Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give 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 800 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!
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically to be critiqued on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions for this purpose. We’re not going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it, so no need to worry about that!
This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Mackenzie Walton.
This was submitted by the author as an opening scene.
Author A described this manuscript as a fantasy romance featuring a heroine “of a certain age.”
“You cheating, Bastard!”
Chelsi Burnett stared at the well-endowed, scantily clad, woman wearing…well, sort of wearing, a sexy red and green elf costume.
Golf tees, score cards, and a pair of red lace thongs were strewn across Daniel Wright’s mahogany desk. The director of food and beverage at Redfield Country Club had been caught.
Her pace quickened as she stormed through the office. The thud of her kitchen clogs echoed across her fiancés plush, carpeted floor.
The lap dancer ungracefully removed herself from Daniel’s lap, exposing the family jewels. She picked up the cloth napkin from his desk and wiped her chocolate-and-whipped-cream-covered breasts, tossing the soiled linen on his lap. At the hemline of her costume, she aligned both halves of the zipper. Casting him one final look, she zipped it closed…major boobage still exposed. Placing her high-heeled shoe seductively on Daniel’s thigh she smoothed her above-the-knee, candy-cane striped hose. After one final adjustment of the girls, she plucked her green elf hat off Daniel’s head.
“Next time, lover-boy, lock the door,” she said, and sashayed out of his office.
Daniel snagged the napkin from his lap. Lowering his head, he wiped off the chocolate dessert smeared on his face. He bent at the waist and grasped his impetuously dropped drawers. In one swift motion, he pulled them up, gingerly zipping his fly.
“But Chelsi, it’s not what it looks like!” he pleaded. “The guys in the pro shop sent me a…um…a Candy-Cane Gram.”
Every muscle in her body began to quiver. “Okay Casanova, let me guess. Your pants were down around your ankles and there was a half-naked woman, wearing an elf costume, straddling your lap. Your fire hose was doing what…pray tell? Putting out the fire in her vagina?”
She clenched her fists until they hurt.
“It’s exactly what it looked like!”
In the dead of winter, a hot flash took over Chelsi like her own personal summer. Sweat trickled down her forehead collecting in the band of her baseball cap.
“Not now!” she screamed, to herself.
In a frenzied search of Daniel’s desk, she picked up a golf score card. Seeking relief from the unwelcomed sweat-fest, she wildly fanned her face, praying it wouldn’t last long.
Partially hidden under the discarded panties sat a business card. With one finger, she carefully maneuvered it away from said undies and snatched it up. Eyes fixed, Chelsi stared at Daniel over the rim of her glasses. Teeth marks were embedded into the card. On one side was a heart fashioned from two connected candy-canes. The other, ‘Candy-Girl’ and a phone number were printed in bold green letters. The letter ‘A’ was omitted, an elf hat, in its place. She was positive the girl was not looking for catering advice.
With the aid of a golf tee she stabbed at the panties, then flicked them at Daniel.
Protecting himself from the airborne object, he ducked, swatting the evidence away.
Chelsi pointed to the half-eaten slice of chocolate truffle cheesecake.
“That’s my signature dessert. I baked it yesterday!” Enraged, she removed her diamond ring, held it in the air, then, shook it in his face.
“Strike three. You’re out! Not only are you single again, I want you out of my apartment, tonight!”
He swallowed hard, stunned at the scene unfolding before him. “I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me over this! If it’s a menopause thing, you seriously need to see a lady doctor to get meds to control these outbursts. Can we at least talk about it?”
Using clipped words, she said, “Not. A. Chance!”
I’m of two minds when it comes to opening a romance with the protagonist walking in on a cheating partner. Some will say that it’s cliche and overdone, and that’s certainly true. But cliches become cliches for a reason—opening with a scene like this is a great way to immediately create sympathy for Chelsi, as well as to start the book off with a bang. How she reacts to the situation also gives us some clues to her personality—So give it some thought before going in this direction, but it’s certainly not entirely off the table.
Here the author does a good job of sharing some key information right away: these two work together, which is inevitably going to complicate the breakup; Chelsi is a baker; and Chelsi also seems to be going through menopause, which makes her even more sympathetic. If anything can make this situation more terrible, it’s having to pause in the middle of it to deal with a hot flash while a jerk snarks about it.
Despite this being a scene designed to throw the reader into the thick of things, though, it actually moves a little slowly in places, particularly when the elf and Daniel are cleaning up and straightening their clothes. I’d suggest not getting too bogged down in the exact blocking—the motions Daniel goes through to pull up his pants are not as important as the overall feeling of the scene and the emotions Chelsi is going through.
I also ended up being a little confused by the elf. How does Chelsi know she’s a lap dancer? Is she a candy-gram person who got carried away, or a sex worker? (The business card is actually inconclusive on this point.) And why did she leave her thong behind when it was in plain view on the desk? Underwear isn’t cheap! But what I do appreciate is that the author doesn’t turn Chelsi’s scorn toward the elf, who for all we know had no idea Daniel was in a relationship. Ultimately, the elf is not the creator of this little nightmare, and I’m relieved that it’s recognized.
There are some typos and grammar mistakes throughout, though do know that no Carina editor is going to reject a great story because the book isn’t completely error-free. But I do always suggest a thorough read-through to clean up whatever issues you can spot, and to make sure there are no problems with clarity. For example, it’s not one-hundred percent clear whether there’s one thong or two on the desk. Having two would potentially add some more color to Daniel’s character!
Would I keep reading? Yes, I’d want to see where this goes.
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