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Love Scene Workshop … critiques by Mandy Schoen, Editor of Swoon Romance

Thursday, 14 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 … 

Mandy Schoen
It’s fitting to have Mandy‘s critiques up on Valentine‘s Day since she’s the senior acquisitions editor for Swoon Romance. She’s also the editor for my debut novel, LIBRARY JUMPERS. coming from Month9Books in February, 2014. She’s a tough and talented editor, so I’m excited for you all to learn from her critiques.
You can find her on Twitter: @Mandy_Schoen Editor @swoonromance (romance imprint) @month9books (YA and MG imprint). Lover of dogs and wallabies. Best friends with a Nook. 
 Swoon Romance Logo

Swoon Romance creates the kind of stories that make readers swoon. Our stories are full of second chances, forbidden love, sexy encounters, hidden feelings, happily ever afters and flirtatious firsts. It’s easy to get lost in one of our books. Go ahead . . . swoon.


Want to know what we want in a romance? We want to be dropped into a world, real or not, and feel like we’ve always known it was there, just around the corner of our imagination. We want to see relatable, flawed characters that surprise us with their depth and strength of heart. We want to feel everything the characters feel – every touch, every kiss, every look. And most of all, we want a story that takes our breath away, and makes us swoon.  We accept novellas ranging from sweet to steamy with adult scenes 20k-30K words. Please, no adult scenes in YA works. We also accept full-length category romance novels in any genre from 40-80k words. Please send your submissions to submissions@myswoonromance.com. Please send a query letter ONLY and if we are intrigued we will ask to read more. Please no attachments. 

Mandy’s critiques


GENRE: Historical YA


I drape my hands around Brent’s neck and pull his body close to mine on the dance floor, the LSD having erased my inhibitions. He smells faintly of soap and beer with a little sweat mixed in. The combination is intoxicating, leaving me lightheaded and dizzy. Pulling him closer, I kiss him hard on the mouth, tangling my hands in his hair. Love the last two sentences, and having trouble with the first two. The first sentence implies we already know she’s on LSD before this scene starts, so I’d avoid repeating that, and instead show the reader how it’s erasing her inhibitions. Also, I love that you’re utilizing scent descriptors – a great way to draw the reader into the scene – but these particular scents do not make me think intoxicating, which leaves me questioning the MC’s believability, and that draws me out of an otherwise interesting paragraph.

The urgency of our kiss is palpable as Brent pulls me even tighter to him, refusing to break our seal. He runs one hand slowly down my spine and with every inch of movement, my body ignites. Tiny jolts of electricity zap me from the inside.

Our sweaty bodies sway to the music as every part of us remains locked together. Fireworks explode overhead head as we kiss. Bang. Bang. The explosions rip through me, increasing my desire. You had me really enjoying the last two paragraphs up to the fireworks. Starting there, I begin to question the MC’s believability again because the descriptions begin to feel excessive (and I’m not getting the feeling that it’s due to the drugs). Believability is an issue because if the reader doesn’t trust the voice, it doesn’t matter how great the story otherwise is.

As I pull away, my breath is ragged and urgent. Flashes of red, blue, white, and yellow blur together above us, forming a line of animals marching across the sky. First bears, which morph into hippos.

Pointing up, I shout, “Look, hippos!” And it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I laugh so hard my stomach aches. Brent thinks it’s pretty funny, too, because he’s laughing right along with me. The lights and sounds swirlyaround, distorting my vision. The dancing bears overhead whisper” go for it,” so I lean into him, pressing my lips lightly to his. More softly this time. Questioning. Great!

He takes a step, pushing my back up against the railing and pressing his body into mine so tightly I can feel his heart racing. I want him so badly my entire body aches with desire. When he pulls away, I pull him back to me. I can’t bear to not have his skin and body pressing against mine.That’s hot. Your characters have great chemistry, and the writing is solid. Nicely done.
TITLE: Dear Katherine

GENRE: Science Fiction


I reached up to set the mug on the table by the couch.

Derek held onto the wrist of my other arm. “Stay.” Consider a more active word choice to replace “held.” For instance, grabbed, captured, or caught all evoke more powerful (and distinct) images that convey to the reader not only what is happening, but how the MC feels about the action. Word choice is important not only to paint the story for the reader, but to set the tone of the scene.

I sat back down and turned towards him. He pressed my fingers to his lips and I felt my heartbeat change rhythm. If I wanted to leave, this was my chance. Again, watch your word choice. Things are happening, but the words and descriptions do not evoke feeling, which is the difference between telling the reader what happened between two characters and drawing your reader into the love scene. For example, while it is surely true that your MC’s heartbeat changes rhythm, is there another way to say this that would make the reader’s heart beat faster in anticipation? (Also, watch “crutch” words like felt, which are unnecessary and place an extra layer of text between your reader and your story.) Love the last line of internalization here – it gives us so much information with so few words (drops a bite of tension and suspense by showing the reader Katherine thinks she should be hesitating).

I didn’t.

We kissed by the fire. Gently at first, but as the minutes passed, the intensity of the kisses started competing with the flames behind the grate. When my hand slid up the inside of Derek’s thigh, I felt him tense through his pants. Lips still locked together, I reached for the knot on the belt of his robe. He responded by peeling mine off my shoulder and kissing the path it had taken. Love this.

Then all of a sudden he pulled back and stopped my hands, which were still working on the tight knot.

He took a labored breath and exhaled slowly. “Katherine, are you here, with me, of your own free will?”

The solemnity of his tone denied any humor the question might have implied.

“I am. Are you dear Derek?”

A wide smile graced his lips. “I am.” 

He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer so quietly that I only caught the final words: “I give you my love, which is mine to give.” You give great dialogue (yep, I’m aware I’m nowhere near as funny as I think I am), but it does leave me wondering what Katherine thinks of Derek’s formality, especially considering the informal-ness of the moment. This may simply be the tone of the book (the excerpt is too short to know for certain), but I don’t think so. 

I had no opportunity to ask what he meant by this exchange. Truthfully, I didn’t care. He approached me as a starving man at a banquet. But I wasn’t being served–I was partaking the meal. Despite my hunger, I knew the current course would satisfy no one. And it would leave me with nothing but bruises. I was with this analogy up through the banquet, and then I got a bit lost. I suggest cutting the whole analogy as unnecessary and confusing, replacing it with a single line about how he approaches her, and calling it a paragraph. This will also quicken the pace, which can convey Katherine’s heightened excitement/anticipation that is hinted at by the first two lines. 

“Slow down,” I whispered in his ear. “It’s like swimming to the island. We want to get there, not drown.” LOVE this.

This whole piece has a good, solid voice, great dialogue (w/ the small caveat of my comment above), and I really got a sense of both characters and their chemistry, which (when coupled w/ romantic tension) is the foundation of a good love scene. 

GENRE: YA Contemporary


He peered up at me through tousled bangs. His smile turned complacent. “You liked it.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Keep dreaming, lover boy.” I swiveled so he couldn’t see my face. What is it about her face she doesn’t want him to see? Her smile? Her flushed cheeks? A detail like that will show the reader how your MC feels, which will help your reader connect w/ her.

I didn’t hear him move. One second I was sitting, the next I was scooped up and airborne. I squeaked–half laugh, half surprised squeal–as I landed and bounced against my mattress.

Max tugged his shirt up over his head and let it drop to the floor. He climbed into bed after me and I scooted back until I was seated cross-legged in the corner.

Whoa. Had somebody hit the fast-forward button? Yeah. Okay, I’ll admit. The neck nuzzling had been panty-dropping good, but what happened to playing it off as a gag? I blinked rapidly and tried to catch up. So far I’m not getting much of a sense of Max, which means I’m also not feeling the chemistry between these two. Consider dropping a physical descriptor to convey to the reader what Max is feeling/thinking. A well-placed detail about his expression or the way he moves, for instance, can show the reader if he’s feeling nervous or excited or confident or whatever.

“Is this a joke?”

“Am I laughing?”

No. Neither of us was laughing anymore.

“My mom—” 
“Won’t hear us if were quiet.” (Missing apostrophe.)

God help me, he was serious.

He wrapped his hands around my ankles and yanked me closer. I slid across the bed toward him, pulling the comforter in my wake.

His lips were back on my shoulder, up my neck, just below my ear. I gasped. It felt… electric. Max adjusted, kneeling with one leg to either side of me. My toes grazed his inner thigh. He moaned and grabbed my waist with both hands. His thumbs rubbed delicate circles into the bare skin between my shirttail and shorts. I tilted my chin back to give his mouth free reign. He nipped just under my jaw as a reward. I nearly came out of my skin. Wanting more? Less? That’s hot.

“If I want to stop?” I asked, voice thick.

He pulled back. “Do you?”

I licked my lips. Shook my head.

Good. Lord. That smile. Love that.

A few times during this piece your MC seems hesitant, but I’m not sure why. The why will draw the reader into the scene and help them connect w/ the MC, and it will also raise the tension. Also, watch uniformity of sentence structure. There is a decent amount of “subject did this, subject did that.” Switch it up a bit. Otherwise, I love the dynamic of this piece, and it makes me want to read the story before this, to find out more about these friends turned more-than-friends. 

Come back tomorrow for more love scene critiques!

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

Filed: Workshops

  • Schoen says:

    Thanks, Brenda, for hosting such a fun workshop and inviting me to play! All of the authors did a tremendous job with these scenes, and I have my fingers crossed they keep Swoon Romance in mind when they start shopping around. 😉

  • Patchi says:

    Mandy, your comments are so helpful! I’m glad you like my dialogue–I love writing it. Thanks Brenda for hosting such a great workshop.

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