Why skimming doesn’t work.

I won’t mention names, though I’d really like to do that. I belong to more than one site where stories can be submitted for peer review. The intention is that you read and review so many stories or write so many words in the reviews, then you can submit your own work when you have enough credits or karma or pretend money–each site is slightly different.

As a rule, this is good. It helps writers see the flaws they might otherwise have  missed and I know my work has improved through the process–both by learning from other’s mistakes as well as having my own pointed out for correction.

And then some newbie know-it-all has to go and irritate me with what I can only refer to as an irresponsible review.

Yes, I’ve been courteous to him, thanked him for ‘reading’ the story and reviewing. I don’t want to contaminate the site with a flame war because I like the general atmosphere of courteousness and mutual encouragement that reigns on this particular site. I’ve also asked the administrator to remove the review because I don’t think he read anything more than the first two pages of the story and the last paragraph. He skimmed.

My problem with skimming is that you tend to miss a lot–like what the story is about. The particular story I wrote was about a recently divorced woman with a friend that’s trying to get her back to ‘life’. The friend thinks he might have found an old boyfriend of hers that had meant a lot to her in high school. He contrives of a way to give them a little time to reconnect. This happens. At the end the woman sees that the friend is right, her life could have been different in multiple ways, and there is a creepy little ‘Norman Bates’ moment when she takes down a picture of children that had never existed except in her head and in this painting.

The review I received started by saying there was the narrator, the friend and the ex-husband. It went on in unintelligible phrases about how the story was exploring the break-up of the marriage and how the narrator’s “relational situation and the situation of the story need to be melded together.” I’m still trying to decipher that one. Another phrase I’m questioning is that according to the reviewer, I need to “think about the balance between the problem of the dresser and the relationship.” Which relationship is this reviewer even talking about? How does he consider the dresser a problem? Perhaps he thinks someone in the story is having a relationship with the dresser.  I have no idea…

He then suggests I read a story about a couple that had a hard time connecting and it’s recalled in a trip the husband takes while moving a mattress to the dump. In my story, the reason the narrator  divorced and got most of the marital assets was because her husband hit her. 

I don’t mind if a person doesn’t like a story I’ve written. I’ve had many harsh criticisms about elements in a story not working, about motivations not being strong enough, a lot of things, but at least in those reviews, they mentioned things that actually occurred in the story I wrote.

When I review, I read the whole story. I put it down. I make notes. I come back to it and re-read it. If I still have the same ‘problems’ when I read it the second time, I tell the writer about them. Sometimes in the second read-through I find hints and foreshadows I didn’t see the first time. I don’t expect that others follow my example, but how about reading the whole thing all the way through instead of a few snippets? Is that really too much to ask?