What is a review?
That's something I wish I'd understood when I started out here on RR. While there seem to be a lot of interpretations of that question, some seem to be better than others.
I'm not here to preach the superiority of my personal interpretation, but rather to give pointers, advice and help to anyone who wants to try and write helpful reviews for authors on RoyalRoad. This thread will offers pointers, my own experiences with reviews, and hopefully answer some questions you might have.
- What is a review?
- So, why should I write reviews anyway?
- Reviewing taboos.
- How to write a constructive review. (My style).
- Reviewing tips made simple.
So, let's ask again. What is a review?
There seem to be three common interpretations to that on this site.
1. The most common. My personal stamp of approval/haterant.
This is actually the least useful of them all, if I'm honest with you. Saying things like 'this story is awesome', or, 'this story sucks' serves no purpose. Different people have different tastes and opinions that you, and these reviews can deter people from reading stories they might enjoy. They also don't serve to draw people in, since most people don't care if you like so and so story. They provide no real feedback to the author, from what I've seen. They are, however, the most commonly found review on RoyalRoad.
2. The recommendation review.
The second most common type of review. This is actually a good type of review, since many of them list things that make a story good, and can draw readers in for an author. They can help a reader chose whether or not the story is for them, and may even encourage the author. I've written my fair share of these reviews, and find that I like reading some in return. A good RecReview details the good points of the story, it's selling points and also a few cons.
3. The feedback review.
In my opinion, as a reviewer and an author, this is the most useful review an author can receive. More often than not, it's the best way for a reader to show an author that they enjoyed the story, and want to help them. A good Feedback review will often go over and discuss grammar, style, the story and characters. Where the author succeeded at what they were trying to do and where they might have failed. If a story has fatal flaws, they can be pointed out here.
Note that these three come from what I've seen, these are only a rough template for reviews, and any mix of the three can come out in an actual review. I myself straddle the line by mixing small amounts of #2 and 3.
Everyone has their own personal style, and it takes time to find what your comfortable with. Don't try to be the best reviewer ever on your first review, instead, learn and evolve as you go.
So, why should I write reviews anyway?
Okay, this is actually a good question. Why should you write them?
You don't have to, really. Writing reviews doesn't get you followers, or patreons if that's what you're after. It does, however, show other readers you liked a story, shows an author you liked their work and support them. Unless of course your a complete asshole who takes joy in stomping down an author's work because it doesn't meet your standards. If so, don't bother writing reviews at all.
Reviews do nothing but help, if done right. If you don't have the money to support an author on Patreon, want to do more than comment (bless you if you're one of the people who actually comments) or want to speak on the story, then reviewing is the way to go.
Read RoyalRoad's Reviewing Rules in the F.A.Q section before you review.
This is a MUST for anyone who wants to review. There are clear guidelines on the no-nos of reviewing here, and your review will be deleted if you break them. If you don't want to read through them, here's a simple, dirty breakdown.
• Do not attack the author: Ever.
This is the fastest way to have your review removed. Don't call them stupid, beta males/females, criticize their looks or any other things you might come up with. RR takes a hardline stance on protecting their authors from this sort of harassment, and you'd do well to remember that.
• If you're reviewing a story, keep it to that story:
Don't wander off into things that have no connection to that story. Don't talk about the author's different stories and how they compare, or other reviews.
• Hate speech/Discrimination of ANY kind is not tolerated:
This includes, but is not limited to,
- hating on other users or stories
- trying to directly discourage readers from reading the stories themselves.
• Genre Hate is taken seriously:
Giving a story a low score simply because you don't like the genre its in will be noticed and removed. The author doesn't write sci-fi to cater to your grimdark-low fantasy tastes. Who forces you to read a story in a genre you don't like? Nobody. Stars are given as an indication of quality, not of how much it suited your tastes.
• Gender hate:
In the same vein, disliking a story and detracting stars based on the gender of the protagonist or a character isn't allowed. You have every reason and right to dislike a protagonist for any number of reasons, but simply because of their gender isn't an excuse. If you prefer male protagonists, why are you reading one with a female protag anyway if you dislike them enough to detract stars?
• No profanity or spoilers
: Both of these are big non-nos in reviews. Avoid them at all costs.
• Writing a review that is soley negative and/or giving criticism without critique is forbidden:
You are allowed to nitpick, criticize or point out a story's shortcomings in any number of ways. What you are required to do as well, is to provide helpful advice for the author if you do so. Writing a review that ONLY points out the bad in a story helps no one. The author gets nothing, the readers get nothing, and it makes you look like an asshole in the eyes of everyone else.
Make sure you remember these, because they're absolute rules here on RoyalRoad. Start breaking them, and you'll receive unhappy surprises.
Writing a review.
Do note that this is only one method, and you don't need to follow it as there's no concrete reviewing method. However, I'll go ahead and share my own method of reviewing, one that I've found simple for me to write, and useful to the author and new readers alike.
My reviews are structures in the following order.
Let's go in and walk through all of these.
• Opening: This is the section I always use to open a review. For readers who don't have the patience to read through a detailed review aimed at the author, I usually include a short summary of the story here, some of the things I liked, a flaw or two. This serves to open for the rest of the review sections, who's subjects can be expanded upon what is written here.
• Story: This section is largely used to talk about the story itself. Not narrating it or doing recaps, but giving the readers. a heads-up on interesting things to expect, pointing out flaws and inconsistencies to the author, where it succeeds and fails, etc etc. This is usually my largest section, since I like to get in-depth with it, and serves as a good opener for the more technical things in the next two sections.
To put in the Story Category:
- Action scenes.
- Overall story arc(s).
- Any amount of other things.
• Style: This is actually a rather hard thing to properly critique, even now. It's something I don't expect many new reviewers to even know where to start on or how to do it, so I recommend skipping it if you feel it's too hard.
But, moving on, and if you want to know, Style critique is usually about a variety of more technical issues. The story's pacing, for one. Others include an author's tendency to favor one thing over another, such as going for big things and glossing over small details. Dialogue and character descriptions can also fall into the Style category.
Roughly, Style is about HOW an author writes. How good they can make their writing, or if it's dry and boring, too simplistic, handholding, etc etc.
To put in Style Category:
- Overuse of certain words.
- Whatever you can think of.
• Grammar: Very straightforward. I'm not well versed in the deep grammar rules, so I stick to the basics. I'll put a few here for reference, even if you already know them.
- Knowing when sentences become too long. My rule of thumb is; If a sentence has more than five-six spaced commas and over fourty-fifty words, it's too long.
- Not confusing exclamation (!) marks with question (?) marks.
- Quotation marks (") Go right next to a sentence to indicate dialogue. Example. "Pay attention."
- Capitalizing the first letter of each sentence.
- Not confusing periods and commas.
These are just small, helpful rules, not the full list for them. If you're feeling unsure yourself, brush up a little if you want.
To put in Grammar Category:
- Technical mistakes, if you feel they're warranted.
- Flaws and corrections.
• Characters: This section is for talking about the characters of the story, and is usually saved for last. Putting it after the Style and Grammar sections gives some readers extra incentive to read through (or they might just skip down).
Use this section to point out what you might have liked in the characters, what didn't make sense, if character flaws were simply too much at times, the cast at large, anything that you might feel belongs here. Try to see what the author is going for with a character and tell them how well they achieve that. That just might be one of the most important things an author get get from you.
To put in Characters Category:
- Main character impressions.
- Side characters.
- How fleshed out they are/or lack thereof.
- The cast at large, and what impressions they make on you.
- Character interactions and dynamics.
• Closing: With that meat of the review behind you, this section can be used to give a last few words. Use this however you will.
This is my basic review model. If I feel the need, optional sections can be added, such as one dedicated solely to critique, or to tackle large issues. If you feel that any of the above are too daunting/not your thing, go ahead and invent your own sections that you're comfortable with, and replace/add them at your own leisure.
• Start slow.
Don't expect to churn out awesome, Road breaking reviews on the first go. I didn't. Instead, try what you're comfortable with, and, if you feel up to it, push yourself a little farther each time. Eventually, you're going to buy burning out 6-7 page reviews like they're nothing. But it takes work and dedication to get there.
• Don't burn yourself out.
You can and will burn yourself out if you continuously try to tackle too much. I'm not saying to stay away from big stories, I'm saying try to avoid doing too many at once. I've been there and done that. It wasn't fun.
• Keep your message simple/make sure you actually get it across.
If you want to say something crucial, make sure you actually say it, but mind your wording.
• Praise is fine. Where praise is due.
Critical thought is more valuable to an author than mindless praise, I've found.
• Not every story is a 5 star.
This just might be one of the harder things for an author to accept, but instead of you propping them up and raising people's expectations, only for them to be disappointed, you can do better. By telling an author what is lacking/wrong in their story, in your opinion, you can help them improve. By improving, they get other people to give them.high rating not you alone for the sake of not hurting their feelings.
• When reading with the intent to review, keep your goal in mind.
If you read a book and have already decided to review at the end, keep your goal in mind. What will your review mention? What will you keep an eye out for? Is that flaw there big enough to warrant you adding to your usual style?
• Be polite.
I've found that authors genuinely enjoy/appreciate reviews where the reviewer wasn't a rude, obnoxious asshole even when he was disassembling their story piece by piece. The most valuable feedback can be lost on an author if they offence with your attitude and just tune out your review. Not everyone is an awesome writing genius. Some people are just starting out and would appreciate any encouragement you slipped their way. They'll remember you for it.
And with that, I conclude my short guide to reviewing. Hopefully, I helped some of you out there, and provided inspiration and helpful advice to you.
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions on how to improve this, leave me a comment below.