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 Mackenzie Walton.
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The First Page
This was submitted by the author as a first meet scene.
Author A described this manuscript as contemporary romance where fantasy becomes reality when the hero and heroine meet on a Caribbean island.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola Island 6 a.m.
When Landon Covington’s plane landed on Tortola at five in the morning by a two-engine island hopper, he’d been too antsy to stay put at his half-constructed hotel. Instead, he opted for delaying the chaos by going snorkeling, where a nearby aquarium had spilled a portion of its content into his private lagoon.
Thirty minutes after sunrise, a perfect light filtered in for his under-water camera.
Long, tanned legs moved among the bountiful tropical fish. He adjusted the lens.
What the fuck…is she doing on my private property? Looking like that.
He’d never expected to start his day by ‘peeping’ at a stark-naked beauty. Shoulder-length hair, a deep auburn, winged from her high cheek-bones. The hair color—he couldn’t help but notice—a perfect color-match to the small triangle trimmed to look like an arrow pointing to the apex of her thighs. So…a true redhead.
Slinking to his knees, he pressed the camera hard against his face. Mesmerized, he continued to watch as she bobbed above the water surface, inhaled a lung-full of air, and swam downward to the coral-lined, sandy bottom.
Speaking of bottoms, her curved butt rated as the best he’d seen in a painfully long time. His jaw tightened. He wanted to sculpt his front hard against her curved back, lock his splayed hands on those shapely hips, and pump her like no tomorrow.
Naughty, on both their parts, but he was too intrigued to stop his voyeuristic journey.
She swam free, except for an emerald stone embedded in a gold chain circled around her left ankle. Arching his eyebrows—even that hard smooth bone turned him on. And how many beautiful ankles had he examined in the past? Plenty.
Simultaneously, he fought the guilt about his spying and taking pictures without permission, against not wanting to stop the incredible fire surrounding his dick. He wanted more.
Fuck, yeah. A lot more.
Suddenly, a mass of bubbles obstructed his view.
Heated gazes locked…
She mouthed, ‘You bastard!’ and pointed a finger at him.
The camera dropped to the sandy floor.
A devilish smile slashed her lips and excitement washed across blue-green eyes, their brilliant turquoise shade complimenting the Caribbean Sea.
A pulse vibrated deep in his chest and his cock strained inside his swim trunks. Electrical arcs sizzled through the water. Chemistry. Now what?
Landon stepped out of his hiding place.
Sliding his mask up to his forehead, he stared into sea-glass irises hoping to read a sign of how to proceed. This new situation amused him, more than when women directed his action from a bed.
In the next moment, she pushed against his chest and squirmed from his grasp leaving an empty space between them.
As quick as a real nymph, she propelled out of the water. Not wanting to let her just vanish, he followed close behind.
A flash of nude body disappeared as she slipped into her T-shirt she had left puddled in the sand.
Using both hands, she combed back her hair. “I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone,” she stated breathless. “You surprised me in there.”
Intense need surged through his shaft as he dropped to his knees. His face leaned forward straight into the apex of her thighs. His cock pulsed in tempo with his heartbeats.
“I liked it better when we were in the water,” he whispered into the material.
“Is this something you do, always take command of a woman like this?” she whispered, pressing the back of his head, settling his face into her.
Sweet Jesus. He looked up, “I’d say you’re the one with all the control.”
Releasing the pent up breath, he leaned back and stilled his motions. His nostrils flared. What the hell was he thinking? He had to stop before it was too late.
Still on his knees, both hands now resting on the front of her strong thighs, his fingertips touched the hem of her shirt. It wouldn’t take much to sweep it up and off.
The nymph gripped his wrists. “I can’t do this…for so many reasons. Sorry.”
“Is this what you would call an introduction to a one-night-stand?” he murmured, his way of wanting more later.
She grinned and pulled away.
After slipping into her cut-offs, she picked up the camera. No photo connected her boldness to her facial identity. He wasn’t planning on starting an Instagram account.
“I can delete the pictures.” He sounded hellishly contrite.
Staring with that ultimate blue-green glare, she handed over his camera undisturbed, “No. Keep them if you want.”
Then she disappeared over a dune. The resonance of a scooter sounded in the distance. With his feet set in emotional quicksand, he stood alone, bathed by a pink morning light.
Feeling cheated was interesting indeed.
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It’s autumn where I am, but I can always get in the mood for a sexy, beach-y romance. So as I started reading this and realized it was set on a Caribbean island, I was immediately excited to be whisked away to a gorgeous paradise. But I was let down a bit by the lack of scene-building in this sample. We don’t know much about this private lagoon other than there’s coral, sand, tropical fish, and a nude woman, which dominates most of the description. We don’t even know where/how Landon is hiding from the woman—at first I thought he was just crouching down in the water and hoping she wouldn’t spot him.
Speaking of which, a man hiding so he can surreptitiously take pictures of a naked stranger…it’s not the strongest way to introduce a hero. Everyone has different lines in the sand when it comes to consent, and I don’t want to debate what may or may not be a foreseeable risk of skinny-dipping in a secluded lagoon at dawn. But the image of the hero hiding so he can snap some pics, even acknowledging that he feels guilty but is doing it anyway—there’s something that could be read as lecherous about the picture being presented.
Add to the fact that at some point she’s in his arms and pushes to get away from him—it’s unclear when or how he ends up holding her—and that in the end he feels cheated when she doesn’t sleep with him immediately, and I don’t know if this is a guy I like, let alone want to root for. To be clear, I don’t think this is the intent of the author at all; it can be really difficult to figure out the right lust balance in a steamy scene.
The author uses a lot of evocative language in this scene—I really liked the phrase “emotional quicksand” to describe how Landon’s so overwrought that he freezes—but I’d suggest prioritizing practical concerns over style. There’s a lot about the blocking that’s unclear, like how the heroine manages to suddenly sneak up on Landon, what the mass of bubbles indicate, whether she wades back into the water fully-clothed to pick the camera off the sandy bottom of the lagoon, and so forth. Make sure the action is conveyed properly, as you envision it, then go back and pretty it up with some poetic turns of phrase.
Would I keep reading? I’d continue a little longer to see if the hero evens out a bit.
Do you have questions about my feedback or the Short Scene Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email email@example.com.
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