Commenting, fluffy kittens, and you


What’s a good rating to receive? A high 5? 4? The much hated 0.5? Really, no rating is perfect without an honest opinion to back it up.

We’re all writers here, and I’d wager that most of you are like me and prefer words to numbers. Words are more expressive, and symbolic of something more. Beyond the meaning with give the assembly of letters, word show that people care enough about something to transcribe their feelings and thoughts into language.

There’s been some recent chatter surrounding comments and ratings, specifically in regard to so-called hater raters. This blog isn’t about that, but if you’d like to know about Protagonize’s policy on low ratings please read Nick’s blog post from a year and a bit back. Rather, this post is about commenting on Protagonize, and my thoughts on it. And just what do I think?

It’s really fluffy.

Unlike puppies, kittens, bunnies, or slippers, fluff is a bad thing in this case. I’m sure a lot of us have been told in middle or high school that something we’ve written has “too much fluff.” That’s the stuff I’m harping on here, the strings of words that do nothing but fill space.

Like, “Oh my gawd I love this!!!”

What do you love about it? Do you love the story itself? The choice of words? The characters, setting, names, tone, mood, lack of spelling and grammatical errors? Tell the writer what it is you love, no-one can read your mind!

I know that the Protagonize community is capable of engaging with a poem or story beyond a superficial level. I’ve seen the lengthy comments that come from members of the Critiques Wanted group, I’ve (metaphorically) sat on a judging panel for the Seasonal Poetry Tournament, and I’ve seen the thoughtful reviews that are such an important part of the Seasonal Prose Competition. We’re capable of critique. You’re capable of critique.

So why not try it out?

Giving a critique doesn’t mean you have to be rude or condescending, and in fact those are two things a critique should never be. The purpose of a critique shouldn’t be to make yourself feel high and mighty or more knowledgeable than others; the purpose of a critique should be to help an author correct mistakes he might not have seen, to grow as a writer. Leaving behind a piece of fluff with a 5.0 rating does very little to help the author, other than validate that a good job has been done and an audience is present.

Abraham Lincoln perhaps said it best: “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”

So that’s my challenge to you. Read something, click that sometimes scary red Critique button, and engage with the author. I promise that it will be appreciated and welcome over a simple squee of delight.

Image courtesy of jonathanb1989 on Flickr.

About Jackerbie

Jack is an infrequent writer, an avid music listener, casual photographer, and globetrotter. He's also a moderator, addicted to caffeine, and frequently mistaken for someone named Jason. His natural habitat is on southern Vancouver Island, but you can currently find him in Vancouver.
This entry was posted in authors, Collaborative writing, General, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Commenting, fluffy kittens, and you

  1. Namrata Sehgal says:

    A wonderful thought and one that I hope will find a place in all of our minds. Rating and critiquing, and not the ‘fluff’ kind is kind of the whole point of being part of a writing community. And both good and bad reviews really help. This I say from my experience during the Summer Prose Challenge, wherein the weekly reviews were detailed and very helpful.
    And most importantly, it shows that someone cares enough to take out the time to tell us what they appreciated or did not quite like about our work.
    So, to all the writers out there, critique. Because you know you want it too.

  2. Karma says:

    I’m glad you brought this up. Critiques Wanted is my most frequented group because I joined this site to make my story better.

    I’ve actually seen someone say they would flag people who gave negative feedback, even though they were posting in that group. It’s exactly what I’m afraid of, that someone will freak out over some rational, clearly-stated criticism. I also fear being too harsh with young writers that don’t have my experience, not just as a writer but also with professional editors working in publishing. It’s why I preface every comment with a mention that it was their request for a critique that brought me to their page.

    Hollow praise is nice, but thoughtful critiquing makes for the best praise. The on my story left by were more flattering than any “Hey nice story!” because they were specific and honest.

    • Karma says:

      Grrr, I wish I could edit my comment. The name of the commenter who is linked to there should say JeanneAntoinetteDoyle. I’m still learning HTML. =P

    • Jackerbie says:

      It’s refreshing to see the Critiques Wanted group active again, and with people who understand what a critique entails.

      I think that one of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the word “Critique” has such a negative connotation in our culture. Critics are seen as bad, people who complain and point out the littlest details. Being critical is a poor character trait, to many people.

      It’s not my place to say anything about Ptag 2.0, but some of the new features, some of them really small, have me very excited about the potential for in-depth commenting.

  3. I have to agree with Jackerbie that the point of a rating scale is senseless without a comment. You’ve taken the time to read the work so why wouldn’t you comment?

    If you don’t feel confident in your critiquing skills for grammar or spelling then choose to comment on something else. I’ve often written a comment explaining what i’ve learned from a chapter, or asked a question about something that wasn’t clear to me. I feel as though these kind of comments help to create a better story because the author knows if the audience is following along and comprehending the story the way he or she had intended. It also allows for an author to go back and fill-in-the-blanks if the reader didn’t follow the writers train of thought. This type of commenting is easy! Try It!

    I’ve also commented if a character suddenly behaves “out-of- character” your meek and mild bookworm, should not turn into rebelious punk within the expanse of a few paragraphs, it’s just not believable. I realize that not everyone rates in the same way, we all have our niches, but while we are critiquing be sure to add some encouragement! New writers aren’t always young, sometimes they are just new and inexperienced. Characters, setting, names, tone, mood, lack of spelling and grammatical errors can all be fixed through multiple edits but that will never happen if the new author quits writing!

    • Jackerbie says:

      “I feel as though these kind of comments help to create a better story because the author knows if the audience is following along and comprehending the story the way he or she had intended. It also allows for an author to go back and fill-in-the-blanks if the reader didn’t follow the writers train of thought.”

      I had a comment on one of my earlier works that was exactly this. I had a bad habit of trying to be really subtle, but in fact was being so subtle that no-one really knew what I was trying to say. I knew, of course, ’cause I knew the whole story. The comment pointing that out is still one of the most helpful and impacting I have ever received.

  4. slg87 says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have been on various creative writing websites in my 5+ years of writing and I got a ton of comments that just said “wow this is good”. Well I’m flattered that you think that, but does that help me as a writer? No. Will it help my book get published? No. It’s just a waste of a comment. All readers please take this advice. We will all thank you for it.

    • Jackerbie says:

      I wouldn’t call a piece of praise a complete waste – they at least let you know that someone has been reading and liked what you wrote. At that point, it’s easy for the author to say, “Hey, thanks for your comment! Can I ask what you liked about the story?” A comment, no matter how fluffy, will almost always be better than an anonymous rating.

    • Julie says:

      I’m guilty of those comments and most times when I give a 5 and leave a comment saying “wow that was wonderful” it’s because I couldn’t find anything wrong with the piece and really do find it wonderful. I try my best to point out what I liked but it’s not always easy to explain.

      However, if I rate below 4.5 then that’s another story. That means there was something in the piece that didn’t work for me and I make the effort to explain why (nicely of course).

  5. Wei says:

    I was (and still am) in Protagonize, though inactive. While I loved hanging out in Protagonize writing stories with my friends, Life sort of caught up with me and now I have to keep my pace. Anyway, that was one of the main reasons why I decided to walk away from the Protagonize community. The other reasons are the “fluff” comments that my stories kept receiving without proper guidance as to what was I doing right that people qualified the story as good and rated them 5. I urged them to tell me, but they just moved on with saying a was a good author. I don’t consider myself a good author, and if other people do, I really want to know what I’m doing right!! Also, there is so much volume of work in Protagonize that some people’s work gets lost in there. I always try to be fair to everybody and try to read everybody’s work, not just the “popular” people. Also, I think the Protag rating system is overrated, obsolete, totally not working. It’s just a game for the young authors Protagonize is receiving almost every day. And a boost for their young ego, which can be EASILY damaged with a 4 or 4.5 rating. If they consider a 4.5 rating as LOW, then a 5 rating isn’t worth too much. They fail to acknowledge that. Nobody’s writing is ever perfect.

    • Nick says:

      @Wei Valid points all around, as I made in a recent comment regarding the same topic.

      I completely agree with you, so I think you’ll probably enjoy the changes we’re making in the new interface. Some of our younger members may be in for a little shock, but I’m sure they’ll get used to it. ;)

  6. Miriam Joy says:

    Agreed! I’m afraid I’m guilty of a far worse crime – I don’t just not comment, I don’t often read in the first place. 99% of my time on Protag is just talking to people, and the other 1% is posting occasional poems or whatever. Long gone are the days when I actually wrote stuff on-site or read people’s work… *sigh* When I have finished my exams, which is in two weeks’ time today, I will try and leave a meaningful comment as often as possible until the end of the summer (when I will have to go back to working again).

  7. Charlotte says:

    I completely agree. My highest rated poem for a while now suddenly went down from a 5 to a 4.80 this morning, because someone rated it a 3. I wouldn’t mind, but all I got in explanation was ‘It went a bit fast’. If people who do not give it a 5 or a 4.5, or whatever rating we all feel to be appropriate to the piece, they should at least offer constructive criticism or make sure their comments match with their ratings. It’s very hard to chase them up on it because they never answer if you ask them what was wrong, either because they cannot actually think of a reason, or because they are too afraid to say it, in case the other person gets upset. We are all here putting our work up for anyone to see. I’m sure that at some point, someone has criticism. We just have to take it on board and use it. So really people, please start making constructive criticism if you’re going to give a ‘low’ rating. It’s much more upsetting if you don’t know why one person out of several others sees something wrong.

  8. Wolfe says:

    I like to think I leave mostly constructive comments, but with some authors, (I’m sorry to generalise, but mainly the younger authors) it is hard to give them constructive criticism, because all they do is post fluff on each others work, so when I come along and say, ‘hey guys, this is promising, but…’ nine times out of ten they get defensive. Now this fluff has set the barrier high, like the ratings system. It’s not just a protagonize problem but a problem with society. Our kids are told praise is good and criticism is bad. Children aren’t taught how to lose or how to improve but how they must always be top form. It’s sad to see.
    I will keep on critiquing, I just hope recipients of critiques also read this blog post.

    • Jackerbie says:

      Believe me, I share your concerns about the amount of fluffy comments and ratings. I’m hoping that the issue will be less pronounced in the redesign.

  9. Tad says:

    Fluff does seem more prevalent than hater rating. Unless I’ve copied and pasted the last page of The Great Gatsby I never take a perfect rating seriously. The ratings that sting the most are the honest ones (2, 2.5, 3). The truth hurts as we know. I’m glad you brought up this topic, Jack. It’s important to throw in a few pieces of broccoli and carrots in our feedback instead of constantly casting out lines of nerds-on-a-rope just hoping for special treat ment in return.

    In that spirit, if you can edit these blog entries, I believe there should be a ‘we’ in the place of a ‘with’ in the 3rd sentence of this paragraph below.

    “We’re all writers here, and I’d wager that most of you are like me and prefer words to numbers. Words are more expressive, and symbolic of something more. Beyond the meaning with give the assembly of letters, word show that people care enough about something to transcribe their feelings and thoughts into language.”

  10. Babyrhinos says:

    To be honest, I’ve always felt that there should be an alternative rating system. I feel that a 5* system causes a feeling of “claustrophobia,” if you will. By that I mean, it causes kind of an OCD feeling. You want all of your work to have between 4.5 and 5.0, right? But that’s such a small space! With a 10* rating system, you’ll be more lenient to have anything between 7-10. That also better reflects the quality of the book, in my opinion.

    But really, what the rating system on Protagonize really needs is to stop being a rating system and start being a reviewing system. How do you do this? It’s simple. It is required, if you want to rate a piece of work, that you write at least a certain amount of words as well. So instead of someone getting mad and saying, “Who rated this a 4.0? And why didn’t they tell me why?” they will actually be able to look at a review and know why their story got a bad review. The other great thing about this system is that it would stop hate ratings. I mean, sure, you could still do it, but the writer would be able to identify if it was a problem with his story that got him the poor rating, or if it was just the rater who has the problem.

    I really hope Protagonize implements a system like this in the future.

    • Jackerbie says:

      Hey Babyrhinos, thanks for reading! You’re definitely not the first person to suggest that ratings be attached to comments. There’s a thread about it here that was started four or so years ago, but many of the comments (particularly Nick’s) are still relevant today.

      While I can’t speak for Nick or to the future development of Protagonize, I can say that I believe tying ratings to reviews would not offer much of a benefit.

      Anonymity makes many people feel safe in giving honest ratings, regardless of whether they follow with a comment. Taking that away might discourage some people from rating, or even cause others to give high ratings in order to not come across as mean spirited.

      Another possibility is that people will just stop giving ratings at all. It takes effort to leave a review, even a short one. This is one of the reasons why comments mean so much more than ratings.

      Now, I don’t want to come across as saying that you’ve got a bad idea. It’s a good idea, and it does very well at preventing hate-rating. However, hate-rating isn’t much of a problem. If anything, the problem is people giving away too many 5s, which would definitely not be helped by making comments mandatory to rate.

      I hope my response is adequate!

Comments are closed.