Hello, everypony! It’s exciting to be handed the reins to Chris’s blog, even if it’s just for a day. I don’t know much about reviewing, but I like reading the reviews other people write. So I thought ‘Aha! I may not know much about writing reviews, but I can write about how to read them!’ Just like when you read stories, there are different kinds of engagement when you’re reading reviews. Some reviews you just have to turn your brain off for, but for others you want to chew them over. I’m going to talk about that second kind, and how to get the most out of a good review.
My first piece of advice is to make yourself familiar with the story that’s being reviewed. I don’t mean you have to read it, since that would defeat the purpose of reading the review in the first place!* But you should check out the description, the tags, and maybe read some of the comments on it on Fimfiction. It's like a movie. You can read a review blind, but you’ll probably have an easier time of it if you’ve seen the trailer first.
*Of course, you can read a review of a story you’ve already read and learn a lot from that, too, but that’s a story for another blogpost.
Once you do that, my second piece of advice is to make some predictions. Based on what you found out about the story, what sort of problems do you think it might have? What could the story do that would really catch your interest? What sort of things would stop you from reading the story, or would make you enjoy it? The reason I like to do this before I read a review is so that I have a frame of reference when looking at the review. Maybe the review says that a story has a dragged-out plot, but interesting characters. If I know from the description that the story is a mystery that has a really clever hook, then I know I’m not going to mind if there’s some sidetracking. But if it’s an action story about some pony I don’t care about*, then that same description sounds a lot worse to me. By figuring out what will or won’t make me enjoy the story before I read the review, I can focus on what parts of the review matter to me, and not get caught up on things that matter more to the reviewer than to me.
*Hint: her name rhymes with “Blaring Blue.”
And that brings me to my last suggestion, which is to look at the reviewer’s other reviews and see what sorts of things matter most to them. Chris is a good reviewer, but one thing I’ve noticed he always complains about is jokey stuff in serious stories. I can understand why someone wouldn’t like that, but I like it when a story has some humor to break up the bleak stuff. So when Chris complains about that in a review, I always add an extra star to his rating for the story. That way, The Star In Yellow gets five stars, just like it’s supposed to. Good reviewers are consistent about what kinds of things they do and don’t complain about, so if you look at their old reviews, you can usually figure out if there’s anything important you and them don’t agree on.
That’s my advice! With a good reviewer, you’ll probably do pretty well at finding good stories if you just read the stuff they most highly recommend, but by following these steps, I’ve found some stories that Chris didn’t rate very highly that I still enjoyed. I remember him saying before that he wanted people to be able to read reviews of stories he didn’t like and be able to tell if they’d like them, and I can. I agree with him that that’s how you know someone is a good reviewer, and I hope this helps you all find some good stories!
Spot-on at the end, anonymous: I think the mark of a good reviewer is that someone can read a negative review of theirs and say "you know, that sounds like something I'd enjoy (or conversely, can read a glowing review of theirs and say, "that doesn't sound like something I'd like at all"), and be right. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!