Question as an oldster and fandom lurker, since you are an author and fandom dad. Sometimes when I am reading a story I’m knocked out of it by a “newer than they think” mistake. As in, flashbacks where Steve and Bucky use backpacks for school, or sit “criss cross applesauce” and using that term. I normally just give compliments to authors, but I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t tell them. Would you want to know?
Honestly, most writers in fandom don’t want constructive criticism in comments. I know it seems strange at first, but it’s a general norm in fandom that unless someone says “Concrit welcome!” you probably should confine yourself to saying what you liked about the story. So you’re doing exactly right, and it’s good of you to think about this and ask before changing.
Follows a lecture for people who are not as thoughtful, so please don’t think the rest of this is me yelling at you 😀 The general drift of the idea is
1. That they wrote the fic as a gift to fandom at large, and one doesn’t criticize gifts;
2. That if it didn’t actually make you stop reading and backbutton, could it have been that awful?
3. It’d be a bit like going up to a stranger on the street and criticizing their haircut. They don’t know you and didn’t ask for fashion tips.
The most common argument for concrit is “I’m just trying to help!” but well, nobody asked for that help. A lot of people write fanfic as a way to enjoy themselves, and turning it into something to Improve Yourself Upon kind of ruins the fun bit. And even if none of these convince a person to avoid giving concrit, the fact that it’s a social norm in fandom means that it’s just considered rude. “I didn’t like your fanfic enough to respect social norms” is not the message most people want to send.
I also think there’s a larger discussion to be had about the grave sin of “knocking someone out of a story” (again, not yelling at you, it’s a very common thing that comes up in the concrit discussion). It’s come to be seen as this truly awful thing, to perturb a reader with an anachronism or a typo or an awkward turn of phrase, and I question why. There are moments in almost any story I encounter – fanfic, movies, television, novels, comic books – where I see a strange phrase or something untoward happens and I have a moment of “whoa, that was a weird choice the author made.”
But then I generally go right back to enjoying the story.
I think it is extremely rare that people get pushed so far out by something minor that they can’t keep reading, that one small moment of “what?” ruins the story completely. There are legit reasons to stop reading a fic, and if people are upset or angry or hurt they should stop; I’m not talking about triggers or untagged adult content or what have you. My point is, if it didn’t stop you from reading the story, then you must have enjoyed the fic more than you were bothered by the single moment, right? So why focus on that?
But above and beyond the idea of focusing on what you liked instead of the one moment you didn’t, this is a problem that is very specific to fanfic. I think we’ve really put up an altar to this idea of the purity of experience, that nothing can come between us and our enjoyment of a story ever, and we apply it very unfairly to fanfic, particularly since it is produced by amateurs for free. It’s not something I ever see in criticism of non-fanfic media, by fandom or by professionals.
Anyway. I’d really like people to examine why fanfic is held to such a stringently high standard that a moment of discomfort in the middle of one’s pleasure reading is the only thing that starts to matter to some people and sometimes the only thing they comment on. And maybe if we collectively rethink how view that moment – not as something vital but as a byproduct of vast quantities of free entertainment, like a commercial or mosquito bites at the beach – then perhaps it would even stop bothering people as much.
Uh…I did exactly that when I read an otherwise amusing fic with a glaring error.
The author thanked me and corrected the fic.
Then you were fortunate and they were gracious. There are authors who accept concrit who don’t explicitly say so; there are also some who are too polite or too avoidant of confrontation to call people on it or ignore it. But that doesn’t change the fact that, by and large, most don’t want it.
Yeah, someone attempted to give me unsolicited concrit and they got a “no” in reply. I didn’t write it for them, and in this case, I didn’t really write it for me – it was a drabble to cheer up a friend who had appreciated the gesture.