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Thread: August Activities 2009

  1. #1

    August Activities 2009

    This month, we'll be discussing the RAC's latest tip. This is because "to nitpick or not to nitpick" has been a source of debate in SPEW for quite some time, and I want everyone a chance to have their say on the matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelly
    Nit-picking, to define this, is when the reviewer goes through the story and finds minor errors with things like spelling, grammar, and/or punctuation. Nit-picking is unhelpful to the author unless these errors prevented you from understanding the story. If there is a repeating problem within the story (they consistently confuse tenses or have major grammar errors), only then is it constructive to point out these errors. Simply finding (and listing) the errors is the job of the beta, not the reviewer. Our job as reviewers is to explain what they did well and why and then how to improve on things that were not quite up to par.

    So, should there ever be a major error that necessitates mentioning in a review, it should never be pointed out just for the sake of pointing it out. Our job as SPEWers is to help authors improve. Thus, these large problems should never just be listed, but should be mentioned within a few lines explaining how to fix them.
    (For more, see the original post, and Marie's follow-up.)

    Now, with regard to your own reviews and reviews you recieved, discuss!

  2. #2

    August Drabble Challenge

    Choose a fellow SPEWer, and write a drabble or scene that is resembles something they might write. You can do this by emulating a style or tone, or using characters, pairings, plots or situations common in or typical of their writing. Examples of style: if they tend to write in a certain point of view; if they tend to rely heavily on dialogue; if they use a lot of description. .

    • Drabble can be between 250-800 words.
    • Content should not be any higher than a 3rd-5th Years rating.
    • Please get permission to use OC's.
    • All content that would require a warning on the MNFF Archive should be labeled.
    • This thread is for responses only. If you have a question, PM me.
    • Responses must be posted by August 31st, 2009.
    • Please post using this format:

      Title: Analyzing Anna's Alliterations
      Word Count: 450 (This may be approximate)

      Story Text Story Text Story Text Story Text Story Text Story Text Story Text
    • As with all activities within the SPEW forum, this challenge is open only to SPEW members.

  3. #3

    August Featured Author

    Our featured author this month is the incredible Shar, aka Hermoine Jean Granger. You can find her lovely author's page here.

    • You must review the featured author for it to count as your monthly activity requirement.
    • Post the link to your review here - you should also post it in the August review thread if you wish it to count towards your months' reviews.
    • Questions in this thread are not part of the monthly requirement, but they are greatly encouraged. Also, they must have something to do with the subject of writing.

  4. #4
    Why do I feel like I am (at least partly) to blame for this month's discussion topic? And for the second month in a row, too. Perhaps I shall have to stop fraternising with the Head.

    See, I don't think that nitpicking - or pointing out little errors and flaws - is all bad. I agree with the RAC that it shouldn't be included simply so that the reviewer feels that they've suggested some improvements. A section of nitpicks should never be the sole helpful part of a review.

    As a writer, I like when my reviewers point out the little mistakes in my stories so that I can fix them. I use betas but they're human like all of us (shut up, Aska), and if something slips past them I'll never know unless a reviewer tells me about it. Yes, I know that some might argue that this is just fanfiction and that these little things don't matter unless they interrupt the flow of the story. But I want my stories to be clean. I strive for perfection and I don't want grammar, spelling or punctuation errors in my fanfics. Heck, I even go back and edit my blog posts if I come across mistakes in them!

    As a reviewer, I'm aware that some authors are annoyed by nitpicking, so I've become more careful about including it in my reviews. Even more so, I'll admit, after learning of how the RAC feels about it. Then again, I've had many author responses along the lines of, "Thank you for pointing out those mistakes! I'll make sure to fix them!" and that makes me wonder if there are writers who feel like me?

    I'm not inclined to nitpick all the stories I read, but only a certain category. With some fics, it's obvious that the author didn't use a beta and the text is just too riddled with errors to point them all out. In that case, of course, I'll recommend finding good beta. Then there are fics where I either know that the author isn't interested in minor corrections, or where I simply get the feeling that they wouldn't be, which is usually a result of their writing style. But then, sometimes, I'll just read this story with four or five little mistakes, and it just seems right to include them in my review along with other critique and praise.

    We say that it's not the reviewer's job to catch the small errors, but the beta's. But, frankly, isn't a solid beta supposed to point out all of the author's mistakes? I've never been an official beta myself so I wouldn't know for sure, but aren't betas supposed to catch poor characterisation, plot weaknesses, canon errors, writing style issues and all other flaws we deal with in our SPEW reviews? Sadly, and obviously, they don't. But fortunately, SPEW and other reviewers are here to save the day - so why shouldn't it be okay for us to occasionally include minor corrections of, for example, spelling and grammar?

    Please don't misunderstand. I don't want to be the Nitpicks' Advocate; I don't think it's cool when SPEWers always include a set section of nitpicks in their reviews. That's not helpful and it might even make us look poor as an organisation. But I do think it's possible to nitpick with finesse and purpose, and I don't want the RAC or anyone else to think less of me if I try to do that - once in a while.

  5. #5
    Honigkuchenpferd Hufflepuff
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    I think pointing out mistakes like a forgotten comma or a misspelt word can be helpful to the author when the mistake is reaccuring and distracting from the reading. For example, if people were always getting dialogue punctuation wrong or misspelling words that look similar but have different meanings (for example "life" vs. "live"), I think it's going to be very useful for the author to know that they are doing this/these mistake(s) and should work on it. In that case, I would maybe quote one or two sentences to show the mistake and how it should be done correctly.

    But to list every single sentence I find a bit annoying, personally. I know that I'm only human. I know that English isn't my mother tongue. Yes, I have one or sometimes more beta readers. But they're humans just as much as I am. And mistakes happen. But as long as they aren't reaccuring, life-threatening or deadly serious, why bothering to point them out? Getting reviews that say in one line that they liked the story but then list like five or more sentences where I did a mistake with a comma, wrong verb tense etc. gives me the feeling I'm patronised. For example, having one sentence about that they liked my story, four quoted sentences, four sentences about the mistakes I made in these sentences, and then one sentence to check my grammar, find a beta or whatever before submitting gives me a 10% positive and 90% negative feeling from the review. I just can't feel good about it then, even though the reviewer tried to be helpful.

    I don't want to say don't critique me, God forbid, as I find constructive critique really good and take it on board to improve my writing and English, but I don't need anyone patronising on my English as - no matter how good my English might already be and no matter how much I'm willing to work on improving it constantly - I'll never be like a native speaker and know that.

    So whereas a general point about misplaced or forgotten commas or other grammatical things are totally acceptable and helpful in the future (like getting a beta), pointing out every single mistake is annoying and feeling patronising to me and I believe to many other authors as well. I therefore think a reviewer should concentrate more on how the story came across to the reader. Was it an enjoying read? Were the characters convincable? Did the plot keep me on the edge of my seat and urge me to read on to find out what happens? That's what I like to comment on and tell the authors, not that sentence three had a misspelt word or that in the sentence at the end of the seventh paragraph a comma was missing. Sometimes especially fresh authors, the ones that don't yet have written a lot, are experimenting to find their niche, their field of story where they can excel in. And the reviews can help them find it. They write D/A, humour, various pairings to test themselves, but humour isn't totally their field because they have a talent to bring D/A to the readers in very enticing and (positively) chilling ways. They'll never know in which category they are good at if they only get nitpicked instead of told which story was well-written and which plot gripping.

    So, in conclusion, in my opinion, a general note about existing grammatical errors and suggesting a beta to get rid of them is enough when the review focusses more on telling the authors where they are really good at and where they need more work to write convincing and gripping stories.
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  6. #6
    I'm not so much a fence-sitter with this one is that I have firm opinions about this that sort of comply with both sides of the fence. (It really isn't fence sitting, I swear.)

    Basically, I don't like being nitpicked. There are a few reasons why - for one, I am prone to typos. And I have been doing my best to improve of this. But I have an issue with typing in the sense that I make mistakes like their versus they're, your versus you're, breath versus breathe, life versus live. If I ever try to write the name Phoebe, it almost always comes out as Phoenix (or at the very least, I hit the "n" after "e" and have to backspace) and sometimes I do really strange things like time "Jourman" instead of "German". Typing is second-nature to me in the sense I don't think at all about what I'm hitting, so my fingers often to an "autofill" thing. For instance, they type what they're most used to before I have a chance to stop them (as with phoenix).

    And, like I said, I'm always trying to improve. But the truth is that when I start typing something that's flowing from my thoughts, I can't stop and be conscious of ever letter and word I'm physically typing. And, it's really hard to be comprehensive about editting your own work. I find that I have to really concentrate to stop my eyes from slipping over the sentences, due to the fact that I know them.

    So, when people point out mistakes to me and then explain the grammar behind them (as someone once did with breathe versus breath) I just get aggravated. (I hate being told things that I already know. It's just a thing.) I don't like the presumption that something is an actual mistake due to lack of knowledge or understanding rather than a simple error of keystroke.

    When people just bring mistakes to my attention, with the assumption their typos and this not actually trying to give me a grammar or punctuation lesson, it actually doesn't bother me. But, I admittedly don't ever go back and edit them, so while the thought is appreciated, it does nothing for me.

    That said, while nitpicking annoys me, I don't necessarily think it's a mortal reviewing sin. A review doesn't go from four stars to five because there are nitpicks. But I don't think it goes from five stars to four because there is nitpicking, either. (Unless, of course, the nitpicking is condescending or an attempt to make up for content.)

    Basically, a list of rules concerning nitpicking that I would go by:

    • Nitpicking should be minimal. If someone has a ton of errors, it's best not to -- for example -- nitpick EVERY wrongly-used apostrophe, but to point out to the author they have consistent apostrophe flaws and provide a few instances.
    • When nitpicking, look at previous reviews. I've seen people point out the exact same nitpicks as a previous reviewer. It's one thing to reinforce praise or critique, but to make the exact same correction?
    • Even worse, I've seen reviews for stories that are a year or two old with nitpicks that were pointed out by reviewers who reviewed fairly close to the actually posting of the story. Chances are, if they didn't fix the mistakes one year, two years ago when the story and the reviews for it were fresh, they're not going to fix them now that you've pointed it out again.
    • Don't condescend. Give the writer the benefit of the doubt. If they make a mistake several times, or they do it in a fashion that suggests they don't know the technical rule, try to explain it to them. If they make it once, it could be a typo, and while I understand I might take too much offense, I think it gets most people's backs up to be lectured on something they're aware of already.
    • Don't do it just because you want your review to be longer, or because you want to be more helpful. "Nitpicking" will pretty much never make your review more "SPEW worthy". I think a rule of thumb is, if you're not satisfied with your review minus the nitpicks, then you shouldn't be satisfied with it plus the nitpicks. Nitpicking is an add-on, not a filler.

    Of course, it's also really important to remember that correcting errors is not necessarily nitpicking. There's just a way about it, as excellently demonstrated by Kelly in the RAC thread. The difference is whether you're literally error-spotting, or actually saying something that applies to the story or chapter, or the author or their writing as a whole.

  7. #7
    My own opinion, first . . . .

    I came back to MNFF after a long stint on a OF forum. There, it was expected of good critiques to basically do what beta's do here: Go through a story with a line-by-line edit, pointing out SPaG mistakes and if one were so inclined, they could give general thoughts about the passage (it was much more common for excerpted chapters to be posted, so the reader really didn't have much to go on where characterization, plot consistencies and etc. were concerned). I got into such a habit of automatically taking out the red pen that sometimes when I'm reviewing, it's hard to remember that I'm a reviewer, not a beta.

    I'm largely in the habit of nitpicking. I don't think of any story I read online as a completed work, no matter if it's a fanfiction or excerpt from original fiction or what have you. If I were only reading for the hell of it, I'd pick up a book. People that come online, in my experience, are first and foremost here for help on their writing. Even if they have perfected their story via a beta, I don't think it's wrong of a person to point out other SPaG mistakes, as no writer can ever have too many opinions on their work (Stephen King may be an exception xP I'm sure he's heard everything one too many times >.> ).

    When it comes to finding itty bitty mistakes so as to give a review more substance, and the nitpicks in question are minor mistakes that are pretty obviously typos/slipups, I'm sort of either way about it. On the one hand, you're telling someone something they already know; on the other, if the author wasn't aware of the particular mistake, s/he might like the chance to correct it. If a review consists of nothing but grammar pickings and explanations though, I think, concerning MNFF only, that the reviewer is going too far. Like it's already been mentioned, if there are glaring mistakes everywhere, recommending a beta is most likely the best route to take.

    Personally, I nitpick the most on grammar mistakes that are little-known. Like parenthesis punctuation, ellipsis rules, words like 'onto' v. 'on to' and et cetera. Even if the mistake was only made once because, for example, ellipsises were only used once, I'll still explain the technicalities on the assumption that the author didn't know, as the case is, most often, the author doesn't.

    In response to the RAC's post, I sort-of disagree, as I mentioned earlier. Isolated incidents may be less helpful, but pointing to them to make the author aware of them is still, IMO, considerate.

    I think that reviews should, without any predispositions of what should be included and what shouldn't, center around what the reader felt was the most dominant weak spot of the author. If a reader were to find that the story they read was absolutely perfect where characterization, plot, plot consistency, execution, etc. is concerned, BUT the grammar was atrocious, then they shouldn't (in the same aspect of nitpicking) intentionally concentrate on the itty bitty mistake they found elsewhere so as to be "more helpful" where general critique is concerned. I think, perhaps, it's all in the phrasing in an instance such as that, or closely related instances: Try and phrase it so that you're not just doing the line-by-line (or mistake-by-mistake) job of a beta, but be informative enough that, should the author not want a beta, they can fix their story on their own.

    Where receiving reviews is concerned, I love them, no matter what they say. xD If a reader did absolutely nothing but beta the story, I'll still love them and feel that my story was appreciated because 1: They felt the story was good enough, my writing good enough elsewhere, that they took the time to point out the mistakes in hope of my writing becoming better in the future 2: I'm a review hog, and just seeing that my story has one more review makes me giggly. xD That's no to say, in any sense, that I don't like reviews that take the entire story into account much better, but still. Yeah. Review hog.

    So erm . . . sorry for the ramble. I'm hyped up on an energy drink. xP


  8. #8
    I'm largely in the habit of nitpicking. I don't think of any story I read online as a completed work, no matter if it's a fanfiction or excerpt from original fiction or what have you. If I were only reading for the hell of it, I'd pick up a book. People that come online, in my experience, are first and foremost here for help on their writing.
    See, this is something I very strongly disagree with. It may be different on OF sites, but many fan-fiction readers and writers are here for the work itself. I'd say that most of them are. I mean, there are a huge number of MNFF members who have no published stories. And, not simply because they've never been validated. People are here just to read, as you say, for the hell of it. Fan-fiction is a genre in itself, that you can't get in a bookstore. (Not HP fic, anyway.)

    The same goes for writers. I appreciate that every store I write improves my writing. But none of my stories are written to that end. Every single one of them was written solely for the purpose of their own existence, whether because the characters or the plot or the idea was important to me - even fics I write in exchanges and challenges become important to me in that way; I find the story I want to tell, and then I tell it.

    And, in my experience, on MNFF and in the LJ fandom, this is true of a vast number of people. Most people. And, as a reviewer, that is a hugely important distinction to make. There are people here reading fan-fic, because they want to read fan-fic. And there are people here whose stories are not just building blocks, but stories, that mean something to them in their own right, as they are.

    This is why being a beta is different than a reviewer. Because stories posted here are typically considered final versions. It doesn't mean they can't be editted, in the sense they are the version intended for public reading. Betas do the job of editors; they're called in to make the necessary changes, and help tell the author what areas need to be worked on to improve the piece before it's posted.

    And reviews, therefore, aren't supposed to do the beta's job. They aren't there to tell the author how to improve the piece they've already posted. They're there to tell them what they thought of the story, what they liked and didn't like, and why. The benefits of they "why" are that it can apply to the author's future writing.

    Now it's not to say that you can't or shouldn't nitpick, but you shouldn't do it in the sense that you think it's part of your job as a reviewer. If you nitpick, it should be solely because you want to point out those errors. Not because you think it's your job to review the fic line by line and say what you would if you were their editor. A beta or editor is looking at something in progress, a reviewer is looking at a finished piece.

    But, yes, the main point here is that it is vital that, as a SPEWer, you treat every story as important in it's own right. A piece of work important to the author for the piece itself.

  9. #9
    ms. leading
    This months discussion really interests me because, up until reading the latest Treats and Tips, I'd never really considered nit-picking to be a problem. I'll be honest and say that I nit-pick quite a lot, because I was under the impression that we could point out errors in the fic in order to improve it.

    Quote Originally Posted by GringottsVault711
    This is why being a beta is different than a reviewer. Because stories posted here are typically considered final versions.
    You see, I never really thought of it this way. My way of looking at nit-picking is that I'm helping the author put the final touches on a fic that's otherwise technically flawless. Wouldn't you all rather your fic be cleared of errors before others have the chance to notice them? I personally don't mind being nit-picked by reviewers, because I don't like having even little errors throughout my piece of work.

    Please don't think that I'm trying to discredit the betas of this site by saying this, but being a beta is as much a journey as being a writer; it's a learning process. Not all betas know everything about grammar or punctuation, so, sometimes, the "final product" that reaches the archives isn't always the best it can be. I know that the mods will reject anything with extremely noticable errors, but I can usually find something technically wrong with a fic that's already been validated and betad. If we let these things go, then we're not giving the author the best review possible. That's my way of looking at it, anyway.

    Of course, if the fic I was reviewing was filled with errors, I wouldn't simply go through and list everything sentence by sentence, but recommend they find a beta, or a second beta. It's the small mistakes in a fic that I believe we should be able to point out, so that the author can go back and edit to create a technically perfect piece of work. Then the fic's next reader can move through the piece smoothly without noticing any errors, and believe it to be a superior piece of writing.

    Nit-picks should not, of course, replace the more important aspects of reviewing such as comments on characterisation, flow, and plot.

    - Cassie

  10. #10
    Please don't think that I'm trying to discredit the betas of this site by saying this, but being a beta is as much a journey as being a writer; it's a learning process. Not all betas know everything about grammar or punctuation, so, sometimes, the "final product" that reaches the archives isn't always the best it can be.
    *nod* I do agree with that.

    With that post, I was commenting not so much on nitpicking itself, but Ari's comments about OF sites and good critique involving pretty much doing the beta's job. I can see why posters on an OF site might be looking for that; after all, you're less likely to post something for free if there's a possibility of selling it, unless you're actively seeking to improve that piece. But, fan-fiction archives are kind of the last stop for fan-fiction stories. And it seems that most people post their stories with the idea that they're done and dusted. It doesn't mean that they can't or won't go back and make changes, but that they have no particular plans to.

    TBH, there are novels that are taken care of my professional editors at large publishin'rg companies that are also not perfect, and that's when they hit the shelves for sale. if these books are big enough to have a reprinting, the errors are likely to be fixed in later editions. (The wand order mistake in GoF is a prime example.)

    So, nothing is ever the best it can be. And very few things are written in stone. With this, I'm not arguing about nitpicking; as I said in my first post, I don't think nitpicking is a problem as long as it's not done in an attempt to beef up a review. But, just that I don't think SPEWers should approach reviewing as if they're helping a work in progress, but giving reaction to a finished product. Even if it's not necessarily finished.

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