• Member Since 30th Dec, 2011
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Blueshift


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Dec
1st
2012

How to comment on a story without being an asshole · 10:40pm Dec 1st, 2012

You know, sometimes I do despair at the quality of the fiction on this site. There are so many stories which are badly written, badly plotted, badly formatted, you name it! Spelling is something some people have never heard of. Original plots are as rare as hens teeth. There are days I want to shake my head and flip all the tables.

BUT…

Let’s get this straight. No-one wants to be a bad writer. No-one legitimately sets out to write a horrible story (unless your name is Argembarger and you’re writing Spiderses 2: Spiderses Harder). It takes a hell of a long time to write any story; if you’re a young writer, even hitting the 1000 word minimum limit can be an achievement. It may not be the best, but it still takes a lot of commitment to write a story and put it online for people to see. It’s not something you can dash off in five minutes, even the worst story has had hours behind it.

As readers, I think we all have to respect that. What gets my goat, what really annoys me, is when someone puts up a story to be met with a deluge of insults and crude jibes about how awful it is. Sure, the story might be bad, but at the very least show some class and decorum. Give useful advice and criticism, not tell the reader their OC alicorn sucks.

I’m not going to name any names, but about an hour ago, something happened that really, really pissed me off. A new writer on the site put up their first story. Was it great? No. But they had obviously tried really hard, and they were obviously – obviously – very young.

So how was this young writer met by the site? With helpful advice and support? No. People dived in with swear words and stupid image memes, calling them an idiot and their story rubbish. A few people decided to ‘review’ the story which ended up in a string of insults. The writer commented about how upset this was making them, so others dived right in to continue to berate her and call her names.

The story’s deleted. The writer is probably sitting in their room bawling their eyes out. Some other guys are probably high fiving themselves at how well they bullied and harassed a small child. Well done. Real classy.

Sometimes it is appropriate to be a bit harsh on a story, if the author is a grown man for example and has repeatedly made errors, or done some really awful things on purpose (talking about the ‘shock’ gore fics for example, which all need to go away and never come back). Sometimes, it isn’t. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious that the writer is a young child, excited about having written their first story and wanting to show it off.

Nobody starts off being perfect. When I was really young, my stories were terrible, and I’m sure yours were too. The problem with the internet is there is a wall of anonymity and everyone is treated as equal. The 13 year old schoolgirl is judged to the same standard as the 60 year old professor of literature. If you want someone to get better, to develop their writing, you need to encourage them. Point out their faults, sure, but don’t attack them. Your teacher never ripped up your schoolwork and called you a ‘stupid idiot’ after all, did they? (Or maybe they did?)

We learn by doing. The best way to learn to write is by writing lots, and reading even more. Even grown adults don’t know all the rules, it’s ridiculous to assume a kid does. Given them a chance before going at them with teeth bared. It’s clear when a writer is young and inexperienced, give them the benefit of your maturity and wisdom, not bully them for the crime of not being as good as you.

If you see a story that isn’t great, and the writer is clearly young, be respectful and clear with your feedback. Not nice for the sake of being nice, but encouraging. The feedback sandwich is a good way – give a good point about the story, then the negative point, then another good point. This imparts the constructive advice to improve the story, but also helps them know what they’re doing right, and makes them more likely to listen to you.

If the worst comes to the worst and you do see someone making harassing comments, click the ‘report comment’ button, which looks like a circle with a bar on it on each comment (yes, that’s report, not block!).

Please, be good, constructive readers. Not bullies.

Report Blueshift · 772 views ·
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Comments ( 91 )

well said well said

Did you just write that that quickly in response to knighty's blog? Geez, you're fast.

Yeah, the Train Wreck Explorers were a shaky proposition from the start.

560648

You know, they have pills for that now...

Also , pfft, what right does a SMALL CHILD have on an MLP fansite?! Geeze?!

And this is why I like your blog posts. Never good to stress someone out over their writing. We can always get better at something WHILE having fun doing it.(except if you're learning how to play the piano.)

TWE self-serving defense corps incoming in 3...2...1...

I actually know I'm horrible at giving criticism to poor writing without being a dick (I do have my moments of brilliance though). I just avoid reading or commenting on them.
Not a fan of making others feel bad.

Insults really don't need to be thrown in unless the writer is being a dick to good criticism, and even then it should be optional imo. But something about the internet seems to promote asshole behavior.

Couldn't agree more.

Full agreement.

Beat me to it.

Nice and informative, better than what I would have conjured up.

Thanks mate!

No-one legitimately sets out to write a horrible story

Trollfics, anyone?

Also, I am give tough love. I don't just flat out-insult them, I tell them what's wrong with it in harsh words so it will get stuck to their heads from their emotions being down.

I feel like I will get banned one day from my commenting. I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong, but someone will. If/when I do get banned, I may or may not regret what I have said, depending if I find what the mods say fair.

We are impressed by your abilities to counter this threat, and that is not a statement this council makes lightly. Remember, we will be watching.

I've found that commenting on typos is best done in an email, while commenting on content is best done with normal comments, so that when the typos are corrected (hopefully), your comment is still relevant. I don't comment on brain-bleach material at all (that counts for badly written and Oh God Why Did You Write This both), and generally my comments follow two themes: A) Amazing, keep it up, or B) Pretty good, although I have some questions about ________. Generally the best ones to comment are the Great Idea But Horrible Writing, or Great Writing But About What?

Speak Softly and use Sweet Words, for you might have to eat them someday.

560703

Well, that's what I mean. Context. If the writer is obviously an adult, and deliberately being terrible, all well and good. But if they are young, you should most definitely hold back. None of us started as a good writer, we get there through help, advice and encouragement.

Indeed. I remember when I first heard about the Train Wreck Explorers, I was genuinely pissed off for a minute. Even if someone does write a story that (subjectively) totally sucks, nobody deserves to have their work shoved into some random group of smug assmasters that pride themselves on ripping on people's efforts.

560703
Dude, what. "I tell them what's wrong with it in harsh words so it will get stuck to their heads from their emotions being down." You sound like a crappy Batman villain. Reasonable, politely-worded feedback will always have a much better effect than "harsh words" designed to get people's "emotions down". Honestly, if I wrote a story and someone pointed out all the things wrong with it in a way that was encouraging and friendly, then I'd be encouraged to edit and improve the story. If some guy stormed in and started ranting about how much I sucked and made me feel like a total dick for even trying, then I wouldn't try writing anything ever again. I'm guessing the same goes for most people.

This is true... I deleted my story and cried my eyes out because of the critism of one story. ONE STORY I SAY! But I now learned from people like Blueshift here to never give up because of haters. I'm proud to at least have access to this site to see if I can fix my errors. :pinkiehappy: And I was quite happy reaching the 1000 word acheivement Best moment of my life until... THAT incident

I have to completely agree. I've seen way to many people trash another's fic for it not being up to what they think every writer on this site should be like. It saddens me to see so many leave hateful comments on another's fic, especially if that person has just started out writing. Even if the story is bad that's no reason to act like that person is the lowest scum on Earth. Criticism is a valuable way to help that author thrive and improve. While I can't say that I've given any constructive criticism(being that I think I'm nowhere in the position to do so) it puts a smile on my face to see others do so instead. :moustache:

560687

But something about the internet seems to promote asshole behavior.

Maybe it's the whole "wall of anomity" that was mentioned. The fact that if you say something horrible to someone they don't get the chance to throw you'r ass in a trashcan is, and i hate to say it but its true, exhilarating to some people. We all love pulling something and not getting caught so... yeah forgot where I was going with this.

560666
I take a mild amount of offense to that. But not too much.

Also I always try to do supportive constructive criticism. But sometimes people just can't accept it.
I remember that one author deleted my comment suggesting some grammar changes before calling me a hater, fag, and bad example for a brony. I replied with "..." to which he replied in the same matter. Some people just want to watch the world burn.
Just putting that out there.

You're in the right anyway, but my curious brain wants to know something 'bout that story. :rainbowhuh:

560730

Haha yes, there's nothing worse than having a list of your typos in the comments forever as a badge of shame! Corrections like that should be via PM, like a sneaky brown enveloped shuffled across a desk sneakily!

I disagree. Sometimes some of these "authors" need such a smack on the nose that they either stop writing or take a long, hard look at what they are so horribly doing wrong.

Granted, most of those people can be sorted into the "writes a second-person fic about their OC" category, but still...

I fully agree with the blog. Basically, if people simply remembered what we learn when we're still children (IE - how to be a decent human being), we wouldn't have such idiocy going on.

560821
Yeah, I agree, we should totally smack people and put them down for trying.
Man, seriously, there's nothing wrong with criticism but going after people with the intention of actually making them stop writing altogether is just dickery of the highest caliber.

Dude has a point, my first stories were complete garbage with one of them nearly diving into mary sue territory. Every story you write seems like a good thing at the time.

Who was this author you speak of anyway? Kinda want to give her an internet hug now.

560821

Well again, context is king. You'd pull up a 30 year old man for drawing stick figures, but you wouldn't stand over a three year old who is painting a stick figure and tell them how crap they are (to steal Zay-El's analogy!)

560802

I'm not saying we have any less of a right to be here. I'm just saying that insulting a child for being on a pony site is all forms of munted.

560783

I am really, really happy to hear that you haven't let this experience ruin your aspirations. Keep writing, keep being creative, because it can be one of the greatest joys in life.

Hope you gave the author in question an encouraging word or two after this all happened.

560877
Thank you very much. And nobody will never know if a person who is awful in the beggining will be a famous author. :raritystarry:

560854
560869
Every tree needs pruning once in awhile to make it grow stronger. :pinkiecrazy:

560929
Agreed, but I think there's a difference between constructive criticism made to try and help an author improve and an outright attack on someone/someone's story (or both) designed to crush their spirits and get them to abandon their hopes at ever writing anything ever again.

560910

That is absolutely right. :twilightsmile:

After all, none of us knew how to walk when we were born. But, hey, with some practice, we all got pretty darn good at getting around.

560948
I didn't say you should crush every new author or even every new bad author, but a little internet lynching can be the difference between a good, constructive fandom and Sonic Fandom 2.0.

Double standards I daresay!
560869 But to be honest, why wouldn't even a thirty year old man drawing stick figures deserve a little encouragement and help? In the end the real problem isn't that you shouldn't harass young authors who publish their very first fic, you shouldn't harass anyone.
In the end, the real problem is the sadistic pleasure people get out of putting other people down, and to fight that is near impossible on the internet, where you have anonimity to protect you from the righteous indignation society would portray otherwise.

560982

True, true, that can still be a valid form of art too. Take Lowry, for instance!

560980
That's only because it makes all the authors who write a bad first attempt leave the fandom... :unsuresweetie:

560703

I strongly disagree. There are some people who will respond positively to the kind of "tough love" rip-it-apart-and-make-sure-they-never-forget-it approach which you describe, but then I could say the same about any style of delivering criticism. Most people, most of the time, will get upset if you go the "This story is shit, and here's a list of reasons why its shit, you idiot" approach. When people get upset, they get defensive, and guess what? A defensive person isn't receptive to advice. This isn't advanced psychology here, it's common sense: when someone feels insulted or threatened, they're going to be less open to suggestions than if they were not.

That doesn't mean you can't leave negative comments. That doesn't mean you can't tell someone you didn't enjoy their story. It just means you should try to do so in a way that's constructive not only in the sense that it imparts useful advice, but in that the target of that advice is likely to be able to accept it and use it. Otherwise, you're just screaming insults into the void, and nothing good comes of that.

Like Blueshift said, compliment sandwich is good. Even if you really have to reach, something like "I'm glad to see that you know how to space paragraphs, that said [list of a dozen major mechanical and conceptual issues]. I do like the cover art you picked out, though!" is more productive, more USEFUL, than "This is such a pile of crap it makes my eyes bleed. Come back when you know how to [list of a dozen major mechanical and conceptual issues], this should never have been posted." On top of that, authors are a lot more receptive to criticism that doesn't include personal attacks, aggressive language (there's a world of difference perception-wise between "This story sucked" and "I wasn't able to enjoy this story"), and the like. I've never found my ability to express myself in a review compromised by either of those, even on stories I genuinely disliked.

Anyway, my two cents. Sometimes I slip up and get a little curt and abrasive when I comment on a story I don't like, but I try to remember that in such a case, the goal of leaving a comment in the first place is to encourage the author to improve. Being aggressive and actively trying to make an author feel miserable about what they've done will rarely lead them to improvement; more often, it will result in them becoming aggressive in turn, and dismissing all advice as "hate," or it will demoralize them enough that they'll give up entirely. Mollycoddling is one thing, but sharing advice and negative reactions in a more palatable way is straight-up more productive.

No one has to read "shock gore" fanfiction if they don't want to, Shift. :raritywink: But kudos for supporting amiable behavior towards story writers, overly harsh criticism or just plain flaming is what drives quite a few promising newbie writers away from the world of fanfiction.

Very well said. I missed out on what happened, but judging from yours and knighty's blog, it doesn't look promising.

:facehoof: I can't believe we still need to discuss this kind of thing. Is a little common courtesy really that much to ask for?

As far as I can remember, I've never posted any negative comments. If I don't like something, I tell them why I didn't like it and suggest how they might improve. That's what I'd want people to do for me if I ever posted something, so that's what I do for them.

You're the bomb, Blueshift. Thank you for this. I hope lots of people read it. Nietzsche knows they need to.

560783

That's great to hear! =D I was downright disgusted by what I saw on some of those comments in your story. I'm very glad to hear that you're not going to let a bunch of jerks run you off the site. :heart: If you need help, and I have some spare time from the mess known as real life, I'd be happy to.

Good show, Bluey; good show, I say! I'm thirteen myself, so I can say, with experience, that what Blueshift says is true.

Guess I missed it, and from the looks of it, I'm almost glad I did. Regardless, it's sad that so many people fail at this balancing act. The line between constructive and destructive criticism is apparently not as obvious as I thought? If you're attacking the author, you're doing it wrong.

Honestly, while I think this episode sounds particularly terrible, you shouldn't even need to look for concerns like age when you decide how to go about commenting. It's not about cushioning blows for younger writers; the second you think of this as dealing blows, you've got the wrong approach entirely. The ideal feedback doesn't need sugar-coating or, as some seem to believe, "emotional intensifying."

Point out what the highlights of the story was. Not what was good, but what was best. There's a huge difference. Then you mention what could have been done better. Doesn't have to be harder than that.

My advice is to not look for originality, too. We're talking about a site with thousands of stories all about the same show; it doesn't take long for all the original ideas to get used up. I see people bashing stories hard for not being original. Lighten up, people. All the stories here are about ponies. Get used to it.

561465

Originality is always a misnomer. A good original idea helps (insofar as that's possible in this day and age) but it's really what you do with it that counts. A well written unoriginal story can be brilliant, and the best idea in the world could make a rubbish story if the writer isn't up to the task.

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