Reviewing and You: How To Review With Class
All right, reviewers. You can come back in now. I've just told your writers how to play nice. Now, assuming that they understand that you're here to help them, what are some things you can do to avoid making them think you're out to get them?
Tip #1: Friendliness is the key!
Remember how, in the last part of the guide, I said something about the fact that the friendlier a writer is to a reviewer, the easier it gets? The same is true in reverse. No matter how frustrated you are, do not do things like:
1. Swear at the writer.
2. Insult the writer directly. You really shouldn't do it indirectly, either, but I mean don't call them a moron. Likewise, don't say their story is a piece of crap. Hold yourself back and tell them as politely as possible that it could use a bit of work here and there.
3. Never assume that the writer is unable to learn. Even if they post stuff you can't even read because it's that incoherent, some of them just don't know any better. This doesn't mean you should call them stupid or treat them like they are. It means you need to explain things to them that they might not know in as polite terms as you can muster without sugarcoating.
In other words, the more you hold yourself back in your temptation to call the writer hopeless, the better your exchange will be. If you're polite, the writer will want to listen to you. If you're not, then they won't. Simple as that, basically. After all, think of how you might react if someone basically told you that you failed at life. You wouldn't exactly want to listen to what they have to say after that, right?
Of course, this doesn't mean you should sugarcoat. By all means, point out as much as you'd like. Just try not to insult them, be snarky, or be abrasive. Tell them in a straightforward tone what you see and what suggestions you can make at those points.
Tip #2: Being pretentious is never an effective reviewing technique!
It's really great to know that you're here to help a writer, but remember, just because you can point out errors doesn't mean you should treat the writer as if they're stupid. When you point something out, be straightforward at the very bluntest, but don't be snotty about it. For example, don't just tell them that they're doing something wrong and that their writing is terrible. Explain to them the rules behind your reasoning. If there's a comma rule that's been violated, define the comma rule.
Also, use simple language. While you're all writers, sure, not everyone knows what the progressive aspect is. Likewise, they might not understand what exposition is or why it's bad. They might not even know what a Mary Sue is. You, as the reviewer, are required to define whatever you bring to the table, but to make it easier for yourself, try to simplify your way of thinking so that you can minimize the amount of explaining you end up having to give the author. If you can't simplify (because for some things you just can't, like for Mary Sues), define it so they can figure out what you mean and how to avoid making that same mistake again.
Tip #3: You are not infallible/the mod.
Remember that it's okay to stand corrected now and then about things in your review. We're human, so we all make mistakes. Be willing to be corrected by an author (if, at least, they're civil enough to say, "hey, I appreciate what you're doing, but actually blah").
Additionally, remember that you're most likely not a staff member on the forum. So, all of the rules (especially the ones concerning conduct) apply to you, too. If you're not in a position to get away with murder, don't try to get away with murder. Likewise, don't try to tell an author that their thread will be locked, moved, what have you. The reason why is that this tends to embarrass them, and anyway, it's not why you're there. You're there to help the author by giving them feedback as straightforward and politely as possible. That's really all there is to it.
Tip #4: Flaming is not a good way to get a response to your review.
Assuming the writer has looked at the part before this one and assuming you can review in a straightforward, objective manner (i.e., without charging it with whatever emotion you happen to be feeling at the moment), you're probably not going to be flamed. Even then, though, don't be surprised if you're met with some resistance. This kind of thing comes in two varieties: no response to a review and actual arguments.
If the author actually responds negatively, maintain your patience. Examine each of the author's points and try to reply tactfully by backing up your views and corrections with resources and further explanations. However, if the author still isn't open to responding to you after a few of these exchanges, walk away before you start flaming. It's a lot more work mucking through a catfight on an internet community than it is just stopping before things really escalate. It's even okay to apologize if things go horribly, horribly wrong in a discussion about a review.
Meanwhile, if the author just doesn't respond, then don't take offense to that. If they just haven't said anything yet, chances are, they're busy at the moment. If, however, they outright ignore your points and post their next chapter, go find another story because obviously, the author probably isn't open to criticism and isn't worth your time. Again, it's a lot of work to keep up an internet argument, so it's really not worth it, especially over something as trivial as silence.
Tip #5: Outside forces =/= your review.
There was a part in the earlier guide directed to writers that talked about how you shouldn't intermingle your real life with an argument with a reviewer. The same applies vice-versa. You, as the reviewer, should do your best to keep real-life stresses out of your review. Now, this might sound extremely insensitive because I'm telling you that you can't be affected by whatever surrounds you, but it's actually tied to something that's really just the truth, no matter which way you cut it.
Basically speaking, it's because the worst possible thing you can do is take out your anger and frustrations on someone who has nothing to do with your problems. Seriously. It makes a mess of things and leaves everyone feeling worse off than they started. So, for the writer to bring real-life issues into an argument ends up being a bit insensitive towards you, the reviewer, but doing it as a reviewer to the writer is pretty much even worse. It causes you to charge your review with whatever you're feeling at the moment (frustration, anger, whatever), which in turn puts the writer on the defensive because they feel like they're being attacked.
The best thing to do before writing a review if you happen to feel frustrations from the world around you is take a deep breath. Meditate. Do something other than start on that review. Once you're at a point where you can think about just the story instead of the world around you, start in and try not to let how you're feeling about other issues clash with what you're trying to do.
This is all it -- everything I've said for the past four guides -- boils down to, really: in order to make things enjoyable for everyone on a writing community, you need to find a way to communicate without breaking down into catfights. In other words, while I'm not saying you have to be sunshine and daisies in your reviews and while I'm not saying hold back on your sense of blunt honesty, I'm saying that there are ways to just state the facts without actually putting negative emotion into it. You've got to arrive at that state of serenity before hitting a story (or, in the case of writers, before attempting to respond to reviewers) where you can address points objectively and clearly without saying anything that makes the other party think they're being attacked. That way, things end up being easier for you. Less drama, less work, basically.
Now, that's all I really have to say about acting civilly on a writing community. There's just one other part I'd like to address, and it's once again for the writers. This time, however, we're going to talk about that all-pervasive question: how do you get reviews in the first place?