Have you ever wondered how to go about telling your favourite author how amazing their work is? Or would you like to be able to help a budding fan fiction writer improve their craft? Preferably without chasing them off the pasture?
If you have, read on. If you haven’t- well- uh- have a puppy.
I read a decent amount of Fan Fiction. Maybe not as much as others, but there’s a good reason for that: While someone else might go and consume everything out there with their particular OTP in it, or dig into the trenches of their fandom’s archive, I read what I’m being given on the /r/FanFiction Discord server. Sometimes that means I will read a short. Sometimes a single chapter of a novel length piece. Or, at occassion, the whole 350k word behemoth.
And I read to review. Hardly ever will I leave a fic without dropping a comment / review on my way out. Most often than not multiple ones, since I firmly believe every individual chapter deserves my attention.
Depending on my relationship with the author, or their explict wishes, I may even try to leave constructive critisim. Though at the end of the day it is not my job to try and edit their work, or mold their writing to fit my taste or standard. Considering that they are doing this for the joy of it, and not for profit, throwing unwanted advice their way can have a very discouraging effect.
So, what do I do if I am being asked to review / beta / callitwatchawant a piece that doesn’t live up to the quality I am otherwise used to? Yeah, I might think Oh boy, but-
That. Does. Not. Mean. It. Sucks.
All it really means, is that the author has picked writing fan fiction as a hobby, but isn’t necessarily very good at it. Yet. We’ve all been there, an universal truth that we sometimes forget.
Let us assume that I’ve read a fic by someone who does not have English as their native language, therefore obviously has grammatical errors in them. They are also rather new to pacing and to character development / introduction, and make mistakes such as using the word orbs for eyes and mentioning everyone by the colour of their hair.
I’m being given ten chapters of all those clumsy little words, and asked to tell them exactly what I think.
What do I do?
Pick my battles.
Throwing myself in there and lumping it all together would likely feel like I’m absolutely slamming them. And that would have the opposite effect to what I am trying to accomplish. It’d drive them off. Maybe even make them want to stop writing.
We do not want that.
So what I tend to do is, for each chapter, I pick up things that I believe should be addressed. I might mention specific grammatical mistakes in each, a handful at best. Sometimes I correct them in detail two or three times, before only mentioning them in passing.
Then, I mention what I like. I highlight sentances that were good. Show them what they are doing right, because not only will that take away the sting from before, but it’ll also provide a comparison to what they did wrong.
In short: This is how you shouldn’t do it, but look, this is right! Keep doing this. But stop doing that.
Then I move on to the next chapter, giving them the same treatment there, but focusing on a different set of errors. If I talked about grammer first, I might now touch on the epithet elephants in the room. Or hand them a few alternatives for orbs. Like actual eyeballs. Squishy, squishy eyeballs.
Before too long, we are back on what they did well, and by the end, I hope to have a tall stack of nicely layered critique sandwiches.
Mmmm… tasty tasty sammiches. After all, they deserve the good stuff too, more so still than the advice I have to give. If anything, I prefer encouragement, and to show them that however bad they think their writing might be, it is not a lost cause. No writing ever is.
From there on out, it is up to them. Do I hope that they’ve learned something? Sure, why wouldn’t I. Would I feel dejected if they decide to disregard what I’ve told them? Yeeaaah- probably, though since we assumed that they’d asked for help, we’re more entering “How to accept advice.” territory here.
What I’ll never do though, and what gets my blood boiling if I see it done, is throw their writing under the bus. It’s not my place to do so. It’s no one’s place to do so. To think a writer (or any artist, really) would abandon a craft they love because someone couldn’t keep civil, breaks my heart.
*The above is written with Fan Fiction in mind, and not meant to represent the job of a paid editor working with an author preparing a book for publishing. Neither does it cover betaing or editing agreements between Fan Fiction writers who want to get their work torn to pieces.