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Author Topic: Rag Critique Group  (Read 8761 times)
Reiter
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« on: September 15, 2010, 06:03:52 PM »

Hokey dokey. Quinn gave me the go-ahead for this, so here it is.

How'd you guys like to form a dedicated critique group for furry writers? Going around the furry writing scene, I've noticed that one of the things writers on, say, FA or SF lament is the dearth of meaningful critiques/comments, as well as a group that would (helpfully) provide such comments. FurRag's gone a long way to address that problem - the Review function in the archive, inviting serious (and, at times, not-so-serious) writers into the community - but as it is, reviewers still seem to review mostly when they feel like it, and then only those stories they're interested in. Furthermore, despite Quinn's and Tivo's insistence that drafts and other miscellania be posted in the archive, not all authors may be so keen on posting a work-in-progress in a publicly viewable space, esp. if such self-publication could jeopardize their story's chances of being published later on.

Which is why I'd like to build a critique group with y'all. I've come to realize the importance of critiques to the budding writer - in *giving* them as well as receiving - and I'd like to see a place where anyone with such aspirations can come in *without fear* and learn, and be sure he is learning something. Because writers learn to see the flaws in their writing by pinpointing the problems in others', they'll need to review in order to be reviewed. And, to weed out the lazier "hobby writers", we'll have a participation rate of so-and-so many reviews per month (with provisions for the odd emergency). Nothing too strenuous - I'm not asking anyone to sacrifice their lives for the Rag - just enough to make the experience worthwhile for everyone. Feedback, after all, is what we're all about. Wink

Please post here if you're interested. I've sorted out the basics; once enough people are in, we'll start from there and adjust as we go along.
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« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2010, 12:18:38 AM »

Reiter, you're timing couldn't have been better.

I've been craving something more to do online than what has previously been taking up my time.  Something more meaningful.  Since the only word processor I have on my netbook is Notepad, I dare not write anything too involved on this POS.

I have my editor's cap, but I would never consider myself the most talented of critics.  I always worry about putting in too much of my own voice, or being too opinionated, or too harsh, or too soft.  Is there any chance of getting some advice on what base-points to look for? 

All in all, I'm all in! 
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Dea M Smith
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« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2010, 03:00:04 AM »

I'm In if I know whats going on Cheesy I'm Sure Dea can make some fun Cheesy and it can help me with my writers blocker. Cheesy I call it that for I know what I want but I dont have the time to make it. lol
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2010, 03:32:42 AM »

Dea, this isn't an rp.  This is gathering a group to focus on critiquing other people's work on a more regular basis.  Not rp.  Not writing.  Critiquing. 
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« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2010, 03:36:58 AM »

I think we all agree that promoting quality fiction is what we are about. Critique is critical, both for the writer and for the reviewer. Writers gain another perspective and reviewers find that their writing improves because the reviewer is naturally more critical of their own work.

Reader reviews are more valuable than writer reviews sometimes too. Sneeze gave me one of the best reviews that I've ever gotten. Not because he pointed out a technical error, but because of his perception of the story. I could see where my story lost the reader and that made a huge difference for me.

So, if you don't feel qualified to give crit, don't worry. You don't need to be able to fix or edit a story to say what your impressions are.

If you want to form an official crit group, that would be great! Reiter, please take the lead. As you said, that's what FurRag is all about. If you can inspire more crit, that would be a great way to bring more serious writers.

If you need an example for other writers, Wastelands is still in re-writes. If you look at the 3 different versions of Wastelands, you will see what crit does to improve a story. I thought draft 1 was very good, until I got to draft 2 and 3...

And Dea, you are free to review too. Anyone who can read can contribute. If you can give the writer specific reasons why you like or dislike a story, it will be very helpful.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2010, 02:17:37 PM by Quinn Yellowfox » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2010, 07:27:06 AM »

Oh, hey, more reading? Count me in, definitely. I'm not that good at analyzing just what makes me like a story, but I do try most of the time.
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« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2010, 09:02:16 AM »

Count me in as well. I like to able to contribute something to the community that has already given me so much help so far. Cheesy
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« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2010, 12:25:34 PM »

I'm a pretty soft reviewer.  It's difficult for me to point things out sometimes because I don't want to discourage or offend someone who's put honest work into something.  But I've been meaning to read more and BY GOD, if it helps others I'LL DO IT!!  Can't promise I'll do too many, maybe one a week, but I can do a few a month. 

Which stories do we need to review?  Does someone approach the board with a sign saying "raed plz" or do we pick and choose stories out of the archive?  You said, Reiter, that reviewers only comment on the stories that interest them; are you trying to curtail that in some way?  Do we need to pick new submissions that are still on the main page?  I'm a bit muddy on this.   
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« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2010, 01:13:14 PM »

Great idea, count me in too.

GT makes a good point. As a reviewer I don't feel to experienced either. I think it help to have a detailed FAQ or guidelines on how to give good, constructive critique. Any members writing "Yep, it was good, write more" as a review could then be directed to the guidelines and asked to reconsider it.

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« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2010, 02:20:51 PM »

Wow, that was quick. O.o I love ya guys.

To answer your questions:

Quote
I have my editor's cap, but I would never consider myself the most talented of critics.  I always worry about putting in too much of my own voice, or being too opinionated, or too harsh, or too soft.  Is there any chance of getting some advice on what base-points to look for?
I think the important thing to remember is that you are stating your own opinion, not any hard facts. Even the critique sites I researched took the trouble to mention that, other than grammar, *there are no rules in writing, only guidelines* - and even then, what with postmodernism et al., that's not really set in stone anymore.

Personally, I'd say, approach your author as if you were Tech Support trying to teach an octogenarian war veteran the ins-and-outs of YouTube. You're not there to bash the old guy or reinforce your superior self-image. At the same time, you can't condescend - the man's a veteran, he's crafty, probably went in and did some research himself - so you have to *assume* he knows what he's doing or phrase in such a way as to give him benefit of the doubt. Obviously, usage of "obviously" is right out. You want your suggestions to get through to the writer, not sound like an insufferable smart-ass. You're a volunteer here so you're equals, and should treat each other with respect. This does *not* - *not not not* - mean that you should lie or sugarcoat your observations for the sake of the writer's feelings. God, no. But there's speaking the truth, and there's speaking the truth tactfully, and it's the latter we're aiming for.

Like everything, practice makes perfect. If you want more detailed guidelines, Critters.org, which is one of the sites I researched, has a long - scratch that - *two* long primers on tact and diplomacy. They believe it's the one factor responsible for their success. We'll see if they're right. Wink

http://www.critters.org/whathow.ht
http://www.critters.org/diplomacy.ht

Quote
Which stories do we need to review?  Does someone approach the board with a sign saying "raed plz" or do we pick and choose stories out of the archive?  You said, Reiter, that reviewers only comment on the stories that interest them; are you trying to curtail that in some way?  Do we need to pick new submissions that are still on the main page?  I'm a bit muddy on this.
Yes, I'm trying to give everyone more or less a fair chance of getting feedback. We'll have a queue of privately viewable submissions either on the board or through a mailing list. The format depends on the features the forum is capable of - I've yet to hear from Quinn on this; if worse comes to worst, I'll ask 'Tivo instead. Both those stories in the queue and the main site are fair game, but queued stories take priority, so reviewing stories in the main site will yield less credit for as long as there are new/unreviewed stories in the queue.

Credit is important later on - you "pay" it when you post submissions, and your cumulative amount (how much you've earned since the beginning of your stay) will help determine your current participation rate. Basically, it's #credit/#weeks = %rate. I've decided to adopt a 75% rate for now, as it's easy to maintain (~one review per week) and provides plenty of leeway in case of emergencies.

Quote
GT makes a good point. As a reviewer I don't feel to experienced either. I think it help to have a detailed FAQ or guidelines on how to give good, constructive critique. Any members writing "Yep, it was good, write more" as a review could then be directed to the guidelines and asked to reconsider it.
As much as you can, try and offer specific advice that you think would be helpful. This means comments like, "Nice job, do more" and "You write like a six-year old" are right out. The first, while flattering, was neither specific nor helpful; the second, while descriptice, was not specific, helpful, or factual in any way. We'll have a minimum word count for credit, to discourage contentless reviews. The standard seems to be a hundred wds. for half-credit, two hundred for full. You can always send the occassional two-liner if you're stumped or pressed for time, but don't make it the norm or I'll take you for a troll, and under the bridge you go. Wink

Like Quinn said, we are writers, but we are readers, too. As such, we should try to cover technical points whenever needed, but there's nothing wrong or shameful in taking off the editor's cap once in a while and saying, "I didn't enjoy this part as much, because of...." It happens in music too - if you get too hampered by the minutiae of technique, you can blind yourself from the artistry you're trying to develop.

EDIT: I just realized I didn't exactly answer your question of what basic points to cover. If you can help not looking at the following list, that would be excellent. Make your own criteria! But if you're insistent: personally, I try to touch on the following at least briefly - grammar & basic style, tension, "flow" (how naturally the piece progresses), characterization, character motivation, continuity, plot/symbolism, message, general impact, anything else that catches my eye. Not the completest of lists, but we all pick up things with time.


Once I hear from Q or T, I'll get to work setting up the rules. We'll start small first to get the hang of things, then you can invite all your friends later on so it'll be one grand party. Grin In the meantime, go ahead and ask what you need to ask, or suggest what you need to suggest. I'm all ears.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2010, 02:32:23 PM by Reiter » Logged

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Dea M Smith
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« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2010, 03:15:07 PM »

Dea, this isn't an rp.  This is gathering a group to focus on critiquing other people's work on a more regular basis.  Not rp.  Not writing.  Critiquing. 

I know what that is. Cheesy you read and give out Ideas to the one that made the book  Cheesy it's all reading
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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2010, 04:25:27 PM »

I can say it's definitely possible to make subforums on SMF which are only viewable to select usergroups. Both the SMF forums I run have those (for different reasons).

I'd suggest having some sort of word count limit for writers, as well; something like a maximum of approximately 5k words per "unused" credit and/or giving out more credit for bigger works? It's hardly fair to expect people to review a novel for the same "reward" (getting a story of one's own critiqued) as for a short that's only about 1-2 pages. (Likewise, I think a good idea for things like that is to have the writer include a word count - this helps readers judge whether they'll have time to go over the work in a given sitting.)

Another thing to take into consideration when writing rules is whether people should be encouraged or discouraged to point out specific typos or similar? When writing reviews I personally tend to give a rough estimate of where, say, grammar errors are ("the second paragraph"), which I believe helps the writer see such errors for zirself, whereas there's a risk that minimum word count for critiques turns into picking out such errors and listing them to build word count if one's run out of stuff to say.
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Reiter
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2010, 05:15:39 PM »

I'd suggest having some sort of word count limit for writers, as well; something like a maximum of approximately 5k words per "unused" credit and/or giving out more credit for bigger works? It's hardly fair to expect people to review a novel for the same "reward" (getting a story of one's own critiqued) as for a short that's only about 1-2 pages. (Likewise, I think a good idea for things like that is to have the writer include a word count - this helps readers judge whether they'll have time to go over the work in a given sitting.)
We can implement a 7.5k word limit - it's the upper bound for a short story. We could go with 10k, but I think that's pushing it. Novels are a different story (pun not intentional). The author's options are to either submit individual chapters, or post a notice asking if anyone wants to review it in its entirety. The burden will fall on the novelist here - I haven't decided on specifics yet, but what other sites do is either "charge" the writer a crapload of credit, or prevent him from posting any other submissions while his novel's up for review, or both. Reviewers who provide meaningful reviews (i.e. not belaboring on one point to get to two-hundred words) may get a story's worth of credits. It may be too much; I'm not sure yet, but there will be reward commensurate to effort.

Corollary to that, I'm thinking giving reviewers a maximum of 1/2 credit for every substantive review they provide of 1.5k-or-less word stories, and max. 1 for >1.5-word ones would be fair as well, otherwise people may fixate on flashes and sketches.

Quote
Another thing to take into consideration when writing rules is whether people should be encouraged or discouraged to point out specific typos or similar? When writing reviews I personally tend to give a rough estimate of where, say, grammar errors are ("the second paragraph"), which I believe helps the writer see such errors for zirself, whereas there's a risk that minimum word count for critiques turns into picking out such errors and listing them to build word count if one's run out of stuff to say.
I find it hard to imagine a scenario where I'd run out of stuff to say. Even a flash of 500 words would easily get half as many words out of me. But, to answer your question: let's aim for a broader picture, as you do, and not dwell on specifics unless necessary (in pointing out a recurring problem, say). Avoid in-line reviews as much as possible, and if you absolutely have to review line-by-line, cut out all the irrelevant phrases. They won't add to the word count anyway, so no use leaving them in. The writer can and probably should list down which specific points to target, but ultimately, what gets included is at the reviewer's discretion.

Again, I'd like to stress that this group is not about gaining points, or picking on people, or "winning", whatever that is. This is a tool to learn and help others learn our craft. If anybody receives reviews that are insulting, empty, or otherwise meaningless, they have the right to report or complain, and I or whoever else wants to help me run this thing will go and have a little chat with the aggrieving party in the park. Wid da fishes. ;P
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« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2010, 08:43:02 PM »

I think I got lost somewhere x.x  Not unusual for me these days, sadly.  Please forgive me for making you explain what should have been obvious.

So are we earning credits through reviewing to post stories to be reviewed by this group?  And you have to spend x-number of credits to post something to be reviewed?  In which case, are we still reviewing other people's stories too?  Or, how does that work?

Also, I'm glad you can easily review flash that's 500 words or less >.> That tends to be what I post the most of.

And is it a bad thing to post technicalities if it's obvious we're not using them as word fillers?  I can be such a grammar nazi sometimes and it makes me twitchy when I can't let it out.

Oh, and one other question.  The want to give a line-by-line critique tends to strike me at random x.x  For example, when Quinn sent me a copy of one of his shorts, he only asked for a general critique.  I got so into the story though that though it wasn't a complete line-by-line, I commented on far more than was needed, both where he was on the right track and where he was losing me >.<  If the mood strikes as hard when reviewing another story and the author isn't against it, would it be okay to indulge?
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2010, 09:23:21 PM »

Hey GT, no problem at all. I may not have been super-clear in explaining anyway. Smiley Hope this helps.
So are we earning credits through reviewing to post stories to be reviewed by this group?  And you have to spend x-number of credits to post something to be reviewed?  In which case, are we still reviewing other people's stories too?  Or, how does that work?
Yes, yes, and yes. The credit system, aside from helping me keep track of how much everyone is participating, is intended as an incentive for the less determined reviewers and to keep the queue from being overloaded with half-baked drafts. We can dispense with it while the group's in its early stages - no question about our determination anyway - then implement it once more people come along. I'd rather we start with it now, though, even if informally, so I have an idea of what works and what doesn't.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "are we reviewing other people's works," though. If you mean stuff in the archive, yes. Right now, it's all that we have, unless you guys can cough up enough stuff to occupy us for the next several weeks. Wink

Quote
And is it a bad thing to post technicalities if it's obvious we're not using them as word fillers?  I can be such a grammar nazi sometimes and it makes me twitchy when I can't let it out.
No, no, of course not. You review as you wish, provided it's relevant and tactful. If grammar and style need to be addressed immediately, by all means. I think Mungo was more concerned about lazy critters doing nitpicks of the occasional typo just to get up to the word count. That would fall under "unhelpful review" and I can inform the critter about that if his critted writer complains.

Quote
Oh, and one other question.  The want to give a line-by-line critique tends to strike me at random x.x  For example, when Quinn sent me a copy of one of his shorts, he only asked for a general critique.  I got so into the story though that though it wasn't a complete line-by-line, I commented on far more than was needed, both where he was on the right track and where he was losing me >.<  If the mood strikes as hard when reviewing another story and the author isn't against it, would it be okay to indulge?
Yes - I'll just ask that you don't quote a paragraph when all you need is a line. Smiley Say as much as you want if you think it's helpful, and if the writer doesn't think it's a nuisance, go right ahead. Please leave a space between the author's text and your comments, and refrain from flashy, colored, "in-line" comments (because they're hard to read, the writer may be color-blind, and I won't know how to count your words).

> Author's text here, for example

And your comments here.
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