Reviewing and You: A Few Other Helpful Hints
Once you've figured out how you should review, here's a few helpful things to remember to help you fine-tune your style.
Not every OC is a Mary Sue. Not even most of them are, and certainly not every self-insertion is. Mary Sues are simply characters who are far too outrageous to be realistic. They're the ones that bend reality and logic (either because the author is making things convenient for them or because the author is making things angsty for them) and rely on a set of powers/elements that make them special (beauty, super intelligence, angsty past, incredible battling skills, et cetera) in combination to make them interesting. In other words, they tend to be fairly over-the-top with how they're portrayed. Hence, you may not always encounter one in every story.
As a note, if you want a better description of a Mary Sue, Wikipedia has an unusually good article and a list of resources on them. Before passing judgment on an OC, be sure to check out the definition of a Mary Sue and think carefully about whether or not the character is over-the-top.
While we're at it, just because someone has a new trainer starting out doesn't mean it can't be fresh. It depends completely on the story that stems from that new trainer setting out on his journey. If, however, the trainer wakes up late and starts his journey a la Ash, then feel free to question.
Point is, always read the chapter all the way through. Don't judge something on the basis of one or two details. You can warn the author that something might look like it's leaning one way or another for you, but you can't tell from a beginning or from a small snippet whether or not it actually is a Sue or just another new trainer story.
This part actually comes in two flavors. The first is a matter of capitalization, and the second is a matter of accents. Let's tackle the first.
Technically, the word "Pokémon" is copyrighted, yes. Same thing with the word "Pikachu" and "Poké Ball." However, one thing you should know before going into a fanfiction is that there are two different opinions as to whether or not you capitalize these things. A bit odd, but here's the logic:
The people who say you should capitalize everything do it for obvious reasons. In canon, everything's capitalized. Why? It's not because that's how someone in the Pokémon world would do it. It's because, as I've said before, everything is copyrighted. Ergo, everything is treated as a proper noun because you can tack the little letters TM after pretty much anything Pokémon. Pikachu, Meowth, Pokédex, Poké Ball, Poffin... everything. So, it's not because people in the Pokémon world would write everything with a capital letter. It's a legal issue on our end of things. That's pretty simple, straightforward, and most of all, perfectly acceptible.
Now, the people who say you shouldn't go by another form of logic: technically, almost everything is a common noun. Think about it. You tend to say "a pikachu" and "a pokémon" in the same way you say "a mouse" and "an animal." Each word usually represents a non-specific item, not a specific entity or a word that would otherwise be capitalized (unless, of course, it's the beginning of a sentence or the actual name of the individual, the way Ash's pikachu is named Pikachu). This is also perfectly acceptible.
Hence, you've got two different camps with two very different opinions. How do you know when it's not intentional? Like most of the things on this page, you really have to skim the rest of the fic first. Look for other Pokémon names. If the capitalization is consistent (all capitalized or lowercase in situations where they're being used as common nouns), then it's okay. If the author switches back and forth between capitalizing and not capitalizing for seemingly no reason, then it's a legitimate mistake.
Now, about that accent. The letter é is a very unusual character that requires a mess of different ways to achieve. Not everyone uses Windows (and, yes, it differs depending on which OS you're using, such as how some distributions of Linux has you holding down CTRL and U and then pressing a sequence of four keys), not everyone has their character map accessible, and not everyone can use the same keystrokes. While it can be a matter of copying and pasting or messing with the Auto Correct if you know how, the simple matter is not everyone can get é to appear easily. So, it's okay to be lenient and let them simply write Pokemon, without the accent. Technically, the accent serves no real function except to match what was copyrighted by the original creators. It's not actually an indication of a contraction or anything of the sort.
There are, of course wrong ways to write the word "Pokémon," and these usually boil down to anything but "Pokémon" or "Pokemon." This includes slapping an apostrophe in it ("pok'emon" or "poke'mon") or reversing the direction of the macron.
In other words, when it comes to writing Pokémon and all things that have to do with it, pay close attention to how consistent the author is, not whether or not you personally believe something to be correct. Unless apostrophes are involved or it's actually downright wrong. (Ninetales, people. Ninetales.)
Believe it or not, the English, the Canadians, and just about half the rest of the world differs from the US in more than just measuring systems and which side of the road they drive on. American English has a lot of differences in both spelling and grammar from British English. For example, Americans have "color," and when we have quotation marks in the middle of the sentence the way I did just now, we put the comma inside them. For the English? 'Colour'. Note the punctuation placement as well. (Also note that the single quote rule and the one about placing the period or comma outside the quote marks don't apply to dialogue. If it's confusing, it's probably better to look it up.)
Of course, these are obvious examples. Less obvious examples might be the fact that the English have things like storey. Realise. Aluminium. There's a plethora of differences, and the only way to know whether or not it's an error is the same way you probably learned the difference between they're, their, and there: learn them or look them up. Google is amazing in this regard.
Yes, even if they give you a location in their profile, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what type of English they're using. An American can just as easily be living in the UK as a Canadian in the US, so their location in their profile doesn't always mean anything. It's a good hint to help you predict, but it's always a good idea to be wary nonetheless.
On Story Length
For whatever reason, a lot of people on Pokémon forums have a tendency to tell an author that their story is too short without actually going into depth concerning what that means. To give you a better idea of how to judge whether or not a story is too short, let me run down a rough estimation of word length for each type of story fanfiction can fall into.
Drabbles: 100 words. This is actually an inflexible definition because a drabble is explicitly 100 words exactly. This is why they're actually supposed to be challenges, not easy ways to tell a story.
Flash Fiction: 100 words to 1000 words. Flash fiction stories are extremely short one-shots, but they tell the entirety of a story in the space that they're given.
Short Stories: Up to roughly 30k words. Arguable, however, because a short story (aka "one-shot") is simply a story that's told in one chapter. Ergo, while you typically don't see shorts much longer than maybe twenty pages, you could make it as long as you want so long as the entire thing is told in a single shot.
Novellas: 30k to 50k words. Note that this is all together. There is no set chapter length.
Novels: 50k+ words. See above note about chapter length.
Notice how I said that there's no set chapter length? Because there really isn't, and most writing communities don't actually have rules concerning how long a chapter can be. It's actually perfectly possible (and has been done in print) to have a chapter only a sentence long. The entire point is that a chapter is done when the author has said everything that needs to be said from the first word of the installment to the last one.
But aren't short chapters bad ones? Ehhh... not really. The logic behind why is actually pretty cliché: quality over quantity. You can write a fourteen-page chapter, and it can be utterly terrible -- like, the most boring and trite stuff you can jam into one chapter. Likewise, you can write an astounding piece of fiction in less than 100 words. It's all in what you do with the words, not in how many you've written.
In other words, what you want to look at and comment on is the detail, and that's probably what a lot of you who use this as a one-liner response are trying to get at. You look at a fic and see only dialogue with little action or description, and this tends to screw up a story up because, understandably, it feels like there's nothing happening there. However, rather than say "lengthen this," try saying, "I couldn't quite imagine what's happening here because there's no detail or action." Specify. That's the entire key to good reviewing: telling the author exactly what you think, rather than giving them a vague idea of what you mean. If you don't think it's good, why? Maybe add in some parts where things were lacking and elaborating a little.
Back to the point, not all short fics are bad. It's all in the delivery, and some fics are simply better if they're short, rather than overly drawn out over multiple pages. In simpler terms, quality over quantity. Plot, characterization, logic, spelling, syntax -- those are things that you're looking for, not whether or not something's longer than a page.
By the way, are there communities that have rules that define chapter length? Yes. However, because they're not exactly common, it's heavily advisable that you take a very good look at the rules of the forum before saying anything. Sometimes, a mod doesn't really mind.
The Point Is...
To put things very simply, the point I'm trying to make is that in order to review, a reviewer needs to read. That's a "no duh" statement in itself, but reading and getting an idea of how the writer actually writes helps you avoid making an idiot of yourself by pointing out something that isn't actually an error. Not everything is a mistake, and the writer is not always in the wrong. Just giving the story a preliminary read-through is always a good idea so you can understand what is and isn't consistent throughout the fic. That way, you have a heads up on what to be prepared to pick out and what to leave alone.
Also, I'm saying that not everyone writes the same way you do. Like all things, you need to be open-minded when going into a review so you don't pick apart what's actually extremely superficial and irrelevant (like story length). Focus on the parts that matter, like grammar and plot.
In other words, the entire lesson I'm trying to convey is PAY ATTENTION. That's pretty much it.
Of course, reviewers aren't the only ones who need a little helping hand when it comes to how communication on a writing forum works. Let's take a look next at the way a writer should respond to a review.