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~ On Reviewing ~ by Spiced Wine

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On Reviewing.

I am posting this pseudo-essay here (cannibalized from an old one I posted on LOTRFF.com) as a couple of days ago, Dawn Felagund, who founded the Silmarillion Writers Guild, and The Heretic Loremaster posted A Poll on reviews and reviewing on her LiveJournal. (It is open to any-one.)

I found it fascinating, because of course any-one who writes fanfiction knows how important reviews are, and Dawn is looking at reasons why people review, and why they do not. We can all see that the discrepancy between hit counts and reviews is enormous on every fanfiction archive, so what makes those few people review, and the majority not bother? (I actually have no faith in hit counts with regard to my own stories; to me it seems likely people click, read a paragraph and hit the back button, or may read because they think it risible, and go off and mock it with friends, which is horrid, but does happen.) To me, reviews are the only way that an author can truly know if their story is working for certain people.

The Gift.

Isn't writing one of the most astonishing gifts in the world? For the duration of the chapter/book the author is a minor '' God '' in a sense, creating something which has its seeds in their own imagination. (albeit inspired by Tolkien) They see the characters, they observe the surroundings, feel the emotions, smell the scents in the air, they live within their creation and then gift it to others. Yes, Tolkien's world itself is the creation of one genius but it is also – like our world now – large enough to accommodate every-one within its vastness. (And Arda is of course, our primary world, simply set a long time before recorded history, so it's little wonder we feel at home in it.)

The thrill I experience in being freely offered these '' gifts '' of stories is indescribable. The authors probably do not truly realize what they have done in allowing others to step into and experience their creation. Some people are '' word-smiths '', artists at weaving a literary spell and when I find them I am so delighted, I have to review. To find a story which is a poem of brilliant vocabulary, descriptive power and brings characters to vibrant life completely lifts me, it's almost like some sort of drug specially tailored for my mind. That's why I review. For about three months after joining LOTRFF in 07, I was too shy to say anything, but some authors demanded a review through vocabulary, descriptions, their handling of emotional situations, their characterizations. (I will add one caveat: If I review two or three times and do not receive a response from the author, I will cease to read even if the story is very good. That is also the reason I rarely review on FF.net, since I think about two people have ever acknowledged my reviews on there.)

I suppose I was thinking, at first, ''Why would any-one care what I say in a review?'' I thought, erroneously, that the authors would simply accept my plaudits as what was due to them. They were self evidently skilled, what would a review mean to them? However, I came to realize from the responses that these authors mostly do care, they appreciate being told that people love their work and are following it, or have read in completion. Because every persons style of writing is so different, there is not one I can pick out as better than another, and there are always different facets and aspects which thrill and humble me. The actual level of creativity and sheer talent still delights and amazes me. I feel that if a story sets me alight that much, I should say so.

Generosity.

Fandom is called a 'gift economy', which is true. It's a rare thing, and needs to be nurtured. It's not about money, but ultimately about love and generosity. People create fanfiction, fanart, fan videos etc for nothing except some appreciative comments, if they're lucky. It's fueled by passion and sustained by it. Passion is a fire. Fire requires fuel. Starve it of fuel and it dies. Passion can burn out if it is not reciprocated, if there's nothing for it to feed on.
Authors need to know some-one is enjoying their story (or stories) and reviewers need to know that the authors appreciate the time they take to review.

Reviews Are Advertising.

Reviews, apart from being a delight to receive, (and often a relief, unless they are flames) do serve a duel purpose in fanfiction, and from certain comments on Dawn's poll entry, other people use them in the same way I do, because unless a story has no reviews, I will always read the reviews before I read a story. The more in-depth, well-written and intelligent the reviews, the more likely I am to read the story itself. The last incident of this for me was on LOTRFF with Ziggy's Sons of Thunder. Ebbingnight, who reviews me, was reviewing the story, so even though the War of the Ring is not my favourite time within Tolkien's history (I prefer prior or after, or to see what is happening elsewhere in Middle-earth at that time) I trusted Ebbingnight, and decided to read a story which will always be among my favourites.

Karma. Or Reviewing To Receive Reviews.

This may sound supremely self-serving, but a newcomer to fanfiction is more likely to be reviewed if they review several other stories, since other people will see their name, probably check their bio and decide to look at their work. It's just a way of getting your name seen on different archives, and of making friends who have the same interests as you. If you ever read of some-one complaining about lack of reviews, look at what archives they post on and see how many favourite authors and stories they have, and how many reviews they have written. Often it will be very few. Actually, the idea of reviewing to get reviews leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and I would hope no-one does it, but rather review because they've found stories they really love.

The subject of reviews is one that never gets old. No-one really knows why a tiny percentage of readers will take the time to comment, and the vast majority do not, even if they like the story. Reasons seem to range from:
I'm too tired.
I don't know what to say.
I'm depressed.
I am too shy. (I am an introvert myself, but not when it comes to reviewing stories, because at the core I am just a bookworm who loves reading.)
I don't have the time.

But the fandom economy depends on both writers and reviewers both to keep it dynamic and vital, and I would like to say a big thank-you to both, and to what actually is a very small number of people who do take the time to review. I hope you realize how we appreciate you and treasure your comments.