Forum: The Art of Declining

Discussing: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

No one likes to have a story declined, of course, and even accepted stories may have up to four votes to decline. Reviewers declining a story may leave comments, and because these comments are bound to be negative on the whole, they can feel quite hurtful, especially when the author has previously gotten only positive remarks (e.g. in beta).

But are they flames? HASA reviewer policy says, "Reviewers who leave flaming comments attacking the author personally will be suspended as reviewers for a month on the first occasion, and removed permanently from the reviewer pool if they repeat the offense." (If an author complains about discourteous but non-flaming comments, the situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the admins and the reviewer can be subject to similar penalties.) So then, what is a flame?

I consider a flame to be an insult directed at the author, rather than the story. Thus a comment such as "This story has no plot, the characterizations are entirely alien to Tolkien, and there are innumerable mechanical errors to boot" is not a flame, nor is a one-word comment like "pointless" or "boring," whereas "You should go back and take remedial English classes, because clearly you have no idea what constitutes a plot and can't write your way out of a paper bag, you loser" is one.

Now, the first comments cited above might be considered rude by the author, but I don't think they would warrant any action against the reviewer. The last one - well, the Review Admin should spot it while processing the story. In such a case the entire review would be deleted (so another reviewer would get to cast a vote - which could change the final decision) and the reviewer in question would be suspended.

The line between rudeness and flaming can be thin. What about a review that says "This belongs on ff.net, not HASA"? It's still not a flame - it's a comment on the story, not on the author - but it is pretty clearly intended to be insulting, given the widespread view that ff.net harbors a lot of ill-written stories. If admins get a lot of complaints about such comments, and it turns out that particular reviewers are the ones making them repeatedly, those reviewers are likely to lose their review abilities.

This is not to say that reviewers cannot criticize the stories they decline, but they should be polite about it, and not insulting - many submitted stories are by non-members, but they can read the reviews of their stories afterward, and insults are a good way to get HASA a bad reputation in other parts of the fandom. None of us (I hope!) wants to see that happen.

One more point - while constructive criticism is, of course, what authors prefer (if they're willing to take criticism at all), that is not the purpose of the review process. Reviewing is just evaluating whether a story is of the quality that should be rewarded by putting the story in the public archive. Comments are not required, and certainly reviewers may praise or criticize without feeling they need to go into great detail either way.

Celandine

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Thus a comment such as "This story has no plot, the characterizations are entirely alien to Tolkien, and there are innumerable mechanical errors to boot" is not a flame, nor is a one-word comment like "pointless" or "boring," whereas "You should go back and take remedial English classes, because clearly you have no idea what constitutes a plot and can't write your way out of a paper bag, you loser" is one.

Thanks, Celandine, that is an awesome and concise explanation of what might be expected at HASA, and I'm sure many other new members/reviewers will find it enlightening. Many other forums feel differently (to many degrees) on this issue, so it's helpful to know what we can be expected to do/see.

The argument ad hominem as a flame versus the argument against the story is a strong point.

And I also now know that what I am doing could never be considered flaming! Thanks again,
Kristen

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

I think no one will deny that flames are negative comments directed at the author, not the story. However, I think it is easy to take advantage of that definition. Consider this again:

The line between rudeness and flaming can be thin. What about a review that says "This belongs on ff.net, not HASA"? It's still not a flame - it's a comment on the story, not on the author - but it is pretty clearly intended to be insulting, given the widespread view that ff.net harbors a lot of ill-written stories.

I might call that a flame because 1) wherein is that a comment about the specific content or form of the story? The review box is not a forum for comparing two websites; and 2) the intention is not to review, as stated, it's to wound. Given that, I would have to say that it is a "negative comment directed at the author, not the story," i.e., a flame.

Most of us are intelligent enough that we can write flames that never mention either the author or the reviewer. I think the relevant point here is that we do of necessity attempt to ascertain whether the comments can reasonably said to intend to hurt the recipient, in order to determine whether a comment is a flame.

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

I think the relevant point here is that we do of necessity attempt to ascertain whether the comments can reasonably said to intend to hurt the recipient, in order to determine whether a comment is a flame.

Fair enough, but is there a way to do it objectively? I'm inclined to think not. That's partly why I feel that a flame proper should be defined as being against the author, though certainly insulting criticism may be directed at the story. In this particular case of "ff.net, not HASA" it's certainly inappropriate, whatever else!

My feeling is that there's no point in leaving comments like that - they're not helpful in any way, and though perhaps they vent the reviewer's feelings, they also are likely to leave an impression of HASA as being full of mean-spirited folk. Sadly, there have been such borderline reviews - and complaints about them, too. I urge everyone to refresh their memory of what the Site Policies say about appropriate reviewing behavior.

Cel

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

My point about the "HASA/ff.net" comment was that that criticism wasn't, to my mind, actually directed at the story per se, so much as at the author and therefore it could be considered a flame under the standard definition.

The other point was simply this: I doubt we would care that a flame is a negative comment directed at the author except that we also know that such comments in fact intend to wound someone else. But people get so hung up on the idea that if it's not a flame, it's therefore ok that the anti-flame rule doesn't necessarily prohibit very much. It's like the venerable "Mary Sue"—people get so hung up on the idea that Mary Sue is a bad thing that other 'sins' of writing go unremarked and uncorrected.

In other words, just because it isn't a flame doesn't mean it's not a bad decline, and it's likely to be a bad decline in at least some cases because one gets the strong sense that the reviewer was writing with the intention to wound, but without yet making an ad hominem attack.

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

In other words, just because it isn't a flame doesn't mean it's not a bad decline, and it's likely to be a bad decline in at least some cases because one gets the strong sense that the reviewer was writing with the intention to wound, but without yet making an ad hominem attack.

I agree. There is an unfortunate amount of space between a flame and a rude or bad decline.

The classic example is that 'you suck' is a flame, while 'your story sucks' technically is not, but everyone would agree it is rude and uncalled for.

The type Cel mentioned earlier, such as "pointless" or "boring" are not politely phrased, but nor are they rude, and they give valuable information.

Some, like "No one would want to read this" are insulting and don't give any good information.

Looking at what I've written, I realize I'm drawing a distinction partly on the basis of the review conveying useful information about the story.

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Looking at what I've written, I realize I'm drawing a distinction partly on the basis of the review conveying useful information about the story.

Ah, but to me that's the distinction right there--if it conveys useful information about the story, then it is constructive criticism and not a flame. I don't think I've ever seen something along the line of :

"The epilogue was, I thought, turgid and unnecessary, or at the very least too long, and by the way, why didn't you post this with all the other garbage on ff.net where it belongs?"

People seem to flame or criticize, but they don't often do both.

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

"The epilogue was, I thought, turgid and unnecessary, or at the very least too long, and by the way, why didn't you post this with all the other garbage on ff.net where it belongs?"

Isabeau, I cracked up when I read this (and promptly started composing other strange juxtapositions).

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

"God, why? Frodo was only 13 at the time! I mean, come on, there's no way'd even be considered old enough to be trusted with a candlestick, let alone the Ring. And there is no way he and Ted Sandyman would be getting it on--they were not friends. Pity, I thought this was a Lord of the Rings section. Come back when you've read the books."

I think it's very possible to flame while leaving a review that has useful information in it. Our hypothetical example has one bit of probably-relevant information in it about Frodo's age and what he'd be likely to be allowed to touch. It also has a comment that at least evaluates the objective likelihood of Frodo/Ted.

But if it were real, it would be a flame, if only because of the last line. And I have seen reviews like this, wherein the reviewer doesn't just deal out facts, but takes it upon him/herself to put the author in his or her place. One suspects this is why the label "Purist" has such a bad rep in some places—there's a particular art to leaving useful criticism tucked inside steaming piles of vitriole, and I tend to think that the usefulness of the criticism does not absolve the reviewer of anything. If the author to whom such things are addressed has the fortitude to distil out the useful bits, more power to him/her, but when this is what's sometimes called 'concrit' in the fandom, I don't wonder that people don't want it.

Ugh. Why do I get to think up all the icky examples? Someone else's turn!

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Dwim, looking at your example and omitting the last two lines:

"God, why? Frodo was only 13 at the time! I mean, come on, there's no way'd even be considered old enough to be trusted with a candlestick, let alone the Ring. And there is no way he and Ted Sandyman would be getting it on--they were not friends."

It is still condescending, but now the focus is on useful information instead of snide comments. I think this is the difference I was seeing - if the crit is all true crit, as opposed to crit mixed in with snide comments, than it is more acceptable. Even one snide comment is too many.

Someone else's turn!
Sorry, my brain is not working is well for this ...I'll think about it.

lyllyn

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

I'll pop into this thread based on experiences elsewhere. Yes, I've only been a member here a short time and thus can't review yet, but I'm a veteran of many a writing workshop in RL (creative writing degree in college is helping me collect my unemployment, oh yes.;)), and am also a moderator of an online forum. So, I've seen all kinds of stuff in writing critiques, and all kinds of stuff in these handy-dandy faceless online forums that are NOT as anonymous as you'd think. A flame, strictly speaking, is defined by its intention to provoke anger. A flame has no redeeming merit. A flame can, however, be contained within in a constructive criticism. Face-to-face, it's easier to laugh off a flame. I was present once when a girl actually burst out laughing while attempting to respond to a very serious, but poorly-written, moment in some poor boy's story. But face-to-face, you have a chance to notice that you have wounded, and to strive to make amends. The two parted friends, and his story was improved by his realization that his melodrama was a bit too much. Yes, if she'd done that online, it would have been a flame, but it's different. Because she had a chance to immediately soften it. You don't have that, online. A simple rule of thumb to follow when attempting to judge whether to write something is to consider whether you mean to offend or not. If you mean to offend, it's over the line. Don't write it. If you don't mean to offend, you'd better damn well make that clear. Even if it means sacrificing some of the witty succinctness, even if you risk softening the necessary criticism--- you must not intend to offend, and you must be certain that you convey that. Because if you can't say anything inoffensive, then you can't say anything that will help this author not commit the sins that so inflamed you. Yes, he or she may deserve to be squashed, but your words aren't going to help. If the story moves you to blind rage and you feel you can say nothing but a brutal flame, or criticism so sarcastic it catches fire, don't leave a comment. It won't help. Just decline it. Is that a good rule of thumb?

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Is that a good rule of thumb? Yes. It's easier to define it 'from the inside' as you describe. A bigger problem seems to be when someone feels they have been flamed and the other person does not feel they have written a flame. When the perceptions clash, it would be nice to have something to judge by. For me, softening is sometimes a matter of how tired I am - I hope I never cross the line to rudeness, but I can get awfully direct and hit send too fast. On another thread in this discussion I was collecting good phrases to use. Would you like to contribute? Lyllyn

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

> from the inside Yes. Well. Of course. Now I see how that's not very useful when trying to determine if something you're reading is a flame. Yes, I was wide awake when I wrote that, really. Hm. Well, you can still look at it from a point of view of offensiveness. It's perfectly possible to take offense where none was intended, but it's really painful to notice that offense seems to have been intended. And so, yes, anything attacking the author, rather than the story, must be intended to cause offense. That's a line. There must be others, though it's compelling that the most objectionable attacks on a story cannot help but somehow be directed at the author. And it's difficult, because a lot of perfectly appropriate positive criticism winds up being directed at the author-- i.e. you show talent, yadda yadda. I suppose the best advice for someone who feels they've been flamed is to try to figure out what the heck the reviewer could possibly have been thinking. That's pretty challenging, but c'mon, we're fanfiction writers and like to get into the heads of written things. Right? Sure. : Not doing so well on the sagely advice by the cold light of day, am I? >hit send too fast That's usually the single-largest problem in these cases. I routinely edit posts three times within the first two minutes of hitting the "post" button, because a quick read shows that, for example, i forgot to make my point, or something like that. And that's just for discussion threads. >good phrases to use Hm. I'll have to give it thought. I've never been organized enough to think to create a kind of template like that. I think i was reading that thread last night. I'll look for it again.

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Interesting discussion. I've often left reviews which say something along the lines of 'the author should acquire a beta-reader' as a synonym for 'there are multiple grammar, punctuation & spelling errors that mar an otherwise reasonable piece of writing' -- but I can see that an author might perhaps consider it a flame. I also commonly write something along the lines of 'not original enough for inclusion in HASA' for pieces which are reasonably enough written, but I've read them 5x before, and no amount of minor rewrites would make me feel they were good enough to include. I do always write specific comments too, which I hope makes it clear I'm trying to be helpful even if my words might not be welcome. Where the piece is so poor that I really can't think of anything helpful to say I tend to duck out of putting in a comment altogether. Will think about my phraseology before venturing into the reviewer comments box again ... though with the amount of reading on my plate from other sources atm, that might be some time... A cut & paste box on the review form of polite, helpful ways of saying 'xxx' might be useful. Tavia

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

I've often left reviews which say something along the lines of 'the author should acquire a beta-reader' as a synonym for 'there are multiple grammar, punctuation & spelling errors that mar an otherwise reasonable piece of writing' -- but I can see that an author might perhaps consider it a flame. Tavia, I can't see why an author should consider this a flame, unless there were absolutely no errors. I often say something similar myself, although I try to specify the type of errors I see. Does anyone else regard this as a flame? I'd be curious to see why. When I can, I try to use the method Cel has described as the 'sandwich' method: mention of something good, mention of problems, encouragement at the end. Lyllyn

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

The phrasing is author, not story, specific, which is why I fear it might count as a flame, according to the guidelines that Cel laid out. I do try to include positive points in all my decline reviews, but sometimes the time allotted to the review task runs out. It is all too easy to forget that there's a human being on the other end of the review box, and even well phrased, merited critique might be hard to receive -- especially when repeated in up to 9 declines. The ability to read back one's past reviews in the new HASA version is a useful tool in this regard. I look at some of the things I've written under the cover of anonymity and cringe...

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

The phrasing is author, not story, specific, which is why I fear it might count as a flame, according to the guidelines that Cel laid out. Maybe I'm insensitive, but I still don't see this as a flame. Suggesting a reasonable method for an author to improve his or her work doesn't strike me as offensive. I'd put it in the same category as suggesting someone tighten the pacing, check canon, or whatever. It isn't the same as "you can't spell for beans, your grammar sucks, and who taught you to punctuate, anyway?" That would be a flame. Lyllyn

 

 

Re: Bad Declines, or, What Is a Flame, Anyhow?

Mmm... the exact phrasing perhaps is an issue? To say "the author should acquire a beta reader" might come over to the author in question as somewhat harsher than "a beta reader might be useful to help catch grammatical slips"? One is more a command, the other more a suggestion. Cel

 

 

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