1. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    How do I review when I don't understand!

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Domoviye, Sep 17, 2007.

    This was brought up very recently on another thread in another area. What type of review can you give when you just don't understand the piece being reviewed.
    I've read some poetry that has gone straight over my head, I don't understand how it flows, how it works or the imagery involved. I'm sure other people have had the same experience in other areas.
    So my question is: How can you review something when all you can think of is "This is confusing me, but I don't really know why"?
    Especially when other reviewers are saying its a marvelous piece of work.
     
  2. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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    This is me reviewing a piece I don't understand:

    Writing Forums
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, I would recommend resisting the temptation to look through other reviews before formulating your opinion. If you feel lost by the story, you should say exactly that. The author, when writing the story, knows what he or she was thinking while writing it, so it is very common that the author fails to convey that adequately to someone who does not know from the outset what the story is about. That is very valuable information to the author.

    It can be like looking at a child'sdrawing (not to imply that the author's work is childish). You may look at it and see marblous splashes of color, and some recognizaqble features, but have no clue what the picture is. The child knew when he drew it, and it seems perfectly clear to him, but you don't have a clue what it is. Now if you ask him, and he says "It's a fireman saving a house," you may be able to see the elements that make it up, but you may also be able to coach the child to add a detail here and there that makes it work - the brim of the fireman's helmet, a billow of smoke, and so on.

    The iother reviewers can comment on the writing style, the imagery, and so on, yet still be as confused as you about the overall direction of the piece. Or they may have made some assumptions, which may or may not match what the author intended.

    But if it's unclear, don't pretend it is. That doesn't serve the author well.
     
  4. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    That was a good review Weasel, definitely helpful.
    Cogito thats very good advice. And don't worry if I didn't understand something I never pretended I did.
    So I guess I'll have to be willing to be blunt, and ask questions.

    Any other hints?
     
  5. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you don't understand a piece the simplest thing is to ask questions in my opinion.

    But other things that can be said about a piece is how relevant the word usage and title is for a piece. Also look out for wordiness. Too much usage of 'like' 'and' 'it' 'he' 'she' things like that. Where they aren't really needed. Grammar is another thing to look for. Where grammar could be corrected and so forth.

    Look for areas that the description could be improved upon or even reduced a little. Basically things like that can help out.

    All else fails just ask questions and say what you do and don't like about it.
     
  6. wordwizard
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    wordwizard Contributing Member

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    There have been plenty of times where I have not understood something(hardy har har)
    So what I do is tell the writer that It has gone right over my head but I do give a readers point of view and what I mean by that is, I review like I know nothing about writing. Sounds odd, but many people who will be reading it after it is published(if it will be published) will be judging it the same way. So first off I start off with one thing I like about it, and then leap into something that makes no sense and say why it throws me off track. I usually end with a positive note to keep the writer encouraged. I do know that this technically isn't going to really help the writer, but it might open the writers eyes to something they can fix on their own, or get help with from a more experienced reviewer.
     
  7. trailer trash
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    trailer trash Senior Member

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    Cogito,

    Very good advice. Don't read others reviews before writing your own. And say exactly what you think of a story or piece of poetry.

    I might add that I try not to review poetry (but that's just me) simply because I think it is unfair for me to comment on something that I have no reasonable amount of knowledge about. I could say that it was either interesting, good, are bad and offer my reason for it, but still other than a gut feeling about someones poetry I could offer no valid technical critique.

    I think a good point to make here is that you can easily obtain the technical knowledge if you have an interest in say poetry are short stories by reading books on the subject. I have always found "Spark Charts" as a very good method of bringing yourself up to date on almost any subject. And they are very inexpensive for the information that they provide. They are available at Barnes and Noble Book Stores.

    Thanks for posting,

    Trailer Trash
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When I joined here I had no interest in poetry, and didn't attempt to review it. I am still no expert, but little by little, I am learning. I am learning mostly because I do stick my neck out and try reviewing poetry. Sometimes, I have to do some research to understand why I do or don't like something I see in it.

    You don't need to know a lot to write a decent review. It's perfectly fine to say, "this part doesn't sound right to me, but I'm not sure why." That alone may make the author take a closer look at "that part." Maybe it sounds a bit off to the author too. And in that interaction, both of you have a chance to learn.
     
  9. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    Actually I have a similar question.
    How do I review someones work when I don't understand grammar very well? I can't just tell them, Your story is good, but the grammar sounds wrong, but I don't know actually how to fix the grammar.
     
  10. Klee
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    Klee Contributing Member

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    Mexico, you got a problem with that?
    I have the same problem Leaka, that's why I try not to focus on grammar in my reviews, except when the mistakes are painfully obvious.

    Try to focus on other elements of the story, such as the characters, the plot, the descriptions.
     
  11. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    You make a good point Klee. Thank you.
    But sometimes when my English is so broken up I can't understand story elements because of grammar issues. Its makes it hard to assess.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why can't you tell them just that?

    You can even say grammar isn't your strong point but that it sounds wrong. The writer may agree, or another reviewer may be able to pick up on yoir point and help clarify your point. Or, if the grammar IS correct, someone else may be able to explain why it is correct.

    But if it sounds wrong, there's a good chance that it is a passage that doesn't read as well as it should. That's useful information.

    By sticking your neck out, you learn, regardless of whether you were initially correct.
     
  13. ILTBY
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    ILTBY Contributing Member Contributor

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    I ignore ones I don't understand, but if I were to persist in them I would personally tell the author that I didn't understand their piece and attempt to correct any SPAG errors or anything that didn't read well. On a piece you can't understand, you can still dissect it and focus on all the possible errors or things that need changing rather than looking at the story as a whole.
     
  14. Kid At <3
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    Kid At <3 Senior Member

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    Only the author, if anyone, can fully understand the piece. However, if you truly can't understand it, but want to review anyway, that means that it must've been somewhat good, right?
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If only the author understands the piece, then the author has failed to communicate effectively. Certainly trhere will be nuances the author had in mind that may not be seen by the reader, but if they are elements of the author's message, then the athor may need to revise the writing to communicate more clearly.
     
  16. Kid At <3
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    Kid At <3 Senior Member

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    Okay! Thanks, Cogito for clearing that up! :)
     

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