Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayWelcome to another RPT! It’s been a while, but as you know, unless I have an intrepid volunteer, our online critique group is dead in the water. Fortunately, Theresa Newbury has stepped forward to offer the first 500 words of her WIP.

I need to offer a bit of a warning here. Normally, I try to keep the blog–in fact, my whole site!–at a PG13 rating. However, Theresa’s opener is pretty erotic. If you’re under 18, I have to ask you to click away now. Thanks. Trust me, my dears, there’s plenty of time later.

If you’d like to volunteer to take the Red Pencil Thursday hotseat, check out the details here.

Chastity Tames Lord Lust

This isn’t right! Where`s the tattooist? Where`s the stinging prick of his needles? Where`s the cold artist bench that is supposed to be pressed along my back? Why am I now on my stomach? And WHY am I using a hot, hard male for a body pillow?

Mia: First, let me share that I’m clueless when it comes to erotica. While it’s true I do write sizzling love scenes and my work has been labeled “erotic,” I’m always mystified by the designation because I write one man/one woman scenes. No one was more surprised than me when Touch of a Rogue was named Erotic Historical of 2012 by The Romance Reviewer. My goal for the love scenes in that book are the same for every other scene—advance the story or deepen the characters. Otherwise, I cut it.

That said, I don’t know the reader expectations for the erotica sub-genre and few things are more important.  So let me confine myself to observations about the writing itself. I like beginning in your heroine’s head, but there are a few too many questions stacked up. Try breaking it up like this:

This isn`t right! Where`s the tattooist? Chastity expected the stinging prick of needles and a cold artist’s bench pressed along her back. Instead she woke on her stomach. And WHY am I using a hard male for a body pillow?

This eliminates 3 question marks and introduces the heroine’s name.

Theresa: What genre to place my story has been my own big debate. It does have a strong erotic-like opening, but it quickly back peddles (next 250 words, which editing may bring much closer to the 500 range) into my more desired genre of fantasy/paranormal romance. Over all idea is modern virgin meets playboy demon, solve difference dilemmas and live HEA.  I am leaning towards his realm/world being along the historical type setting, which I so love in my own readings. I see major portion of the book covering the conflict of emotions, lifestyles and building of bonds (finding hidden factors behind his playboy image) over any jumping into bed. Chastity will continue to seriously fight the sexual lure due to virginity and her own disgust of playboys/cheaters/bums.

Yes, I like your rephrasing! The question marks also struck me as overwhelming.

Mia: Whoa! If this is not erotica, you have started your story in the wrong place. The first 500 words sets the tone for the whole book and lets readers know what sort of story they are in for. You must begin as you mean to continue. And it it absolutely essential that you know where your book should be shelved in the bookstores. If they can’t shelve it, they can’t sell it. While there are a number of cross-overs, you need to decide what sort of story you’re writing and stick to it.

“Well, hello there, Little one.” A purring male rumble interrupted the confused voice in Chastity`s head. “Welcome to the party.”

Mia: Capitalize “One.”

Theresa: Got it.

“Party?” The words slipped out, as she lifted her vision from the smattering of fine hairs curling on a glistening, copper background. NICE BODY. Chastity’s brow furrowed as she ignored the inner voice and met the golden, half-hooded gaze of the male she was draped over.

“It is starting to feel like a party.” This time the rumble was followed by a soft chuckle that Chastity felt vibrate down her front since they were in such intimate proximity.

Mia: You can’t lift your vision. You can only lift your gaze or your eyes. If NICE BODY is Chastity’s internal dialogue it needs to be italicized.  Watch your use of modifiers. Remember what Carina Press editor, Angela James says: “Not every noun deserves an adjective.” ‘Golden, half-hooded’ feels a little excessive for gaze.

Also, you don’t need to tell us Chastity felt something. We’re in her POV. We’ll follow her. Try this:

This time the rumble was followed by a soft chuckle that vibrated down Chastity’s front.

Theresa: Very nice tips. This being my very first attempt at transporting my personal entertainment (fantasies/voices) into book format made the RPT/dive into your public bath a Godsend. It gives me strong points to watch for as I continue, thus hopefully cutting out many edits that I would have otherwise faced or been rejected for.

Yes, the capitalized NICE BODY should have been italicized. It was a “DOH!” moment that I too caught at a later time.

Mia: First, let me commend you for sitting down and going for your dream. So many people tell me they want to write a book. What they really want is to have written a book. They aren’t willing to put in the work to learn the craft of storytelling. So kudos to you, m’dear. And please remember, not every manuscript is meant to sell. I still have a sad little western which richly deserves the obscurity it enjoys with the dust bunnies under my bed. But I’m glad I wrote it. It was my “training wheels” manuscript and I learned a lot from it.

“Party…” Chastity muttered. Yes, she was sounding dim-witted, but her brain was having trouble processing the information that it was receiving.

Mia: I kind of want her to panic a bit here. Obviously, she wasn’t expecting to find herself in this situation. The strongest hook a writer can set is an emotional one. What is Chastity feeling? Give me a reason to care about what’s happening to her.

Theresa: Yes, I see that I could work on this more.

“No fair! I was going there!” A high-pitched, feminine whine broke into their odd conversation. Glancing to her right, Chastity flinched at the sight of a naked, white breast bobbing only inches away from her surprised eyes. The owner of the unknown boob was shifting and twisting forward so that the she could lower her parted lips to cover the mouth of the man who had welcomed Chastity.

Mia: Whenever you can, eliminate “helping” verbs. Change “was shifting and twisting” to “shifted and twisted.” It’s stronger.

Theresa: Okay, ing’s to ed’s where possible.

The distracted intent on that females face told Chastity this was not where the screech had come from. Chastity allowed her eyes to drift away from the red-head that now had a severe lip lock on the unknown male.

Mia: Not sure what ‘distracted intent’ means. Remember the Writer’s Prime Directive: First, be clear.

“Allowed her eyes to drift away” is too wordy. Things are happening quickly. Your prose needs to move too. Just “Chastity looked away…” will do.

Theresa: Lustful intent? Maybe? Working on that, lol.

Too wordy and keeping sentences and prose in timing with what is happening in the story are tips that I discovered in studying your previous RPT’s after I had sent my 500 words to you.  I am finding those previous blogs very helpful!

Mia: I’m so glad Red Pencil Thursday has helped you. In case there are any other writers who’d like to take a peek at past RPTs, here’s a link:

Oh, my! Nice package! The sometimes slutty voice in her head spoke again. The discovery was made when a hand covered Chastity’s left buttocks and gave it a shove, thus grinding her pelvis into the aroused male parts directly below.

Mia: There are a lot of body parts in this scene and we haven’t had a chance to care about the characters they belong to yet. If this is part of erotica reader expectations, ignore this comment, but I want to know whose hand is on my heroine’s bum. And so does she!

Was Chastity drugged? If so, I think we should hear her “slutty voice” wondering about that earlier. BTW, “slutty voice” is kinda cute and something we can all relate to if we’re honest.

Theresa: The female characters are more or less part of the scenery/setting to indicate my heroe’s nature… which leads me to the thought that maybe the whiny voice needs to say, ““No fair! I was going there! Asmone, make her move!” To introduce heroe’s name in first 500 words. One female (possible others) will show back up as an antagonist, but not important enough (imo) at this scene for further information to be necessary.

No, Chastity isn’t drugged, just befuddled and slow to react due to confusion. I need to clarify that in edit.

“What the …?” Chastity shot upwards and forward. She stopped when she was straddling the man’s waist instead of parts she truly didn’t want to be in contact with. Eliminating the unwanted, overly personal contact, Chastity took a look to her left to find the unexplained hand and complaint.

Mia: This feels like too little too late. If, as her name implies, she is a virgin, I think she’d be struggling with her situation sooner. I get that you want to show she’s conflicted. Part of her is enjoying this and part of her is rebelling against it. Let’s see more of that.

Theresa: Amplify emotions/tie in as I go. (Makes another note)

I see that finding the proper balance between being too wordy, “white space”, being clear and descriptive is going to be a fine line to walk. (heavy sigh)

Mia: And yet if it was easy, anyone could do it. Practice, practice, practice…   

Chastity’s eyes widened at the discovery of another naked person. This one was a voluptuous, young woman of African blood. This newly discovered female couldn’t be the owner of the whiny voice or the hand that had now moved up to Chastity’s waist and was still trying to push her out of the way. This was derived from seeing that dark beauty had one arm behind the occupied male’s head, her tongue shoved into his ear and her other hand was currently grasping and fondling her own cocoa colored breast. Glimpsing the males own hand between dark thighs, had Chastity blushing and quickly looking away.

Mia: Your language is a bit clinical in places. “This was derived” leaped out at me as unnecessary. Start that sentence with “That dark beauty…”

We’ve got lots of nameless people and plenty of “insert tab A into slot B” sensual activity. But I’m looking for meaning, for connections. What is going on here? Has Chastity decided to explore this sybaritic world? Is she there against her will? Is there another character in this scene who will be important to the story? The answers to those questions are the meat of your story. Remember it’s always about the relationships, even in erotica.

Theresa: I think I have clarified some of these questions with my previous responses to your comments. As for the “Meat of the story”, that is where I am going. I am trying to put enough tantalizing bait on my hook to make the reader ask questions, want to find out who, what, and why? I want them to want more, read more! Have I missed my mark and only confused the reader?

Mia: My concern is that if you start like this and don’t deliver erotica, you will have bait and switched your readers. If this is a fantasy/paranormal, you need to set that tone from the get-go. I suggest you read Sherrilyn Kenyon to study how she balances those elements in her stories.

Theresa’s bio:

Theresa NewburyI am a single mom in south Georgia, who has only survived the forty-six years of insanity we call real life, by being an avid reader. Many nights falling asleep with a book in my hand or my own fairy tale playing through my brain in the dark of my room. Currently raising my three teens, biting and clawing my way through life on minimum wage salary and, of course, balancing it all with the wonderful escape found in a marvelous book.

Find Theresa at:

Thanks for volunteering, Theresa. You’ve helped other writers today. The point of RPT is always to think in new directions about our work and I hope you’ve been given a few new ideas.

Now it’s YOUR turn to offer your insights. What suggestions, comments, encouragements do you have for Theresa?

4 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Theresa N. says:


    I want to thank you for letting me have this chance to get the feedback and wonderful tips! Your follow up comments have given me much to think. Many new sticky notes going up as reminders. *winks*

    A flashing of ‘scantily clad’ has been flashing in my brain since reading your comments. I am wondering where such wording was during the first write of this scene, lol.

    I do enjoy Sherrilyn Kenyon’s books and I have several on my keep shelf. Yes, I will review those for guidance on how to tone it all.

    Marcy, Hi!

    Thanks for the comments. I have been debating flipping scenes a bit and sliding in more information on the tattoo and/or reasons for the tattoo. This chance to see things from others POV is so helpful! Thanks for your input.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Theresa, you have such a beautiful, teachable spirit. It’s going to serve you well as you continue your writing journey.

  2. Marcy W says:

    Theresa, I applaud your courage in writing (especially considering that your life is plenty busy already) and in aiming at what sounds like a cross-genre paranormal/erotica story. I can tell that there’s an unusual set of characters and plotline lurking in your brain and begging to be set free. However, I agree with Mia’s comments about deciding on a genre and beginning with an appropriate scene. I think I see where you’re wanting to go with this, but it’s confusing, muddled … if I read this while standing in the bookstore, I’m afraid I’d put it back on the shelf — as it is now. It’s not the erotica that puts me off, it’s that I don’t know any of the people involved, the setting isn’t clear at all (how did she get there!?), and you’ve given me no clues as to where this story is going.
    The first two or three chapters in any book are the hardest to get right, IMO, and also the most important. What if you started a little sooner in time? Chastity (and the name might be a little too obvious or cute or something) is at the tattoo parlor, having decided, for some interesting reason, to get a tattoo … this gives you some room for a bit of backstory and introduction to our heroine. Then can come the sudden, presumably magical, change of scene — and her reactions will further our knowledge of her and why we care about her. Right now, I just don’t know enough about Chastity to care how she got into this odd position or what her reaction is.
    Good luck … and do keep at it! :)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for your insights, Marcy! Good idea about backing up the truck a bit. If you go by the Hero’s Journey, the first part of any story is the protagonist’s Ordinary World. Granted, we aren’t allowed to wallow there very long, but unless we know where the character has been, it’s hard to appreciate the “special world” of the story.

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