Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Scene Crit 2--Critted

Once again, thank you to the author of the following piece. It takes a lot of courage to allow your work to be publicly critiqued; I hope you think my comments are helpful, as they are intended to be.

There are some technical issues with this piece, I won’t lie. In particular there seems to be an aversion to the use of the comma (which really is a very helpful little piece of punctuation) and some confusion regarding dialogue tags. I’m also seeing a lot of that same sentence structure we noticed in yesterday’s piece, the “Kicking the ball, he ran down the street” sort of construction which I dislike. It often feels sing-songy, which is an issue, but the biggest one is that this structure indicates simultaneous movement, even when the words themselves do not. An example I’ve seen used elsewhere is “Closing the door, she made a cup of coffee.” On the surface it sounds okay, but how did closing the door make a cup of coffee? How did she make coffee while closing the door? It’s simply not a polished sentence structure, and we’re all about polish here.

Now the writer indicated this piece is YA, which is why it’s more of a kissing scene than an actual sex scene. But that’s okay, because the emotions/conflict-as-physical-acts is the same, really.

Her heart started to beat faster as he brushed his lips against her neck then her lips. Slowly he pressed his lips against hers gently kissing her. Lips, lips, lips. Try to avoid using the same word so many times—it jumps out at the reader and makes the piece feel awkward. Also, when you say “slowly he pressed his lips against hers”, not only have you just told us that in the previous sentence, you’re also telling us that he’s gently kissing her. So in those first three sentences you’ve told us three times that he’s kissing her. I’d leave the first sentence—add some more tingles and stuff from her; she’s a teenager, is this her first kiss? How does it feel when his lips brush her neck?—and then skip the second entirely. When she responded with a slight "mmm" he parted her lips, brushing his tongue against her teeth until they also opened. He brushed his tongue against her teeth? This is the sort of thing I often see in books; to be frank, it sends a shiver of Yuck up my spine every time. Perhaps there are people who like this, in which case this is simply a quirk of mine, but in my opinion tongues do not belong in the crannies between my teeth or on my lips (I had a boyfriend once who insisted on running the tip of his tongue over my lips. God I hated that. He thought it was sexy. He was incorrect.) And he brushed his tongue against her teeth until they opened? If I picture this in my head, exactly as you’ve described it, the image I get is of his lips now an inch or so away from hers while he uses his tongue like a paintbrush over her teeth. Very Mr. Myagi. I get what you’re saying here, I do. And like I said, I’ve seen a LOT of erotic romance and romance where people use their tongues in this manner, so clearly there are some people who like it or whom it doesn’t bother. But if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you? Also, rather than telling us what sound she made, I’d just have her gasp or moan or make a small sound in her throat. It’s one of the few instances where telling is better than showing, because spelling out sound effects almost never works for me. Again, though, that’s just me. Pulling her body tighter against his, he explored her mouth. “Pulling her body tighter against his” is a bit telly (and there’s that structure again). How about something like, “His fingers dugs into her hips as he pulled her closer, pressing her against the solid heat of his body while he explored her mouth”? Or “He explored her mouth, slowly, carefully, and she pressed herself closer to him, desperate for more”? That sort of thing. Calloused hands pushed under her T-shirt trailing up her spine, feeling as though little arcs of electricity emitted from his fingertips. What exactly is feeling those little arcs of electricity? Because the subject of this sentence are those calloused hands. There should be a comma after t-shirt, as well; but the first half of the sentence is pretty good. Nice use of “calloused” to indicate not only what the hands are doing but what they feel like on her skin. Angling his body against hers he pushed himself against her. Did he push, or did he angle? And he’s already pulled her close, so we don’t really need this. I think what you’re trying to indicate here is the kiss is deepening, so say that. “The kiss deepened. His hips pressed against hers, impossibly close, so close she thought she might physically sink into him”, something like that? See how that moves us deeper into her POV and gives us a sense of the desperation she’s feeling? Jill pulled tightly at his shoulders as she felt the length of him hard against her stomach. She wanted him, so bad it she felt as if she was on fire. From the tips of her toes all the way to her mouth her body felt as if it would consume itself. The last sentence there is a tad awkward, but not bad. The others are the same (it’s all the “felt”s; try to reconstruct the sentences to get rid of those, because it puts the reader at a distance). I’m not crazy about “pulled tightly” at his shoulders; grasped his shoulders or clutched or clung to his shoulders/him might be a bit smoother. The imagery works fine, though. My only other concern is her wanting him, but that’s simply because I don’t know how sexually aware or experienced she is. I know from what you said that she’s an older teen, so this could work if there’s an indication elsewhere that she has some sexual experience, but I don’t generally think of virgins as wanting someone right off the bat. They’d be more likely to want more of what they’re feeling, do you know what I mean? Again, it depends on her level of experience, so it’s not necessarily wrong, I’m just mentioning it here because it’s a good place to bring it up, not because it necessarily has to do with this piece.

Jack knew this was dangerous but in the moment he didn't care, whatever the consequences they would be dealt with in time. POV switch! It's not badly done, but as this bit ends in her POV this switch is unecessary. I'm critting it anyway though. :-) Lose “in the moment”; you could say “at that moment” but you could just remove it. Also, something more like “If there were consequences he’d deal with them later.” This girl was so fragile she needed him and his protection. At least that’s what he would tell himself. Very nice. A bit of character, a sense of how much he wants her, how he sees her, what his feelings are. “At least that’s what he told himself” would probably work better tense-wise. Slipping his hand inside the cup of her bra, he lifted it up to expose hard nipples. Rubbing his thumb over them made Jill feel like she was going to fall, legs becoming jelly. Awkward POV switch! On a technical level the switch to Jack’s POV was okay, but this one doesn’t work. We also have that structure again. You have several options here; you could simply go with “He slipped his hand under the soft, satiny cup of her bra, almost moaning out loud when her hard nipple brushed his palm” or something like “He slid his hand around her ribcage, feeling her heart pounding beneath the soft skin, the delicate bones. All the way around, and up, easing their way under the band of her cotton bra and further up still, until he trapped her hard nipple between his fingers” or “under his palm”. Also, this is an excellent opportunity to really turn him on; what does he feel when he finds that hard nipple? How does she react, and how does he experience that reaction (an important point)? Does finding her hard nipple excite him, make him feel powerful? Proud? Is it the first confirmation he gets that she wants this too, and that’s tremendously exciting? Does he feel her shake, feel her gasp into his mouth (which would be written simply as “She gasped” or “Her gasp of surprised pleasure sent a shiver through him” or something similar)? In the next line he starts pulling up her shirt; what is he thinking? Is he thinking at all? Is he desperate to see her bare chest? All that should go here, when he feels her nipple; we should see from his reaction and POV that he wants to take this further. Is dying to take this further.

When Jack started to pull Jill's shirt up over her shoulders, an explosive bang came from the entryway. This isn’t bad, but I’m not crazy about sentences that start with “When” like this. How about “The explosion happened just as he started to pull up her shirt” or “He’d just started pulling her shirt up when the explosion happened/when something exploded/when the sound of an explosion reverberated through the corridor”? And whose POV is this in?

Jack jumped from Jill with so much speed she lost her balance falling backwards on to the hardwood floor. Jack jumped back from Jill, sending her tumbling to the hardwood floor. They both jumped. Jill fell backward, hitting the hardwood floor with a painful thud or with a thud that made Jack wince. Jack jumping like that, and her falling, and him not helping her up, makes him seem kind of jerky.

She turned to see Bob in the hallway with a mix of anger and fear on his face. POV Switch! I’d like a comma after hallway, too; then you can get rid of “with”. Also, what does that mix look like? Don’t tell us, show us; is Bob gripping the doorway with white knuckles? Are his eyes wide, his jaw set, his face red? Are his lips curled in a snarl or sneer? Is he staring at her in such a way that she feels small, dirty? Does his face look angry but the feeling she gets from him is pure fear? Does he look like he’s about to have a heart attack, with his open mouth and staring eyes?

Slowly shaking his head as if he was afraid for own safety he whispered "no hot water". Punctuation goes inside quotes. I don’t get the “hot water” thing but I assume it’s explained elsewhere. Shaking his head as if afraid for his own safety? What does that look like? Is he shaking his head in disbelief, putting his hands in front of him as if denying what he sees?

He took a step forward and breathed into the air "Master you must not." “Breathed into the air” is melodramatic and unnecessary. Comma needed after "air" and after "Master.” You don’t actually need a tag here at all: He took a step forward/He took a single step toward them/He moved as if to step forward, then stopped himself. “Master, you must not.”

Turning from Bob to Jack she saw utter confusion on his face, his eyes were dilated to reveal huge black pupils. Jill turned from Bob to Jack. His expression was utterly confused/Jack’s eyes were nothing but huge black pupils, hard against the whites/Jill turned from Bob to Jack. The utter confusion on his face, the stark black holes of his pupils, made her heart skip a beat/Jill turned to Jack, looking for some explanation, but the blackness of his eyes, so wide and confused in his face, stopped her cold. That sort of thing.

"I am so sorry, please excuse me," he said not looking at her as he disappeared down the hallway, Bob close behind. Commas needed if you’re going to keep this as is, but I don’t recommend it. We can make it much more descriptive and add some polish in a few ways: “…excuse me,” he said, but he didn’t look at her. What had she done wrong? She opened her mouth to ask, but he’d already left her, striding down the hallway with Bob at his heels/”…me.” He didn’t look at her as he spoke, didn’t look at her as he and Bob walked away, leaving her alone in more ways than one/”…me.” She tried to speak, to tell him he had nothing to apologize for, when she realized he wasn’t apologizing for the kiss. He was apologizing for walking away from her, leaving her alone on the floor with her heart pounding and her lips still tingling. Remember, they were having a pretty passionate moment there; she would still be feeling some kind of aftereffect of that, most likely, and it lends the scene cohesiveness to mention those aftereffects.

The bathroom door slammed with such force Jill was sure he would tear it from his hinges. …with such force Jill expected it to tear from its hinges. The door is the subject of this sentence, not Jack. She sat on the floor replaying what just happened when she heard someone approaching. Awkwardly she straightened her clothes as she stood up, turning to see Bob standing in the entryway. She sat on the floor, totally confused. What just happened? What had she done wrong? She shivered, and realized her shirt was still bunched up over her bra. Nice. At least she was alone, he wasn’t standing there watching… Except of course he was, right in the entryway, the disapproval in his gaze making her skin burn in a totally different way than it had a few minutes before. In Jack’s arms/The way Jack made it burn. Now that’s my voice, not yours, but you see the point. You can expand all of this. Let us see what she’s thinking. Let us feel her embarrassment, cringe with her when she realizes she’s showing this disapproving old guy her bra. It’s such a good contrast with the total lusty acceptance she got a few minutes before; use it to its full effect!

"Come I will take you to the guest room" he said with absolutely no emotion his voice or friendly demeanor. Punctuation belongs inside quotes, and this tag is awkward and unnecessary; you indicate his demeanor in the next sentence. He walked stiffly down the hall sneaking a peak peek at the bathroom as if it would explode any moment. Nice simile there. She couldn't figure out why he was angry so she quietly followed behind him. As a means of reassuring herself she rubbed the garnet ring on her left finger. It made her relax, the ring lulling her into a false sense of security. Also, you don’t really need to tell us here that she couldn’t figure out why he was angry, because you should have already shown us her confusion. Nice bit of business with the ring, but again, it can be streamlined: She followed him, rubbing the garnet ring on her left ring finger to reassure herself or rubbing the garnet ring on her left ring finger. Its smooth surface soothed her, lulled her into a false sense of security.

Bob scowled at her as he looked down towards the ring. "Don't," he pleaded. He scowled and pleaded? One or the other please. Bob looked down at her hands, saw her twisting the ring or Bob saw her twisting the ring. He scowled. “Don’t.” She hid her hands behind her back as she entered the guest room. Rich woods and bright colors filled the room. Nice bit of description; brief yet effective. Jill wondered if she was still in the same home as it felt like she suddenly she had been transported to a completely different location. “For a second she wondered if this was even the same house, the room was so warm and welcoming.” When she wonders if she’s still in the same house, we understand that that means she feels like she’d been transported to a completely different location. The closing of the door jarred her back to reality, what the hell had just happened? The bang of the door as it closed/slammed shut/The bang of the door slamming shut/The echoing thud of the door slamming shut brought her back to reality. What the hell had just happened?

As a few commenters have pointed out on Blogger and Livejournal both, there's plenty of interest and intrigue here. Who or what exactly is Jack? Why is Bob such a dick? Why is the ring comforting? Where are they? What kind of place is it, when an explosion causes such a blase sort of reaction? What was Jack apologizing for? So in that sense this is very successful; it simply needs some work on the technical aspects.

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