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Improvement, and How to Go About Achieving It Casca!blANCA/Sq2 1237


/fic/ is a board for fanfiction review, brainstorming, critique, creation and discussion. Well, mostly one and three, which pertain to the purpose of improving one's work.

But how do you go about improving one's writing skills overall? Do you simply get better after churning out tens of thousands of werds werds werds? Or have you not really improved because you're a natural genius and don't need to? Maybe it's a sudden moment of revelation on how to show rather than tell, or maybe it's an acquired thing, after getting draft after draft poked and jabbed in a review thread, and then suddenly realizing that you've got a much more solid style, four months later.

In this thread, we discuss improvement, be it to a single piece of work of our own or to one's writing style as a whole. We can discuss how we got about to improving, or whether we've improved at all. Perhaps the added insight would be beneficial to reviewers, to get a better grasp on what kind of advice or review works for certain people, and how it affects them - I know I'd appreciate it, at least.

Some discussion guidelines:
@ Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so? (this is easily achieved; just compare some of your old works to the more recent ones)
@ What helped you to improve?
@ Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement - line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?
@ Why does this look suspiciously like a customer satisfaction form? Other
This post was edited by its author on .

Casca!blANCA/Sq2 1239

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And as customary, OP starts first.

So I started off with a clumsy style, in terms of word choice and phrasing. Descriptions were pretty vacuous, at least to the current me. I was working on my first serious ponyfic, which was a very ambitious origins story; I could rush out 2k chapters every few days, and my main concerns were plotholes and getting the plot moving along, because that was where the juicy stuff was. Grif, Roan, then LunarShadow helped me with the drafts of each new chapter, and my style started to "stabilize". That's what it felt like, at least. Being more careful with word choice, thinking through drafts for plot holes, more natural dialogue.

Then I started reviewing and reading other peoples' work. As I learned how to analyze, I picked up writing philosophies and general advice from other review posts, and those got me thinking and reflecting. The more I thought over it, the more I began to see my style as not quite there, in world-building and descriptors, especially.

I joined the Write-Offs and wrote a 1st-person journal fic, and won. I had never done something aside from 3rd limited; writing with a crafted narrator voice (Pipsqueak, who spells "told" as "tole", and uses run-on sentences), I think, was what freed me from the constraints of being "consistent" and helped me be "better".

At the same time as my ponyfic debut, I worked on an original novel. When I put the ponyfic on hiatus, I felt that my style had changed significantly enough to warrant a rewrite. I considered that to be the standard measure of my style; I handed it to Demetrius, who proceeded to rip it to shreds. Then I took a leave from that, wrote a Skyrim fic, and came back to the original novel, which I can say I'm confident of. But whether or not that confidence is warranted depends on Azu and Garnot when they get back to me, heh.

All the while, I did reviews on and off in the TG. Reading reviews and adopting philosophies, I think, has helped me greatly in settling with a style in the first place; doing reviews helped me to better express the ideas I want to put across, and I think that broadened my approach to writing. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd use "crystallized" - every experience subconsciously clumping together until one day it emerges to become something, as pretentious as it sounds, good. Because I found the general advice in reviews to be useful, I try to deliver the same in my own, so that the author has something to carry over from their work.

Pav Feira (laptop) 1243

File: 1353432319603.gif (258.68 KB, 438x400, tumblr_mbrfgnGIc71qfi807[1].gi…)

Excellent thread. Let's see here.

>Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so? (this is easily achieved; just compare some of your old works to the more recent ones)

Bolded part is nonsense. This would involve reading my older work without rivers of blood pouring out of my eyes. But seriously, an unequivocal yes. I had a number of recurring issues that I wasn't aware were issues; I simply didn't know better. Stuff like an unhealthy ellipses fetish, infodump paragraphs rather than weaving info into the narrative, and this weird quirk that I've seen a few other reviewees do, which I refer to as "show and tell" (e.g. Rainbow Dash drooped her ears and looked away, feeling very very sad.) Laden with all these issues, I still somehow made it up onto EQD, so I didn't discover /fic/ for months after. Between lurking TTG and other review threads, and getting some direct advise from a strapping young chap named Dublio, I was able to identify these issues and knock them away in short order. I feel like there's a clearly observable leap in quality between my pre-/fic/-discovery and post-/fic/-discovery writing. Between /fic/-discovery and present, harder to say. I've certainly learned a lot of grammatical nuance, and I'm sure that more writing with goals (e.g. this chapter I'm gonna focus on SDT, this chapter I'm gonna focus on Pinkie's characterization, etc) has helped, but even taking a hesitant peek at early-post-/fic/-discovery, it's harder for me to see the improvements. I imagine I can't see them because they're subtle, but in reality I'm sure it's something that a neutral third party would have to judge.

>What helped you to improve?

Knowledge, per above. Presumably practice but harder to be sure, per above. Funny story regarding reviewing: I'd wanted to chip into TTG for a while, honestly just to repay my karma, but I always made excuses for being too busy. And then someone on the Internet was wrong, and made me so mad that I triple-posted (http://www.ponychan.net/chan/fic/res/97243.html#97398 though the mods cleaned up the triple-post), and then I did some reviews, and now here we are. Granted, the majority of my reviews are no longer in TTG (private reviews, write-off reviews, Seattle's Angels, etc) but I at least like to pretend that I'm being helpful. Regarding if this is helpful for myself, I don't think any reviewer here is going to make the claim otherwise. It forces you to learn more grammar rules, gives you an eye for catching mistakes, and grants you experience with objectively reviewing a story, which you can then desperately fail at applying to self-reviewing your own stories. We say it a lot but it bears repeating: if you're not reviewing, start. If not for the feel-good of helping others, then at least do it to improve yourself as a writer.

Participating in write-offs has also been enjoyable. The reviewer side, per above, but also it's good to read the other reviews, because unlike the uncouth masses we actually try to stay critical. I loved Story X, but Bob hated it. Why? Is it just personal differences in taste or did I miss something? If the latter, is this a lesson I could apply to my own writing? As for participating on the writing side, it gives me an excuse to experiment. In all honesty, my primary drive has been and still is my first crossover longfic. But having an excuse to write a quick fun 6k story in a completely different style is certainly a boon as it provides an exercise to stretch myself well if you ignore the fact that this particular 6k was panned in its original form and then I was convinced that it needed to be stretched into a 50k or thereabouts and then I wrote chapter 2 and then my prereader astutely pointed out that it was garbage and then i tried to rewrite it so that it wasn't garbage and then even I could tell it was still garbage and then $%^#%@$% and then it's on hiatus for a bit.

I guess the downside to all this is that I'm a lot busier. Ignoring write-offs and reviews and sillily long chan posts, and only counting my active stories, I've written maybe 1k in the last month or more. I regret not writing more on those stories, but I don't regret any of the not-writing-those-stories that I'm doing, which is a sometimes-aggrivating catch-22. I do enjoy the things I do; I simply wish there was more time in the day. I mean, it's like, if I really cared more about my own personal writing, I could spend this holiday writing instead of reviewing the Hearth's Warming contest, or putting one of my private review friends on hold for a week. But I know full well how that choice will pan out. I don't regret my choice, but merely the fact that it had to be a choice. worlds_poniest_violin.gif

>Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement - line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?

An interesting question which I'm torn on. I personally give line-by-lines, though granted, since I do mostly private reviews and have a rapport with my reviewees, a lot of these line-by-line are "hmm, I'm questioning what Siren's motives are when she says this line" and less of "missing comma here". And I mean, sure, there's value in "catch all the commas", because it's embarrassing for those to slip into the released version. On the receiving end of reviews, not to brag but my reviewers tend to say that my drafts are usually rather grammatically clean because I spend an inefficient amount of time OCD'ing over my drafts. But then a few really embarrassing derps (tersing, missing words, etc) always manage to slip through the cracks, so it's really useful to have these few instances caught and flagged, which an overall review might miss. But on the other hoof, for somepony with systemic issues, a complete line-by-line is usually overkill. Repetition does help drive home the point of "here's the kind of sentences where you're doing it wrong" or "look how frequently you're screwing this up", but beyond a point it's just a waste of time. So a lot of reviewers mark the first few line-by-line, and then give up and say "this is a recurring issue; here's what's wrong and how to fix it; find the rest on your own" which is a good enough compromise I suppose.

So I guess the answer is that it depends on the reviewee? If they're really struggling, stick to an overall, and if they know their stuff, stick to a line-by-line?


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Let me have a crack at this.

>Do you feel […]? How so?

I really have no idea. People keep telling me some things are good, but my confidence in the stories is at a constant state of decline. I think it's because I worry too much. And probably perfectionism and wanting to give the characters justice.

Both things bog me down, but, hey, I still write sometimes.

>What helped you to improve?

Really, if I improved at all, it was probably constant review after review and the jabs by Ion & Co. back when I first got here. I still remember one of Eustat's comments in a fic I created in order to prove I could write.

Woah! You can really write! Who are you and what did you do to RaptorSenior?!

It was pretty crazy back then, and I still like to think it's pretty crazy still. Craziness is great.

>Which do you […] overall reviews?

In all honesty, the only surefire way to improve in my honest opinion is to gather thoughts from other people (who are not your close friends) and fix what you know needs fixing from there. Start from scratch, and build it up and up and up until you got something pretty great.

Just don't try and aim too high right off the bat. You'll get their one day, and even if you can't reach the stars, at least you land on the clouds.

Ezn!RAopYJNHZ6 1245

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>Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so? (this is easily achieved; just compare some of your old works to the more recent ones)
I think I definitely put a good deal more thought into what I write these days than I used to, and /fic/'s emphasis on the importance of editing has been good for me too.

A small thing: Before I came to /fic/, I was absolutely robotic about dialogue formatting. Every conversation would go like this:
Guy walked up to Buddy.

"Hey Guy," said Buddy. "How are you?"

"Good, and you?" said Buddy.

"I'm horrifically depressed!" replied Guy, running a razorblade over his wrist.

"That sucks, bro."

"Yeah, it totally does."

<ping pong for a while longer>

Something else happened.

Always three said tags (the last of which was always replied) before ping-pong. Never a front-loaded said tag, nor an action tag, nor any of that.

And now I use action tags and have cut down on the talking heads a lot (still dig this song though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKqzayNo4Dk ).

I could still be better about self-editing, but before I came to /fic/ I was pretty much a fire-and-forget kinda guy who liked to pretend that just because his careful typing prevented most typos he could get out of editing. I could still be a lot better about my self-editing, but I've developed the necessary discipline to not only read over my stuff carefully mutliple times, but also to delete huge swathes of stuff that's not working, which I probably couldn't have done before.

>What helped you to improve?

Reviews, both giving and getting, and also reading reviews of other people's fics and our occasional discussion topic. Demetrius taught me some very useful things about grammar, action scenes, and a myriad of other writing stuff.

Reviewing taught me a lot of grammar. I started off as having a pretty solid knowledge of the basics and a good ear for things that sounded off. By making myself double-check advice I gave to authors and do searches on things I thought were iffy but wasn't sure why, I really expanded my general grammar knowledge, which is an absolutely vital thing for an amateur writer posting stuff on the 'net to do – self-edit as best you can and give your editor volunteers less technical stuff to worry about so they can focus on critiquing your actual story.

Reviewing also got me to think much more critically about storytelling and phrasing. Trying to figure out why things didn't sound right or why they didn't create the right effect so I could explain that to the reviewee helped me to further develop a lot of my own writing practices and methods.

Pascoite has a great column on this stuff on OMPR: http://onemansponyramblings.blogspot.com/2012/10/writer-centric-reviewing.html

>Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement - line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?

For overall improvement, definitely overall reviews. When I actually do reviews these days, I like to focus on improving the fic itself with doc comments/line-by-line and then follow that up with a post that generalises, summarises, elaborates on those comments and thusly attempts to give the reviewee general writing advice. The best reviews, I feel, serve a dual purpose of improving the story being reviewed and improving the writer's general writing. The latter is arguably more important than the former, but both are useful.

And, of course, it's a of a sliding scale that largely depends on whether you think the author made a typo or genuinely doesn't know a rule.

>Why does this look suspiciously like a customer satisfaction form?

Because we at Slashficslash Incorporated value our loyal customers and strive to ensure one hundred percent satisfaction. A visible improvement in your pony words, or your money back!
This post was edited by its author on .

DuncanR!S7UtV5RVbs 1248

>Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so? (this is easily achieved; just compare some of your old works to the more recent ones)
I believe so, yes. I've got a long ways to go, obviously, but my older works seem frustratingly sub-par compared to what I write these days. That's… probably… a good thing, but it certainly makes the editing process painfully difficult.

>What helped you to improve?

I got some reviews, yes, and that was helpful… but I also gave out reviews for other writer's works. Deep down, I feel like the latter was at least as useful as the former (though I wonder if experienced writers will find it less useful). Think about it: when somebody points out a systemic problem in your own work, it's very hard to see: you're too emotionally invested in your story, and thus you're too close to the problem to see it. But when you read someone else's story, the errors pop out like crazy. And then you think "holy crap… I do the same thing!"
Also: I don't know if joining the write-off contests actually improved my work, but it certainly lit a fire under my chair. Learning to motivate yourself and work under pressure is an important skill for anyone, writers included.
Also Also: Pav Feira mentioned that the write-off is a great way to get a distribution of opinions, and this is true: I remember someone commenting on my story about something they disliked. Someone else commented on the same exact issue, saying they liked it that way. I'm the first to admit that, as a reviewer, I'm biased and can make mistakes. Second opinions really are good.

>Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement - line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?

Different tools for different fools. Line-by-line reviews are essential for pointing out systemic errors (its/it's, too many adverbs, poor dialogue attribution, etc), and making sure the advice actually sticks in the writer's mind. Overall reviews are better for grand, sweeping issues (plot was slow, characters were out of character, dialogue was clunky, just gave me a bad feeling in my gut, etc). The overall review is also where you tell them what they did right, which is at least as important as pointing out errors.
Of course, line-by-lines aren't always practical: if a story is very long, or just has waaaay too many errors, a reviewer will only get a few pages in before giving up. If this happens, keep in mind that you still got useful advice. You aren't being cheated out of a proper review.

>Why does this look suspiciously like a customer satisfaction form?

You're asking this question because you want "meta-feedback": feedback about a system of feedback. The same sentiment has me worried, lately: are my reviews useful, or am I giving out bad advice? I recently saw people asking for reviews of their reviews, and I think this is a great practice… especially since giving out reviews also helps the reviewer improve.

One thing the OC doesn't address is the prewriting process: the plot-planning, the world-building, and (most importantly of all) the daydreaming-out-a-window-ing. A lot of problems stem from a lack of planning, and it's difficult or impossible to evaluate this sort of thing based entirely on the finished product. I would love to see some sort of workshop thread where new writers can come to do exercises: Think up an original Alicorn character and pass it to the person to your left, then think up a plot-seed and pass it to the person to your right, then write a short story based on what you received. I think it'd be neat… but it would probably require someone who actually knows how to teach creative writing.

Soundslikeponies!bQsJPGMNfw 1250

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I feel like I've done enough of these to be sick of answering them. But I'll do one more.

>Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so?

I learned a lot from /fic/. I learned more from my own editor and books, though. I know I'm steadily improving because my style started on a skeletal foundation and I've continued to slowly add more and more things to it. I used to be incompetent at action scenes and scenic exposition.

>What helped you improve?

Two things. First one is writing. I see a lot of people who say they're authors, but they don't write. Determined not to be a cafe author, I write every single day, usually at least 300 words, but usually around 1000. The only time I don't is when I have a lot of editing to do.

The second thing is that I step outside my comfort zone. If you write the way you always do, your style will build very slowly. Accelerate it by writing in a different tense, PoV, or genre. You will learn things and bring back things from it.

>Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement - line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?

I did both in my old review thread, and it varied depending on the story. Some stories are just have bad/poor characters, pacing, hooks, or premise. Others had simplistic or patterned prose, mixed metaphors, or really awkward/stilted dialogue and bridges. I find that the best way to review is to look for the writer's most glaring weakness and try to teach them how to fix it. This is why most of my reviews included lessons.


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Time for me to weigh on this.

>Do you feel you've improved as an author from your experiences in /fic/? How so?

Yes, I believe I have come a long way from the days when I just wrote without giving second thoughts to meaning, prose, characters, and diction. I’m by no means done improving, but I’ve learned quite a lot from /fic/, as well as all the other authors and reviewers who’ve stepped up to my aid.

>What helped you to improve?

Input from other reviewers (Golden Vision, Samurai, Vimbert, SLP, Nicknack (before his departure), Seidio, Ion-Sturm, Shockwave, and several others who are no longer with us from nearly two years ago), general discussion about stories, themes, and ideas, and starting my own review thread. The last one has by far taught me the most, as I’ve gotten to learn from actual experience what works, and what doesn’t. It’s also led me to some wonderful stories, some of which I’m still aiding however I can.

>Which do you think is more beneficial to overall improvement—line-by-line reviews, or overall reviews?

Both are useful in their own way, but I will say that line-by-line is by far the more useful of the two. It all depends on the story, just like SLP said >>1250. The most useful reviewing mechanic will always be the live reading and reviewing process however. This needs to be done more often, as writers learn the most from it.

Casca!blANCA/Sq2 1287

File: 1353470395307.png (124.71 KB, 371x415, smile_2.png)

Huzzah! This thread isn't a failure!

1) Participating in the write-offs is a good way to improve, because it forces one out of one's comfort zone, and allows one to get plenty of varying feedback.
2) Forcing one out of one's comfort zone is a good way to accelerate improvement
3) Reviewing helps one to self-edit better
4) Getting repeated reviews does help improve one's skills overall
5) Keep writing

>live reading and reviewing process
As someone who's never been on the giving nor receiving end of that, I'll have to take your word for it, heh. I do know that when I review, I get distracted if the author is in doc at the same time, editing as I do my line-by-line. Grammar issues don't take too much thought to point out, but things like inconsistencies and actions I need more time to process, and there have been times when I wrote a long paragraph in the comments, only to come back to it ten minutes later, stare, and delete it. So I'm cautious about the author receiving advice until I've given it a once-over - reviewing my review. Yo dawg…

>pre-writing process
This is actually a good point, especially if the plot is complicated or layered, though I guess it's more of personal discipline/realization that it's vital.

>fix what you know needs fixing from there (added emphasis)
I think this is where overall reviews shine. Line-by-line is great, but authors can get swamped in them, and rather than realizing "this is where I've gone wrong" it becomes a task of blind following as they try to rush through the process. The overalls are easier to digest, I'd say, and helps them to realize what needs fixing rather than knowing where needs fixing.

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