Last week I had the privilege of serving as a beta reader for a young writer eager to publish in the genre of erotica. She informed me that the work was 80% complete in that she was just about ready to publish. I disabused her of that notion.

The 22,000-word manuscript she sent me wasn’t a story. Regardless of genre, a story needs some sort of conflict, some tension, some suspense, something that the main character either strives toward or must resolve. You know: a plot. Contrary to what you might think, erotica is more than just a regular romance with lots of added kink. Unfortunately, this manuscript was little more than sex scenes linked together by a bit of narrative or dialog. There was no plot. Yes, folks, even erotica requires a plot.

The writer has an excellent command of the English language (she’s a native of a European country that’s neither Ireland or the UK), so I was pleasantly surprised on that point. Unfortunately, she peppered the content with $5 words that didn’t mean what she thought they meant. Folks, regardless of what you write, if you use big words, be sure you’re using them correctly. Know your vocabulary.

Another cardinal sin she committed was to wallow in heavy, florid description. Purple prose, anyone? A little description is good and necessary; a lot just bogs the story down and makes it drag. Repeated description of the same thing also becomes wearisome. At one point, I highlighted a passage and simply commented, “Enough already! We got the picture.” She also indulged in long, descriptive phrases when a simple statement would have been more effective. Throughout the manuscript, I cut out unnecessary description.

Passive voice further marred the content. Quick review, folks: active voice is the subject acting upon the object; passive voice is the subject being acted upon by the object. Which do you think offers the stronger phrasing? Anyway, I noted that throughout, too, and suggested alternate phrasing to tighten and strengthen the writing.

On the plus side, she used her apostrophes correctly. I did not have to remind her that plural and possessive aren’t the same thing. I marked those comma errors I found and corrected some arbitrary capitalization issues. There were few misspellings or typos.

I was honest, but not gentle. Once she puts her work out there, readers won’t be gentle. Better to endure the sting of criticism now when it can be fixed before publication than later when scathing reviews that can’t be removed will deter readers from making that purchase.

Don’t call me cruel, call me candid. I truly was glad that this young author asked me to go over her manuscript, even though it needed substantial rewriting. I can only hope that she wasn’t deterred, will learn from this exercise, and will continue to pursue writing.