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Love Scene Workshop … critiques by Jennifer Malone

Monday, 18 February 2013  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Over the next few weeks, some really special friends of mine are stopping by to critique participants’ love scenes. Please join us and find out what’s working and what’s not with our lucky winners’ scenes. 

And here’s something about my next guest … 

My Photo

Jennifer is a contemporary middle grade and YA writer with a love of juvenile pop culture (if it was an ABC Family Movie, she probably could quote it).  
She also teaches in the Film program at Boston University, drawing on her experiences as former New England Head of Publicity and Promotions for 20th Century Fox and Miramax Films. She’s represented by Holly Root of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.

Jennifer is such a talented writer and editor. She recently started an editorial service with affordable rates. She takes her mad editing skills and her compassion for fellow writers to help you get your work polished. Check out her editorial services here.

Jennifer’s critiques

TITLE: Good Criminal Heart

GENRE: YA GLBT Contemporary


I folded my arms across my chest.  “You interest me, that’s all.”

Same grin, same expression on his face. This may have come in an earlier line not shown here, but what is the expression on his face.  Cocky? Bemused? Same irritating spark in his eyes.  Nice! He cocked his head to the side and finally let me in.  We weaved through the apartment complex and, when we finally got to his room, I settled into his computer chair.  He stared at me, that smile still wide on his face. Love a cocky boy!! 

“Stop it,” I shifted in my seat.  This wasn’t normal for me, I didn’t do this. Not sure we need both lines.  I get that it’s part of his voice, but I’m a little on the fence at the repeat of information, particularly when your action is also showing us this in yet another way. I certainly didn’t know what to do when someone actually wanted me around.  His happiness slighted me, boiled me to the core.  He made me feel disjointed. Feel is a filter word in this sentence- it takes us out of the action a bit. 

He shook his head.  His smile turned sideways love this even if I can’t quite picture it, and his eyes flickered to mine.  “No,” he said, as he slid over my lap Huh?  I can’t picture where he is in the bedroom.  Is he sitting next to him, reaching across him for the door?  From where? How does he react to having this boys hands brushing across his thighs?. Is the boy asking no or saying no here? If he’s saying no, what is in reaction to? A movement of the main character?  His fingers reached for the door, and he locked it.  I cocked because you use “cocked” a few sentences above, I’d find another action verb for here.an eyebrow.  His hands ran through my hair, settling at the nape of my neck.  His lips traveled down towards my shirt collar before he took my shirt off. Main character goes from crossed arms and being uncomfortable with the boy’s attention to being shirtless pretty quickly!  It came out of the blue for me a little, but that may be entirely intentional on your part. 

“So that’s a yes?”  he asked, his real question that was straining our whole relationship… or whatever this was.  Not relationship, no.  Not until I say yes.

I shuddered as he reached towards my belt.  “Of course, it’s a yes.”   There was no saying no, not with how turned on I was. I don’t know that I was getting “seriously turned on” from this scene.  I think we might need to hear a little more of that in his feelings and physical reaction as the boy looks him over, runs his hands through his hair, etc. 

He smirked.  He had won, and he knew it.  He owned me in a way no one else ever had, and part of me was okay with that.  The other part of me became okay with that as he kissed my stomach, moving himself ever so slowly down.  I never thought I would have a favorite chair, but apparently, his computer chair was it.  It was my favoritist chair in the whole freaking world. The voice in this last sentence seemed a little off to me, in that it didn’t quite match with the voice in the rest of the section.

Nicely done!  Most of my comments are more related to style/grammar versus substance.  For instance, you have a lot of sentences starting with either “He” or “I” and I think rearranging the sentence structure a little to add variety would enhance this section. It’s really hard to get a full sense of a story from such a small section, but I was a little unsure of how to feel about the boy in this scene. In the earlier paragraphs MC describes the boy’s happiness disjointing him and I liked the guy for being so happy to just have him there. But that quickly turned in another direction when MC was being pressured/bribed to do more than he was ready for with the promise of a relationship on the line. Boy’s smirk made it seem like getting MC to agree to sex was a game to him. Obviously, didn’t like him so much for that.  This may be entirely intentional on your part, but I was having a hard time being happy for MC in that chair because I wasn’t so thrilled with the love interest.  But I do think the chair thing is steamy! Good luck with this!

TITLE: The Wishing Tree

GENRE: YA magical realism


“So, I hear you’re going to the Fireman’s Ball with theDuke…” If Duke the person’s title, no need to capitalize The.  Unless, perhaps, The Duke is a nickname of a character- not sure.J 

“Yeah, I guess.” My stomach was one giant, hard knot of guilt this is okay, but a tiny bit cliché- is there a different analogy that would be more unique to the character?. Ethan’s shadowed features were utterly still. Had he been working up the courage to ask me to the dance despite our talk on my birthday? “I mean, I dunno…”

I waited. Every cell in my body collided. Nice. I love moments where the external action is quiet and the internal is anything but. 

“I took the catering job. I need the money,” he said,as if he were having a hard time breathing, too. “I was hoping to admire you from afar, Liv.” Ahhh, love the tension of this and his vulnerability. 

My heart lurched. “Of course. Well, at least I’ll see you there.”

Ethan took a few strokes I’m picture him rowing crew hereJ Maybe “strides”?away from the dock, did a one-eighty, and rushed toward me, pinning me against the side. The side of the dock?  Do docks have sides? I thought the side of the dock was the water! Are they standing on the dock or next to it? 

I let out a little sigh. He wrapped one hand around my upper body, tangling his fingers in my dark, wet curls. My body shuddered and then his mouth was on mine.  Nice! 

Ethan was kissing me. Ethan was kissing me! Cute voice! 

He tasted of childhood dreams and bittersweet anticipation. Lovely. I closed my eyes and felt my fear and yearning begin to dissolve. Then he pulled back, my mouth still burning from his kiss, as imaginary fever blisters bubbled across my lips. Hmm. Something about lip blisters doesn’t read “sexy” to me.

 Ethan dropped his hands to his sides and began treading water, his expression obscured by the new moon.  Okay, NOW I get it. They are IN the water, not standing next to the dock.  I’m sure that was made clear in the text that precedes this scene.  In that case, I might take issue with him “rushing” back to her, as he does above. Seems difficult to do in water. Maybe a verb more akin to a water motion? 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, shyly.

“Nothing’s wrong. It was right. Too right.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have––I can’t do this.” Ethan kissed me on the temple, like a brother would. Sigh. “Save me a dance.”

He took my stunned silence as agreement and his lanky form disappeared into the waters of night. Below the surface, I saw a pale flash. A ghost, a sprite, an echo.

A reminder that even perfect moments weren’t built to last. Great tension in this scene and beautifully written.  And now that I know it’s in the water, that’s even sexier! I would be reading on for sure!

TITLE: Shattered Choices

GENRE: YA Light Sci-fi Romance


As I watched the water ebb and flow across the lake, I felt Jason’s fingers graze my jaw. In this sentence “I watched” and “I felt” are both examples of filter words, taking us out of the immediate action.  It removes us one degree from the main character because we’re being narrated to through this filter instead of experiencing the action as her. I turned to face him and he leaned over for a kiss. His mouth worked against mine “worked” doesn’t seem like much fun! and with every second, the rush of yearning (seemed to) another filter word  step over itself to reach a new high. My fingers wound their way through his hair, under his shirt, and across his back. Oh, his skin felt so smooth. The “oh” by itself makes this character sounds a little old-fashioned.  I think most teens today would say “Oh god” or “Damn” in this instance. 

He grabbed at his sweater and the shirt beneath it and yanked them up over his head. My hands moved more freely now, not constricted by fabric. His pulled at my shirt until that too lay on the dashboard in a wad of cloth. sexy He withdrew his lips from mine and how did that make her FEEL?  We’re getting lots of physical action here, but I also want more of the emotional action.  and climbed into the backseat. I gripped his outstretched arm for support as I maneuvered over the center console and easily slid beneath him.

“Wait,” I breathed in a whisper. I wanted this. I did. But there was a tiny part of me still unsure.

“Don’t worry,” he said between kisses winding up and down my neck.

But I did. I did worry. “I just don’t think we’ve known each other long enough to be doing this.”

“Then let me get to know you more. Physically.” Hmm. Ick.Cheesy. Which may be how you’re characterizing the character, in which case, it worked! His lips moved to my shoulders as his fingers caressed my waist.

My bodily desires a little stilted, doesn’t match teen voice stayed in the moment as my mind put up a fight.

He’d never given me a reason to distrust him before.

As Jason’s lips moved below my shoulder, my mind began siding with my body. It’s my turn to be loved and wanted.

I tried to tell him to keep going, but only a sigh left my mouth. His fingers inched down my stomach and worked at unfastening my jean’s button. It’s my turn. 

I like the push pull of her body and mind wrestling one another- this is definitely something a YA audience can relate well to. I think adding more of her internal reactions during the make-out scenes could help us really feel how her body is responding to him, so we’re also caught up in the battle she has between reason and sensation.  I do think the subject matter is a great one to explore!

I mentioned filter words a few times in this critique and the first. I have a lovely CP who delights (maybe too much!) in pointing them out in my own writing and she has written a great post about how to spot them and get them out of your mss: http://www.writeforapples.com/2011/07/filter-words.html

Come back tomorrow for more love scene critiques

Comments welcome! As always, be respectful and kind with your comments.

Filed: Workshops

One Comment
  • Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for your critique! I’m currently editing this ms, so this will help. 🙂 Yes, I want the guy to seem kinda shady, so I’m glad you thought he was cheesy. 🙂

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