1s & 5s: Rating and Reviewing

When my younger brother was very young, he would go through the JCPenney’s 2-inch thick Winter Catalogue and circle every toy in the toy section in response to Mom asking us to create a wish list. Every toy. Not a very discerning child. I would mark the few things I really wanted.

I think of this when I see that someone rates every book they read as 4 or 5 stars. Pure grade inflation. What if the newspaper did that for movie reviews? Likely, I’d stop reading the reviews if they thought every movie was amazing. For the Chicago Trib and its 0-4 star scale, 2 is a good movie. 3 is better than good. 4 will likely earn an Oscar though most of the nominees probably fell in the 2.5-3.5 range. 4 means something for them. And me.

I use the Goodreads 1-5 star scale. “3 stars” has the hypertext “I liked it.” That should be the solid like. 4 is “I really liked it.” Self-explanatory. 5 is “I found it amazing.” This should be rare. But some people use it like my brother used the JCPenney Catalogue.

At the convention this past weekend, I was talking to an independent author who boasted of her “first troll.” She clarified that she meant her first 1-star rating. [Not usually something to boast of.] But she felt it was a rite of passage. Goodreads’ 1-star says “I didn’t like it.” I replied tactfully, “Not all 1-star raters are trolls. Perhaps they didn’t like it.” The author countered, “If I don’t like something, I give it 3 stars.” How does that help anyone??

I think raters should give at least a partial review to explain anything other than a 3, but really always. Otherwise, the rating can’t be contextualized.

I also think people who stop reading something without finishing it should be blocked from rating it. They should not be able to give a 1-star for an unfinished book. Maybe there needs to be separate stat for not finishing a book with a multiple choice explanation section. This, too, could be telling.

As much as I want to make an informed decision about what I am buying, acquiring etc. I also want an informed view of the reviewer-rater. Differences in our perspectives could be more telling than the review itself.

Readers, Reviewers and Spoilers

You’ve seen it: the *SPOILER ALERT,* whether in a book review or movie review or television show recap. Seriously, one should not be reading re-caps and commentary on their shows if one is worried about spoilers. But, nevertheless the spoiler-averse culture has emerged. If you missed a season-finale, you need to avoid Facebook until you’ve caught up for such shows as Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Orphan Black . . .

I’ve a confession, I don’t care about spoilers. I don’t. But many do, so I avoid printing them inadvertently. I don’t even put up warning, I just don’t write the spoiler. But it vexes me, as I studied literature and merit how a story is told, over the what. With movies, and shows, I care how the scene is shot and the written material honored. If the worth of the story is in the surprise, what is the re-watch-ability? Why re-read anything?

Romeo’s gonna die. Done, I said it. Spoiled it, I guess. And only centuries after it was written. There has to be a time-limit to a spoiler, in my opinion. If you missed the end of Six Feet Under or The Sopranos, I’m sorry but you cannot chastise anyone for spoiling it for you. There is a statute of limitations.

At some point in the last year, I went from being largely a reviewer of already published material to a pre-viewer of material before it becomes widely published. This makes the spoiler issue all the more important. The last ARC I reviewed, Alive, came with a warning to not spoil ANYTHING. Fair enough. So, I played the game and didn’t write any. Concurrently, I dig for as much critical analysis as possible. I want to be spoiled, so that I can watch the clues emerge. I don’t want to re-watch or re-read anything for complete understanding. But that’s MHO.

Where do you sit on the spoiler issue? Do you avoid reading them? Writing them? Do you warn people?

And what is a proper statute of limitations for a spoiler? Can we at least agree that there needs to be one? Because in the end, Juliet dies too–OOPS.

Authorized Thoughts: The Info-Dump–Confessions and Conversations

Last week in a post, I asked about how to handle sex scenes when writing fantasy and/or sci-fi. I was pleased with the discussion generated between here and Facebook and happy to have brought it up. It may come up again. I’ve decided to start raising questions and issues as it pertains to writing and the writing process [mostly fiction, but poetry may sneak back in there]. Now that I’ve locked into daily morning posts, I think every Friday will be an “Authorized Thoughts” post raising topics about writing. Meanwhile, Wednesdays and Sundays have locked in as my Original Poetry posting days. Reviews will continue to hit every Mon-Tu-Th-Sat.

In the last couple of days, a convergence of posts, beta-feedback and reviewing have lent themselves to this weekend’s topic– the info-dump. Without using that dreaded phrase, I was reading a fellow blogger’s original fantasy vignette and had an aversion to a few rather expository paragraphs in a row. No biggie. I wasn’t reviewing the piece, but I also don’t like to just sit back and slow clap [or blindly like something] when thoughtful criticism can help a writer improve. I suggested tying a few of the thoughts back into the action where appropriate to make the exposition feel more natural, ie “not an info-dump”. Meanwhile, a beta-reader of mine called me out personally on an early info-dump in the second chapter of my novel that he’s reading. I totally see it. The entire chapter needs to be re-written. This is not exactly an exciting prospect after spending months doing multiple rounds of re-writes, but he’s right. I’m guilty. I know I did not significantly alter that particular chapter during my re-writes and now I’ve been called on it. Good for him–he’s a keeper. A silent beta-reader is just about worthless. Now that I’m locked in on the problem, I can address it. Being blind to a text issue is the bigger problem. That’s why the world has editors and beta-readers.

Multiple blogs have addressed the dreaded dump in the past couple days, and with reason. For those of us working to better our writing, forced introspection is a good thing. The show-don’t-tell can often be solved by tying the information back into the scene at hand or by offering information into a conversation. Character conversations can be a great thing. That is the most common way that people exchange and share ideas, so why not mimic that. It also lends itself to character building and mood by showing how the various character speak and relay information. There are obviously other ways to achieve the same means. It does not always work to have a pathetically uninformed character in a scene in order to elicit world-building information. I have noticed that trend in space fantasies however. One alien character [or Data on Star Trek: TNG] and there is a man-child just waiting for a blatant dissection of culture and tradition. I have a character that journals just rarely enough to not overdo the action, but characters journalling, blogging, or writing letters also allow for info to be conveyed.

Conversation is still king, however. And that brings me to a topic raised by a blog I saw on Thursday. The blogger was vehemently against using synonyms for the word “say / says / said” in fiction. That’s right–no murmurs, whispers, chortles, screams, laughs, pouts or bragged. Questions were allowed to be asked, in case you were wondering. I’m not sure what I think of this advice. And I would like to know what you think of it. Clearly, the nuances of the synonyms convey tone in ways that a simple he said / she said does not. Tone would need to be conveyed by a different means: word choice, body stance, facial expression, an action. These have merit. I’m just not sure that all synonyms are bad. Mind you, I do like to forgo using he said / she said entirely when I can. I like enough action infused into a conversation to make the speaker obvious. The speaker’s personal ideolect [individual method of speaking and word choice] helps to bolster this method. However every once in a while, a simple he said tag does the trick to keep everyone reading the conversation the same way. I personally detest having to re-read written dialogue in order to figure out who is saying and suggesting what. Then again, suggesting might be out as it’s a nuanced synonym for saying.

What tricks do you employ [or enjoy] to convey information and to avoid the dreaded info-dump other than using dialogue?

Also, what do you think of the moratorium on said-synonyms? I am most curious.