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Feedback on this scene would be gratefully appreciated...

I wonder if I could call upon the kindness and wisdom of the Townhouse again, and ask for some feedback on the attached extract from a scene I'm currently working on?

It's around 2000 words long and taken from the latter half of a later chapter of 'The Perfection Engine', a work-in-progress fantasy novel (I posted a first draft of the first chapter for critique a while ago and got lots of hugely valuable feedback - thank you!).

For information, it is a sex scene. Though hopefully a little more than just a sex scene.

The scene serves at least three purposes in the book.

First, it's a hopefully tender, loving and revealing stage in the developing relationship between my two main characters (who start as wary strangers and have become friends, comrades in arms and finally lovers).

Secondly, it shows a rare 'dark night of the soul' moment for Membra, my main protagonist, where we see her reveal her usually hidden self-doubting side rather than the over-achieving, capable and resolute survivor that she usually shows to the outside world.

Thirdly, and most importantly perhaps, it's the moment when the overall theme and context of the book is stated most openly; Custos's story is directly taken from the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi and the art of kintsugi (I hope I'm not guilty of cultural appropriation in using these so directly) and the whole book, really, is an exploration into the wider application of these concepts. 

I'd really value peoples' thoughts on the scene in general, of course. As well as any 'technical' issues with the writing... does it work? Does it seem truthful? Does it reveal something about the characters and their relationship? Is it too much? Too little?

Additionally, given that Membra is my viewpoint character throughout the book and I want to avoid any unconscious lapse into the 'male gaze' trope, I'd also really value any insight from a female perspective. Does it feel as if it's experienced by Membra rather than 'told' from the writer's own (male) perspective? Does Membra have enough agency? Does it ring true?

I'd really like to avoid being a contender for the unofficial 'Bad Sex Awards' of 2020 (since, looking at the list of past winners of the real awards, I don't think I'm a good enough writer to be in with a chance of being entered into those!). 😂 

Be honest. Brutal if you need to be. Thanks so much for any thoughts or advice!

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Replies (26)
  • Hi Jon, 

    Thanks for sharing your scene. Disclaimer, sex crops up regularly in my writing as I always find that with sex scenes it's never about sex. I agree with you that a sex scene is a powerful way to highly a power dynamic, or to express how people truly feel about themselves or each other. First, I love the kintsugi parallel/imagery I found it very powerful and it works really well in that scene.

    You writing and your prose is evocative, based the previous extract you've shared and I like an evocative prose. I don't know if it is because you are self-conscious about avoiding the male gaze but the whole scene came across as rather over-written for me. I think you can tighten it and parr it down as a whole. 

    I found Custos' tale powerful however I don't think you need his detailed explanation about  how it relates to Membra, as a reader we know what it means and alluding that it's how he sees her would be more powerful. My tutor used to tell me to RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain).

    Regarding the sex scene itself, for me it's too much about the mechanics of who does what and how the other responds. Following Custos' tale I am expecting a sex scene where Membra is accepting herself through the act or still wrestling with her feelings and for those to be reflected in the scene but as the scene unfolds I never find myself in her head, I don't know if the act is an act of acceptance, redemption, an inner wrestling, an abandonment. So my suggestion would be to worry less about the mechanics of the act and get her into Membra's head. Also I would reassess some of the language used. Others might find differently but some of it came across as a bit cringeworthy for  me such as "quiver of delight", "she growled", or "pleasure point".

    I think  you have a good base here and now it needs some thorough editing and getting deeper into the MC's head.

    I hope this helps.

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    • Hi Laure, and thanks so much for the feedback. As always, it's really valuable and insightful.

      Completely agree on stripping back the 'explanation'. 'RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain)' - I love that! I've written it in Sharpie and blu-tack'd it to the wall above by writing area, along with several other useful 'rules'. :). 

      Re-reading the piece again in the cold light of day, you're absolutely right about the focus on the 'mechanics', and your point about using the scene much more as a window into Membra's soul at this point in her journey is well-taken and I'll re-write it with that very much in mind. It may be that I need to have a think and clarify for myself exactly what this scene means to her very specifically.

      Good call on the cliched and/or 'cringeworthy' language, which has articulated concerns I already had ('pleasure point' was actually a particular worry!). It is difficult to describe the specifics without it sounding like a biology lesson! 😄 All the more reason to move from 'mechanics' to 'soul'.

      Thanks so much for the kind words and the useful pointers as to how I can improve. Both much appreciated!

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      • No worries, RUE was a quite a revelation for me too! Still use it all the time as I can easily lapse into over-explaining. This scene has so much potential and I'm sure you'll edit it into something great!

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        • Thank you! That means a lot! 😊 

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        • Jon, I've just done a first read of your extract and I can confidently say that it won't be accepted for the unofficial Bad Sex Awards. LOL

          You wrote a wonderful piece full of deep meaning and humanity, From a female prespective, Membra's feelings & fears are accurately depicted. I think that every woman on the face of the earth, has, at some point at least, worried about not being beautiful enough or attractive enough to a lover. Our society values beauty & perfection above all else and this extract shows other values. Well done!

          Custos is depicted as a perfect lover, "Not imposing his own feelings onto the moment, but giving her the space to fill with what she wanted." I think all women dream of having a partner like that. Well done!

          I also liked this "It was the look. She saw it in their eyes, and they saw that she saw it. And it came between them." It gives backstory and context to Membras's relationship with Custos. A good example of saying important things with simple words. Well done!

          I find some paragraphs are a bit overwritten and could be tweaked. There is also an excess of adverbs ending in --ly. Some of them can be cut without loosing meaning. But the most important thing is that you are a very capable storyteller and have a great story. Editing can sort the little naggs & nit-picks.

          Keep at it!

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          • Thank you, Donna. Phew! What a relief! 😁 .

            Thank you so much for the kind words, and I'm happy that what I was trying to convey worked for you. As Laure has also suggested, I shall edit this to try and strip away the over-writing (always an issue for me!) and refine it further. But at least I can do that now with the reassurance that the underlying scene is kind of working!

            Again, thanks for your feedback!

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          • I liked it very much, especially the story of the broken bowls and how they got into the discussion. One thing that surprised me was what she called him ‘old man’ like public school boys of a certain era. Was he old, or has this some other relevance?

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            • Thank you, Georgina. I'm pleased that Custos's story did what I'd hoped it would for you.

              Re: the 'old man'... yes, without surrounding context it might sound a bit odd (although I confess the old-fashioned public school slang aspect hadn't occurred to me until now!). 😄 

              There is actually a gap of about a dozen or so years in their ages - Membra is in her mid-thirties and Custos would be approaching his late forties - and by this point in the book they have established a slightly wry, teasing way of speaking to each other based on mutual love and affection, in the way that two people do who are very close.

              So Membra's 'old man', in that context, is a shared joke (as is the self-deprecating reference to her 'winning personality'). This mutual teasing and the bantering tone is a feature of their dialogue through most of the book.

              The reason for the difference in their ages is a (perhaps not very subtle) hint that Membra, having never had a 'real' father, and having lost her surrogate father, Steeltooth, in traumatic circumstances, may well have unconsciously sought out  and found in Custos a man who to an extent embodies some 'fatherly' aspects, not in any sense in an unhealthy way but as the answer to a deep need that her independence would never allow her to admit but is there all the same.

              The need for, and loss/lack of, father and mother figures (the latter personified by Evaldi, another important character) chimes in the background all through Membra's journey in the book, hopefully not too blatantly but there if it's noticed.

              So hopefully in the context of the whole book, the reference will make more sense! 🙂 

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            •  Jon, I agree with the others re. it being slightly overwritten, needing paring down to sharpen the focus, getting more in the protag's head, adverbs, clichéd phrasing.

              Apart from that there are a few bits which confuse me or jar slightly. Just taking the opening section: 

              "Does it bother you?"

              Membra rolled herself onto her side and looked at Custos as he glanced up from the book he was reading. He looked back at her quizzically.

              "What?" he asked.

              Too many looks. I would trim to something like:

              Membra rolled herself onto her side and looked [how does she look? - I'd change this for a stronger verb which helps convey how she's feeling] at Custos.

              "What?" He glanced up from his book.


              Membra did not answer. Instead, she manoeuvred herself onto her back again and stared down at herself. Every sweat-dampened crease in the coarse silk beneath her was a maddening niggle of discomfort. The night was sweltering and both she and Custos were lying on top of the bedclothes to make the most of the breeze from the open window.

              Cut first sentence – we know this from the lack of her dialogue – or if you want to highlight it I’d just go for ‘Silence’. ‘Manoeuvred’ seems wrong here. I don’t know how her injuries have left her body exactly, but I’m imagining the getting onto her side from her back is harder than the reverse movement so I’d imagine the two verbs reversed too? ‘Coarse silk’ seems to be a contradiction to me – isn’t silk soft? It makes me pause and distracts instead of drawing me in to the scene. I might trim the last sentence. We know it’s hot because of the previous ‘sweat-dampened’ reference, perhaps just reference the breeze from the open window?

              This is very close editing, I know, but I think it would improve things massively if you went through and checked what is actually needed/repeated/already inferred etc.

              I won’t carry on with the rest in such detail, but a few things which jumped out as confusing/jarring are:

              subtle whorls of fine down > women's hair doesn't usualy 'whorl', it's not long enough

              planes and angles of her body > seems too blunt for a body, a body is usually made of curves

              overuse of 'would' in the seers section

              the descriptions of the other lovers are a bit too clichéd - skinny thief, burly smith, mouse-like scrivener, sea-captain with a husky laugh... Make it a bit more surprising, shake it up a bit so they're not stereotypes

              Custos rolled himself to face her. > I had pictured them with him on his back and her curled into his side, on her side. So the movement of him coming to face her, especially taking her disabilities into account, would be more complicated than a simple roll, wouldn't it? Now I'm taken out of the scene because I'm confused as to what I'm seeing

              fingertips carefully tracing the contours and creases of each and every scar > I can't picture the scars - can you draw a picture for me? what shapes do they paint? they seem to be important

              She arched her back...in anticipation. > cliché, I would rethink the whole sentence trying to rid myself of the standard ways of describing this

              His cheeks were damp with sweat, or tears, she could not tell.  > this surprised me, is he crying too? I thought only she was. Would he be crying? He sounds very solid to me

              and their tongues gently entwined > really? sounds like they have really long tongues to be able to intertwine them!

              quiver of delight / wild little cry almost like a sob / crescendoing rhythm and the ecstasy / coarse tangle of his chest hair / she shivered with pleasure> clichéd phrases, I’d rethink and rewrite with freshness

              planes of her hips and buttocks > do you mean 'plains'? Planes seems too flat again for a body description

              growled / pleasure point > ditto what L said

              Felt him slip inside her. > this doesn't ring true for me, without going into too much detail (ha, ha) I think the verb makes it too easy

              He was as shaggy as a bear and smelled of soap and recent sweat, musky, male. > apart from being very clichéd, I can't believe the dual soap/sweat smell - it's either one or the other, isn't it? clean sweat doesn't really smell much

              I hope some of this helps. I’m aware of sounding overly negative – there are phrases and turns I like too but I figured it’s the jarring bits that are more helpful. And I should say that I’ve never tackled a sex scene (writing MG/YA) and imagine it to be quite complex, especially from the opposite sex’s POV.

              Good luck with revising ;-)

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              • Hi Sarita, and thanks so much for the detailed feedback and the excellent suggestions. I shall keep them in mind in the edit.

                I'll certainly re-visit some of the verbs that describe Membra's movements - her acquired techniques for moving herself around post-injury are different enough that's  it is actually surprisingly difficult to meaningfully convey exactly how she moves without going into so much detail that it wrecks the focus of the scene. Using just the right verb is the key, I think, but that obviously didn't happen here!

                'Coarse silk' is actually a thing - perhaps 'raw' would have been better, but not quite as tactile a word!

                'Whorl' too, in retrospect, doesn't quite convey what I was after, which was those quite complex growth patterns that even the finest body hair exhibits.

                'Planes and angles' was trying to give an impression of Membra's physicality without falling into the trap of describing her with an outsider's eye. In fact, she is rather thin, lean and muscular in build... 'rangy' would have described her before her injuries. She was, in her back-story and when younger, 'sometimes mistaken for a boy'. So definitely not 'curvy'! 

                Point taken on the cliched nature of her previous lovers! To be honest I hadn't spotted that until you mentioned it, but you're absolutely right. 😔 

                Ditto on all the other examples you mention... oh dear! I'd always hoped that I wasn't a prisoner of cliche... but it seems I am, more than I realise. Oh well! Back to the drawing board and an edit with a cold-eyed active avoidance of my own inbuilt preconceptions rather than simply letting the visuals and the cliches flow!

                Thanks so much for the invaluable feedback. Really, really useful! 

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                • Jon, I think it's natural to reach for the clichéd phrases/descriptions because we're so overwhelmed by them (hence the reason they're classed as clichés). Harry Bingham does a good job about talking about this aspect in one of his videos ('Clichés...and how to kill them') and I think the thing to do (rather than feel down or irritated with yourself about them) is to not worry too much in the first draft and then go back and (if you're focusing specifically on ridding your writing of them) highlight all the clichés and review them with a fresh eye, think about what you're actually describing and come up with more novel ways of doing it. One of my 'edits' in fact is a 'cliché edit' which comes in the same list as the 'strong verb edit' and the 'sensory imagery edit'. I actually like these edits, it's the structural one I hate!

                  Good luck with the revision process.

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                  • Thank you again!  

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                  • Jon,

                    I found your scene to be credible and coherent and would agree with previous comments that it could be tightened up with the removal of a few words here and there. 

                    Could I suggest a 'less is more' approach to both the dialogue and description with the hope of capturing the uncertainty and self-consciousness of Membra that you are revealing in the piece. Bring a bit of hesitancy to the exchange. At the minute it appears she is a bit wary and Custos just takes over. Is there any uncertainty on his part?

                    I like the bowl story but again like others have said, you could perhaps trust the reader more to make the connection to Membra, as she undoubtedly did herself. 

                    As for the sex scene, i prefer the 'less is more' approach to this also in my own writing and trust the reader to add the details. I would agree with others that the term 'pleasure point' should be removed. Somethings are best left elusive.

                    All the best on this merry adventure


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                    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Stephen. I think you're absolutely right in what you say about the dialogue as it stands. One of the things I need to show better, perhaps, is the level of familiarity and comfort they have with each other. Part of that will come from the preceding chapters and a fuller context, but I don't think I've succeeded in quite capturing ther respective thoughts and feelings here. Completely agree with what you, and others, have suggested about 'less is more'! Thanks again! 

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                    • Hi Jon

                      Sorry if I'm coming to this quite late. I'm new to Townhouse and am still finding my way around. 

                      Thanks for sharing this with us. I enjoyed getting to know Custos and Membra and found a lot of the scene absorbing and evocative. In particular it was great to find out about the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. What a great principle for life and a wonderful theme for a book. 

                      It's the first extract from your book I've read so I'm coming to the party late, and knew nothing of the characters or their world. I guess most of the heavy lifting on Membra and Custos has been done by now as it's late in the novel. I still felt more detail on them, particularly Membra, would have benefited the scene, especially its context in the overall story arc. It felt as if she was facing a crisis of confidence in whatever task she is facing which connects to the doubts she expresses - I could be wrong. I wanted to know a little more specifically what her lack of confidence is about. Aging? She seems to have had the same problems with all her lovers, presumably going back for years. Her scars? Are they recent or also going back for years? Is her personality very severe, inhibited, introverted - in what way does it put off lovers? I know she wouldn't be sure which is why she leans to Custos for support, but a little more indication of this in her dialogue or memories would help. She doesn't fully come alive for me.

                      I have to say I'm not a big fan of sex scenes, it's largely a matter of taste. But the description here is rather long, and falls into cliches at times:: "a quiver of delight", "muscled hardness", she "felt him slip inside her". I felt if would have worked better at half the length and with less florid language. 

                      I'm sure you've done most of the heavy lifting on the world by this stage, but I would have liked some more details in this scene. It doesn't always feel like a fantasy novel. I don't mean it should be cluttered with weird names or freaky objects or customs, but a few more clues as to what is distinctive and different about this universe would have helped my experience it in a richer way.

                      I hope all this helps. There' s some lovely writing in here and Membra feels like the kind of heroine I'd like to read more about. Looking forward to reading more about her in the future. 

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                      • Hi Tony, and many thanks for the response. 

                        I'm glad you thought the scene mostly worked as it is, and I agree with you about where it falls short currently. It seems to be the general consensus that the scene needs to inhabit Membra's inner perspective much more than it does, and that I need to revisit some of the description to make the scene more immediate and evocative without resort to perhaps too-familiar cliches.

                        It's always difficult to read a snapshot out of context, I agree, particularly one from later in a book. For future reference, I have made a note that if and when I ask for feedback again, I should provide that context. I think I was conscious that I'd posted an early draft of the first chapter quite recently, and there'd also been some discussion of the overall theme and plot, including the elevator pitch, in other threads, so I was guilty of assuming a degree of knowledge which not everybody kind enough to read this extract would have! 

                        If you're at all interested, the first chapter - which can be found here - sets up Membra and her situation (although the exact details of how she came to be the way she is are teased out over the first third of the book). Custos is introduced in the second and third chapters and is the most important character next to Membra herself (almost a co-protagonist) so by the time of this scene hopefully their characters and their relationship is fully established for the reader.

                        The book is fantasy, in that it's set in an alternative quasi-medieval-come-renaissance setting where a limited form af vaguely hermetic magic also exists. But not really 'epic' fantasy - no armies or warring dynasties and certainly no Dark Lords! Though I will never ever be even one-tenth the writers they are, those whose footsteps I would hope to follow would be the likes of Fritz Leiber, C J Cherryh or Mary Gentle.

                        Thanks again for taking the time to feed back. It's much appreciated!

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                      • Hi Jon –

                        I have a desire to wade in to the site and you were kind enough to wish me welcome, have a generous and present energy to your own comments, and so, I am starting here :)

                        I have skimmed the comments above so that I can at least try to avoid doubling up on things that may have already made it into the editing and workflow since these pages were first posted. My goal is more of a high-level look. And, as is the way of these processes, I find my own preferences mean that I do not see all the same things as the other, though I absolutely honour where they are coming from. Also - on trying to post this whole comment as one post I just found out that it is too long, lol. I have written it all already though so, darnit, I will just post it in two posts, apologize if I have overstepped, and know better next time!

                        THE THOUGHTS:

                        First and foremost, nothing in here “offended” me. I’ve read some of those worst sex scenes and boy howdy were they terrible – some of them from authors I have otherwise enjoyed over the years. I’ve not yet read the first chapter you also posted, but I still feel like I’ve walked in on something that I would like to know more about and there is, to use an expression I heard when I lived in London, something generally “more’ish” about it. I’m grateful you shared it and that you obviously did so with humility, curiosity, and openness.

                        For me, this paragraph is the heart of the section:

                        “There had been men here before, a few she’d chosen to bring into her bed with her. A skinny fellow thief, all knees and elbows, and a burly smith with skin like ebony and muscles like the steel he worked. A slender, mouse-like scrivener who brought her a consignment of books one evening and somehow stayed for supper and the rest, wide-eyed and barely speaking. And once a woman too, a sea-captain she’d met one night, whose red hair, freckles and husky laugh had made her heart beat fast with sudden longing. All had stayed a night or sometimes two; the smith nearly a week. It had been congenial. Occasionally joyful. Once euphoric. But the truth was all of them eventually, if not always at first meeting, had looked at her a certain way. With fascination, or with shock, or curiosity or with a barely-hidden grimace of delicious horror. Or else with pity. That was the worst of all. And so both she and they had taken pleasure in each other, sometimes more and sometimes less, and then they’d slept, and woken, smiled and made some faltering conversation over breakfast, vowed to meet again, and gone their separate ways. It was the look. She saw it in their eyes, and they saw that she saw it. And it came between them.”

                        Whether or not the spare descriptions of previous lovers needs a bit more nuance/thought or not is one thing, but I read this section and I feel like I know important things about Membra's energy. Rightly or wrongly relative to author “intent,” this paragraph shows me someone who is never quite fully in the world. She watches, assesses, summarizes, makes decisions, lives with those decisions, moves on. She is tired of her own detachment and the reasons she became detached… She is lying here with this new man who does not offer her those same reasons to detach and – as the human brain tends to do – is bridling against the newness of the feeling even if it is a better feeling overall; her mind is looking for reasons to be afraid and uncomfortable because that is what she’s used to…If I have hit on something that resonates with this interpretation, then I would invite mindfulness in changing the section too, too much. After-all, the interior world of a character is shared as much by voice as by content. One character may have a loquacious roll of words and thoughts and observations in their head, flowing and flowing, another may be quieter in their approach to life. So, the “how” winds up mattering as much as the “what” in terms of the way they are written. Here, I liked the “how” very much.

                        (to be continued)

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                        • (continued from above and, again, my apologies for wordiness because it looks like it might need to be three parts - I'm mortified...)

                          As someone who is super partial to wordy dialogue and endlessly witty banter in shows and books, I am super sensitive to the dance of “RUE” and know I have lots to think about and learn. I also know that, personally, the way he looks at her, decides to tell his story, and that feeling she gets that she can relax now because the story takes her out of her head – I feeeeeel this. It made me smile.

                          Yup. Please. Get me the f—k out of my head please and thank you. Yes. Talk to me. Tell me something new. Take me to your world instead of mine.

                          My thought, therefore, is actually to lean into the story MORE. I think perhaps the “RUE” flags are there because it’s set up as a “story” but becomes more of a targeted and illustrative explanation with intent to “help.” He’s sharing a piece of himself, of his past, it has come to him for a reason and I want to hear the STORY. What did the lord look like (Jolly? Serious with cracks of mirth and warmth? Etc.)? What was his partner like? How many kids? How old? What are they like? Could it be the story of the first time he truly *noticed* the bowls?? Was working for this lord different than working for another lord, why does it stand out? I’m not saying turn it into its own chapter, lol, but if it becomes more of a genuine (still in keeping with his character) ‘story’ then I suspect it will feel like less of a expository lesson. Lying in bed, naked, sweaty, trying to catch a breeze while fighting internal demons - listening to someone share a piece of themselves because they want to, because they were moved to, even if I *am* attuned and listening for why *this* story (i.e. it's moral or lesson)… This is still and also its own kind of sexy.

                          Another possible place to lean in, only I feel less confident about this one because I don’t know how much description of her body there has been before, but when she’s lying there looking at her “broken” and starting to spin out, I wanted to see her body with her, as she sees it. Not that it is a healthy “practice,” if you will, but when I am hating on my body it is specific as hell. It’s every little pocket of cellulite on my thighs, the less than gravity-defying nature of larger breasts, lol. I have vitiligo, so I’m covered in white patches that sometimes make me feel like a speckled hen… Sometimes, if I’ve been sad and crying, my eyes look so small in my face and everything is off-balance and my face looks wrong and ugly to me etc. etc. etc.. From conversation with other women over the years, all of us trying to be more kind to ourselves, the moments of self-loathing – of hating our bodies in particular – do seem to be very specific… Lucid and in stark relief when that is the focus. From a literary contrast/balance perspective – to show a bit more of how she sees her “broken” could lend more beauty and resonance to how *he* sees it?

                          (to be continued one more time *sigh* lol)

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                          • (continued for last time, promise)

                            Tied to this, I just want to offer that when she thinks of herself as “weak” – I kept thinking is there room/space in this section to play with the difference between weakness and vulnerability? The overarching pairing is “perfect” and “imperfect”… But with “weakness” also used in the mix, my mind naturally turned to how strong we are when we can own our vulnerability. Not sure what else to say about this direction-wise, just that I couldn’t shake the feeling that there may be something to it, so I offer it!

                            A more nitty-gritty comment is probably about sequencing in the flow of the sex itself. Again, specific need to re-write or dance with clichés already covered by other reviewers, my flag was that usually “mouths open” before “tongues entwine.” I also noticed that his hand makes it just to her pubic hair and warm softness and she gasps and grips his shoulder with her chin and *then* he finds a pleasure point… I'm not saying there isn't pleasure just from a more generalized sensitivity and outside touch (and all women's bodies are VERY different), I'm just not sure I would gasp and clutch to someone from that initial, gentle touch... The gasps and clutching tend to be triggered by things that illicit more focused pleasure responses. My wish is to sit with the possibility of a bit of re-ordering here and I will add that there would be no shame in lingering on that "pleasure point" for a while before he’s suddenly taking his hands away and rolling her on top of him.

                            A perhaps most nitty-gritty thought is about this line: “You're very welcome," Custos said, and squeezed her gently. "And thank you." I think I need more than “he squeezed her gently” before he says “thank you”… I’m not sure what he’s thanking her for… The more delicious catch to this flag was that I *want* to know…. Could he be tracing the patterns of her scars idly, reveling in the details of her beautiful "broken?" Could he move to kiss the biggest and most painful of them? I dunno’…. What is he thanking her for?

                            Okay. I have babbled enough now! I really look forward to where this section goes in its next iterations and am grateful to have met Membra and Custos. I imagine they get into some hijinks as pages pass and the evolution of relationships between prickly people who’ve lived through some sh-t is always interesting :)


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                            • Hi Sulya, and thank you SO much for your long, detailed and insightful feedback!

                              Please don't worry about, or apologise for the length! I don't think any one of us would ever complain at someone being kind enough to respond at such length to a request for critique! So, from the heart, thank you!

                              I'm so pleased that you felt you wanted to know more. That, in itself, is hugely gratifying! But what I was overjoyed by was your description of Membra.

                              Oh my goodness, I can't even begin to tell you how happy that paragraph made me. That's exactly who Membra is. Exactly. If I had to summarise all the various character studies and bios and post-its and character arcs and so on that are scattered through my filing system and pinned up on the wall above my desk, all trying to describe who Membra is, I couldn't have done it better. And the fact that you got that from the writing... that is truly amazing and has absolutely made my day! 

                              You've also sparked a thought with your point about Custos's story and wanting to know more. We do learn more about Custos elsewhere; he has his own complex back-story. I've written this scene to be specifically for Membra and a crucial point in her journey of self-acceptance and embracing her 'imperfections' as things that have contributed to who she is. And that's what it should be; after all she is my protagonist. But I think I've been guilty of using Custos as a means to an end in doing so, and forgotten that the story means something to him personally. 

                              By this point in the book Membra's situation has, I hope, been made pretty clear. As the first paragraph of the novel states: 

                              "One of Membra’s surgeons, thinking to be kind, had told her once that those who had lost limbs sometimes regained them in their dreams. For Membra that had never been the case. And so, in dreams and waking, she had taught herself how best to do without them."

                              She's limbless. Has been for twelve years, as the result of traumatic injuries that were sustained rescuing children who were under her care from an unexplained attack on the thieves' Safe House where she, and they, lived. She also lost her (surrogate) father in the same attack. She's adapted over the years, and outwardly she's put herself back together. But she's haunted by lack of closure as well as the self-imposed guilt she feels for not being able to save her father. That's what's 'detached her from the world'. She is, on every level, incomplete. And she longs for a 'completeness' that she can never have - not just physical but emotional and psychological. 

                              That also speaks to your very insightful thought about the difference between 'weakness' and 'vulnerability'. Membra tries not to allow herself to be vulnerable, because she associates it with weakness. And (in the absence of any other reason) in her head it was her weakness that resulted in what happened to her. Her 'imperfections' are the source of that hated vulnerability. What she doesn't allow is the possibility that it's in part her 'incompleteness' that has contributed to her becoming the person she is today, stronger than she knows or allows herself to be. The existential choice she has to make at the climax of the book forces her to recognise that she can indeed become the 'complete' person she longs to be, but only by losing the person she is now. 

                              Thank you for the wonderfully insightful comments and the time and care you've taken to write them. They've been both inspirational and helpful, and are most appreciated.

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                            • Super glad to hear that what I've offered has hit some spots that help and validate. YEY! Grateful, too, that the potential faux pas of three posts was not actually gauche. In that writer's group I was in a thousand years ago, the moderator/leader had created her own site I think, so there were no word limits. I just reverted to writing in a word doc and then copy/pasting as I did back then. I will get the hang of it!

                              WOW. Limbless is a powerful choice to write with/from and I cannot at present manage to get my head around all the decisions you've had to make and how to negotiate things. I'm assuming there is a way she gets around and that this fact of her person must affect all and everything in a lot of powerful and challenging ways! I will look out for more pages and make some time moving forward to familiarize myself with the first chapter so I can situate myself more clearly. I will also likely be sitting with the idea of an amputee woman and the politics of sex scenes but I'm sure I have literally nothing informed to say about it, so... you know... lol... 

                              I hear you about the single-minded focus of "this is her scene" and the goals you have for it. I guess the question becomes, how much do we learn about ourselves by what people reflect to us and share with us? And by how they do it? And when... I tend to think we grow through connection in all its forms (with places, people, things, ideas, stories, feeling etc.)... Yes, the growth largely happens in how we process and negotiate those connections within is, but the flavour and texture of those connections - their lights, darks, greys, sounds, shapes, smells - all of that matters too... For me, this translates in the writing process too. On stage it's where we point a light. In film, the camera and the light. For me, his story is about connection and her growth but, yeah - as you put it - the story matters to him personally so what I was craving was for it to be more personal. I don't think it will pull focus from her because if you do decide to play with it a bit more, then there is also opportunity for her to react to (learn, feel, grow from)  those changes??? If that makes sense.

                              I will keep thinking and look forward to what comes next!!


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                              • Hi again, Sulya, and thank you for more insightful thoughts. You're right that there is a challenge in writing from Membra's perspective, in many ways. Especially as I very much want to ensure that the writing and the story do her justice and give her the same truth, complexity and full agency that any protagonist would have. 

                                Thanks for the continued interest! 🙂 

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                              • Hi, thanks for sharing a wonderful scene.

                                I would say that I fell in love with your characters, but found your narration a bit over-elaborated at times. In your place, I would use adjectives more sparingly, which you do perfectly during the dialogue. I loved the dialogue, by the way; flows naturally, fleshes out the characters, and draws the reader to them. 

                                Enjoyed the kinsukuroi reference, one of my preferred metaphors regarding scars and personal growth.

                                As for the sex itself, was not offensive to me, tastefully written and far less graphic than some scenes I've written myself. Maybe I should be worried about those.



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                                • Thank you Pedro! That's great to hear. Many thanks for the feedback! I'm certainly going to do several 'redunancy' passes on this and the other chapters to get rid of most of those pesky descriptives! And thank you for the kind words on the dialogue.

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                                • Hi Jon

                                  I don't think I have much to add but I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this and I remembered reading your 1st chapter as soon as I started reading (before i plucked up the courage to leave comments). Your style is distinctive and Membra is a fantastic character and very memorable. I will look out for more about her! 

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                                  • Thank you for those kind words, Rebecca. I'm so glad you liked it!

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