For many years, SPEW has striven to bring the authors of MuggleNet Fan Fiction high quality feedback, both to give them a pat on the back for a job well done and to lend them in-depth, detailed insight from an impartial source. After all, it is the Society for the Promotion of Evaluation for Writers.
But how are we doing? How are you doing?
Really, as a recent 'regular' member, I couldn't have told you a few months ago. Honest to goodness, if someone would've asked me how good my reviews were in certain areas, I would not have had an answer. All I would do as a member was leave my review links in the monthly thread and call it good. Yes, there is a Review Award Committee which assigned scores to my reviews, and nearly every month, a Review Award was given out. Sometimes I would win, and sometimes not. What I was never quite sure of is how I actually got there. However, this is where the exciting part comes in.
As SPEW members will have noticed, you have begun to receive your RAC scores via PM. Are you surprised by your scores? Do you want to know more? Do you want to know what you're doing right or what can be improved? Do you just want to know specifically what we're actually looking for and what makes a SPEW review? Well, the time has come for that to happen. Starting soon, a whole new world will open up to you in terms of feedback. You will no longer receive a blanket score with overall comments; instead, there will be focused scores on three critical areas of reviewing. These areas are expanded below.
Tone: This evaluates the manner in which the reviewer addresses the author, both for praise and critique. It includes the helpful and courteous attitude we expect from SPEWers whilst delivering both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Was the reviewer supportive of the author, or were they talking at the author with more regard to their own views than that of the author? SPEW is all about helping the writers of MNFF and giving credit where it is due, and how we as a group purport ourselves is the absolute greatest priority. Every writer receives comments differently, and how well the reviewer tailors their arguments and concrit to the author is something that one should bear in mind in this aspect.
Organisation: This assesses the presence, or lack thereof, of discernable structure in reviews. Key points to be considered are grouping similar comments and subjects together, such as, for example, addressing all aspects of characterisation before moving on to plot, flow, canon, etc.
Also, a healthy and appropriate balance of subjects being expounded should be noted, such as spending too little or too much time on one area of discussion while barely brushing another or even ignoring it entirely. For example, did the reviewer spend six paragraphs talking about the plot of the story while only mentioning style, flow, or characterisation in passing?
Reasoning: One of the most important aspects of offering praise and critique is specificity. In this area, the reviewer's ability to provide examples that demonstrate his/her opinions is crucial. This is even more key when a reviewer mentions something that (s)he dislikes or feels could've been improved. A lawyer will never win a trial by talking alone; juries respond to concrete evidence. Pointing out possible plot holes, faulty characterisation, style issues, etc. is nearly useless unless the author can see where the reviewer is coming from and can see the merit of the comments. Inversely, being specific in praise is far more likely to facilitate improvement and continued excellence in the author. Generalisations in either area do not tend to influence nearly as much as targeted examples.
Authorial intent should be acknowledged as well. It's one thing for the reviewer to mention that a certain aspect of the plot or a bit of characterisation didn't work, but it's also necessary for the reviewer to convey whether (s)he understood what the author was trying to do and try to make helpful suggestions to help them get to that end. Many times, reviewers pick apart a plot or character portrayal, only to find that, in the author's response, that they'd missed the intended point entirely. There have even been instances when this has happened and the reviewer has gone back to re-read the story, only to find that they had misconstrued something. That's okay; it happens. But authors appreciate it when concrit comes with the effort to understand what they wanted to put across. That way, if there was a mistake on the author's part, they know what they might want to fix, and if it was a mistake by the reviewer, the author can respond and set the record straight.
Currently, the points system is a 1 out of 6 scale (which will be posted below as a reminder or for your information if you were not already aware of it). This isn't going to change. What is going to change is that you will receive a score for each of these subsections, as well as a cumulative score for the review. This means that the maximum score will be 18 and the minimum is 3. A 3/6 for each section will still be a 'passing' mark (though it would be lovely if everyone would aim for a 6/6), so the minimum acceptable score will be a 9. I'll go into what and where certain scores will bring you at a later time. This is merely to inform you of the way your current scores from the RAC will be changing in the near future.
6: Freaking amazing, makes you beam with pride, no definable room for improvement
5: Practically perfect
4: Better than normal
3: The example of just what a SPEW review ought to be
2: Good, but room for improvement
1: Doesn't meet SPEW standards