What I tell you three times is true.
- Feb 15, 2019
- Reaction score
Op-ed: Fanfic Reviews Aren't Reviews
Op-ed is shorthand for Opinion Editorial. They are opinion pieces that are not affiliated with the site's editorial board (in this case, the Writer's Workshop moderators). They exist to give outside opinions that a publication normally wouldn't carry (in this case, the Workshop Writing Academy). This pops opinion bubbles and can jumpstart or reinvigorate debates, but it also means their authors (in this case, me) are not vetted. The opinions expressed in op-eds are just that: opinions. Do not view this as a statement of fact; view this as a different perspective on established norms within fanfic.
Reporters don't make news. They report it. Similarly, the vast majority of reviewers, professional or amateur, don't create the product they're reviewing. When a movie critic gives two thumbs up, or a music critic gushes about some hipster album, or when a YouTuber revisits a childhood game; they don't change the work.
Fanfic reviews do.
As the result of a review, fanfic authors often directly respond to their reviewers. Thoughts and criticisms are considered when writing new chapters. Some authors even edit their fic as the result of reviews, making reviews instrumental to their fic. Without reviews, fanfics often wither and die, their authors no longer motivated. They are so instrumental to fan fiction, we have entire systems set up to encourage reviews. The Review League. The Review Game. Private review trades, or unofficial review games in the Written Word.
As I've become familiar with fanfic culture, there's one contradiction I cannot parse: reviews should help the author. This is a phenomenon entirely unique to fan fiction, and it has merit. Fanfic, by definition, cannot be legally sold. There are no customers for a review to inform. Even if you ascribe to "time is money", fanfic reviewers are horrible at informing customers. They give away spoilers, lack genre tags. Three months on this forum, I've yet to see a review directly address the fic's "customers". Because the customer of a fanfic review is the author.
At this point, the concept of a review has become so perverted, they are not longer reviews. Fanfic reviews aren't reviews; they're reports. Reporters don't write the fic, but what stories they cover and how they do so informs others. Whether it's an internal company report or film at 11, reporters influence. And by calling fanfic reviews "reviews", we lose that important distinction.
This phenomenon is widely recognized within fanfic. Fanfic review guides go out of their way to specifically recommended constructive criticism. Assisting the author's growth is not only encouraged, it's enforced. Disrespectful reviews are Bad Sportsmanship, as I have learned the hard way.
I've spent the past two months immersing myself in the Writer's Workshop "review culture". I've read guides from the Workshop Academy and moderators, participated in extensive private conversations with forum moderators. I've participated in public discussions pertaining to reviews, even beta-tested a review template with volunteers. I've become practiced writing fanfic reviews, yet something still feels wrong. And that's because fanfic reviews are reports.
We need to start calling fanfic reviews reports. Reviews and reports require different skill sets. They have different goals, different expectations. Calling reports on creative works "reviews" confuses those objectives. Anyone wandering into a Pokémon fan forum has more than likely seen YouTube reviews. Perhaps they've read professional game reviews, or seen discussion on game reviews. They already had an idea of what a review is; transferring that idea to reports creates sloppy reports.
I realise report is a scary word. Anyone who's attended school fears the dreaded report card. And professional reports can be vicious, especially when they come from outside sources. But in truth, most reports are benign. They are check-ups, not buyer's guides; they exist to improve what they're criticizing (even if you're failing all your classes). And while a badly-written report may be demoralizing, it still recommends areas of improvement. And even then, some reports may be positive! If there are areas where a fic excels, reports are obliged to point them out.
Calling fanfic reviews reports will not magically prevent sloppy reports. But it will better inform both fanfic authors and reviewers what to expect. It detaches any preconceptions seen in non-fanfic reviews. And it reminds reviewers to report on positive aspects of a fic that fall into the purview of their report. I don't think it's practical nor fair to require reviews be labeled reports. But if you find yourself writing a fanfic review, consider using the word report. Then, even those unfamiliar with fanfic reviews will know what you're writing.
Well, this article came out of nowhere. The premise (fanfic reviews are unlikely any other review) was an epiphany I needed to write down. I'm not sure "reports" is the perfect word — I'm heavily considering "critique" as an alternative. But I personally found critique to imply a high bar for entry, even if it more accurately describes fanfic reviews. All my mind is certain of is that fanfic reviews are radically different than any othee type of review, and so shouldn't be placed in the same boat. It's a lesson I'm taking to heart, and whether others agree with me or not, I'm not too concerned. At the very least, a surgical rebuttal would further refine my critical eye. And if it turns out my perspective helps others better understand fanfic reviews, I'd be a shame if I didn't post this editorial somewhere. I know my review style's been skewed by emulating non-fanfic reviewers. Perhaps I'm not the only one.