Monday, April 22, 2013

And Now, a Fanfic Reader PSA

I was helping a couple of married friends set the table the other day, and the husband of the pair was setting out the utensils incorrectly.  I told him what side the forks, spoons, and knives were supposed to go on, and he shrugged and said he'd probably have forgotten by next time.

I replied, "There's an easy trick to it.  You seek, 'fork' has four letters, just like 'left,' so it goes on the left.  'Knife' and 'spoon' both have five letters, just like 'right,' so they go on the right.  Now then, 'knife' has an 'i,' like 'inside,' so it goes nearest to the plate, while 'spoon' has an 'o' like 'outside,' so it goes on the outside."

At that point, his wife (who had been listening with some amusement) chimed in that all you actually have to remember was that the utensils go in reverse alphabetical order.  Apparently, I've been remembering my table settings the hard way all this time.

No real point to that story; just thought it was funny.  Click down below for a totally unrelated (but hopefully worth reading) bit about commenting on fanfics.



Let me start with a confession: I've been getting bad about commenting on stories, lately.

That may seem like an odd thing to say, considering that the majority of this blog is commenting on stories, but I'm not talking about reviews (short- or long-form).  I'm talking about leaving post-reading feedback on an author's story, whether in a comment or a private message or e-mail.  It's something that I've been doing far too little of lately.

When I first came into the fandom, I was often hesitant to leave comments, especially negative ones, because of past experience with other fandoms.  But thankfully, I've found that ponyfiction as a whole is more receptive to constructive criticism than I feared.  Sure, there's the occasional outlier, but it would be small exaggeration at most to say that 99% of the authors whose stories I've left feedback on have either taken it positively, or at the least not made a big stink about how I don't know what I'm talking about or don't respect their vision or whatever.

In fairness to the inhabitants of those previous fandoms, I should point out that tact is something I've at least begun to learn in the intervening years; time and practice have made me far better at avoiding insults and sweeping generalizations than I used to be.  Still, my point stands: the authors in this fandom, by and large, are very receptive to honest comments.  And in any case, commenting on a story is just a nice thing to do; whether it's to explain to an author what you didn't like, praise him for what you did, or both, that's a valuable service.

So with that in mind, I'm going to re-dedicate myself to making an effort to say something to the author about stories that I read.  Not for the 6-star stuff (I'm pretty sure every author who's written a 6-star fanfic has been pointed at me by now, anyway), but when something goes up on EqD or FimFic or is linked to me that I decide to check out, I'm going to leave a comment after reading.  Even if it's just one sentence, "I thought this was very funny, thanks for making me laugh" is still better than nothing.  It's easy to forget, or to simply decide not to bother (especially since I'm often reading stories a week or three after they're "published," after the initial flurry of commenting has ended), but I'm going to try to do it more often.

So, to my PSA: remember to comment on people's stories!  If you're at all like me, then perhaps you too need an occasional reminder.  For my part, I've got a couple of messages to write.

29 comments:

  1. That much I'm good on, at least. Not that they tend to go down too well, but it's always an absolute pleasure when someone responds positively to criticism.

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  2. What's missing from this post is an explanation of why a person should leave a comment. So allow me:

    The first reason why you should leave a post is for the author's sake. An author doesn't always know where he or she stands with regards to writing ability, and even a subjective view is still likely to be pointing to something they can address. Leaving a positive comment at least reassures them that the people reading the fic are happy with the result. Even if you're criticizing something that bugs you, then so long as you're polite and can at least indicate the right direction for the author to take, you'll be doing them a bigger favour than if you kept silent about it. An author with a hundred views and only one or two comments is a frustrated author because they have no way of improving or editing anything, and people do not like being ignored in such a way.

    The second reason why you should leave a post is for your own sake. If you enjoy a story, and you'd like to prolong the experience, then writing a little bit about it will help in some way to give your experience a satisfying finish. If you don't enjoy a story, or can't finish it, then pointing this out to the author can reduce the chances of a repeat offence, meaning more good stories could be produced in response. Even if you personally don't profit from it, you could take some comfort in thinking that someone else is getting a good benefit as a result of your contribution.

    The third reason you should leave a comment is for the benefit of passersby. Even if this particular author does not agree with your criticisms, there might be a struggling author passing by who learns something from it, and the propagation of good writing technique is surely to be encouraged. A passing reader might be compelled to agree in another post, and the more who do voice the same criticism, the more the author can appreciate that this area being criticized might be a priority when it comes to future work. Lastly, comments can sometimes be entertaining to read in their own right, and a story with some comments below it looks more inviting than a story with few or no comments at all.

    It might be the case that many people think they don't have time to leave a comment, but given that this is leisure time set aside to fanfiction, that seems a bit spurious. A sentence will suffice, and it's not like a fast-paced way of doing things is automatically a good thing, is it? And if it's reluctance to criticize, then do what most people do; deliver it in a polite way, suggest a means of improvement, and encourage the author by complimenting their efforts (if not their result). Criticism is not the same as abuse, and would be doing someone a bigger favour than leaving them stranded with a low writing ability.

    I could probably add more, but I hope you see where I'm coming from with this comment?

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    1. Everyone should feel free to take this comment and mentally graft it on to what I wrote. Thanks for filling in the "how come" gap, Anon!

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    2. Leaving comments can also teach passerbys new words.

      "Spurious?" I've never seen that word before in my lifetime. And yet Dictionary.com says it's legit. Fascinating!

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  3. I do so love getting comments, which is why I try to leave them when possible.

    Of course then you sometimes get into situations like I did this weekend, in trying to explain to someone who's a far better writer than I why I thought they took the wrong direction in a story I otherwise liked. It's kind of fun, though!

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  4. Europeans hold their knives and forks the other way round to Americans. Which means, of course, they use reverse-reverse alphabetical order.

    No real purpose to saying that. Just thought I would.

    I generally hold off on giving comments unless I have something to say. Not out of a "If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing" drive, but more of a "If I've nothing really to add, why add it?" approach.

    Which is why, of course, I wrote this.

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    1. They just can't do anything right, can they?

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    2. You know, Chris's "reverse alphabetical order" thing makes no sense at all, because unless my spatial dyslexia is acting up, putting the fork on the left, followed by the knife and then the spoon on the right means they are in actual alphabetical order.

      I mean srsly wtf :|

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    3. Ugh, how ethnocentric of you, Present! Obviously you're supposed to go right-to-left, like with manga :P

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    4. PP: ...You're right, of course. And yet, I swear she said reverse-alphabetical, and I didn't think anything of it. Maybe she misspoke and I just didn't really think about it? Maybe I'm misremembering?

      Actually, I like Oats' explanation better. Let's go with that instead.

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    5. BUT I DON'T READ MANGA :|

      Seriously, I read manga once. It was terrible.

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    6. Manga is fantastic you heathen.

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  5. Chris, that story was ridiculously adorable! ^_^

    I don't have a FiMFic account, and it feels weird commenting on a several months old EqD post - almost like I'm marring history - so I don't comment on a lot of stories. Seems like the only time I do say anything is if they're a regular here. Maybe I should just quit being stubborn and get an FF account

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  6. Comments and thumbs are really the only payoff we get for writing these stories, so they are both really appreciated. Of course, it's not all that fun to get a negative comment, but in actuality, I love getting them. Well, as long as they are constructive. HoofbitingActionOverload is really the only person to leave in depth negative feedback on one of my stories and the discussion that we had was really useful. I don't agree with all of his points, but some of them were valid and I've always kept them in mind when writing.

    I do think the responsibility goes both ways here. Every author that puts their work out there needs to be ready for negative criticism. It's part of being publicly creative. Few things are more obnoxious than an author that is operating from the position that they are always right. Conversely, I see commenters abuse the system a little too often for my liking. It's one thing to have ten stories up that are all crap because you won't listen to anyone. People can rip those guys up all they want. It's another thing to tear a new, obviously inexperienced and probably young author to shreds because they aren't very good yet. There is always a way to leave a negative critique which is both polite and constructive. Tearing an author a new one without sufficient justification is just entertainment disguised as critique and I find it disgusting.

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  7. The alphabetical order thing works, I suppose, but it doesn't tell you which side of the plate has two utensils and which has one. Unless there's something I'm missing.

    Anyway, thank you for the reminder! I too am bad about leaving comments. Fortunately I've read so few stories lately it doesn't even matter!

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    1. Also, some guide is needed to remember which way the blade of the knife is pointed. (Toward the plate.)

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    2. I have a way to remember the knife thing too, though it didn't come up on that occasion. See, if you had to chose between losing your thumb and losing your other four fingers, you'd chose just the thumb, right? So the knife goes in, so that if you accidentally pick it up by the blade you only chop off one digit.

      Yes, that is seriously the way I learned it.

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  8. Chris, I agree with you completely from the standpoint of reading for pleasure. For me, I'm mostly reviewing stories that still need significant word, and the writer is getting that feedback from me privately, so I never leave comments anymore. I suppose I should, since I like getting them...

    And congrats on using "by and large" correctly.

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  9. Chris, next time you worry about leaving a comment, remember how much I & other folks bid in the Las Pegasus fundraiser to have you criticize one of our stories.

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    1. Professor WhoovesApril 23, 2013 at 3:01 AM

      That's right, Chris. No pressure.

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  10. I'm always afraid to give any kind of feedback other than a thumbs-up (unless it's an author I already know and am friendly with). When a stranger logs into FIMFic and sees a notification that the guy who runs the Vault commented/faved their story (or even followed them), they tend to freak out, and I don't like giving people false hope. So... my faves list is wildly incomplete, and most stories I read don't get comments. I've kicked around the idea of registering an alt, just so I can leave feedback "anonymously".

    ...My life is weird.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. That seems like a very valid concern to me. I think making an alt would be a good solution for you. Readers love feedback, but I can certainly see where it might be a problem for you to leave it.

      In other news, this pain medication is apparently making it difficult for me to type coherently.

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    3. And now I'm left wondering how many YouTube commenters are on pain meds

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. I would comment on this, but in a mild echo of Anonymous's comment above, I've got nothing meaningful to add.

    I could add something not meaningful. Like Muenster cheese.
    Best cheese ever!

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    1. No, cheddar is best cheese! It goes perfectly with apples

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    2. Sorry. we're all out of cheddar.

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