’ve improved upon your tone. This review doesn't have to be a SPEW review, but it should consist of more than a few sentences so you have sufficient material to take something away from the assignment.

    Leave a link to your first assignment in the homework thread. For the second, link the review you are going to revise and then copy/paste the corrections below it. Please use one single post and title the post Lesson 1 Assignment.
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  4. #4
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    Lesson 2: Reasoning


    The next aspect on the agenda for you lovely reviewers is reasoning. Essentially, what this lesson is all about is how you explain your ideas to the author you are addressing. We covered this a bit in lesson one, where we looked at tone and how, even if youíre trying to be nice, your comments and criticisms can be greatly misconstrued. Now, weíll be examining reasoning in a bit more detail, because it is so important that you are able to articulate why you liked or didnít like something by explaining things fully.

    First things first, though.

    Review a story you like.

    We cannot stress this enough. Of course, we donít mean that you have to adore every single part of the story with all your hearts. Nor do we mean holding out on criticism even if it would be helpful to the author.

    What we do mean is that you review a story that you essentially can say more good things than bad about. What you need to do before you hit submit is weigh up your compliments and your criticisms. If you feel youíre criticising too much, take a step back. Think about if you genuinely want to leave a review that is 80% crit ó it may all be helpful crit, but that means your review is, inversely, 20% praise. The problem with over-critical reviews is the fact that they can upset the author if not understood fully, which is why good reasoning is critical for any review.

    If you're in that situation, you have two options. One: find another story to review. Thatís a simple solution to what might be a problem if the author you're reviewing takes your review in a negative way. Two: you balance the crit with praise. If you think thatís too hard to do, or that you canít think of enough praise, go back to option one and choose another story to review.


    Evidence

    The key to reasoning is simple. Use evidence. This works both for criticism and praise. Of course, itís far more important to qualify your criticism because, as weíve mentioned in Tone, you need to ensure that you deliver your crit in a thorough way.

    Now, evidence can come in several forms, and each form is great in some ways but can also be limiting in others.

    Quotations from the story are great, especially if youíre quoting good lines, because that illustrates points regarding style.

    But they can also be overused, both by having too many quotations and by having overlong quotations. The key to this is to ensure that youíre using them for the right reasons. By that, I mean, donít use quotations to ďbulk upĒ your review. If you feel, for any reason, that your review looks too short, the last thing you want to do is add a load of irrelevant quotation in there just to make it look longer. Length is no substitute for meaningful content.

    Therefore, try and keep quotations shorter and keep the actual evaluation of the story the main focus. Quotations should also be kept relevant, so youíre not quoting too much of the story back to the author. After all, they wrote it and know what happens; comments in context will usually do fine when referring to plot points and characterisation. Even if you thought a whole paragraph was really well-done, maybe pick out a sentence or two that would illustrate your point.

    Canon is another great tool to use as evidence in your review, both for criticism and compliments. Canon can be used to point out canon errors, but you could also use canon to back up a point about characterisation or plot or even style. For instance:


    I loved the way you wrote Fleurís accent ó not just the letters she misses out, but also her tendency to slip into French when it comes to complicated words. I thought it was very similar to canon, which helped make her characterisation really authentic in your story.


    Again, though, just be aware of how you use canon as evidence. Canon is a lot of things: the books, family trees, interviews and Pottermore. So the canon error you might want to point out could be anything, from who George really marries right up to who McGonagall was engaged to. Not all fanfic authors will know every canon fact out there, so some valid canon picks can come across as pretty finicky. With Pottermore, especially, the author may not even have read about certain things and will have got spoiled. In that respect, just tread carefully when it comes to the really minor bits of canon.

    Preference may also be something you use, not so much as evidence, but more as a basis for some of your points in your review. Preference could be a personal one, something that you like or donít like, or it could be a fandom one, like how a story is similar or different to typical portrayals in the fandom. Whatever it is, you may be making a valid point and may even be a compliment to the author, but also, often, this isnít the case.

    So, use caution and always create context, as stated in Tone. Do this by using examples from the story as well as canon. Donít just say that something was similar or different from fandom portrayals. Explain why. As well as that, just bear in mind the fact that personal preference isnít always a reasonable basis for a criticism. You might not be a fan of present tense, for instance, but that doesnít invalidate the story in any way just because you donít like it. Now, if the use of present tense is inconsistent and this hinders the story, or else the non-linear structure doesnít make much sense to you, then say that and point out specific examples of why. Donít make it about what you prefer, but what is actually in the story.


    Articulation of criticism

    This overlaps quite a bit with Tone, but thatís because Tone is very much linked to Reasoning. Phrasing crit well is a huge part of good reasoning.

    Letís look at an example of something that should never grace anyoneís review page first.


    I didnít like the dialogue. It sounded pretty unnatural to me, and you had nowhere near enough contractions. Everyone sounded like they were reading lines from a book, and thatís a shame because I did think the plot of this story was excellent. Unfortunately, though, the dialogue really let the story down.


    This sounds ridiculously disparaging. No author ever wants to hear a reviewer say they ďdidnít likeĒ something. Weíre not saying to sugar coat criticism, but do remember that authors are people, and itís not nice to hear someone thought something ďlet the story downĒ. Always bear in mind that people spend hours writing these stories, so it is neither fair nor warranted to belittle their efforts with a carelessly worded comment rather than one that is phrased in a helpful way. Theyíre sharing a gift with you, so their work should be treated in kind.

    Essentially, if you donít like something, say it in a nicer way. Letís look at another, much better example with the same crit but different, more positive phrasing.


    As Iíve said, I thought the plot of the story was excellent, but I wasnít entirely sure of the dialogue in places. It would have helped if you used more contractions in order to make the dialogue sound more natural, as I thought perhaps it sounded too formal for Harry.


    Rather than saying how unnatural the dialogue is, the reviewer suggests improvement to make it more natural. This just sounds more positive even though the same point.

    On the other end of the spectrum, though, you may also have problems articulating your criticism by dismissing it yourself.

    This time, weíll use an actual example from Sorayaís noob!reviewing days. This is from a review for The Stars as my Witness by Gmariam.


    I wasnít entirely sure about the over formalness of Siriusís words, at times. I know that it was written from his point of view, so it technically counts as narrative, but occasionally, the absence of an apostrophe made the dialogue slightly stilted. One example of this is the use of the word ďcannotĒ. However, I don't think it sounds right or appropriate to use ďcanítĒ, yet ďcannotĒ sounds very formal and a little un-Sirius. Iím assuming that this was your intention, since the mood of the fic is sombre. So in that respect, I suppose it is fitting to use formal words. Never mind, I just answered my own question


    What Iíve done here is made what was, looking back on it, a pretty valid point, but I dismissed myself. ďI answered my own questionĒ, so to speak, and that basically made my whole paragraph a waste of words. There is no point criticising something if youíre not going to be decisive about it. Again, if youíre unsure about criticising something, donít criticise it.

    So, hereís the revised paragraph:


    I wasnít entirely sure about the over formalness of Siriusís words, at times. I know that it was written from his point of view, so it technically counts as narrative, but occasionally, the absence of an apostrophe made the dialogue slightly stilted. One example of this is the use of the word ďcannotĒ, which sounded very formal to me and not entirely in character for Sirius. Perhaps that was because of the storyís subject matter, as your fic is very sombre, but Iím just not sure Sirius would have such a formal voice, even after James and Lilyís deaths.


    See? I stuck to my guns this time, and that made me sound more decisive as a reviewer. In that respect, my crit is far more clear-cut. Also, remember that the author has the opportunity to reply to your review and inquire about the meaning of something that youíre not sure about. Most authors on MNFF reply to their reviewers and are relatively open to contact with their readers. Our community is fairly unique in that respect, so use it to your advantage.


    Beta versus Reviewer

    Finally, letís look at the line between being a beta and being a reviewer. They are two different things, and itís important to distinguish between the two.

    A betaís role is to edit someoneís story, to make suggestions that may completely change the direction of the story and to nitpick the story basically to death. A beta is very different from a reviewer, though, for one key reason: the author chose the beta. The author doesnít choose who reviews their story. Therefore, betas have slightly more liberty when it comes to criticising the story and being honest about it because they were asked to.

    For that reason, you have to be more careful when youíre reviewing, because you have to bear in mind the fact that the feedback youíre giving doesnít have to be taken. Remember, youíre evaluating what the author considers to be the final version of the story. Your job as a reviewer isnít to do a beta job on it, therefore, and this goes back to the importance of balance. You may have a load of critique you want to give the author that may all be valid, but you may also have only one or two positive things in your review.

    So, how to ensure you sound like a reviewer and not a beta? Well, think about what youíre nitpicking. Is it a spelling mistake or a few lines of dialogue that need fixing? Or are you, in fact, telling the author in no uncertain terms that her comma placement is terrible? Because if it is the latter, itíll probably work in your favour not to mention it. Things like comma placement, a bad ending, major characterisation picks that change the outcome of the story completely are all critiques a beta should help with, as they can often mean big changes to the story, or the style of the story, and thatís not your role as a reviewer.

    Overall, good reasoning can really get to the heart of the story and fill out your review. Of course, itís vital that criticism is always phrased in a friendly and polite manner, so not to offend the author but also to ensure you retain your role as a reviewer. Bear in mind the importance of articulation when it comes to reasoning. If you explain your ideas well, the author youíre addressing will understand those ideas and come to appreciate them.


    Assignment

    1. Find a review* where you think you explained something that you liked or didnít like. Write why you thought you were successful in reasoning. This doesn't have to be a full-length SPEW review, but it does have to have more than a few sentences in order to function well for this assignment.

    2. Then find another review* where you donít think you explained why you liked or disliked something adequately enough. Make a note of the things that you could have improved and rewrite the review*, using canon, examples from the story, quotations and any other forms of evidence you see fit to use.


    *This doesn't have to be a full-length SPEW review, but it does have to have more than a few sentences in order to function well for this assignment. Three average-ish paragraphs or more is preferable, but not required.
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  5. #5
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    Lesson 3: Organising Your Thoughts


    So, weíve taken a look at how you want to say things and why you feel that way, but one often overlooked aspect of a great review is how itís arranged. Organisation is a great tool for both getting your point across articulately, but also because it gives you the opportunity to address broader topics as well as more specific ones.


    Intro and Outro

    So much can be said for first impressions, and reviewing is no different. How we interact with people and perceive people is cemented in how they come across the first time we meet them. That means that, on a site full of strangers, we make first impressions nearly every day. Whether itís via reviewing or replying to posts on the beta boards, there is an opportunity to make a new friend all the time.

    This is why itís vital to take the time to let people get to know you. The best way to do this in a review is to have an introductory and concluding paragraph in your review. Intros are easy. This is where you would introduce yourself by name (or whatever name you go by on the site/prefer to be called) and talk a bit about how you found the story and what you think about it on the whole.

    An outro is a great way to sum up your review, but also to leave the author with a good, lasting impression of you as a person and as a reviewer. This is your time to shine. Your outro could and should be a place where you point out your favourite things about the story youíre reviewing and to be cordial and friendly one last time before you hit that Submit button. A good outro paragraph can and usually will leave an author in a great mood after reading the review and hopeful that you will come and visit their author page again.

    Intros and outros are key to establishing a rapport with your author, but also, they give you a neat and tidy method to point your review in the direction you want it to go and then bring it home when youíve said what you wanted to say.


    Linear Reviewing vs Topical Reviewing

    One of the most common methods of review organisation is linear style, which is essentially commenting on a story or chapter by the sequence of events. While this isnít a bad thing to do, there are several opportunities that can be and usually are missed out on by reviewing with this format. Commentary and discussion on things such as overarching plot and character development, as well as theme and symbolism tend to fall to the wayside when a story is reviewed linearly.

    The best method to dig deeper into a story and its subtleties is to review topically. Essentially, itís picking a topic in the story, discussing that topic to whatever detail you desire, and then move on to the next topic. It sounds more difficult than it really is; the formula is actually really easy:


    1. Decide what you want to discuss (particular characters, storyline, writing style, plot, pairings, etc.).
    2. Arrange these topics in logical progression (characterisation next to characterisation, stylistic comments next to other stylistic comments, plot with plot, etc).
    3. Start writing.
    4. Keep separate topics in separate paragraphs for clarity.
    5. Flank with an intro and outro.


    For those of you still in school, I know this sounds suspiciously like essay writing, but when you think about it, it is. You are, with your review, discussing your thoughts and feelings about a piece of work. However, with fanfic reviewing, you have the opportunity to talk about something you love, and that passion should show in not only what you say, but how you present it. As tenured authors, your professors can tell you that there is nothing like the feeling of getting a review that someone put effort into. We take pride in writing these types of reviews, and you all should, too.


    The Sandwich Method

    A reviewerís arsenal of technique wouldnít be complete without the sandwich method. The sandwich method is the practice of surrounding a critical comment or series of comments by positive reinforcement. For example, take the below comment:


    Iím not sure the point of view in this story helped in this particular section of the story, because the pronouns became confusing in many places.


    This is obviously a critique about POV affecting how easily a particular story or section of a story can be read. However, by using the sandwich method, you can reinforce that the POV wasnít rocky or unclear in all sections. Like so:


    Third person omniscient really gave me a chance to understand the charactersí motivations, as well as to see their eventual romance evolving. That being said, Iím not sure the point of view helped in the love scene, because the pronouns became confusing in many places. However, the character development it provided in the other sections of the story still made it a solid stylistic choice.


    See what I did there? I took a critical comment and couched it between positive comments. Sometimes, it could be a paragraph about how something maybe didnít work for you, or sometimes just a line. In kind, you want to make the Ďbreadí of your sandwich of similar thickness to your Ďmeatí. One or two lines of critique ó one to two lines of positive reinforcement before and after.

    This also goes for your review as a whole. Your introduction and your conclusions should always ó without fail ó be positive. That doesnít mean that they canít include anything that could be taken as critical, but it does mean that it should introduce you as a reviewer who will treat the author and his/her work with respect and give you a chance to leave on that same note. This is the sandwich method on a larger scale, but also where it is most important.

    Delivering critique is challenging; I donít think anyone would dispute that. However, thatís why the sandwich method is a key tool in reviewing. Just remember to use the tone and reasoning skills you learned about in previous weeks to be articulate and respectful and to use proper evidence alongside this, and critical comments become less about pointing out flaws and more about being helpful and supportive.


    Logical Progression, Sign-Posting, and Variety

    Imagine a large bookshelf. Cram it full of books. Now, try to find a book that you know is there. Yeah . . . thought so. It took a while, didnít it? If any of you are like your professors, you will have either mentally or physically pulled every book off that shelf and arranged them all in alphabetical order with extreme prejudice. Likewise, a tidy review is just as important to present your viewpoint. Not only are well-organised reviews easy to follow and to understand, they also say a lot about you, the reviewer.

    We brushed over logical progression in the previous sections, but this is something that deserves its own lesson. Well-arranged reviews are beautiful to behold, and part of this art form is utilising logical progression and sign-posting. That being said, another piece of the puzzle is broaching a variety of subjects. Letís talk about each one of these things.

    Of all the methods of organisation, logical progression is both the most basic and the most essential to a clear and concise review. Think of a review as a colour map. Reds morph into purples then into blues and to greens and to yellows and to oranges and then back to red and everywhere in between. And so your reviewing points should be, as well. If youíre going to talk about three characters, wouldnít it make sense to talk about all three characters before moving on to something else like plot or writing style? Going back to our colour analogy, would you keep your white/black/grey crayons in the middle of your greens or your blues? Unless you like spelunking through your entire stock to find the one thing you need, itís unlikely that you would.

    Of course, you can mention characters in other sections, like plot or whatever, but when you want to really dig into a character, talk about their development, and bring up the things that you noticed, put that all together. Not only because itís tidy, but doing this also allows you to be more observant about the authorís devices used to bring about that character, the plot, the theme/symbolism, metaphor, or whatever.

    The next step in logical progression-style reviewing is sign-posting, which is the practice of indicating what youíre going to discuss before you go into it. The benefits of sign-posting are not just for the recipientís benefit; they are also for yours. It allows you to arrange paragraphs simply by summing up the common theme of them in the first sentence or two. Sign-posting doesnít have to be obvious or uniform; in fact, itís best if itís not. For example, here are a couple sign-post introductory sentences:


    Harryís characterisation in this story was really gripping and spot-onÖ

    One of the things I enjoyed the most about this fic was the way the plot was structuredÖ


    Instantly, it becomes obvious what the topic is going to be. One of the hidden benefits of this is that the author can delve into his or her memory and start thinking about the indicated subject in a more focused manner when he or she knows thatís what is coming. This way, the author might remember something that didnít make the page or, with your comments, see something they might not have intended and remember for future reference. This usually garners the best author responses, as well. I donít know about you all, but I love it when an author talks about their own canon for a story, or shares backstory that might not have made the page. Drawing the author into the discussion by being specific is like an invitation to hear more about what happened behind the scenes.

    Finally, variety is, as they say, the spice of life. It is also the perfect way to season a review. Being thorough on a particular subject is one thing; discussing a diverse range of topics is another. One of the things that brought us together as a fandom was that there was so much to find in JKRís work. Layers and layers of meaning, of subtle characterisation, of theme, of morality, of parallelism are built into every chapter, every book. And while most fanfic doesnít carry that kind of scope, you can bet that most fanfic writers have made some effort to build these things into their own stories to some degree. We owe it to them to not just focus on one or two of these things when there could be more.

    That isnít to say that we have to dissect everything and read meaning into it. Rather, we as readers and reviewers would do well to give a nod of the head when we see something that shaped our opinion of the story. Simply put: when you see it, say it. Youíll be surprised how much you find you have to say when you start looking at stories thematically. Then all you have to do is arrange these things in a logical order and then you have the meat of a great review.




    Assignment

    1. Find and read a one-shot story on the archives (a short one ó for the sake of simplicity). As youíre reading, take notes of things you would like to say about that story in a review in no particular order. Just write them down as they come to you. Try to include a broad range of comments, such as characterisation, plot, writing style, or whatever strikes you about it.

    2. Make a list. Donít write a review. You donít even have to use complete sentences. Just make a list of specific things you want to talk about in a review for this story. Post that list in your homework thread.

    3. Now, take that list and group the things on it using logical progression. If necessary, use the sandwich method on the more critical comments.

    4. Post that revised list alongside your initial list. If, in the process of rearranging things you remember other points you would like to discuss, add them where you think they ought to go, but italicise those comments.
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  6. #6
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    Lesson 4 ó Putting It All Together


    Our final lesson is all about, as the title suggests, putting everything together. Each main aspect of reviewing ó Tone, Organisation and Reasoning ó has been examined in detail in our lessons so far, but this has mostly been separate. Now weíre going to look at how they overlap, and then you can combine them for better reviews all round. Thereís not really much use in having a beautifully organised and signposted review if your points arenít reasoned well enough. Every critical area of reviewing depends on the other, as you can see below in the Venn diagram (because Soraya just canít get enough of these ).




    So you can see Tone, Organisation and Reasoning all do, to some extent, depend on each other. That makes your job of putting it all together somewhat easier.

    Follow these steps. They form the basis of your assignment for this week, so please read carefully.


    1. For the purpose of this task, pick a drabble from The Three Broomsticks that should be a minimum of 400 words. Have a blank Word document open alongside the drabble you choose.
    2. In your document, write some generic headings of things you want to discuss in your review, in any order. These may include characterisation, structure, style, plot, flow, even quotations from the drabble you particularly liked.
    3. Read through the drabble carefully, and make notes under your headings as you do so. You may find that some headings have more notes than others. You may have far more to say about characterisation, for instance. Think about why that is ó is it because the drabble is far more character-driven than it is plotty? Note this down, too.
    4. Add quotations where necessary, and remember to keep them short and relevant to your review. Similarly, if you have anything negative, note down the basis of your criticism, and rethink things if itís personal preference rather than canon.
    5. Now start grouping your notes. See which ones are related and which ones can be combined ó if you had less to say in Style and Flow, for instance, it may be better to write about both of them in one paragraph. These groupings will form your paragraphs. Number them, bearing in mind the sandwich method for any criticism (so, quite literally, sandwich your criticism between praise and positive observation).
    6. By this point, you should have a good idea of what the drabble is about and, hopefully, what you liked the most about it. Therefore, you should be able to write a good introduction. Start by greeting the author (preferably by name ó it only takes a moment to click on their profile if you donít know it). Then, briefly surmise your opinion of the drabble as a whole: using your notes as a guide, outline your favourite aspects of the drabble in a few simple sentences. This doesnít have to be particularly lengthy at all, but striking that rapport with the author from the very beginning of the review is essential. Any suggestions or criticisms you may have to offer will almost always have a better reception if the author feels they have a good relationship with you as a reader.
    7. From there, use your detailed notes to write your review of the drabble. All your points should already be outlined and in order, with evidence where appropriate, so itís just a matter of putting it all into the full sentences that make up the main body of your review. Weíre looking for quality more than quantity, so itís better you have three good points than five points that arenít as fully explained.
    8. Write your outro last. Keep it positive, on the whole, so you leave the author with a good lasting impression of you. Do this by summing up your points, and try to keep it brief.
    9. Finally, before you submit, read through it! Donít just look for typos, though; slip-ups in tone, organisation and reasoning are harder to spot, but try to take a step back and think about how youíd feel receiving the review youíre about to leave. You may benefit from consulting the Venn diagram above, which is basically a checklist for your review. Once satisfied that youíve done this to the best of your ability, thatís your assignment for the week



    HTML

    The last thing weíd like to cover, not so much for this weekís assignment, but more for the final exam, is HTML. Itís quite straightforward, really, but it can take getting used to, especially if youíre not sure exactly how to use the right tags.

    So weíre going to go through the basics. Just bear in mind that these tags can only be used on the archives, not the forums.

    Mostly, youíll want to format the following things in reviews:


    Bold tags are <b></b>
    Italic tags are <i></i>
    Underline tags are <u></u>
    Tags for a clean line of space between two paragraphs are <br></br> OR <p> in front of every paragraph.


    This is how HTML works. Letís use the italics tags as an example. Your first tag will be <i>. Then, write the text that you would like to be italicised (in this case, itís the word ďreallyĒ). Finally, use a second tag to close it: </i>. Notice the slash in the second tag ó thatís to close it, so you donít end up italicising the entire page.

    One thing to bear in mind about line spacing on the MNFF archives is that reviews donít typically require line break HTML. If you leave a blank space between paragraphs, they will space themselves. However, as there is no other text feature on the archives that do operate in that fashion, itís best to stay in the habit of using the <br> or <p> tags to avoid confusion and to be certain your text will come out looking as you want it to look.

    Essentially, what you're doing is wrapping the tags around the text you would like to format. This rule applies for bolding, italicising and underlining. As for having a clean line between paragraphs, itís a similar concept, just without the text wrapping because there is no text to format.

    For instance:


    Soraya really, <i>really</i> loves Sam Winchester. <br></br>She also loves cow biscuits.


    will come out as


    Soraya really, really loves Sam Winchester.

    She also loves cow biscuits.


    Another neat trick that will help make any excerpts from stories you happen to post nice and shiny is using indentation. Itís the simplest way to distinguish a block of quoted text from the review body. Doing this is simple. Simply arrange the text you want to indent into a separate paragraph; then, surround the entire paragraph youíre indenting with these tags: <blockquote>your paragraph here</blockquote>. This will help keep your review easy to follow and very nicely streamlined.

    Now, HTML can be used effectively in reviews, but bear in mind that formatting HTML can be overused. Bolding, italicising and underlining can all be used for emphasis; itís just that you donít want to emphasise everything. Itís usually best to reserve italics for things that should be italicised, such as publication titles (books, magazines, etc.), story titles, song titles, and so forth. If you only use bold for emphasis, then it becomes fairly obvious fairly fast whether youíre doing it too much. Also, it gives the things you DO emphasise more oomph, if you will. Therefore, if you do decide to italicise or bold something, do so sparingly and it will carry more meaning.


    Assignment and rules

    1. You guessed it ó write your drabble review! Just remember a few rules, though.
    i. Pick a drabble that is at least 400 words long.
    ii. Follow all the steps as outlined above. This will really make your assignment easier.
    iii. If someoneís already reviewed the drabble you wanted to review as part of this activity, pick another one, as there are plenty to choose from.
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  7. #7
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    Final Assignment



    Remember that list you made in Lesson 3? Well, dig it back out. With a dry run of reviewing a drabble comprehensively under your belt, it's time to put all of this into practice for real. Your last assignment for the month will be to take that nice, organised list from Lesson 3 and turn it into a full-length review. THIS will be your one and only review scored by the RAC this month, so make it count

    However, before you plough through your homework, I'd like to hammer a few things home. Firstly, please, please do your assignments in order. If you don't, they won't be as effective, and you can and probably will damage your learning experience. Second, this is not a punishment or an accusation that your scores and reviews are not up to scratch. They are, or you'd have heard from me by now. What this is meant to do is give all of you the chance and ability to take your reviewing to the next level if you would like to hit that 16-18 point bracket consistently. You are each and all capable of this, but maybe you don't have the tools to get there. We're giving you the hammer and nails. Go build yourself something.

    Finally, I'd like to reiterate that SPEW reviewing is not just a thing you do on the internet while your parents aren't watching, but it can be a life skill, as well. Learning how to talk to people and how to deport your mannerisms and actions with kindness and professionalism is something you will all need to make it in the world, so take experience wherever you can get it (as a legal adult, I can attest to this with a wake of spectacular failures behind me).

    So, all that said, you have 26 days to complete these tasks. Go forth and be productive!


    This is due to be completed by 15 September at the end of the day (11:59PM US Pacific Time).
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  8. #8
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    Did no one seriously do their work this month? I...don't know what to say.
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