Writing And Receiving Feedback
We all love getting feedback. Often, it's what makes our day -- that little pick-me-up that suddenly makes the entire world better. There's just one problem:
A lot of writers can go fic after fic without getting any feedback.
Not only is this discouraging to the writer, but, frankly, it makes us seem like unappreciative cretins, just taking and taking and never giving any sort of response.
Why should you write feedback? Think of it as the way fan fiction authors get paid. The writer provides a story. You pay for that story by sending them feedback. The less an person gets paid, the less likely that person will continue to work. The less feedback an author receives, the less likely he or she will improve her writing, or, in the long run, write at all.
Can we make you write feedback? No. But we can get rid of a few of your excuses right now.
1. "I don't have the time..." If you have the time to read the fic, you have the time to send feedback. It may not be a several-pages long critique, but a few lines take only a few seconds. Why not just send something like "Hey, I liked your fic. Your handling of --such and such-- was really fantastic. I look forward to reading more from you"? It's a few seconds out of your day, and can make you (and the author) feel a lot better.
2. "I don't know what to say!" Then write something short. One-line responses ("I liked your fic!") aren't the best, but they are better than nothing at all. At least a one-line response tells the author that his or her work hasn't just been deleted by everyone.
3. "The author is so big, they must already know how good they are." Maybe they do, but even then, a little feedback goes a long way. And it's possible that so many people are thinking that the author gets so much feedback already, he or she isn't getting any at all.
4. "I don't want to end up flaming the person..." If you're thinking this, it's likely that you're not in danger of it. But skip down to "Etiquette" just to be certain.
Now that you're all fired up about feedbacking the authors, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of feedback.
What do you put into a feedback?
Think about what the story made you think or feel. Then think about these items and see if any are worth mentioning in your feedback.
Plotline: How original was the plot? How realistic? Did it work well? Did you have trouble following it? If you had a problem, do you have a suggestion on how to make it better next time?
Characterization: Which characterization was the best? Did the characters' actions feel right? Which characterization seemed to have the most problems? Was there anything that was completely out of character? If there were problems, do you have a suggestion on how to make it better next time?
Dialogue: Did the dialogue sound natural? Could you "hear" the voices? Did you have trouble telling who was speaking? Was there a favorite line? Was there anything said that sounded out of character?
Flow: Did the pace seem right? Was it too slow or too fast? Did it work for you?
Grammar/Spelling: Was there anything that glared out at you? Was it minor? If it wasn't minor, politely suggest that the author find a beta reader who will go over grammar and spelling before she or he posts again.
Other: Did the story make you think? If there are parts to come, do you have any questions or theories about what will happen next? If it is a single-part story, is there any possibility of a sequel? Did you like the story? Did it make you feel a certain way?
The words "write faster!" should never be sent in a feedback. Yes, they do tell the author that you are reading the story and that you obviously want more of the story, but any story requires as much time as is necessary to make it perfect. If an author feels that they must get the story out to please the fans, then the story suffers because of it. Patience is a virtue, and, when you re-read the stories that you enjoy, you'll be more grateful for one that was allowed to continue on its own pace instead of one that was rushed for the fans.
Start the feedback off on a positive note. If you are going to give any criticism, make sure you point out a strong point first. It makes the author more likely to view your criticism as constructive. End on a positive note as well, just to make any criticism go down easier.
Thank the author for his or her efforts, even if it's just how you sign the email. A small thank you can go a very long way.
Be hesitant to phrase criticism as an absolute, and also be hesitant to say things like "You should" or "You need." Most of what you will be saying is your opinion, and phrasing it as "It seems to me that..." or "I felt that..." will make the author more likely to accept your criticism.
Notes For The Authors
Respond to the feedback you get. Thank the person for the feedback. It often makes the feedbacker more likely to read (and feedback!) your other stories. You might even start new friendships through feedback.
In your "Feedback:" lines in your headers, try asking for feedback on a specific area. Not certain how well you portrayed one character or wrote a certain scene? Mention it. People will look at that section, and the responses you get may help you in the future.
Do not use feedback as ransom! Writing "If I don't get feedback, I won't write anymore" is not just rude to the readers, it's rude to your story as well. It shouldn't be about the feedback, it should be about the story. If it gets to where your story is being written only for the feedback, then it's time to stop writing. Move away from the keyboard, because you're fooling yourself and your readers.
Know the difference between criticism and flames. If a piece of criticism makes you feel bad, take a deep breath, walk away from the computer, then come back and read it ten minutes later. Is it a personal attack? Does it tell you how stupid you are and how pathetic of a writer you are? That's a flame. Or is it a bit harsh, but only on the story? Does it tell you there are a lot of improvements to be made on the story? Does it tell you where to go to improve? That's criticism. It may be harsh, but it's not a flame, and the person feedbacking you doesn't deserve your hatred and anger. If you can't learn the difference between flames and criticism, you're going to miss anything that could possibly help you improve.
Feedback other authors! If you're a writer, you know how it feels to get feedback. And you should make other authors feel the same way. Support each other. Send feedback.