Sometimes commenting doesn't come easily, but it doesn't have to be complicated either. So I wrote a list, a sort of step-by-step guide I go through when I do it.
I wrote this for fun. I admit, I don't religiously follow each and every one of these steps, but on the whole, this is how I basically go about writing a comment.
Like I said, all for fun. The lovely eidheann_writes corrected my mistakes (and seriously, isn't she the loveliest thing on the planet?), but lets not blame her for the content. That's all my fault.
So I present you:
8 ½ Fail-Safe Ways To Write A Comment (or my step by step guide to successful commenting)
1. The first thing I say to myself is: Do it now. Sometimes I'm in a bit of a hurry and I tell myself (Yeah, I'm optimistic like that): "I'll just do it later, when I can do it properly!" (Exclamation mark included.)
Sometimes it doesn't happen. I will mean to, I truly will, but most likely I'll end up not commenting. Maybe I've lost the link to the story, or have moved on to a different story. I might have forgotten what I liked about the story in the first place and the author will never know.
So doing it now, right after reading a story is the most important step.
2. It doesn't always have to be an epic comment, with lots of insightful and witty content. Though yes, those are great. But comments don't always have to be like that. Sometimes something as simple as, "I really loved your story. Thank you for sharing it," is enough, if you are really in a hurry and don't have time. It's best if you take your time, but sometimes it's enough to let an author know you enjoy their work and you appreciate the fact they shared it.
But really, I do try and take my time if I have a moment. Once in a while, I'm in a hurry or it's a short story, it's understandable, but I can't forget; I am talking to someone, not leaving a message on an answering machine. Chances are, this author is going to eventually reply to my comment and I will have missed my chance to say something gracefully.
3. I try not to limit my comments to those stories that changed my life and I will never, ever forget.
You know why? Because not all of the stories I read will change my life, but because most will evoke an emotion in me. If a story made me smile, chuckle, laugh, melt, say aww, or got me hot & bothered, then why not say so? I should! If we enjoy someone's work, then we should be appreciative of it. Let's not be a Wham, bam, thank you ma'am reader. Let's show some gratitude. Plus, let's not forget, someone will read it and will be pleased by the response.
4. I try to be generous with the comments.
It's good to say something like, "I liked your story. It was very sweet." But you know what's better? Saying more. Like why I liked it and what I liked about it. Take a moment—trust me, it won't take more than five seconds—and think about what you're feeling. Did it make you smile? Did it touch you? Did it chill you? Did it make you melt? Did it make you feel hot and bothered? Say so.
If I don't know what to say beyond "I loved your story. It made me smile", I can always quote the bit I liked the most. Authors really like to know that.
When I'm about to say (and I've made this mistake many a time) "I loved it all, if I had to quote my favourite bits I might never end," trust me, quoting large chunks of a story is no problem at all. No author is going to tell you, "Oh, gee. That's a lot to like, you should have just said you liked the whole thing." That's not going to happen, they'll be happy to know which parts worked best.
5. When I want to leave a more meaningful comment, I find the easiest way to do so is to write my comment as I read a story. This is awesome for longer fics.
I just open a Word Doc or a Text Edit, or click 'comment' and keep that window next to the story, and as I read, write about the bit I'm especially enjoying.
For example: There's a lot of action going on. Harry and Draco are duelling the bad guys and for a fleeting second they share a look and they just know what the other is thinking…
And you go "omg! <3333!" Go to your comment doc or comment window and write "And I loved that while they were duelling they shared that sultry look."
It's a detail that in a 20K fic you might forget because there is bigger stuff happening, but you still loved it, yeah? Well. That's the sort of thing a comment is about.
Turns out there are a lot of those moments? Well, even better! No one, no author is going feel you loved too much stuff about their story and get annoyed. They'll love to know those things.
And think about the other things you enjoyed. Did you like the characterisations? The banter? The UST? The smut? The plot? The secondary characters? The original characters? It's easy, just say you like those things and why, the words will flow. Sometimes you just have to start.
6. If it's a longer story and I downloaded all 50k or more, the first thing I do is save the link.
In fact, make a habit of saving the link along with the story. It's not only dead useful for future references or reccing it, but then you don't have go through your web history looking for it. And you know, maybe this fic is going to be one of your all time favourites.
As you read you can highlight your favourite parts and then go through them as you write your comment.
7. If you're a studious commenter and you want to leave constructive criticism, that's great, too.
Bear in mind the author will most likely want to answer you, so be polite, and if you are expressing your opinion don't do it anonymously. They'll probably take you more seriously that way. It's best if you email an author or PM (personal message them) and always be respectful.
If it's for a fest fic you mean to leave concrit and the author hasn't yet been revealed, it's probably best if you save your comment for after the reveals and then mail it to the author, otherwise he or she will be unable to reply it, perhaps for several weeks.
Think what you're going to say. If you're reading a Dub Con story and your critique is, "I don't think Harry would ever force Draco." That's not exactly constructive criticism. It's your personal opinion; and yes, you are entitled to have one, but no one forced you to read a story that has elements you don't like. Think if you're giving valuable input or if you're just listing why that story isn't what you think it should to be.
And if you're going to criticise someone's grammar and spelling, at least make sure yours is perfect. I know you're not writing a story but leaving a comment. Still, it's the principle of the thing.
However, if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. If you started reading a story and have problems with the writing, stop reading. No one is making you read a story you are not enjoying. Just walk away, or rather press you back button, and don't look back.
Now, if that story is lacking warnings you feel it should have, of course you should speak your mind. If you point this out, most authors will immediately try to correct the fault. But try to keep in mind that this was probably an oversight from the author rather than a wish to upset a reader.
If it's a story you feel has potential, offer yourself as a beta reader, or suggest a beta reader, but don't comment just to complain. Always do this privately, if you are being honest about your advice, you don't need to embarrass an author by pointing out flaws on a public forum.
Better yet, if you want to make sure your concrit will be welcomed, you can always check with the author in a friendly and respectful manner and see if there are open to receive it. And to understand that someone not wanting concrit is a perfectly reasonable and mature choice.
8. Remember; not every author replies every comment they get. The vast majority do, so the fact that a story was posted months prior in a community by a community moderator doesn't mean your comment won't be read and appreciated. Most authors track their own stories in different communities, so leave them some love even if it isn't a new entry.
Fandom is like a living entity, if you give something, it's more likely you'll get something in return; if you leave a review or a comment on the stories you read, the authors will be encouraged to keep writing and sharing their work.
8½. If after all this you're still determined to be just a lurker and you're on a site that allows you to rate a story, or leave kudos, or happy faces, or thumbs up, or plus marks, or whatever, for the love of God do it!
But you know what? Between you and me, leaving comments is half the fun of reading. It's a way to meet people you already have something in common with. People in fandom are incredibly kind, generous and friendly. Leaving comments gives you a chance to open yourself experience that first hand, and it will make you feel an important part of fandom.
Writers and artists share the stories they mean to say with you and I, showing appreciation of their work is a small way to give back.
I know, I'm not re-inventing the wheel here, and some of these are pretty obvious, but I thought I'd share them anyway. :)