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Commentary About Commenting

Comments are great things. For those fic writers here on LJ, comments are often our lifeblood. They give us a reason to keep writing, encouragement that we're on the right track, and just let us know that in the whole wide world, someone else finds our efforts worthy of notice. For a lot of us, that's all we want. And a comment is far more meaningful than a simple kudos or "like" vote. But let me discuss a couple different kinds of comments that invite more discussion. Specifically the concrit comment and the "but you're not a telepath!" comment.



Usually people comment on fics they like, because they like them. You just need to let the author know that they've touched you or entertained you or made you happy. Normally people don't comment on fics that aren't their cup of tea, because, generally, they don't read them. If a pairing or summary isn't to your taste, or you don't care for the warnings listed, there's no need to subject yourself to that tale.

Upon occasion, you might find a fic with a great premise but poor execution, in which case you might feel compelled to help the author try to improve. This, I appreciate, if it's done in a tasteful manor. I've written some stories that were done in haste, or carelessly, that could definitely benefit from a re-write, and getting concrete suggestions on improvement is definitely helpful.

In these situations, I do appreciate it if the person giving concrit isn't a douche. I am usually aware of weaknesses in my own fics. Truly, I am. I do try to improve. I often go back to older fics and try to correct problems I find with them. I don’t mind having errors or plot holes pointed out. But you can point out problems without being mean. Let me explain

I’ve had corrections from very blunt people before. The freedom of the internet that allows me to post all my artistic endeavors also allows people to review them in any manner they see fit. And I’ve often learned some very good points from extremely blunt and insensitive reviews and comments. To a point, if the review makes me aware of a problem and has practical suggestions on how to fix it, I’ll swallow the pain and go to work.

But commenting meanly on a problem and then offering no solution offers nothing. “It was a mediocre fic and I didn’t much care for it.” That, interweb friends, does not help. What was wrong? The plotting? Dialogue? Characterization? Paragraph structure? I cannot improve if you cannot articulate what rubbed you the wrong way. Unloading some free-floating hostility on me because you felt your time was wasted in reading my story doesn’t help. You can try to improve the situation, or chalk it up to a life lesson and move on to another story elsewhere. I want to write good fic, not mediocre fic. Find the problem; I will try to write a solution.

Saying that you’re one of those blunt people who says what he/she thinks and doesn’t care to pussyfoot around is a cop-out. Being a profession jerk is something that should be reserved for reality show stars. Your gleefully self-righteous comment that you tossed off in two minutes can completely wreck someone’s day. If this gets you off, please seek professional help.

A helpful concrit comment, particularly one that is not posted with a heap of hostility on top, makes me feel grateful towards the poster. It lets me write better fic, hopefully lets the poster read better fic, and has generally increased good karma all around.

A hurtful comment, particularly one delivered without any useful concrit, can ruin my day. I, personally, tend to take bad comments hard. I know a lot of people do. I am also very self-critical. One bad comment effectively ruins a dozen good comments, can send me into a depressed state for most of a day, makes me second-judge myself, and generally sucks all around.

Some would say, “Damn girl, you shouldn’t let random strangers have that much power over you!” Dudes, I’m a self-critical introvert with a history of depression and low self-esteem. Fiction is my self-prescribed therapy. This describes a very large section of fic writers on the internet. Yes, we let people have that much power over us. It happens. I try not to let it affect me, but it does. I am slowly growing a thicker skin, but that takes time. And honestly? I’m not here to be your whipping boy. You can pay someone else for that service.

Some would also say, “Now we have to pussyfoot around you when commenting even if we think your fic sucks ass?” No, not that either. As I said, if you’re offering good advice on how to help fix a problem with a fic, please do offer your opinion.

But please, no free-floating hostility. Do not make assumptions about my education, age, or fic-writing history. Do not call names. State calmly: “These things I liked. These things did not work as well for me, and distracted from the fic as a whole because of these reasons. Perhaps this, this, and this example would help the fic be stronger.”

Onto my second comment pet peeve. The “but you’re not a telepath!” comment.

This is a rare beast, and one I find inexplicably irritating. It goes something like this: “I kinda liked your fic, but I would have liked it better if this and this and this happened.”

This is not a concrit comment, though it looks like one superficially. This is unsolicited plot advice. For example, I wrote a gen fic in a particular fandom that has an active slash community. But there are probably just as many gen fics in that fandom as slash, and I posted it on a catch-all fic community, not one of the slash communities.

The fic was clearly labeled as gen. There were no pairings listed except for some canon het relationships. The whole fic was an action/drama with little to no romance; the plot centered about the event at hand, not character relationships. The comment I got? “Well, I was hoping for some [popular slash pairing] romance in here.”

Huh? Clearly labeled as gen. No pairings listed. No slash tags used. Summary mentioned nothing about a romance. But somehow I was supposed to slip in some heavy relationship stuff into the fic? Just for you? I needed to read your mind and put that in to satisfy you?

Could the fic have been improved by a romance? Maybe. But that wasn’t the point. It was someone strolling by my table where I’d just built my own ice cream sundae and dropping a scoop of bacon bits on top, “Because I love bacon!” Despite the fact that the ice cream sundae was advertised as bacon-free, it needed to include bacon. Um, why?

This is different from concrit, by a mile. Concrit helps improve the existing story. Unsolicited plot advice requires that you add in something unrelated. This doesn’t help anything. It’s pushy, strange, and makes me wonder why you chose to read my fic over something else that clearly suited your desires more closely. It generally doesn’t endear me to you as an author. This is less helpful and more, “Write to my specifications! Now! For no reason!”

Yeah. No.

If I want prompts, I’ll ask for them. If I need plot help, ditto. But why would you buy an apple to eat and then complain that it’s not an orange?

In conclusion, I want to hear from you. I want your opinions, your comments. If I made you happy, I want to know. If I need improvement, I want to hear your thought-out opinions.

Not your unsolicited plot seeds. Not your free-floating hostility.

In short, talk to me. But don’t be a douche. ;)

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
dixid
Jan. 27th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
I'm guilty of read much more than I comment on. One of the reasons I love the kudos on AO3 is that I read during my sporadic downtimes at work and tend to get interrupted and lose my train of thought. A kudo when I finish a story is a quick way for me to say "I liked this". That's usually all I have to say when commenting anyway, I never leave constructive criticism unless its regarding a typo.

(BTW - I got interrupted 3 times while typing this comment, I hope it made sense.)
jaune_chat
Jan. 27th, 2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
I don't mind something like Kudos. On FanFiction.net, you can add a story or author as your favorite, which serves much the same purpose: letting the author know you like the story in a swift fashion. But since LJ has neither kudos nor favorite buttons (we have memories, but those aren't quite the same), usually an author has nothing to rely on but comments. Hence they're rarer (and I get about being interrupted a lot), and thusly my wish that comments left show a little heart.

And hey, even a "I liked it!" is welcome. :) I too often neglect to leave comments as much as I should, and things like this remind me to do so. :)
takhallus
Jan. 27th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
That sucks that someone was so rude to you!

If I don't like a fic, I don't comment on it, but I wouldn't ever give concrit, it's just not how I roll.

I sometimes mention spellings because I think they are best picked up on and they're usually just oversights. I once published a fic which described Jim Kirk as putting him arm around Spock's 'waste'. ew. XD
boudecia7
Jan. 27th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
I think you're spot-on with this, and I'd add that in general I believe the more polite thing to do, whether you have serious concrit or would just like to point out a typo, is to PM the author. It's kind of like telling someone they have something stuck in their teeth; are you going to do it in front of the whole dinner party or is it kinder to take them aside and privately point it out, you know?

But that's probably not going to happen. If someone wants to leave me a criticism in a public comment on my publicly posted fic, I guess that's fair enough. They've done it before. :P

I don't give concrit myself unless personally asked to, and I have a very considered approach to it that I more or less gleaned from years of writing workshops and an upbringing that encouraged basic human decency. Pointing out other people's errors shouldn't be about making yourself feel like an authority; I'd like to think, again, that it's like telling someone they have something stuck in their teeth. It's something you'd also like them to do for you, gently, so that you can correct the issue and move on.

There's something to be said for a spoonful of sugar, too--if there's literally nothing nice that can be said about the fic in question, then why bother to offer concrit at all? If there's nothing good there then nothing can be salvaged, and someone offering "constructive criticism" is just doing so to feed their own ego. In other words, try to offer up something you DO like about the fic both before and after the criticism. It softens the blow. It's kinder, more effective, and, to be honest, a litmus test for your own motivations, because if it's just impossible to find ANYthing you liked about a fic, then you're only leaving a comment to...be a douche.

Having said that, I do love 99.99% of my comments, completely regardless of how long or eloquent. Having someone simply say "Good story!" is always wonderful--it's so nice just to know someone, somewhere, read what I've written and enjoyed it. And of course if they elaborate about what they liked I love that too. :D It's the rare moment when someone has said something nasty, but you're completely in the right: a couple of hastily written "blunt" words can ruin someone's day or even week. It would be nice if people would think about that before they post something cutting, and ask themselves if they're happy with the sort of person that makes them. You could be lifting someone's spirits, you could be offering them a helping hand, or you could be totally demoralizing them. What kind of person do you really want to be?
aurilly
Jan. 27th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
I was just about to comment that my LEAST favorite kind of comment is the typo kind, but boudecia7, just said it. PM me and I'll fix it; don't leave a comment that remain forever. Ugh.

The most annoying comment I've ever gotten was someone informing me that I must have made a typo, because the word "spleen" did not belong in a certain sentence, since there was nothing to do with internal organs going on in the story. To which I replied, "There is another definition of spleen." If you don't even know what you're talking about, don't start!

Re: your asshole commenter (fyi, this is going to be a random rant), but I think because there is very little consistency in how people label their fic (I know you labeled this as gen, so this isn't the issue; the issue is that this person is an idiot) a lot of times people don't realize that a fic will be gen. I remember I used to see "Characters: Sylar, Mohinder" and it would be a shippy fic. Other times I'd see "Characters: Sylar/Mohinder" and it would turn out to be gen. This is actually why I am such a hard-ass about the formatting of the xover_exchange headers---if this is the only comm where I can make sure it's clear, then dammit, I will. Although I 100% agree with you that people shouldn't inform you that they would have liked more/less shippiness etc, I think a lot of times people ARE reading a story despite the warning making it seem like it will be something else, just because there's always a chance, you know? ;)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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