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Saturday, April 21

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Scene Show a Strong Bond Between the Couple?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

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Submissions currently in the queue: One


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through April 28.

This week’s questions:

1. Does this scene successfully convey a playful, sexual connection without actually describing the act?

2. Does this scene show a strong bond between the couple?

3. The beach is a strong theme throughout the novel. Is it used effectively here?

4. Would you read on?


Market/Genre: Adult fiction (Please note: This snippet contains a non-graphic sex scene)

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: This scene is part of chapter 4. In the preceding chapters, Kate (the main character) has started a new job in a beach location and in her excitement of building a new life is missing foreshadowed clues that all is not well in her new workplace. As the novel progresses her mental health, along with her relationships, suffer at the hands of a workplace bully and inadequate management. The purpose of this scene is to highlight the pre-injury strength of her connection to her husband.

Luca scanned the beach. “How true is the saying about not swimming straight after a meal?”

“Let’s find out,” said Kate. She stood and ran to the ocean, lifting her t-shirt over her head and dropping it at the shoreline. The waves rushed to meet her, throwing her off balance as they receded. She swayed and would have stumbled had Luca not swept her into his arms. Cradling her against his chest, he carried her across the shallows. When he was waist high in the water he lowered her, holding her steady with one hand while she slid slowly down his naked body. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he pulled her closer, holding her so tightly that their hearts pulsed together as one. The waves swirled around them as she gasped for breath and lifted her head towards him. He bent to meet her lips.

His lips were soft like velvet sending tingles throughout her body. His hands slid down her back as she wrapped her legs around his waist. The next wave tugged at her, pulling her away from Luca but he drew her back, holding her as they rocked with each new wave. Safe in his arms she let go of his neck and lay back in the ocean. And then a new set rolled in lurching Kate sideways. Luca’s grip tightened keeping Kate connected. They rolled together, lost in each other, riding the crest of the next wave and held each other as it took them into the shore.

Kate clung to Luca. She leant her head on his chest, his heart beating as he wrapped his arms around her. The sun, still warm though it was low in the sky, caressed her skin.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Luca scanned the beach. “How true is the saying about not swimming straight after a meal?”

“Let’s find out,” said Kate. She stood and ran to the ocean, lifting her t-shirt over her head and dropping it at the shoreline. The waves rushed to meet her, throwing her off balance as they receded [‘rushed to meet her’ seems to set up her being off balance, so the last 3 words conflict with that – I’d remove these and allow the force of rushing waves to remain]. She swayed and would have stumbled had Luca not swept her into his arms. Cradling her against his chest, he carried her across the shallows [across infers standing water and confuses the direction – they are going deeper – why not indicate he carries her into the oncoming waves. This also feels too passive to be associated with passion. Carrying her into deeper water, into waves, is a show of strength and control – take advantage of that – show her excitement]. When he was waist high in the water he lowered her [to where? or did he simply release her legs, so she’s now standing before him?], holding her steady with one hand while she slid slowly down his naked body [it would help to clarify if she is also naked – could be done by: slid her naked body down his…]. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he pulled her closer, holding her so tightly that their hearts pulsed together as one. The waves swirled around them as she gasped for breath and lifted her head towards him. He bent [they are in a tight embrace, her arms about his neck – this posture usually means both heads are very close together, even cheek-to-cheek, with no ‘lifting’ or ‘bending’ necessary to navigate for a kiss] to meet her lips.

His lips were soft like velvet sending
[EX: The touch of his soft lips sent] tingles throughout her body. His hands slid down her back as she wrapped her legs around his waist [opportunity here to match this movement with the swell of a wave]. The next wave tugged at her, pulling her away from Luca but he Luca drew her back, holding her as they rocked with each new wave. Safe in his arms she let go of his neck and lay back in the ocean. And then a new set rolled in lurching Kate sideways. Luca’s grip tightened keeping Kate connected. They rolled together [are they still upright? This infers they are horizontal…perhaps they are spinning?], lost in each other, riding the crest of the next wave and held each other as it took them into the shore [difficult to imagine how large a wave could carry them both to shore without tumbling].

Kate clung to Luca [I need to know where they are here – back on the beach?]. She leant lay her head on his chest, his heart beating [we certainly hope so!] as he wrapped his arms around her. The sun, still warm though it was low in the sky, caressed [this use, though common enough, is impossible…you could show that the sun was low in the sky, but still warmed her skin, if this is important to retain] her skin.

The questions:

1. Does this scene successfully convey a playful, sexual connection without actually describing the act?

The playfulness is established in the ‘dare’ and Kate running for the surf, while stripping her top off. Continuing the scene, Luca is revealed as being naked, but not Kate – are we to assume she is?

The scene, to me, is relatively passive and so much could be done with language to convey the fun, excitement, or mild risk involved. I would push into the environment more, showing it as an extension/expansion of the original playful challenge.

Stronger language doesn’t have to describe ‘the act’, but it can describe the actions the challenge brings about. The waves rush to meet her, drawing her into their embrace, excited for her to come play in them. Language can give the ‘medium’ (the ocean) in a stronger fantasy feel, becoming more than just waves, becoming a real part of the play and sexual engagement.

Readers will notice rhythmical timing, the water represented with words that convey sensuality: undulating, heaving, surge/surging, rippling, plucked at her, pulled, teased, swells – the power of the water is then related to the power of their coupling. Go for the mental hot spot words and phrases that shove readers into the passion of the scene.

All this description is to keep the more practical readers from thinking about things like sand in the water, jellyfish, sharks…kidding.

(Here’s more on conveying emotions)

2. Does this scene show a strong bond between the couple?

Yes. The seem to share a level of views on breaking or ignoring ‘rules’ and possibly traditions. They seem share a love of beaches and the ocean, and picnics. They are both spontaneous. They both seem fit (making love amid ocean waves takes some degree of fitness and, probably, experience with one another, sexually). There seems to be shared love and trust.

Their bond can only be inferred by their actions, as there are no verbal exchanges on which to base the strength of their bond.

(Here’s more on writing emotionally strong characters)

3. The beach is a strong theme throughout the novel. Is it used effectively here?

I would say: yes. In terms of showing that the beach is a place of combined relaxation and pleasure – a ‘safe’ place to share common joys/enjoyments. If the beach is the focal point of say, meeting, falling in love, wedding, loving, tragedy, reflection after tragedy, sparking renewal, etc., then this scene is just one of many that take place on/at a beach.

It’s also possible that setting various scenes at or near the beach will force the story to be played out in locations along various seashores. This could support sub-themes of fishing families, yachting, recreation/entertainment areas, or raw/rough terrain, among others. Or perhaps character story lines originate at beachfronts and they bound to their origins, always drawn back to this source.

(Here’s more on writing evocative prose)

4. Would you read on?

Probably (readers chime in). At this point in the book, I would assume I know enough about Kate and Luca so that this scene is either expected or anticipated. My mind would wonder how long the ‘good’ will last, and which character will break the perfection first. We will probably have some hints already, which might be straightforward, or could be ruses that will make me fall on my face, speculation-wise.

What I’m meaning here is that this scene has no conflict of any sort – I will read on to find or follow up on conflict(s), either this couple’s or those of some other character(s). This short scene could represent this couple re-discovering their love and their original fun-loving companionship – or they could be new lovers and conflict hasn’t reared its ugly head yet – or this could be their first encounter after steamy flirtations and a few glasses of wine with lunch has made them bold. Lots of options – so, conflict could be lying in wait, is being ignored, or is out of their control, like an earthquake.

(Here’s more on writing with emotional layers)

I feel all readers ‘read on’ because they enjoy the mental and emotional stimuli of the elements of dramatic events, the relief of resolution, and either ending satisfaction from a happy-ending story or healthy dissatisfaction from a purposefully agitating story.

So, do Kate and Luca have their first fight in Chapter 5? :o)

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

About the Critiquer

Maria D’Marco is an editor with 20+ years experience. She specializes in developmental editing, and loves the process of wading through the raw, passionate words of a first draft. Currently based in Kansas City, she flirts with the idea of going mobile, pursuing her own writing and love of photography, while maintaining her fulfilling work with authors.

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3 comments:

  1. Powerful stuff, certainly. You use the ocean well, to show their passion and the casual trust behind it.

    You might think about breaking the paragraphs up a bit more. Kate speaking and maybe starting to run forward should probably be separated from what she runs into. More than that, big paragraphs are harder to read; they crowd their points together and give the reader fewer breaks to notice milestones or summaries. This scene is actually one of the better uses for them (experiencing a flood of description, that's even meant to be chaotic), but look how you isolate the paragraph where they're drifting to shore afterward. Do you want any other divisions in there to emphasize stages and changes? The moment Luca catches up to Kate? When she wraps around him and the "actual sex" begins? (Though putting that shift in mid-paragraph heightens the sense that it's *all* intense.) Do you want a one-line paragraph in the middle to spotlight one point? Paragraph splits are always worth some thought.

    Like Maria said, there's no conflict in this section. It might be that this is chosen to be a moment of total peace between other scenes, but I think you're missing some chance to keep showing your characters' natures here. Kate and Luca seem perfectly in tune here, when there could be a sense of who's more aggressive, or some doubt or difference that needs an instant to fall away in the moment. Just the faintest touches here can keep on showing us who these people are, and how their moment of peace isn't the same as another happy couple's would be.

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  2. First, let me say I don't read romantic fiction, so perhaps this is typical of this genre, and my critique is a gut reaction.
    But, honestly, this read like one big cliche to me. I didn't feel the passion or playfulness others did. It just seemed "hokey". His velvet lips,the pounding heartbeats, cradling head, safe in his arms,etc.
    I think Maria is correct in that drawing a parallel to the ocean and their passion and lovemaking would be "different" and have more power. I didn't even feel when they actually came together in the act...didn't feel distinctive....had to search for when that happened.
    The classic scene from Here to Eternity is etched in history because of the crashing waves washing over them as they made love on the beach. It's the original "hot beach scene" and that passion seems to be missing here.
    I would say to try again to match the power and majesty of the ocean's movement to their coming together. You're very close and I think a little polishing could make that happen.

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  3. My only concern is the anatomical physics. Even in mid-July the water temperature is cool enough to decrease the man's ability to be up *cough* to the task. Not knowing where they are, I question how they are able to find a secluded spot in the height of tourist season. Other than that, I do like dynamic between Kate and Luca.

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