Fanfic and Constructive Criticism
some (dare i say ‘a lot of’?) criticism on fanfic comes from a well-meaning place. as much as we authors want to throw down and cast aspersions at anyone who dares criticize our work or our friends work, this is still true. a lot of people leaving this feedback think they are being helpful.
i know this because no less than three (3) dear, dear friends of mine (some of them authors themselves) have privately balked at the fandom norm of ‘do not leave negative feedback of any kind.’
good questions people ask: don’t authors want to grow? don’t they want to know what’s working for their readers and what isn’t? weren’t we all taught to give and receive constructive criticism in our writing courses? when i’m rec-ing or leaving reviews of fic, i want to maintain my own integrity so shouldn’t i be honest about what i did and did not like?
i don’t think these are unreasonable questions. they make a lot of sense, especially in the context of our schooling and the capitalist market through which most of our art is mediated.
fanfic exists outside of that context and that’s beautiful!
fanfic authors aren’t trying to get a good grade; they aren’t even necessarily trying to become the best writers. most are just trying to create content that they and their friends and fellow fans can enjoy. do not assume that all authors want constructive criticism. some folks are just not here for that.
additionally, you did not pay for the content, so no author owes you a better story. nobody is wasting money on fic they don’t like and if you’re wasting time then that’s your own fault (i highly recommend the back button- it saves hours and hours and hours- days, even).
because we are not paid for our work or graded on our work, we have very few external incentives to post. a hostile environment with lots of unsolicited, negative feedback further reduces those incentives.
that said, a lot of authors do want concrit. we want to become better writers. we want more people to enjoy our work. we want to better communicate the stories we are trying to tell. but that does not mean we want you to leave us negative ao3 comments or tumblr asks/messages. for most of us, those things hurt.
ex of a well-meaning comment breaking me: someone once bookmarked one of my earliest fics (back in the hockey fandom), with the note ‘would be one of the best kid!fic i’ve ever read if it didn’t have so many typos. author needs a (better?) beta.’ i cried for two hours. two hours!
i tried to contact the person, but their ao3 profile wasn’t linked to any other social media platform. i was a newbie. i had no friends. i had no beta. and i had no way of acting on that feedback. i’m sure the person was trying to be helpful, but shit. that stung.
concrit is mostly easily received and used privately, in the context of relationship. better from a trusted friend or acquaintance (whose intentions you know to be good) than from a stranger. better in a private conversation, than in public view. (think about it like this, if you’re like most of us, you’d rather your friend tell you that you have lettuce in your teeth than a stranger and you’d rather they whisper it to you than shout it out in front of a group of people.)
the best way to have your concrit heard by an author is to befriend them. you might even offer to beta for them. the likelihood that kind of offer would be turned down is relatively low- most authors i know are always looking for more eyes to go over something before it’s posted!
one of my former betas used to do this- contact her favorite authors that had extensive editing errors and offer to help beta! she! is! a! hero! if you want to be helpful, offer to actually help!
tldr; some good, well-meaning people do not understand why they shouldn’t leave ‘helpful’ feedback on fanfic. so, giving those folks the benefit of the doubt, here’s why: most fanfic authors do not want unsolicited, negative feedback. such feedback hurts. if you genuinely want to help fanfic authors become better, do not leave your ‘helpful’ feedback in the form of ao3 comments or anon messages. instead, befriend these authors and offer to help them beta.