101 Comment Starters

[I posted this earlier today to Tumblr. I would like it to be more permanently/easily available, so I’m going to crosspost it here as well. Reactions in both places are welcome!]


I began working on this last summer. Like many veteran fanfiction authors, I lament the decline in commenting that I’ve seen in my fandom, the Tolkien fandom. I’m also a humanities teacher, so I spend a good part of my day teaching young people how to write, and one lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that each type of writing involves unique skills that have to be learned. And commenting is a unique form of writing and one that comes with added stresses around social expectations and public performance. My research on the Tolkien fanfic community confirms this: Many people want to comment, but they simply don’t know what to say.

As a teacher of writing, I often use  sentence starters or mentor sentences. The writer uses these to jumpstart their thinking and writing, until they become comfortable enough to begin working independently. “101 Comment Starters” is built around this research-based strategy of teaching writing.

Some of the comment starters are simple enough that they can be merely copied and pasted. Others require filling in some blanks or providing some elaboration. In some cases, a because can be dropped if the reader isn’t comfortable providing that level of elaboration yet. In other cases, a more experienced commenter can add the because and elaborate more on their comment.

They also differ in their level of praise. They range from simple statements of how the author made the reader feel to compliments around an aspect of the author’s writing or their work in general. I’ve tried to limit words like really, very, and so as much as possible, except when it made the comment feel wooden. You’re welcome, of course, to add those words in if you feel they more accurately help capture how a story impacted you.

If you’re just starting to comment, please keep in mind that the vast majority of authors will love to hear from you! They don’t care how long or elaborate your comment is. They don’t care if your English is perfect or if you’re a little awkward. They just want to know that you’re reading and enjoying their work.

Finally, please feel free to reblog and share and add your own comment starters!

101 Comment Starters

Characters

  • My favorite character in this story is [character] because …
  • [Character] felt really believable to me because …
  • I really connected with [character] when …
  • I felt [emotion] for [character] when …
  • I thought it was interesting how you wrote [character] as …
  • I never thought about [character] in this way until your story.
  • After your story, I always imagine [character] as …
  • The relationship between [character] and [character] was very believable.
  • [Character] was a perfect hero because …
  • [Character] was a perfect villain because …
  • [Character] was a really original interpretation of the canon.
  • The way you wrote [character] was like seeing my own interpretation on the page because …
  • I can totally see [character] doing …
  • I enjoyed how [character action] foreshadowed [plot event].
  • [Original character] really enhanced the story because …
  • Your characters are believable and complex.

Plot

  • I could not put your story down after [plot event].
  • I did not expect [plot event] to happen.
  • When [plot event] happened, I felt …
  • I could not stop reading your story because …
  • [Scene] was written with intense suspense.
  • The pacing in [scene] kept the story moving and made me keep reading.
  • The way you wrote [scene], I could really imagine what was happening.
  • [Scene] was emotion-packed and made me feel [emotion].
  • I didn’t mean to read as much as I did, but I couldn’t put your story down.
  • Your story is written as a satisfying slow burn.

Setting

  • When you described [place], I felt like I was there.
  • The way you write it, I want to visit [place] because …
  • I enjoyed how you described [place] as [quote line or passage].
  • Your description of [place] was exactly how I picture it in my head because …
  • Your description of [place] is really fitting because …
  • I enjoyed how you used your description of [place] to foreshadow [plot event].
  • Your description of [place] made me see [place] differently because …

Worldbuilding

  • The way you developed [culture/group] really brought them to life.
  • The way you wrote [culture/group] made me think of them differently because …
  • The [worldbuilding element, e.g., government, religion, language, etc.] of [place] was completely believable.
  • I was fascinated by the way you wrote [worldbuilding element, e.g., government, religion, language, etc.].
  • The level of detail in your thinking about [worldbuilding element] is impressive.
  • You really expanded the worldbuilding of [culture, place, etc.] beyond the original canon.
  • Your worldbuilding of [worldbuilding element] made me think differently about [worldbuilding element].
  • Your worldbuilding of [worldbuilding element] was interesting to me because …

Theme

  • This story was a thoughtful exploration of [theme, e.g., coming of age, justice, good vs. evil, etc.].
  • The concept of [theme] was strongly conveyed when [plot
  • event].
  • This story presented a unique take on the theme of [theme] because …
  • Your presentation of [theme] in this story was [description, e.g., poignant, thought-provoking, intriguiging, etc.].
  • [Character] is central to your ideas about [theme] because …
  • The way you handled [theme] is complex and thoughtful because …

Style & Craft

  • Your writing makes me feel [emotion] because …
  • [Quote line or passage] This part of the story made me feel …
  • [Quote line or passage] I felt like this passage was effective because …
  • [Quote line or passage] This passage/line was beautiful and poetic writing.
  • [Quote line or passage] Because of the imagery here, I could imagine exactly what was happening in this passage.
  • [Quote line or passage] Your choice of words here is …
  • When you said, [quote line or passage], you made me feel …
  • Your dialogue is very [description, e.g., believable, witty, etc.].
  • You really captured [character]’s voice when …
  • [Quote line or passage] This passage is effective foreshadowing.
  • [Quote line or passage] This passage made me want to learn more about [character, event, worldbuilding element, etc.].
  • Your use of [literary element, e.g., metaphor, sensory detail, suspense, etc.] is well done.
  • You write beautiful descriptions.
  • The mood you create in [passage/scene] is really effective.

Canon, Fanon, and Head Canon

  • I’d never thought of [canon element] this way until your story.
  • You really made me stop and think about [canon].
  • Your story has changed how I think about [canon/fanon].
  • I enjoyed how you used [canon detail(s)] to write an original take on [character/scene].
  • Reading your story has made me want to learn more about [canon].
  • I learned a lot about [canon] as a result of reading your story.
  • Your story is a thought-provoking take on [canon/fanon].
  • Your story made me seek out other stories about [canon/fanon].
  • Your story has made me believe in [fanon/head canon].
  • Your head canon about [head canon] is …
  • Your level of research and knowledge about [canon] is impressive.
  • This story is an excellent example of [fanon/ship/kink/trope].

Emotional Reactions

  • I wanted to cry when …
  • I needed a box of tissues when …
  • I was so angry when …
  • I wanted to throw something at [character] when …
  • I laughed out loud when …
  • The way you wrote [character/scene] is hilarious.
  • I keep thinking about [character/scene] and cracking up.
  • I needed a beverage warning when …
  • The way you wrote [character/scene] is heartbreaking.
  • The love scene between [character] and [character] was super hot.
  • I wanted so badly for …
  • I was really happy when …
  • I felt relief when …
  • I was so surprised when …

Personal Comments

  • This story provided me with some much-needed distraction when …
  • This story gave me a lot of joy when I needed it because …
  • This story got me through a [personal event, e.g., boring workday, long flight, etc.].
  • The [emotion] in this story really resonated with me because …
  • [Plot point/Character] felt realistic to me because of my experience with …

General Comments

  • I frequently read and enjoy your stories.
  • I always look forward to seeing that you’ve posted a new story or update.
  • My favorite part of the story was when …
  • I’m looking forward to finding out if [prediction].
  • I think you’re an excellent author.
  • I can always count on you to write a story I know I’m going to like.
  • I have to stop reading now but I can’t wait to come back to this story tomorrow.
  • I read this story once and came back to reread it because I enjoyed it so much.
  • Thank you for sharing your story. I really enjoyed reading it.

(The last one is the little black dress of comments. Seriously, commenters–I see so much anxiety around commenting because the odd author here and there complains about specific comments. Most of us do not hold these views. We want to hear from you and are grateful if you’re willing to try to reach out to us.)

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5 Responses to “101 Comment Starters”

  1. Brooke says:

    I just want to highlight this one, Dawn:

    “I frequently read and enjoy your stories.”

    I’ve gotten comments like this, generally with the add on that the commenter is not a native English speaker and they’re sorry they can’t leave longer comments/more comments/whatever else – I swear, nothing makes me happier than knowing that somebody who isn’t a native English speaker (and for some of them, struggle with reading English and spent more time doing so than I spent writing the ficlet) wanted to read my stories! Read multiple stories! Decided this was what was worth spending their time on!

    If you’ve struggled through reading my stories and leave me a 10 word comment with an apology like you expect me to be angry on one story when you’re read 10 stories or 50 stories or whatever, I’m not going to be angry that you can’t leave a 200 word comment on every single story.

    ^Look, I’m just talking about previous comments like that, and I am all !. I promise I am equally ! at any similar real life comment.

    • Dawn says:

      That one is super important to me! I’ve had the experience, more times than I can recall (I had it happen just last week!), of interacting with someone who mentions that they’ve been reading (and enjoying!) my work for years. And I’m always glad that they’ve told me now, but I wonder what kept them from interacting with me previously, and I know that if we weren’t interacting in another context, then they probably would not have told me at all. Or I will post something related to improving commenting in Tolkien fandom, and I will get a message from someone who has been guilted into telling me that they’ve been reading me for years, but never reached out to tell me.

      I really can’t emphasize the power behind those few words. Barring serious language or mental health barriers, I really don’t think it’s a huge ask that someone who has been reading my work for years might say something to me about it? And yes, just those few words are huge. It’s an enormous compliment to know that, for years and years, a person has had the choice of thousands of fanworks and chose me. I can’t emphasize enough to readers how much that means to me, just those few words, without any elaboration beyond that.

  2. Spiced Wine says:

    I saw this on Tumblr, and hope it’ll be really helpful to some people.

    I do have one particular ESL comment, and has said things like they wish they had better English to comment and explain what they mean. I am so thrilled they would bother, and their written English is fine! I get embarrassed when people apologise for their English when I can’t speak more than a couple of words of any other language and certainly couldn’t write a sentence!

    I think anyone who struggles with commenting will find something here they can use :) Thank you, Dawn.

  3. Himring says:

    Thank you very much, Dawn!
    I would certain be very happy to receive any of these comments (especially if I should happen to be stuck writing a fic and in need of encouragement)!

    Maybe it goes without saying, but because it sort of came up in an earlier discussion, perhaps it is not entirely obvious:

    Quite a number of author’s complaints that occasionally leak out are actually about a slightly different situation, because they are about the recipient in a fic exchange. So, in this situation, the writer was trying to write a requested gift to specifications, maybe a little outside their comfort zone, and the recipient is a fellow writer in the exchange, who must know how much effort is involved.

    In that situation writers will expect a little more effort from the recipient as well. But probably no writer will have as high expectations of the comments of someone who just happened to read their story and will be very happy even with “the little black dress” of comments! And even for a fic exchange, your comment starters would serve well, especially if maybe one managed to combine two or three of them.

  4. Independence1776 says:

    Thank you for these! I’m out of the habit of commenting regularly, so I feel awkward commenting sometimes. These will definitely help.

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