6 December 2009 - 1:24 pm

Review blues

The Apocalypse Blog hasn’t had many reviews. I haven’t been pushing for them – the best way to get reviews is to review other web fiction, and knowing how little time I have, I don’t feel capable of putting in the kind of time it takes to do that. I felt bad asking for reviews, knowing that I couldn’t reciprocate. So it’s okay. I don’t mind. I get feedback from my readers and that’s fantastic. It’s more than I hoped to get.

Still, it’s always nice to be reviewed (especially when you haven’t asked for one). A couple of months ago, one of the editors over at Web Fiction Guide did a review on AB (I know I meant to link to it, but I can’t remember if I did or not). It was mostly positive but not entirely – which is to be expected, and, I felt, fair. I don’t expect my work to be flawless or suit everyone, and as I’ve said many times, I welcome feedback.

On noticing a spike of click-throughs from the WFG listing recently, I checked it out and discovered another review had been put up. This one was by the writer of the Blog Fiction blog, which is a great resource for blog fiction writers and readers. This review made me far less happy than the previous one did.

It has its positive points, all of which I am gratified to hear. The reviewer says my characters are realistic, the story is involving, the setting is engaging, and the site is “an example of how to put together a Blog Fiction site”. This is wonderful to read!

And then I got to the ‘cons’ section of the review. According to this reviewer, all of the above good points are let down by the writing. In summary: I tell more than I show, and it’s difficult for the reader to connect to the action or the characters.

I won’t lie – that hurt. The Apocalypse Blog has its flaws, but I had hoped that the writing itself wasn’t a huge one. I know I’m not perfect. I know posts have gone up when I’m less than happy with them. But still. It’s a knock to have it stripped down that way.

I’m not going to bitch and whine about it. This is what this particular reviewer felt when he read AB, and bad reviews (by which I mean ‘negative’) are part of this game. I can comfort myself by looking at the first review, which described the blog as “so well-written, so dark, disturbing, and emotional, that I had to stop reading”. But that doesn’t make this particular viewpoint go away.

So the question becomes: what do I do about it? This is one person’s opinion, which is valid (it’s his opinion and he is entitled to that) but not all-encompassing. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, or stop writing. I’ve had good feedback too. But it does make me nervous.

I could attempt to explain or excuse that the style the reviewer disliked: the blog format demands a certain amount of ‘summary writing’, and there simply isn’t time or space to go into every event in detail. For some of the events in the story, I didn’t want to go into a lot of detail about, because while they happened, they simply weren’t important enough at the time.

But excuses and explanations don’t tackle the problem. This is one person’s opinion, but just how widely is this view held? (I am of the view that when three people read a piece and two give the same feedback, a writer should listen, even if the third person disagrees.)

Did the writing hurt the blog? Did I summarise too much? Did I gloss over things that I should have gone into detail about? Did I focus too tightly on some things and not give enough story-space to others?

I’m not looking for a pat on the back. (Some reassurance that it wasn’t as catastrophic as the review suggests would be nice, though!) I started the Apocalypse Blog to stretch my writers’ muscles, to explore new avenues in my writing, to expand and learn new things. If it’s flawed, I want to know. I want to improve.

So, what do you all think? Feel free to answer here or leave your own review on WFG. I value your honesty.

The Apocalypse Blog is currently being read by the e-Fiction Book Club for review. I’ll admit to being more than a little nervous about that, especially after reading this latest review. I have my fingers crossed and my heart in my mouth. The rest of me is in other people’s hands.

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  1. Nyssa says:

    Hi Melanie,

    I’ve read both reviews and I feel the first one is spot on, the frustration of not knowing stuff IS frustrating.

    I think the second reviewer has missed the point though, I always felt this blog was Faith’s account when she sat down at the end of the day, a summary of what had occured. The natural train of thought and flow is not then to write in a suspenseful manner.

    Looking at the ‘better’ examples they gave, their paragraphs did not read as a past tense account, but a current action blow by blow.

    I don’t say this so suck up, but as the victim of unnecessarily harsh reviews myself, but it’s also honestly how I feel about the blog.

    Keep writing!

    x Nyssa

    December 6th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

  2. Thylonicus says:

    I’m not sure what to say. If you want my actual opinion, I can give that to you. If you just want sympathy, I can just give that, too.

    So, I’ll leave with this: I’ve been involved with text-based role-play with you on and off for, what?–seven or eight years, now. There’s a reason for that. On the other hand, not every bad reviewer misses a point. At the end of the day, though–do what makes you happy. Write what you want to write, and that energy will show through.

    December 6th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

  3. Thylonicus says:

    I missed the entire paragraph where you actually asked for opinions. Ha! Go me!


    I–happen to agree with the second reviewer. (Granted, every “their” when he meant “there” and every “dieing” made me grit my teeth, but I digress.) I think fiction told instead of shown takes out suspense. As a reader, there’s no suspense when, in one of the review’s examples, Faith is on the bridge. We know, with absolute certainty, that she escaped. How else could the diary entry be written?

    I also think you did gloss over details a bit much. I, myself, don’t buy checking injuries leading to sex, not as it read. I need to be shown when the probing for aches turns into enjoying the feel of skin. I don’t particularly want to read some long, sordid, triple-X-rated sex scene. But without the lead-in, I’d be left scratching my head and wondering just how that’s supposed to work.

    I hope I’m not mixing too many of your boundaries, here, by mentioning the role-play, but–you don’t do that in any story we’ve done together. Everything feels just explained enough, you know? Not so many details I get bored off my tuchus, but not so few as to leave me wondering just how A leads to D. I think it’s something you might want to think about when writing Faith’s story.

    Take my thoughts for whatever you will. We’ve e-known each other for a long time, now, but I’ve not read much of Apocalypse Blog. I’ve read bits here and there over the months you’ve had it, but still. Maybe I’m way off-base.

    Either way, there ya go. Hope you really wanted my honesty. 😀

    December 6th, 2009 at 6:53 pm

  4. Svenja says:

    Okay, honestly, I think the guy has a point, BUT he’s also missing the point somewhat. If this were you writing a story, then yes, there would be far too much telling. But this isn’t supposed to be a story written by an author, it’s a random girl’s blog. If the point is that we’re to believe that she’s in the situation, recording the happenings (which I think it is), then having her go into graphic detail and all that would be unrealistic. You don’t do that in blogs, you do it in novels.

    His point about the reader knowing that Faith makes it out of bad situations alive… well, durr. She’s writing a blog about it. Of course she made it out alive. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to write about it, in any way whatsoever, so I really don’t think the style of writing could change that.

    I mean, yes, there is quite a bit of summarising. I honestly have no idea how you’d be able to write about a whole year’s events in detail. Books don’t do that, either, they pick out a few days or events and describe those. That’s a completely different format. So I think a big part of the reviewer’s problem is that he’s not approaching it as Faith’s original blog, he’s approaching it as a novel that might be written by a professional author after having read Faith’s blog. Which isn’t the idea.

    Personally speaking, any more detail of the action sequences would probably end up boring me, especially since with this format, there is no possible way to make us wonder if Faith survived. The fact that we’re reading the entry already told us that she survived.

    From the beginning, I’ve thought that your writing is really good. It’s one of my main criteria when looking for new things to read, the reason why I give up on a lot of stuff (including published stuff) before the second chapter, and the reason why I got stuck into AB even though I’m not into post-apocalyptic stuff at all, especially not with zombies. You do tell some things instead of showing, but you tell them WELL, and I think that for a real-time blog format you’re striking a pretty perfect balance between summarising and detail. It’s kind of like story-telling, I suppose, rather than intricate-details novel-writing. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I guess, but I like it. It comes across as authentic, as if we’re actually reading Faith’s blog, to the point where I keep wanting to comment and reassure her and give her advice.

    And the point about suspense – that comes from wondering what’s going to happen next and WHY stuff happened. You drop hints and cues and give us some answers, but make sure there’s always enough questions to keep us reading. That’s what creates the suspense.

    So I suppose it really depends on your criteria and your point of view. And the reviewer makes some good points that would be very helpful if this were trying to be something other than Faith’s blog, but as it stands… I’m not trying to coddle you or anything, but I honestly think that he missed the point in that regard.

    December 6th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

  5. Mel says:

    Wow. I go out for dinner and sort out a website, and look what happens by the time I get back. 🙂

    First of all, thank you all for your comments. I appreciate all of them. Let me take them one at a time.

    Nyssa – yes, I’ve heard from another reader or two that it does take a long time to get some of the answers. And some answers simply won’t come at all – there are things that Faith won’t ever be able to find out, due to the nature of the world (for example, who exactly set off the bombs, though I’ve tried to put in possible explanations). Others took a long time to get to, because Faith needed to come across the right people with the right information. I’ll admit that it took longer than I (and some readers) liked! Definitely something I’ll look at for my next blogfic. 🙂

    Thylonicus – yes, I did want your honest opinion. 🙂 I’m not disagreeing with the criteria that was being complained about – I tell my writing group often to show, not tell. It’s a staple of writing advice and instruction. This is the source of my concern in writing this post – is this really what I’m doing? And am I doing it too much?
    What I want to know is whether it is a problem in AB. You said you’ve read some, but how much? There’s over 300,000 words of content there, and those examples are very small, out-of-context shards. My concern is whether his comments apply to the whole.

    Svenja – you hit the nail on the head when describing what I was trying to do. I am going for an authentic voice, as ‘realistic’ as is possible in this alternate-world story. It is supposed to sound and feel like Faith is there, telling it to her laptop in the quiet moments. A novel version of this story would be constructed quite differently.
    There is going to be at least some summarising – no-one wants to hear about how they struggled to pee in buckets today and milkless cereal for breakfast again. When it comes to action, some of it was summarised particularly because I thought it might get boring, and some because it wasn’t the focus of what Faith was concerned with. There’s only so many ways you can describe a fight scene before it gets repetitive.

    I don’t want to disregard the reviewer’s comments entirely. But thank you all – it helps put the comments in perspective. I’ll keep an eye out for this issue in future, definitely, but I’m not crushed by it.

    December 6th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

  6. Thylonicus says:

    I’ve not read much. The style of the blog isn’t to my taste, so. I think there’s too much emphasis on realism. Maybe a real diary wouldn’t be more detailed in some things. That’s fine even if it’s true. The point, I think, isn’t how “real” a fiction’s format is–it’s how easily accessible it is. Because I don’t “see” Faith’s world, because I don’t have enough information that makes me buy into it, I have a hard time reading it.

    Anyway–why doesn’t anyone want to hear about peeing in buckets and milk-less cereal? Who said that? I sure didn’t. Those kinds of things tell me, the reader a lot of very important details, such as just how bad it would be getting for an individual or a group.

    As for fight scenes, I’d honestly rather risk them becoming repetitive than have someone say, “No, I can’t buy that. That couldn’t have happened.” Then, at least, you have a reader hurrying on to the next bit, instead of pausing and scratching their head, trying to make sense of things.

    I think that, overall, his comments do apply to the whole. Some of it, by his admission, is just the nature of diary-style fiction. You know she survived, so there’s no suspense there. But, again, that’s the nature of the beast.

    So, there you have it. 🙂

    December 7th, 2009 at 3:47 am

  7. Mel says:

    Just to respond to a couple of those points:

    With regard to the mundane, daily details, most of them have been mentioned at least once. What I don’t do is clutter up posts by mentioning them every day. I strive to avoid boring the reader with repetition.

    And as for fight scenes, some of them were done in detail. Not all, because again, repetition is just not that interesting, for me or readers. But a summary isn’t the same as an unclear or confusing fight scene – often, the most detailed fight scenes are the most confusing. It’s the information you give, not the level of detail, that determines how convincing or clear a scene is. It’s hard to get right, and I don’t claim to get it right every time.

    Perhaps the quoted fight scene is not clear – it’s something I’ll have a look at. But what about the rest?

    There are lots of kinds of suspense. When you’re writing first person (and therefore we know that the main character survives, though I have had other characters step in and narrate at time), the threat to the main character can seldom be that high. However, there are other ways to create suspense. How does she get out of this situation? How many of the group survive? What does she lose? I don’t think it’s fair to say that there’s ‘no suspense’ possible in a first person diary account. Suspense is all about having questions that the reader wants answers to.

    As I said, my main question is a matter of scale. Part of the reviewer’s issue comes from the nature of real-time blog fiction, and there’s not much I can do about that. I think my biggest concern is that the reviewer seemed to think that all of the posts are like the ones he quoted. I don’t believe that’s the case – posts vary greatly in detail, from skimming several days to taking several days to cover a couple of hours.

    I don’t ask that everyone like the format or get into it. I just like to know the criteria on which people are making judgements, to put them in context. Not so that I can ignore them, but so that they can have the attention that they deserve.

    December 7th, 2009 at 9:05 am

  8. Rissa Watkins says:

    Okay, you know how much I love the blog so I am biased. I didn’t read the reviews, but based on what I have read here and what other commentors said, I agree with Svenja.

    The blog is written from Faith’s POV (mostly) she wouldn’t go into too much detail about the fight scenes- and yes there have been times where the detail was spot on, poor Dillion’s last one comes to mind. *sniffle sniffle*

    This isn’t a novel. It isn’t even a serial fiction- it is a blog by a fictional character. Do you put in your blog about peeing or brushing your teeth etc? no. You leave out the mundane boring things.

    I think to really review it the whole thing or most of it needs to be read. Faith is real to me. You write her that way. I cried when Dillion died and when Faith had to leave her dad. I felt her horror when she had to kill Ben. Please don’t change anything.

    December 7th, 2009 at 11:40 am

  9. Rissa Watkins says:

    Okay I read the review and the last one was so wrong. This is a blog of a fictional character. Has the reviewer ever been in a fight before? Afterwards did he remember every little detail? I doubt it- especially if others were hurt and had to be tended to before you could write it all down. Ditto with the bridge scene he wrote about.

    Also, Faith not putting a lot of info in about sex fits with her character. If this was Bree’s blog we would have heard about it in detail -probably including measurements. But that is not Faith’s style. I think back to writing in my diary about sex for the first time with someone and I didn’t put all the details in either and I am a writer. Faith is not a writer.

    This reviewer was way off the mark!

    December 7th, 2009 at 11:52 am

  10. Mel says:

    Rissa, you are a doll. 🙂

    I like to go for realism and plausability. “Faith is real to me.” – this is the best compliment I can get! Thank you.

    You’re absolutely right about Bree, too. 😀 Perhaps I should do a short story from her point of view, once AB is over.

    Summary writing or not, you connected with the characters and events, and that is what’s important to me as a writer. This is part of what concerned me when reading the review, because the reviewer said that the writing wasn’t achieving that. Perhaps it didn’t work for him, but now I know that he isn’t the majority.

    Still, I’ll keep an eye out for the things he mentioned, to see if there are things I can improve. 🙂

    December 7th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

  11. Thylonicus says:

    I think aiming for realism in fiction sometimes makes the fiction inaccessible. That’s my biggest problem with diary-style fiction–I get no sense of what’s gone on where, or how things really tie together. That might be more realistic, but it’s not accessible, and I’m not going to force myself to read anything that’s not accessible.

    Novels do this too, mind. Like the Phantom of the Opera. Awesome stage production, HORRENDOUS book–because it wasn’t accessible, because I had a hard time figuring out what was trying to be said.

    Faith does seem like a “real” character in the very few posts I’ve read. But she’s not accessible, to me. And that difference, to some readers, matters a lot. I think the ONLY question is what YOU like to read. Write how you want to read it, and tell everyone–people on “your” side or not, to go bugger off. 🙂

    December 7th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  12. wngl says:

    It’s always been clear that this is Faith writing at the end of each day, and as such it doesn’t necessarily read like a story every time. With the long form you’ve chosen for this, it seems appropriate that there are sometimes lapses or repetition, where we might not have a super clear picture of what’s going on or what the larger context is -but that adds to the authenticity of the voice, for my money anyhow. This seems like a unique and exciting form of storytelling that isn’t quite a novel or a blog but something in between. It’s a great source of inspiration to me and I look forward to what happens next.

    December 9th, 2009 at 2:49 am

  13. Mel says:

    Thanks for the comment, wngl! Yeah, when I came to the idea of writing a fictional blog, I wanted it to sound like a real person might. With the associated slips, and the fact that she doesn’t always understand what she’s reporting. It’s a challenge to get the message through around that restriction sometimes, but it’s fun to play with.

    I’m glad you’re still enjoying it. I’m still enjoying writing it, and I guess between those two things, I’m happy. 🙂

    December 9th, 2009 at 5:30 pm

  14. Sluggish : : Adventures in Text says:

    […] There was that review, which knocked me sideways a bit. Then you lovely people pulled me up again – thank you for all your comments, support, and honesty. […]

    December 11th, 2009 at 4:30 pm