Short Scene Critique: Love without Boundaries

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Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, these critiques will be posted twice a month for as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.

The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 600 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

New as of March 1, 2018: instead of first-pages, we asked authors to submit one of four types of scenes: an action scene, a sex scene, the black moment or the first meeting between protagonists. This opportunity was still limited to 400-800 words, but it provides both authors and those following these critiques with an opportunity to see editorial feedback deeper into a book.

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it.

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press freelance editor Heather Monroe. 

 

***

This was submitted by the author as a first meet scene.

Author A described this manuscript as a fantasy romance, where the heroine “starts a torrid love affair with a Scotsman called Craig. She’s drawn to him almost against her will, but she’s unable to resist because from the first time they meet, she starts having spontaneous memories of their past life together.”

***

 

“Good morning!”

Natalie sighed. She looked up from fixing the code, annoyed. She only had an hour before her boss got in. Nobody should be in the office yet.

The man who stood at the door gave her a jolt in the mid-section. He was grinning at her, but it was his eyes that caught her. They were not laughing.

She hastily locked her screen.

“Can I help you?”

His grin got broader.

“Yes please.”

His obvious flirt didn’t escape Natalie, but her hair stood on end.

“I have an appointment with Mr. Bell. I’m Craig Murray.” He grinned even wider.

“You’re far too early. He never gets in until nine 9. But you can sit there and wait. Coffee?

Natalie didn’t usually get coffee for men in the office, but she wanted to get away from him even for a few moments, and the coffee machine was in the hallway.

“How do you take it?”

“Hot, no sugar. Naked.”

His grin widened behind his reddish beard when Natalie abruptly turned to go out the door.

She got the coffee from the machine, and started back with the coffee in her shaking hand. Just before she reached the door, she felt faint.

She heard her own heartbeat just before going inside the crowded hall where she knew Harald was waiting with all the other warriors. They were ready to celebrate their conquest, this island in the middle of the Norse sea, and they were waiting for her to come perform the ceremony to consolidate their win.

Down on the beach, the conquered people of the island were gathered amid rising wind. She heard children cry, and the dark mutterings of men.

She swallowed, and entered the hall. Harald looked up from his central seat, and came to her.

“Zora! Come, I’ve been waiting. It’s time, the crowd is getting impatient. We need your special powers to subdue them!”

He bent to kiss her, and the fire between then leapt up like always.

“I’m ready, just a little drowsy. You gave me too much of your special drought. I can do what I need without it…”

Harald didn’t seem to hear. He took her arm, led her outside, and up to the dais where a cauldron had been set up ready for the ceremony.

Natalie came back to the office when her cup shattered on the floor.

She looked around. What was that?

Craig rushed outside, almost stepping on the broken pieces and knocking her out with the door.

“Are you okay?”

His grin was gone. He looked genuinely concerned when he took her arm.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Come, I’ll help you!”

Natalie tried to push him away, shaking her head.

Through and behind Craig she could still see the Norse hall, the burning torches, and the cauldron set up for her to perform her magic, with Craig’s – no, Harald’s arm firmly guiding her toward it.

Panic overtook her.

“It’s nothing, I just slipped. I’ll be back in a moment.”

She gave him a shove, and disappeared toward the door outside. She needed air.

 

***

The Critique

This premise is interesting to me.  I love a good flashback, and potential exists here to get two love stories for the price of one. The fictionalization of ancient Norse culture may lend an air of authenticity to the flashbacks, and it’s a time period not often explored in romance. at the start, I’m intrigued.

Questions arise for me almost immediately, however.  To begin with, I want to see more of Natalie in her modern day setting before the hero appears. She’s fixing code – why is she at what must be a front desk? Is she also a receptionist? Why does she need the hour before her boss arrives? Planting the hero in front of her so quickly doesn’t give me a moment to watch the action from her eyes. A few more sentences to inform the scene would help me achieve story entry.

As well, I’d like more description of the hero. Why does his appearance give Natalie a jolt in her midsection? He’s not physically described except for unlaughing eyes and his smile, which widens at least three times in this short scene.  By the end I’m imagining a crazy person grinning like a loon. I liked that he unsettles Natalie, and that she’s not immediately charmed. Given that I know their previous life relationship is fraught with conflict, it feels in keeping with that. Slowing this initial interaction down with exposition describing his physical appearance, aura, and the ways in which Natalie’s body responds to his presence would all be helpful.

The flashback scene does an excellent job of describing the past life’s world and laying groundwork for Harald and Zora’s tumultuous relationship. I wish I could have seen Natalie slip into the flashback/vision more clearly, though. A sentence or two to clue the reader in to what’s about to happen would ease a lot of confusion. I knew what was happening because I’ve read the synopsis, but the average reader may not have that advanced warning.

In the end, this first meet scene was too rushed for me. As an editor my recommendation would be for the author to go back and slow this down with descriptive exposition to flesh out the scene. I am intrigued by the premise but my questions and confusion get in the way of being able to enjoy the story.

Would I keep reading? Not much further if the next scene is as rushed as this.  Again, the potential is there; it just needs filling in.

 

Do you have questions about my feedback or the short scene critique program? Email generalinquiries@www.carinapress.com.

Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are closed this month.

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