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  1. #1
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    March Feature: the opaleye

    Seldom have I read things which are almost too lovely to be gazed upon my mortal eyes, but MNFF has a few authors who are mainstays on my personal favourites and on my to-read list. One of these is the lovely Julia/ the opaleye.

    One of Julia's hallmarks is prose that reads like poetry, as well as poetry that reads like quicksilver. I know many of you are new to SPEW and, therefore, reviewing poetry, but there is no better way to start reviewing poetry than to review one of the best poets ever to submit to MNFF. There are also several other lovely selections of the non-poem sort.

    Some of the less reviewed stories/poems I fully recommend are:



    As usual, ask and answer one topic question (TQ), as well as leave a link to your review. Returning to the discussion is both allowed and encouraged. The author WILL BE JOINING US FOR DISCUSSION! Yes, kids, you can ask Julia questions about her writing process, her style, her inspiration...anything you wish as long as it pertains to writing or her stories/poems! Julia will be jumping in when she has a sufficient amount of material to which she can reply. You aren't required to leave an author TQ, but I recommend it, as we will only be featuring one author per year. It would suck to miss your chance.

    Another bonus of Julia joining us for discussion is that she is MNFF's resident Poet Laureate, as well as very educated in many aspects of poetry, such as form, history, style, and how these all work together to make poetry work. This is an excellent opportunity to learn from someone about many of the more difficult aspects of analysing and interpreting poetry.

    You may also have noticed that the lovely Spire has written a poetry reviewing tutorial in the RAC's Guide to Good Reviewing. This is a good opportunity to step outside your normal boundaries and review a great poet.

    I'll give you a couple TQs to get started:

    TQ for Discussion: How does Julia's use of sentence length affect the way you read some of the more emotive passages in her stories?

    TQ for Discussion: Did you notice an incongruity in the word count of the stories as compared to the depth of them?



    This activity is due to be completed by 15th April.
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  2. #2
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    March Activities 2012

    Now that several of the newer members have acclimated to what it takes to write a SPEW review, most or all of you now have a 'routine' which you follow to write a full length review. Some of us go for a methodical approach, and others are far more martinet about what goes into their reviews. Thus far, I've not come across a single correct way to write a SPEW review, but there are several commonalities amongst the best our little group has to offer.

    Prior. Proper. Planning.

    Yes, plain old planning ahead. Who would've thought? But yes, kids, it does indeed work very well. Everyone is different, but I'll use my own process as an example of one way to approach reviewing. I start with a story, a couple hours with minimal interruption, and two open word docs: one for writing my review, and one for outlining. Outlining sounds a lot more difficult than it really is, but it doesn't have to be spectacular.

    Picking a story is actually really important, rather than go to review with nothing in mind. For this purpose, I actually have a folder in my bookmarks of stories I would like to review. If you find something in the most recents that sounds nice but don't have time to read it right away, this is a good tool to make sure you can come back to it later. Also, if you start to read a story and aren't really sure it's something you'd like to leave a full length review, then you at least have something to fall back on rather than frantic spelunking in the archives.

    I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to one's reviews to set aside a sufficient amount of time to do it properly. In general, it's best to review directly after reading to keep from forgetting important details of the story, so allotting a block of time for both reading AND reviewing is key. For some, a SPEW review takes a half hour to write. For others, it could take upwards of two hours. This largely depends on the individual, so be aware of your own average time needed and plan accordingly.

    As a cardinal rule, it is not a good idea to write SPEW reviews directly in the review box, which is why the use of Word/other similar word processing document is advisable. The reason behind this is because there are spellcheckers and grammar checkers that can at least catch typos, some tense errors, and just allow for more freedom in general to edit mistakes and things that plain ol' don't sound right!

    Yes, outlining sounds like some boring activity assigned by your history teacher in some particularly dry chapter in your textbook, but it's really not as challenging/menacing/horrible as it sounds. How I personally go about it is by starting out with header categories of topic discussion. My typical lists are Characterisation, Style, Flow, Plot, Canon, and Overall. These lists allow me to categorise points that I want to bring up as I'm reading the story, rather than trying to remember them all after the story is over. Let's just say you're reading a story, and a particular passage has some intensely good characterisation of Hermione, you could make a small note of the scenario under Characterisation or even copy/paste a chunk of text to remind you of what it was you liked, as well as provide any quotes you wish to specify for the author in the review. Same goes with anything you maybe didn't like, and so forth for other things that spring to your mind while reading.

    What this does is, when you've finished reading the story, you now have an arsenal of things you can bring up and discuss, and they're already organised for you. Categories with fewer comments can be blended into other similar categories, such as Style and Flow. From here, you can just slide on over to your second empty document, write an opening paragraph, and then jump right then. Also what you can gain from this is a good gauge of the balance between the points you're bringing up as compared to those in other categories, which is a part of your RAC score. This way, if your review is too heavy in, say, characterisation, you can just peruse the story again and look for other things you could bring up in other aspects of it.

    From there, it's basically fill in the blanks. Read over your review a couple of times to work out any odd phrasing or icky SPaG, and then you're ready to go!

    This is how I personally review. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the nuts and bolts of quality reviews are the same. Now it's time to discuss how all of you go about it. As usual, ask and answer one topic question (TQ), and returning to the discussion is both allowed and encouraged. Here are a couple questions to get you started:

    How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?


    How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?




    This activity is due to be completed by 15th April.
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  3. #3
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    March Drabble Challenge: Over the Rainbow

    No, you don't have to write stories about munchkins and green wicked witches (but all other wicked witches are openly welcomed, hehe). I'm going more for the aspect of colours. One of the most powerful tools of talented writers is incorporating a theme into a story, and one of the most beautiful and vivid themes is that of colour. That colour could represent hope, resentment, anger, grief, love, hate, or whatever theme (usually an emotion) you might associate with the chosen hue.

    Your challenge is to pick a colour, a theme, and write a drabble incorporating them. It can't just be a passing reference to either one; there must be a noticeable undertone (or overtone). No, this is not an easy task, but the finished product has the potential to be extraordinary.

    As usual, your drabble must be within 300-800 words. If you do go over the word limit and don't wish to cut it down, you may submit any drabbles over 800 words to the archives and leave a link to your story. Just keep in mind that you will then be subject to submission standards and the possibility of rejection, so plan accordingly.

    Please post all drabbles or links below using the following form:

    PHP Code:
    [b]Title: [/b]
    [
    b]Rating/Warnings: [/b]
    [
    b]Colour: [/b]
    [
    b]Theme: [/b]
    [
    b]Word Count: [/b]
    [
    b]Author's Note: [/b] 

    This activity is due to be completed by 15th April.
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  4. #4
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    Title:* Yellow Flowers
    Rating/Warnings:* 1st-2nd/ Character Death
    Colour:* Yellow
    Theme:* Happiness/hope
    Word*Count:* 799
    Author's*Note:** I hope this is vaguely what you meant...








    When Luna thinks of her mother, it’s in yellow. She’s never really understood why, although it is something she often ponders, usually in the spring, when the flowers erupt from the ground and exhibit themselves in glorious shades of red, violet, blue, white and pink, and so many colours after the dullness of winter, that Luna does not understand how anyone can fail to be happy at this time of year.

    Although Luna loves all the colours, her favourites are the yellow ones. It doesn’t really matter what form their stems bend, or what shape their petals take, but if they blaze yellow, they always make her feel warm inside. Happy, she supposes you would call it.

    Every spring, a time later defined as every Easter when she’s home from Hogwarts, she walks in the woods and the fields near her home, and picks as many yellow flowers as she can find, from the smallest bloom, to the knottiest weeds, knowing they’ll soon grow back. She loves the woods, loves the way the light falls through the branches, loves staying still in one spot for hours and hours while watching animals gambol, fight, mate, live.

    As dusk falls, she goes home, puts her finds in an earthenware jug her mother had made, and places the jug on the kitchen table, as the dying sunlight drenches the yellow paint in rosy light.

    One of her earliest memories is of her mother painting this kitchen. There are others, blurred ones, but this is in fast focus. Luna guesses she’s about four or five, as she’s come down to breakfast on her own. She stands in the doorway for several minutes, watching her mother sweep the wall with the paintbrush, leaving a trail of yellow in its wake, before dousing it in the bowl of paint, and sweeping across again.

    Luna remembers watching her turn around. A shaft of sunlight illuminates not only her mother but the motes of dust in the air, which seem to hang motionless, as if the small particles know that this moment will be forever captured in Luna’s mind, and dare not move for fear they disrupt the smile on her mother’s face.

    Then Luna is caught up in her mother’s arms, handed the brush, and she too is painting and laughing, and getting daubs of yellow on her face. Luna remembers her father coming in, being angry, wondering why they don’t just use magic, but her mother laughs, makes a joke lost to Luna’s memory, kisses him, and soon they are all painting, all laughing.

    Her mother once wore a bright yellow dress, the colour of marigolds, and she looked beautiful. Luna thought she was a princess who had wandered out of a fairy tale in order to give her and her father a happily ever after, for how could you not be happy, with someone who exuded such warmth, such kindness?

    It was for Luna’s grandmother’s eightieth, Luna vaguely recalls, though she remembers more precisely an elderly woman saying to her, “One day, you may have golden hair like your mother.”

    Luna just shrugged. She didn’t really care or think about the colour of her hair, then or now. She was content to watch her mother dancing with her father, and the sunlight twisting strands of that golden hair to burning hot red.

    Then there was the day her mother died. When Luna thinks of it, she is angry. She has accepted her mother is no longer with her, but waiting for Luna to one day, hopefully in many days, join her, but she can’t quite accept the manner of it.

    She feels her mother should have died in a better way. Not in her shed, at the bottom of the garden, all alone, but in something bigger, something greater.

    Luna does not want to die, but she has accepted in recent months that it is a tangible possibility, and one that she wishes to face bravely. The only thing that bothers her about it, is her burial. She wants to be buried next to her mother, and the fact that she might not be, bothers her more than the actual dying itself.

    Whenever she is troubled, she goes to her mother’s grave. It’s rather unkept, with nettles, daisies, ragwort, yellow pimpernels, oilseed rape and dandelion. Flowers, which most would call weeds, sharing sometimes a dash, sometimes whole petals, of yellow. Neither Luna nor her father had forced only yellow to grow there. It just happened, as if by magic, but more beautiful for not being so.

    That’s what Luna thinks of, in the monotone of the cell she’s trapped in. The graves of herself, and her mother, and her father, side by side, thriving with tangled, beautiful, yellow flowers.
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  5. #5
    Seventh Year Gryffindor
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    How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?
    I started off approaching it like a commentary. I tend to use the acronym SCASI, which stands for Setting, Character, Action, Style, Ideas (Alex, you know what I mean ;P) I change setting to description and ideas is where I comment on if things actually sort of kind of have some sort of meaning to the real world. While reading, I take notes on things I want to comment on in point form. Then, I go to my notes and put them into sentences. I then leave the document for a few days, after which, I come back, reread the story and my review to make sure I covered everything. Basically, I write a review the same way I wrote commentaries in IB, because I found that it works.

    How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?
    I usually don't really put squee things in my outline, or if I do, it is just something like "wow on this" and I'll word it accordingly. With crit, it's usually like "Why did Dumbledore shave his beard?" which is then worded into something coherent.

    NEW TQ: Do you review every story in the same fashion, or do you have different techniques for different genres?
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  6. #6
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    Oooooh, this topic is so interesting!

    I've been a member of SPEW for about a year now (I think) and my methods of reviewing have really changed since I joined. In fact, without trying to sound pompous or anything, I do think my reviews have improved quite a bit. My noob!reviews weren't all that, but I can definitely say that some of my more recent reviews have been much better. Part of the reason for this is because I'm part of the RAC. I've seen how the reviews have been scored -- both with the old and new scoring systems -- and from that, I've been able to see how my reviews can get better, and where my strengths and weaknesses lie.

    How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?

    I used to just read a story once, write a review that looked the reasonable length and then just submit it. Of course, I did put thought into what I was typing, but now, my reviewing methods are very different.

    What I do, first, is decide in advance which stories I want to review. It might be that I've noticed a certain story is rather underloved on the Most Recent. Maybe an flister just wrote a lovely story after not writing for a while. There may have been a challenge over in the Great Hall which has meant that lots of great stories but not many reviews. Oh, and sometimes, I get a review from someone, and as per my stalkerishness, I decide to click on their profile and see if I can return the favour by reviewing something of theirs.

    My general rule of thumb is that if I enjoy the story, I review it, and if I don't, then I won't. That's always been my policy, really, and I've found that this is often one of the key things in writing a review -- having a good balance of concrit and praise. Basically, if I like sixty per cent of the story, I'll happily read and review it for SPEW. It's meant that my tone is usually polite, and that it helps in wording crit, something that is difficult at times, because I don't want to upset the author.

    Now, however, I read the story at least three times. Just to make sure that I haven't missed anything, it's good to give it a once-, twice- or thrice-over, to make sure that any and all details of the story I mention in the review are accurate. I think it also helps in getting into the feel of the story, by reading it more than once, especially when I don't have long and I basically skim read it on my first go and then I go back to it and read it properly.

    How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?

    I try my best to control my squeeing, hehe. I'm also quite prone to sugar-coating criticism. The last thing I want to do is upset the author, so I try my utmost to soften the blow as much as possible. However, I don't think I would refer to it as "filtering"; I don't think I usually have anything particularly OTT in terms of tone to begin with anyway.

    Do you review every story in the same fashion, or do you have different techniques for different genres?

    Um, I usually review in the same way for all stories. I don't think I've ever left a SPEW review for poetry, but I'm assuming that a poetry review would be a tad different, maybe a bit shorter? Not sure, to be honest.

    New TQ: How much do you edit your reviews before submitting?

    I ask this because I'm quite... I tend to want to add things A LOT. As in, to the point when, even after I've looked over something quite a few times, I still feel the need to edit and add and reword things. As a result, I always have to get my SPEW reviews done well before the deadline, because if I wrote them on the day, I'd probably go mad, lol.

    What about everyone else?
    Last edited by babewithbrains; 03-17-2012 at 12:03 AM.

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  7. #7
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    How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?

    Well . . . I used to just write a one sentence squee after almost any chapter I read, but that was around three years ago. Then I just stopped reviewing all together, and now I'm in SPEW. Now I read through the story one or two times, and I find what I really loved about the piece, and things I found not-so-hot. And that's how I prepare, as it gives me 3-5 good topics that can (in general) tell the other what they did well/something they can work on.

    That's about it.


    How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?

    Squeeing . . . I mainly have to watch the beginnings and ends of my review for that. I find it incredibly awkward starting and ending a review, and sometimes I overdo it *just* a bit.

    As for softening criticism . . . this has been a bigger issue. I tend to be a little too blunt, so I definitely spend a good amount of time reading through that part of my review to make sure I don't sound rude. Also, I tend to plant it in the middle, so it's surrounded by good things, which always helps.


    New TQ: How much do you edit your reviews before submitting?

    Erm . . . it depends. Anywhere between two and twenty minutes, depending on when/where I'm writing the review, and the circumstances under which.

    My new TQ: Have you ever found it hard to review a certain genre? Pairing? Era?
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  8. #8
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    How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?

    I read the story, of course. While I’m reading, I mark spots that I think are particularly interesting, or could have a good point to discuss on. Then, I elaborate on those spots, and I go through characterisation, plot, tone, etc… If I see any SpaG mistakes, canon mistakes, or general inconsistencies, I’ll write those down too, and then add those into my review. I have to try a lot to not sound rambly since a lot of the things I address are things I could talk about for a long time.

    How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?

    I usually squee at the beginning of a review, because I want the author to think I’m nice and not evil, but I know I shouldn’t.

    Quote Originally Posted by Twin
    I find it incredibly awkward starting and ending a review
    I do, too. I don’t want to start or end with squee or crit, so that’s what takes me the longest.

    As for crit, I don’t think that I have *too* much of a problem with it. Sometimes I want to spread out the crit, and not put it all in the same paragraph, but I always have to go do that seperately.

    Quote Originally Posted by Imaginary Me
    Your Hermione and McGonagall were a little bit OOC, and you keep switching between past and present tense.
    That is exactly what I try not to do, because it sounds too critical,and I don’t like putting it all together into one paragraph. Instead, I might do something like this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicer Imaginary Me
    Throughout the story, you are switching tenses, between past and present. It makes the story a little hard to follow, and it would be lovely if you could fix it.
    Although that is a terrible review, it proves my point.

    NEW TQ: How much crit/squee do you generally put in a review?

    Lily xxx
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  9. #9
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    TQ: How do you prepare for a review? How has this process changed since you started in SPEW?

    When I started in SPEW my reviews tended to be a lot shorter. I essentially read the story, and tried to get my thoughts and critiques down in a somewhat organized manner. Before I took my hiatus over the summer, I would generally read, print out, highlight and get my main ideas down on paper, then write the review. I'm currently trying to get my reviewing back to where it was (because I'm very, very rusty). Now I try to follow the same process, but I'm having a lot more difficulty organizing my reviews and getting my thoughts out clearly. This issue is greatly exacerbated by my procrastination of reviewing until the deadline.

    TQ: How much crit/squee do you generally put in a review?
    TQ: How much time do you spend filtering out squee comments or softening critical ones?


    It depends how much I've procrastinated the review. Critique is a lot more difficult to write because I have to make sure I'm clear and that I'm not phrasing it in a way that is rude or condescending. Also, I have to make sure that I'm giving reasons and explaining precisely what I didn't like and why I didn't like it. I personally find a well worded criticism is more helpful to me than squee-ing. I really try not to squee unless I actually think the thing is worth squee-ing about. In other words, I try to say what I mean and mean what I say in a review. However, if I'm running late, a lot more squee than I really want in the review slips in, which is not something that makes me happy. I feel like if I squee at everything, the things that I really think are squee-worthy aren't distinguished. However, it's much, much more difficult and takes a lot more time to critique than to squee.

    TQ: Do you review every story in the same fashion, or do you have different techniques for different genres?

    With a poem, I will always print it out and highlight and make comments. I will generally note the number of syllables and highlight repetition and make more generall comments on the piece. I then will review. With a one-shot what I do varies more. If I have definite things I like or don't like about it that come to mind immediately, I'll brainstorm them down on paper. If not, I may print out the story and use that to help me think. I'll pick out and highlight sections that stand out to me, and make comments right next to them.

    TQ: How much do you edit your reviews before submitting?

    Not as much as I should. I have very little patience for editing, and if I've left my reviews really late I've often written them out then just submitted them. I always write my reviews in word and spell check them. If I'm feeling really good about the review, I'll look it over quickly and submit. If I have a lot of critique or am not thrilled about the content I will carefully go over the review and try to make sure I'm clear and have put thought and reasoning into everything I've said. I also try to make sure I don't sound condescending.

    New TQ: Do you have a favorite genre to review? Why is it your favorite?

    Poetry is my favorite genre to review, and I also find it the easiest genre to review. I like to review more technical aspects of a story and connect them to theme, plot and, characterization. Poetry is a genre where technical things like line length, rhyme, stanza breaks, etc. are critical. The length of a poem is generally much shorter than that of a poem, so I find the review much easier to organize than with a longer story (even a one-shot). In a longer piece, I have to pick and choose what I want to comment on more than in a poem which is nice.

    -Meg

  10. #10
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    Hi

    I reviewed Neither Can Live (click for link). It was absolutely beautiful and I would fully recommend it to anyone, especially if you are a lover of poetry. I’m actually quite surprised that it was underreviewed, unless people have a phobia of leaving squee-views.


    Did you notice an incongruity in the word count of the stories as compared to the depth of them?

    I reviewed poetry, which in itself is naturally shorter than prose. However, I think I can safely say that the depth of the poem went a lot deeper [for lack of a better word, but ugh I hate using the same word twice in one sentence] than I could imagine. I thought it was especially amazing that Julia could leave such an impression in her writing just from such a small amount of words. I think that is easier to do in poetry than it is in prose, but that is definitely something Julia has mastered.

    NEW TQ for discussion: Most people [including myself!] don’t often review poetry. How did you go about it this time if you reviewed one of Julia’s poems? Do you think that you would go about it differently if you reviewed a less experienced poet?

    NEW TQ for the author: You’re the leader of Poetry, Anyone? on the boards here. How has your experience and knowledge on this forum helped you in your poetry on the archives?

    NEW TQ for the author: How much do you "research" your poems before you write them? Do you start out meaning to write in a specific format, or let the verses come?


    Anddd those are really lame TQs, so I’ll probably add in better ones later D:

    Lily xxx
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