Commenting on Fanfic: A how-to guide for not being an asshole. Even unintentionally.
You’ve just read a fanfic that has left an indelible impression, and the siren song of the comment box is calling your name. It begs for you to send your opinion to the author… but should you? Are your thoughts really helpful or encouraging or even all that important?
Well… lets break it down! What do you want to say, and should you say it? And if you should, what should you say?
I want to flail at them because their writing is amazing! My comment would be nothing but effuse praise and adulation.
Full speed ahead, captain! By all means! You post that comment! Write for days! There is not enough positive feedback in all the world if you’re a fanfic author. We drink that shit up like it’s the blood of the innocent.
And if you feel awkward about commenting on explicit fic, don’t fret. We’ve all been there. Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, but if you want to say something positive about an explicit work, go for it! We wrote explicit fic. We know why you’re here.
Something to consider: While, “THIS IS AMAZING! FLAILING FOREVER! THANK YOU!” is an awesome compliment to receive, it isn’t the same as positive feedback. If you’d like to have a bigger impact on an author that you really enjoy, comment with something specific about their writing and how it moved you.
- “I liked the way you decribed <specific thing here>. It made me feel like I was part of the story.”
- “Your word choice here was amazing!”
- “ *cut and paste a small section of dialogue or action* This was my favorite part.”
This is not necessary by any means. Flail-comments are still the greatest thing ever, and are the best part of any writer’s day. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other. It’s about what sort of impact you want to have on the writer. Praise and flailing are ego and mood boosters and are sure to help us keep writing, and writing more of what you like. Specific positive feedback is a great way to help a writer find and improve their voice when writing.
And “thank you” is always nice. It’s good to acknowledge that fic writers do this on their free time, and let them know that you appreciate it.
This fic is amazing and I want to encourage updates or ask when it will be updated!
Tread carefully here. While on one hand, you could simply be meaning to encourage a writer to keep writing, but I know a lot of writers (particularly who start publishing before they are finished) that get anxious over requests for updates. Be mindful of your wording, and be sure you tell the author that you’re enjoying the work. Keep it positive and encouraging.
Remember that fanfic authors have lives outside of writing fic. There may be some real world obstacles in the way of their fic writing, and guilting them about updates will not help. And in fact, it may hinder their ability to write. Not everyone responds well under pressure when it comes to creative outlets.
Something to consider: Pair your request with compliments! And avoid outright demands for updates.
Do: “This story is so amazing. I really love your pacing throughout the chapters. The suspense is amazing. I can’t wait for more! Thank you so much for writing!”
Don’t: “When are you updating? I’m dying here!” or “Update soon !!!”
Eeek! This fic I really love has a typo/grammatical error! Can I tell the author in a comment?
Pause for a moment! We are now treading into the dangerous land of uninvited criticism. While your intentions are no doubt good, this could very very easily be taken the wrong way. Or just flat unwanted for whatever reason. This is criticism that is coming quite possibly from a total stranger. There are a few things to consider.
First, check the author’s notes on the fic itself. Do they state that it’s unbetaed and invite corrections? Some do! Myself included when I publish something that has been edited by no one but myself. I know I miss things. When this is the case, I always put an invitation for corrections in my author’s notes, and many other fic writers do the same. Or they put it in their author bio on their main page.
If you see no explicit invitation for corrections, do not do it. It’s as simple as that. I don’t care how egregious the errors are. It is quite simply not your place.
If you do see an invitation for corrections, a few steps are advised. First, go leave a comment on the fic. Make no mention of the corrections there. Just let them know you enjoyed it and thank them for their work. Then, send them a private message, not anonymously, with a gentle wording of the correction. Don’t do this in a comment that everyone can see. There’s no need to be exhaustive if you’ve caught a lot of errors. Sometimes just one or two corrections are enough to make an author go back through with a fine-toothed comb themselves. Then, thank them again in the private message and lay on a compliment or two there as well. Again… this is not their day job, nor are you their writing professor.
Do: In a private message, “Hi AmazingAuthorPerson! I absolutely loved your fic “Fic from the Pairing X.” You invited spelling corrections in your author notes, and I wanted to let you know that this word was mispelled here.” *copy/paste line where mispelling takes place* “Your work is incredible. Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share with us! Sincerely, PoliteReaderPerson.”
Don’t: In a public comment, “I found errors X, Y, Z, AA, BB, and CC.”
Something to do instead: If you’ve got a good eye for editing, and you’re really interested in helping out fanfiction writers, consider becoming a beta reader. I see requests for beta readers all the time, particularly from people writing in their second/third/fiftyseventh language, and some of the more established fandoms have lists of beta readers. Just know that this can sometimes mean forming a relationship with a writer that goes beyond just comments on their work. Part of what makes unsolicited corrections icky is that they’re coming from total strangers.
The author did not appropriately tag something! Can I tell them?
This is a similar situation to the above scenario with corrections. Even though you may not feel like it be careful, especially with your wording.
First, consider if there’s something seriously misleading going on? Is the maturity rating wrong? Did they fail to tag triggering material that would have been important to you to know about for safety reasons?
If it truly is something serious, especially regarding triggering material, very gently tell them using the same method as for corrections. And remember that even though you might be upset, aiming that negativity at the author for what might be an honest mistake or just flat ignorance about tagging is not helpful in the long run.
Do: “Hi AmazingAuthorPerson! I really appreciate that you take the time to write fanfiction for our fandom. In your fic, “Character Has a Bad Day” there is a scene that contains XYZ triggering material, but the fic is not tagged as containing XYZ material. Would you please update your tags so that your readers can be aware if they need to be? Thank you again for your work! Sincerely, PoliteReaderPerson.”
Don’t: Flame or even shame them in a public comment. Or be rude or angry in the private message.
Regardless of what the author’s response is, move on with your life. You’re not the fandom police.
Oh no! I just read a fic and I didn’t like the pairing/ending/a plot twist! I with they had done something else! I need to tell the author!
No, you don’t.
It’s as simple as that so let me repeat it.
No, you don’t.
Here is where we get into the most valuable tool in a fic-reader’s commenting arsenal.
Yes, it’s true! The option exists to just not comment. You can read something, not like it, and then move on with your life!
Odds are good the author chose to write what they did for a reason that is personal to them. The idea of changing canon, keeping to canon, shipping a pair, not shipping a pair, or whatever it was spoke to them and they wanted to explore it. Or it was a request from a friend! Regardless, let them do so in peace.
Or go write your take on the same pairing and write it how you think it should be done. I’ll be honest, I’ve read some fanfic where I’ve gone… “Yeah, I don’t know that I like that. I think I would like this better.” And then I go write it! Or at least bat the idea around awhile until it’s out of my system. Hell… isn’t that what fix-it-fics and non-canon-compliant actually is?
Do: Click the little “x” window. Go read a favorite fic you do like. Leave another positive comment for that author.
Don’t: Leave negative comments.
That’s the ultimate takeaway here folks. Negative comments are not helpful to fic writers. Full stop. If you feel the author needs to know you didn’t like something, particularly if it has to do with what they chose to write about, or how they chose to portray a character/pairing, I would ask you this:
Why does the author need to know?
Why does the author need to know about your personal tastes in fandom/fanfiction? Especially if it doesn’t include what they are writing. They aren’t here to cater to you and your personal tastes. That is what fic commissioning is for. That’s what tagging is for. So we all can find what we want to enjoy.
So enjoy things. And let other people enjoy things. And most importantly, let authors enjoy writing the things they feel moved to write about.
This has been a public service announcement.
*vanishes in a puff of feathers and caffeine.*