Disclaimer: I am not the author of the article below, and the link that the author originally had no longer works. But this is a very well written piece that I think is worth sharing, so I wanted to post it. This is not to ask for feedback, nor is it to tell you that you should always send feedback to authors. It's more directed at those few who seem to feel a need to criticize others in flames and to help those that are flamed deal with it easier. But overall, it's just a very insightful article that is interesting to read.
- Audrey -
Feedback and the Art of Zen
If an author writes a story and doesn't receive any feedback, does the story actually exist?
Well, yes, it just feels like it doesn't. Feedback is the fanfiction writers' pay cheque and there are very few of us who like to work for free.
Feedback is part of the process of taking part in the fanfiction community. You write a story, you post it to lists, archives etc, you receive feedback (you hope). As it would seem most readers only feel inclined to send feedback to stories they like, feedback is sometimes used by the author as a measurement of the success of a story.
How you want to view feedback is up to you. While I recommend listening to the words of those around you, I think it's important to trust your inner-judge that tells you when you've done a good job. I also think it's important to write what you want to write and not be affected by the demands of the readership.
But it's a fine line. Who wants to write something no one will read? Even now as I'm writing stories for a fandom that doesn't exist, I'm hoping that someone, somehow will find it, read it, like it, and perhaps send me feedback.
We don't post on the Internet for privacy. We want to know what you think.
Bearing this in mind I've compiled a few notes on some feedback issues concerning writers and readers alike. You might find the guide handy. If you don't, send me some feedback.
To critique or not to critique - Flames
I'm a little suspicious of anyone who actually gets to the end of fanfic they don't like, let alone takes the time to write a disparaging note afterwards. I usually can't get past the title. And yes, I'm a little suspicious of those sites that cite bad fanfic as well. I mean, what the hell do you care if a twelve-year-old can't spell Mulder and Scully?
Here's the thing: it's petty and it shows. Bad fanfic is a fact of fanficland. Get over it. If your ego is in such a state that it gets a boost by espousing the alleged superiority of your taste, you could use a session or two on the beach away from people, OK? Just remember a flame says more about you than the person you're flaming. Just what is your problem?
Receiving a Flame
The general consensus around the fanfic community is that a flame just lets you know you've arrived. Just so you know: THE BEST FANFIC AUTHORS AMONG US HAVE RECEIVED FLAMES!
Now that that's out of the way, what should you do about it? Should you reply? Well, I'd suggest the adage "just ignore them" is probably good advice but if you feel you've had a dull week and you want to shoot back a quick rejoinder, hell, why not? You are of course, leaving yourself open to more criticism and perhaps an all out war but if you're in the mood, it could certainly kill a few hours. And if it's public criticism such as on a BB, why not react good-humouredly? Post a message saying "Mom! Is that you? I told you never to contact me here!" or "I'm sorry, as much as I would love to respond to your thoughtful and obviously well considered opinions that you no doubt spent all night laboring over, but I'm afraid my tolerance for morons is at its utmost minimum at the moment. Would you consider contacting me again in a week or two?" You get the idea.
Constructive criticism - addressing the shortfalls of the work in a manner that will assist the author's future writing endeavors.
Constructive criticism is not flames and the two are not easily confused. If you're on the receiving end of constructive criticism, try to remember that whatever they say about your work, they obviously think you're worth saving, so don't be discouraged and have a bit of a think about the advice. You don't have to agree with it and you don't have to take it to heart.
The better you get to know an author the more likely you are to know how they will take criticism. For this reason I think constructive criticism is perhaps best left to betas or good friends.
Of course, if you're an author who genuinely wants people to come down hard on your story (think about it now) then I see no harm in putting a little
note above your story saying "hit me baby one more time" or words to that effect. Just remember, you asked for it.
However if you're thinking of sending a critique to a complete stranger, I recommend caution.
I think it's a good idea to take a good hard look at your motivation for writing constructive criticism. If you really think you can help someone then it's best to remember that we learn better when praised than when discouraged. And if you're not doing it to help, then why are you doing it?
But if you've got something to say and you think you think it's relevant, go for it. And perhaps bear the following advice in mind:
Say, "I think it is." rather than "It is..." Emphasize that it's only your humble opinion. This way you are inviting the writer to say, "well, thanks, I'll take that on board" instead of "what the hell would you know, you talentless hack who makes Barbara Cartland look eloquent."
Zendom list members suggest a positive to negative ratio of 3:1 Still, this ratio tends to apply better when you know the person you are critiquing. Considering the anonymity of fanfiction on the Internet, you might want to step up that ratio a little to 5:1. But if these numbers confuse you, just remember encouragement is the key. They tell us that kids tune out when the negativity builds up and we are just big kids. It's like hiding the cat's pills in the Dine seafood platter - you have to surround it with something they'll like in order to get them to swallow it. And even then, it doesn't hurt to remember that puss is darn good at searching through the cat food for that elusive pill! Hide it well.
Offer to beta their next story. If you really care, why not put your money where your mouth is? If they say "fantastic! I'll send you my next story!"
then it's still worth bearing the above advice in mind.
Replying to Feedback
Is a really good idea. Someone has gone to the trouble of sending you a note about your story. Remember your manners and say "thank you."
Laying it on Thick
I really don't think you can mess up here. Gushing about someone's story is usually flattering and most authors will take it in the spirit within which it is intended.
However, most authors will fondly remember feedback that was particularly insightful. In addition, knowing what works about a story is just as important to a writer's development as knowing what doesn't work. If you really, really, truly, looooved a story, why not take some time to say why you loved it. You don't have to go on about the poetics or the metaphors, there is no right or wrong reason to like a story, but if you thought the sex was particularly hot, say so. If you thought it was funny, if it reminded you of an episode of the show you particularly liked, if you could hear the character's voices in your head, if it reminded you of a song you thought was pretty deep, if it made you cry, if it made you think, if you read it three times in one sitting, FOR GOD'S SAKE, SAY SO!
Begging For It.
Begging makes you look cheap. Don't do it. Saying "Feedback is welcome" is fine. In fact, it's more than fine. Telling your readers you welcome feedback encourages them to get over any apprehension they might feel in contacting someone they don't know. Saying, "pleez pleez send feedback or
I'll never write again" tempts the reader to take you up on the threat.
To quote a Zendom koan, "when it says 'the end' and the end, that's the end."*
Begging for a sequel is mildly flattering, but it also suggests that you were somehow unsatisfied with the ending. Ask yourself why you want more. Do
you just want the author to write more stories? Say so if you do. If you think you will only be satisfied when the characters are happily married or in boxes in the ground, then try to understand that a lot of authors just want to show you a small section of the lives of their characters and leave the bigger story up to your imagination. Some people like epics, some people like small details. Try to respect an author's wish to keep it simple.
Spread the Love
And lastly, what goes around comes around, according to Lenny Kravitz, so if you value feedback, make sure you're the kind of person who sends it.