Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 19, 2015 - 1:45pm

I like to think that when I go into doing an LBL I'm 100% constructive, friendly, honest, not redundant, but, truthfully, I've never picked anyone's mind on what they expect from a good LBL (line by line comments, for anyone who didn't know; that's generally how it works in the workshop on here), or even a good review for that matter. So I thought we could talk about it. What do you, personally, find really helpful when getting feedback? What do you really hate? 

Anybody?

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel February 20, 2015 - 4:32pm

I have a feeling that LBLs should only highlight where things are working and where they aren't. It shouldn't be correcting or rewriting the work in question. Things like, "This line could use tightening" is fine. But don't fix the line for the author. If you're reading and feel like your speeding ahead to find something that will engage you, that needs to be noted. That means that entire section needs to be more entertaining. 

So, I guess, help, but don't fix. 

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods February 21, 2015 - 8:42am

For LBLs, the ones I find are most helpful note grammar/structure/typo errors and contain comments regarding overall thoughts and feelings on different parts of the story. I agree with Jose that an LBL should never attempt to rewrite your work completely. I love suggestions and copy editing but I think if someone attempted to rewrite a whole paragraph or something, that would upset me! Also, pointing out your favorite lines always makes me smile :-).

As for the reviews themselves ... The ones I find most helpful go beyond the questions the author poses in the agenda. Tell me what doesn't work for you, but also tell me what does! Highlighting only the negatives seems like a moot point if I'm not also told what I did right. Knowing the positives is just as important to evolving as a writer. Also, I feel that this prevents writers from being overwhelmed and discouraged when all they receive is a list of negative comments. I enjoy when feedback is clear and concise, in bullet points or broken down by categories. That way I can attack certain aspects by group during the revisions. For example, first I tackle copy editing, then plot/structure issues, then character, then dialogue, and so on. And finally, I'm the type to honor bluntness. Don't skirt around what sucks to save my ego ... I want to know what I did wrong even if it hurts!

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories February 21, 2015 - 9:32am

This is a great thread---thanks for starting it Redd.

I try to follow the Golden Rule, and give the review I want back in return. And sometimes I have received a angry PM from someone who did not like my review. I suppose this would be one of the advantages of doing the review in the line by line---it is more private. You can always write your overall comments at the end of it.

I actually think occasional line rewrites might be okay, if it is to address an issue by giving an example.  Like someone gave me feedback on a piece and one of the lines bugged them because I, yes, had the tongue doing the licking rather than the person whose tongue it was.  If I recall they rewrote the line to make sure I knew what they meant.  That was fine. Just don't go overboard, don't do it a lot, and recognize if it it is a real craft issue versus a style issue.  

I once had a review that clearly took the reviewer a lot of time, but it really felt like they were trying to shoehorn my piece and my writing style into their own vision of a what a story is. The funny thing is while I got little out of the review for my own work, I did learn a lot about what makes an ineffective review.  On some level you do have to see if you 'get' the writer in question. At least enough that you might be able to understand and accept what they are doing, their style. Do not try to 'fix' someone's style. Comment on characters, plot, pacing, tension, clarity, you name it. You can say you like the style or even it is not your normal style of choice. But don't fix it. I don't really like Miranda July. Can't stand her work might be a better way of describing it. But you know what? A lot of people like her style and her work so whatever. Thankfully there is not only one style so I can go out and find the stuff I love to read and what resonates with me. 

 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 22, 2015 - 7:47am

What I disliked most when I was in the workshop was a review full of inconsistent reactions: a bunch of remarks which showed that the reader was not reviewing from an established viewpoint, rather just typing whatever popped into his head. It would come across as a sort of neither-here-nor-there between a concentrated editor and a natural reader (that is, someone just reading the story for enjoyment). And what I most appreciated were reviews which were consistent and thoughtful; even when I disagreed, they carried more weight with me.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 23, 2015 - 2:22am

If someone doesn't have anything at all positive to say that just sucks.

Sort of the opposite of what Jose & Anna said about not fixing things, no offense. Tighten it up is fine but if it doesn't have an example the meaning can be vague and vague is the worst. If you dislike A, I think you should show what you think would be a good idea.

Semi-related, failing to point out when something is unneeded.

@ - TheScrivener

And sometimes I have received a angry PM from someone who did not like my review.

If you don't ever get one of those you are doing something wrong.

@ - jyh

What I disliked most when I was in the workshop was a review full of inconsistent reactions:

To a certain extent isn't that unavoidable? 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 23, 2015 - 7:41am

@Dwayne

To a certain extent isn't that unavoidable?

I don't know why it would be. I think it would depend on the reviewer.

Maybe what I mean is unclear. I don't mean reactions inconsistent between different readers, but from the same reader in the same review.

To put it another way: I didn't like reading LBL notes which seemed to be rapid rection written down during the first (& only?) readthrough. Like someone would point out something on page 1/4—"What does this mean?"—when it becomes clear what it means on page 3/4, and they leave their question in the notes. Read the whole story and mull it over before finalizing your notes. If I just want a reaction, I'd rather have someone read the story once without thinking about editing at all, telling me their general thoughts afterwards than have them give me some directionless margin scribblings. In fact, by the end of my time in the shop, I think I started requesting such reviews in favor of LBLs.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault February 23, 2015 - 8:27am

This is really great. 

What I've been doing lately--and maybe this sounds like too much, but it helps me keep my own thoughts organized when LBLing--is separating my comments into three categories: Blue text is first-read comments, where I usually comment about how effective the hook was, setting, how I'm feeling as the piece progresses and things build; green text is Syntax/Grammar, and this is where I try to be careful that the person doesn't feel I'm hijacking their prose or messing with their style, maybe just pointing out words that are unnecessary to their intent, description that felt thin, sentences that grammatically don't work (I try explaining why I think it didn't work grammatically, so that if it's because they weren't aware of a rule, they are now); and red text is post-read comments, where I write an overall review at the end, go back to comment on anything that changed, made more sense, or made less sense after finishing. The red text is also where I suggest anything structurally, now that I know where it was all leading, that could have been shuffled, or scenes that could be expanded or have no purpose to the development of their story.

So usually I end up giving a pretty thorough LBL, hoping I don't go overboard. But I try to keep it how I'd like to get an LBL. I point out lines I really like, ones that felt clunky, give big-picture thoughts, etc.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated February 24, 2015 - 11:29am

If something is confusing and seems weird/odd/bad bring that up seems fine, even if it gets explained later. When I do I try to mention that on page such and such you explain it to make it clear, but I think that is a good idea not a requirement.

Maybe I'm weird, but I just don't care how many times they've read it. I've had bad feedback I was pretty sure was read several times and great feedback from a quick once over.

 

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon March 1, 2015 - 12:26am

I think it makes sense to give a suggestion of a better way to write something, in the critiquer's opinion. Otherwise, just pointing out that something doesn't work for you without saying what would work for you can be meaningless. You are not "rewriting" anything because whether or not to use it is completely up to the writer at all times, so no reason not to say everything you have to say that you think will improve the story.

Also, I think it's likely too time consuming for a critiquer to read a story over more than once. Even if something is explained a few pages later, if a critiquer is taken out of the story over it earlier then that's a good thing to note so the writer has the chance to explain whatever it is earlier and keep the reader's attention.

The thing is, a critique request is asking for that reader's opinion so that's all it should be or can be. It's always up to the writer to use or discard any suggestions so it's all good imo, aside from outright abuse. I do like the suggestion to also note what did work for you as well as what didn't.