Author Topic: What kind of feedback do contest participants want on their stories?  (Read 689 times)

sassylittleimp

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Question for participants in this (or past or future) contests: what kind of comments do you want on your stories?

In similar contests, I've usually approached feedback/comments similar to someone posting a story for review/feedback. Highlight what works, provide encouragement, but also suggest areas for improvement and provide honest, specific feedback about my experience as a reader and what could take it to the next level.

I assume that's understood (and it's what I want as a writer), but I didn't know how many people are just entering the contest for a chance at publication and find the comments discouraging instead of helpful. I always feel a little guilt when I see a story with almost no votes and the comments are all about the things the story needs to improve. So I'm curious how most participants view this feature of the contest and what they want out of it.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2022, 02:15:20 PM by sassylittleimp »



MilvusScribe

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Specifically for these contests?

I never want to see another "This should be longer" ever again. It's flash. We know. I seem to see that comment on almost every story and it's not helpful in these contexts. Now, if it feels unfinished, that's different. But "it should be longer" doesn't help. Yes, I would love another couple hundred or thousands of words. But I have 500 to work with.


Since I feel like comments can influence voting possibly too much, I actually don't want to see a lot of critique until after voting has concluded for a group. Especially when comments on stories can go completely off the rails (I haven't seen it in this contest yet, but I have in previous ones, where they left discussing the actual words of the story and instead what they thought the story was).

Tell me what you (and I'm speaking to the "general you") loved first, or how it made you feel, and then when voting is done, tell me what didn't work on a craft level.

As for actual critique I would like to know if it feels unsatisfactory to you,  if there's too many Bad unanswered questions (and the difference between a Good unanswered question, that makes you think and invest in the story even if you're not handed the answers, and a Bad unanswered question, where you don't understand at all what is going on). What emotional impact did it have on you? Could it be tightened up even more? What did you think the author was going for? Where did your eyes glaze over or what did you focus on? etc.



Stephen James

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I'd agree with MilvusScribe on mostly everything.

I would say that 'This should be longer' has its place. Unfinished stories, yes, but also stories that are trying to cram too much into too small a space. This is a 500 word competition: sometimes pared back is better.

Personally, I am most interested in clarity. Did you understand the story? Did you understand the character/s and their motivations? Did word choice/sentence structure/etc help or hinder what I was trying to do? This is not just helpful for my flash piece: I've learned a great deal from doing these competitions and I feel like I've grown as a fledgling writer directly because of them.



pchand

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TBH speaking as someone who's never made it past round 1 (and validly criticized as trying to do too much in too little a space), I think it's good to have discussion before the vote because people will point out things I haven't thought of. Because the story comes up first when you're viewing each page, I'll have read it already so it's more of a check than a major influence. But that's just me!



BrittleLittleRobot

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I'm okay with critique during voting. I feel a strong story will stand regardless of the comments, and I think the biggest lesson a writer can learn from this is just how subjective taste really is. People will often disagree here, and your least favorite story might be my favorite, and it's all perfectly okay.

As far as critique goes--just don't be an ass. I like the ol' compliment sandwich as a guide. A bit of praise, a bit of criticism, and a compliment if you can. I personally don't like the very long comments where the commenter might detail how they would re-write the story, because again, everyone has different tastes and life experiences. Tell me what worked and what didn't work for you, and I'm happy!



skidders

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I'm really wary about saying how I'd like others to respond because I don't want anyone to feel hesitant about commenting, so let me start with what I like. I really enjoy when a story spurs a reflection and inspires someone to talk about their experience or dig into their knowledge pool. It makes me think, "Wow. This person really connected to the story."  Emphasizing a great line or a joke that made you lose it is also awesome. I'm also a sucker for good constructive criticism. Using a broader brush, I'm grateful for this contest because it was such an interesting experiment in craft. To make a story work, you had to pare down and pare down and pare down, but never lose anything. I haven't really tried writing fiction of this length before and so hearing what works, what doesn't, and what's missing is important. To me, scope also matters because I think some stories just can't be made to fit in a 500 word box and learning how to choose the story that does is part of the fun. The only thing I'd be wary of, and I haven't seen this much, is piling on. Please don't be the fifth or twentieth reviewer to point out the same flaw. Especially, if you're writing the comment in the style of "I agree with ________" That said, from my perspective the reviews have largely had the right balance of praise and constructive criticism. I haven't noticed any really mean or bullying reviews. So, basically I'd keep it going as it's going.



MBarnicle

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These are really thoughtful questions/points, thanks!

I guess as a writer, I come into the contest knowing what works for me won't necessarily work for everyone else, and vice versa. Some of my ideas won't succeed because there's just not much there, and a longer word count wouldn't have necessarily helped.

Quote
I didn't know how many people are just entering the contest for a chance at publication and find the comments discouraging instead of helpful. I always feel a little guilt when I see a story with almost no votes and the comments are all about the things the story needs to improve.
To this--realistically, there hasn't been a story that I've submitted to a place like this, then later spontaneously thought "oh it would have been better if it was a 3000 word story, I'll rework it." (In one case I kind of did, but that was because I had a new plot device I wanted to combine with one I'd already tried before.) So I can understand that more critical comments might not be useful, but: I've also had the opposite experience, of getting basically no comments or one that says "nice humor," while people give a lot more encouraging/trying to pick out the parts they liked to stories that I felt were a lot rougher than mine. And in those cases, it's like--those writers might be less farther along than me, they might really need and appreciate the support, whereas I've been around more and have a thicker skin! But I'd at least like to hear more about what people didn't like so I can decide whether it's a question of "people's tastes aren't aligned with mine but that's a risk I'll have to take" or more "no, I can agree that this part needs work, if not in that story, than in future ones."



Akunhet

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This is a great question. I'm never sure whether to comment, especially when voting is open, so am reading the answers with interest.

I haven't received substantial feedback through the couple of competitions I've entered, and as someone apprehensive about giving it here I don't mind that at all. When feedback is given it is really nice to hear *why* something does/doesn't work for a reader.

I also wonder whether solid stories with less discussion get missed by readers when new comments bump others up the list, so appreciate the effort some readers are making to comment on all the stories!



Liam

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All feedback is useful, even if all it tells you is who you're NOT writing for...

It pains me to see stories, especially in later divisions, with no or few responses. Rather than read a whole division, I often select one of these (fewest views, or fewest responses) to read and comment on.

In a peer voted contest, for me, the feedback is the main reason to enter, unless you're the sort who thinks you're going to win(!). Not that you should send in something rough, as the feedback will probably all be the same. I'm quite happy to suggest the story doesn't fit into the allocated space - this isn't a fault with the word count limit, it IS a fault with the story as is. (But "I wanted more" is valid, and appreciated!)

That all said, authors aren't made of stone. Criticism should be, as far as you can make it, helpful, rather than just sledging into a piece. Say what you like, as well as what you don't. And don't fall into the trap of taking it over ("if I was writing this, I'd have...") - it's NOT your story.



Thunderscreech

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There’s been some great advice in this thread. I’d like to add a personal peev: sometimes, commenters will start sharing their concern that an element in the story ‘won’t work in audio’.

Maybe it’s an unusual name, maybe it’s a reference to a noise, the thing is that sometimes that starts a chain reaction of other people jumping in and saying “hey, yeah…“ and it looks like it affects how people vote on those stories even if the “problem“ that they’re focusing on is something that the very skilled narration team at escape artist is completely qualified to deal with.



Han

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I'd say be as encouraging as possible, but if there's one thing that isn't working and it's holding back the story, go ahead and point it out. Same goes if there's one thing you really loved - giving positive feedback reduces the risk of the author editing it out while redrafting.



NeilW

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I've usually paid attention to where readers have identified flaws, and rarely taken on their suggestions on how to fix it. Not that this is a problem, and sometimes commenters have had interesting conversations about how to improve a story. However I find that usually the suggested (obvious?) fix warps the rest of a flash fiction, so either you need to re-write the whole thing, or come up with a different solution.



Frank Evans

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A bit late here,  but this is a great thread. In my ideal world you wouldn’t be able to see comments until after you vote. I’ve done a bad job of keeping up this time around, but in past contests it’s seemed to me like you end up with a few frequent commenters who have very specific opinions and likes/dislikes and I sometimes wonder how much reading those comments sways voting.  I’d rather people voted based on their own reaction, not have it influenced by the comments first.

In terms of what kind of comments are best, I always prefer concrete suggestions for how I might have improved on something that didn’t work over a blanket “this didn’t connect with me” or something like that.  I’m happy to hear pretty much any kind of feedback, as long as it’s going to help me get better for the next time.



Liam

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I always avoid the comments until after I've written mine! Even if that means I repeat something someone else says, that's useful, as it means it's not just one person. But yeah, invisible until after voting, or after voting closed, would be good, but might discourage people from commenting at all, which wouldn't be!



Patrick

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I always point out what works but then move to what I wish for, which is observation about what can be cut and patterns in my writing/construction that I had not been aware of.