Short Scene Critique: [Erotic Romance]
Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, we’re going to post these critiques twice a month 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
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The Sex Scene
This was submitted by the author as a sex scene.
Author A described this manuscript as “an erotic romance with a “happily ever after” ending. It offers readers an escape into the life of leisure we all wish we could live, all the while Valentina’s emotional journey is something we can all relate to.”
Valentina sat up, pausing for a moment before pulling her top off and tossing it to the floor. She held her breath as he took in the view – the woman he loved, straddling his nearly naked body, now topless in front of him for the very first time. She was suddenly remembering every little flaw she saw in the mirror every morning – the pale stretch marks, the stubborn ten pounds she could never lose; surely, they were as obvious to him as they were to her. He leaned forward, running his hands over every curve, lightly scratching as they made their way up her back.
Blushing slightly, Valentina thanked him for the compliment. “This part is always scary for me.”
“You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,” he promised. Closing the space between, he pulled her in for another kiss. With both arms wrapped around her body, he twisted around until Valentina’s back was against the mattress. Hovering slightly above her, a serious look came over his face.
“Do you want to stop?” he asked.
Without hesitation, she shook her head. “No.”
“Tell me what you want,” he demanded, sending shivers down her spine.
I want your fingers.
As awfully as the other night ended, it started with some of her favorite foreplay. There were certain things fingers could do that other appendages just couldn’t. It was all about the woman – and it was always the more generous lovers that chose to please a woman when there wasn’t as much in it for them. Most men wanted something in return, an equal exchange. But Jonathan was different.
“Touch me like you did in the theater.”
He nestled in next to her, laying on his side, as they began kissing again. He slid one arm between Valentina and her pillow, holding her close to him as he slid a finger between her folds. As his tongue went deeper into her mouth, his finger slid deeper into her core. His movements were slow, building torturous tension with every stroke – something Valentina suspected he knew. He explored every part of her, coming back to all the little places that provoked reaction. Just as she enjoyed hearing his moan, hearing her gasps, sighs, and feminine whimpers left him breathless. He couldn’t wait to make her scream.
Her heart was pounding as he rubbed circles around her pearl – she was getting close, but didn’t want it to end. Not yet. As hard as it was to stop him, she knew there was more pleasure waiting for her – she just had to take it.
“Take off your boxers,” Valentina said between gasps. His pace was quickening; he was practically slamming into her now. It took all her strength to stop him, but she wanted more.
“Are you sure?” he asked, not wanting to risk another chance at being left on the doorstep.
“Yes, Jonathan, please,” she replied.
I’m practically begging.
“Whatever you want, my love.” He rolled onto his back, hooking his thumbs into the waistband of his underwear. Before he could get them off, Valentina was there to help, pulling them down his legs and flinging them across the room. Her excitement both amused and aroused him. “Get on top. I want you to feel completely in control.”
“Yes, sir,” she said with a wink. She climbed onto him, lowering herself down on his rock-hard erection. He filled every bit of space she had to offer. Using his legs to hold herself up, she threw her head back as her body adjusted to the man inside her. Her hips started to roll as Jonathan sat up, pushing himself even further into her.
Jonathan held Valentina close, kissing her all over as she was riding him; her neck, her shoulders, her nipples – he worshipped everything within reach. Finally, he found her lips once again. Fully embraced in each other’s arms, the rhythm of his hips matched hers. Totally in sync, the tension was building again, faster and more intense than before.
Every groan out of his throat pushed her closer to the edge; she was out of breath, flushed and hot, as Jonathan reached down to her pearl. The speed of his finger against her clit brought her to bliss within seconds. She buried her face into his neck, screaming his name.
“Oh, Jon- Jonathan!”
Every muscle in her body clenched, her tightening walls seducing Jonathan to come with her.
She could feel every movement as his throbbing shaft twitched and pulsed, emptying inside of her. He pulled her down with him as he collapsed back onto the bed, his arms still wrapped around her.
Minutes passed as they tried to catch their breath. Then, he had just one word to say: “Wow.”
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Entering into a story at a sex scene is never easy. Without the background of who these characters are or what has come before, I have little schema to help me understand why they have arrived at this particular moment. As such I can only critique what I see happening at this exact moment and am left to wonder about the rest.
The scene opens with Valentina’s action, and we get mostly her thoughts in the first paragraph. This means this section is intended to be from her perspective. It calls into question the phrase “the woman he loved …” that phrase sounds like we are in the hero’s head, looking out through his eyes, instead of viewing the scene through hers as we are intended to. A shift to phrasing like, “he took in the view – his eyes filled with love” changes the perspective back to Valentina.
The scene continues with her on his lap, him sitting up to embrace her, then shifting so that he’s over her and she’s now on her back. This was clearly done which isn’t always easy in sex scenes, but I’m with them here. Bonus points for the clear consent given, too.
Then there’s this abrupt philosophizing on how fingering is done solely for a woman’s pleasure. Not only is that objectively not true, it seems out of place when these two are in the process of making out. There’s this intriguing line of “as awfully as the other night had ended, it had started with some of her favorite foreplay.” Better to expand on/remind us how the first episode of this move went than to skitter off into the land of sexual generalities that might lose your reader.
The hand sliding behind her to hold her close should be differentiated from the hand doing the action, to avoid confusion.
I like that he’s taking his time, listening to her react, that they are enjoying themselves. But then we get another thought from his perspective: “He couldn’t wait to make her scream.” As a reader I’m confused by the jump in perspective. Consider, instead, having him SAY this line to her. Then we can stay in her head.
“Practically slamming into her” doesn’t sound pleasant at all. As she stops him in order to transition from foreplay to sex, we get his thoughts as he’s worried she’s going to stop him. This is at odds with his earlier request for consent, but I don’t have enough knowledge of the story to know if this is in character for him or not. I doubt it’s necessary to keep that line. They achieve penetration and have clinched sex. The word “pearl” in place of clit is iffy for me, personally, but that may be the author’s preferred choice. She does use clit a moment later, though, so that might be something to look at.
The “wow” at the end made me laugh. I’m not sure if that was intended or not. It’s something I’d let the author know about, so she can adjust if it wasn’t meant to be funny.
Would I keep reading? The synopsis says Valentina is a three-time divorce who decides to satiate the needs none of her husbands have been able to. But this scene reads very uncertain, almost virginal, with regards to her sexual behavior. The stress isn’t put on how excellent/different Jonathan is from her previous lovers, but on a single aspect of foreplay that she doesn’t get to be the boss of, which makes her sound naive at a minimum. He tells her to be on top so she can be in control, and she says, “yes, Sir!” thereby following a direction and not actually taking control. For me to keep reading, I’d need the author to spend some time showing us how this sex is getting Valentina what she truly wants, how she wants, and in a way that’s empowering to her. As it’s written, this sex isn’t sexy, and neither is this scene. There’s too much distance between us and what’s happening on the page. We get too much about fears and thoughts and potential miscommunications and not enough about how it feels.
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