Revising Liz and Vince

I am stuck in both writer’s block (for AKMG) and insomnia (why yes, it is 5 AM), so I did a scene analysis on that NaNo bar scene. I’m not going to rewrite it now because I’ve got AKMG plus the rest of NaNo, but it feels good to go back to analysis for an hour after all this freeform Liz and already-structured AKMG. So below is a kind of stream-of-consciousness revision brainstorming post.

The first thing is find the spine of the scene: Who’s the protagonist? Who’s the antagonist? Where’s the struggle? Where’s the conflict?

Liz is always going to be the protagonist.

The antagonist is either Molly or Vince.
Liz and Molly’s stuff is chatting, exchanging info, catching up on old times. No conflict whatsoever because there’s no goal.
Liz and Vince are playing a game, so he is an antagonist; he has a goal that’s he’s teasing about, but he’ll turn serious any time Liz does. Liz has a goal, too: to have a good time without giving up anything.
So while the struggle on the surface isn’t life or death, there are minor stakes. Liz gets her goal, but she knows at the end of the scene that it’s a temporary win, and that eventually, she’s going to surrender. The scene isn’t going to mean much if that’s all there is, but at least I have a central question:

Will Liz outwit Vince and walk out without giving in?

So if Vince is the antagonist, what’s Molly?

Molly’s a frame which means that there’s way too much of her. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her dialogue with Liz (well, there is, but that’s not what we’re talking about), it’s that it’s not Liz and Vince which is where the juice/conflict in the scene is. Except there’s not much juice in a will-she-or-won’t-she? central question since there’s really nothing important at stake: It’s not like Liz and Vince haven’t played this game before with other people.
So this is a scene that needs a frame to give deeper meaning to the action it surrounds; that is, Molly’s stuff has to be there to give context and depth to the Liz and Vince play conflict, to show why Liz and Vince’s slap-and-tickle matters. Which means I have to figure out why it matters and shape Molly’s stuff to that.

The one easy thing about this scene is that it breaks down into seven parts or beats. The bad thing is that Molly has four of them and Vince, the real antagonist, has three. I can make that work only if I shorten all of Molly’s beats, making the first and last beats give that frame context, and the third and fifth beats arc that meaning.

So here are the seven beats:

1. Molly and Liz catching up. It’s back story, and it’s something they probably would talk about, but most of it is going to have to go because it’s not carrying its weight.

2. Then Vince shows up and the real conflict starts. Vince makes small talk, Liz calls him on his real motive, he admits he’s moving on her and goes to get her another beer in pursuit of his goal.

3. Molly comes back and gives Liz the Amazon review on Vince and suggests she go for it and Liz resists. This is context, but it’s also adrift in this scene.

4. Vince comes back and he and Liz talk about sex overtly this time, until Molly comes back and he has to leave for a minute. That escalates the conflict from euphemism to upfront discussion.

5. Molly tells Liz about wedding back story, which isn’t awful in itself but doesn’t move the scene.

6. Vince comes back and he and Liz negotiate their terms which is going to pretty much foreshadow the rest of their relationship. At the end, they’re in a draw, so Liz tries pre-empting the struggle and almost loses (I think that may be one of Liz’s flaws, that she acts without thinking things through, not to a dumb extent but enough that she needs to work on it), which pushes them into their next scene, which is probably three or four scenes later; the hope is that there’s enough expectation at the end of this one that readers will keep reading to find out what happens.

7. Liz leaves with Molly.

The real meat of the scene is the three main Liz vs. Vince beats which in the revision should be:

2. Liz vs Vince: Polite, oblique flirting that ends with Liz calling him on what he’s doing, and Vince going to get her more alcohol since she’s still too sharp for him to conquer.

4. Liz vs. Vince: Less polite, more upfront flirting in which Liz talks about Vince’s reputation, Vince speculates about Liz’s and then makes an offer which escalates the game.

6. Liz vs Vince: Not polite overt flirting in which Liz begins a mock negotiation that ends in a draw until she tries a preemptive strike and almost loses, pushing the romance plot into the next scene with Vince, whenever that is.

Now what do I do with Molly’s frame? How do her beats provide context for the Liz vs. Vince struggle?
In the first part, Molly says they’re going out to ruin men, which foreshadows Vince even though she was talking about Waylon, so there’s something there I might be able to use. Maybe. The third beat is Molly giving her review which makes no sense if she really did talk Liz into coming so she’d see Waylon. The fifth beat is Molly giving back story for the wedding which has nothing to do with anything. Then the seventh beat is Molly asking the big question and laughing.

What I really need to know is the deep structure of the scene, what it means to Liz in the context of the whole book, the whole series.
I think it rests on the facts that (1) Liz wants to get out of Birney and (2) Vince is a permanent part of the Birney infrastructure.
She’s really attracted to him, but she’s leaving and even if she wasn’t, he’s obviously out for a good time and not a relationship, which is okay only if she doesn’t get invested in him. But for Liz, a writer, words are really important, and he’s good with words, and there’s a lot of chemistry in the banter, so there’s real danger, not that she’ll have sex with him, that’s pretty much a given, but that she’ll have sex with him and want to stay which would mean staying in Birney which sucks her soul out her ears.
That’s the context that Molly’s stuff has to establish. Liz has to get out of Birney, and Vince might keep her there.

So Molly’s frame has to be about staying in Birney, what that would mean to Liz, which means that the stuff about Molly buying a house is important but the stuff about her being on the road isn’t. So i cut and revise the beginning stuff with Molly and her mother to show how Birney makes Liz crazy and how she rejects the idea of ever staying. Then I tweak the last beat to reinforce that in the context of Vince not being important since nothing would keep her in Birney even though the reader knows that of course he’s going to be important because he’s going to be hard to leave. Then three and five have to be the bridge between one and seven to show how Liz goes from “the last thing I need is a guy in Birney” to “probably but only for six days.” So the Amazon stuff in beat three can stay because it deepens Liz’s interest in Vince, but the stuff about Waylon et. al. has to be about Vince in some way that makes him even more attractive to Liz, which since he’s serving and protecting shouldn’t be hard.
. .

1. Liz picks up Molly and makes it clear nothing would keep her in Birney, reinforced by her aunt and the neighbors.
3. Molly gives her Amazon review of Vince, possibly saying something about his long term possibilities and Liz rejects that even though Molly’s review makes her more interested.
5. Molly talks about how Vince will handle the mess in the back, contrasting him with Waylon, making Liz still more interested since life skills are more impressive in the long run than sexual skills, and it’s the long run that poses the threat.
7. Liz leaves with Molly (bookend) and makes it clear she’s still not staying but that Vince has probably won the seduction game.

Which makes the revision outline for the scene:

1. Liz picks up Molly and makes it clear nothing would keep her in Birney, reinforced by her aunt and the neighbors.

2. Liz isn’t staying, but she’s not adverse to playing with Vince, so she does some polite, oblique flirting that ends with Liz calling Vince on what he’s doing, and Vince going to get her more alcohol since she’s still too sharp for him to conquer. Liz wins.

3. Molly gives her Amazon review of Vince, possibly saying something about his long term possibilities and Liz rejects that even though Molly’s review makes her more interested.

4. Vince comes back and Liz plays harder; they doing less polite, more upfront flirting in which Liz talks about Vince’s reputation, Vince speculates about Liz’s and then makes an offer which escalates the game especially since it turns out that Vince gives good verbal, which endangers Liz’s short-term game plan even more, but she’s still on her game. Liz wins.

5. Then Molly interrupts which I’m going to have to fix because it’s a coincidence; I’ll have to set it up that Vince is there keeping an eye on things because he expected that. Liz asks what’s going on and Molly talks about how Vince will handle the mess in the back, contrasting him with Waylon, making Liz still more interested since life skills are more impressive in the long run than sexual skills, and it’s the long run that poses the threat.

6. Vince comes back and turfs Molly out and he and Liz escalate to blunt overt flirting/negotiation that ends in a draw until Liz tries a preemptive strike and almost loses because of unexpected chemistry which has in part been created by Molly’s info and in part by Vince’s actions, pushing the romance plot into the next scene with Vince, whenever that is. Liz wins, but not by much.

7. Liz leaves with Molly (bookend) and makes it clear she’s still not staying but that Vince has probably won the seduction game, while the reader knows she’s in deeper than she thinks she is.

All of this is going to need much deeper cogitation than I am capable of right now (5 AM) even with insomnia. But that’s how the eventual rewrite will probably go. Find the spine/central question of the scene, break it into escalating beats, cut everything that doesn’t belong, rewrite to make the arc clearer.

And shorter. Shorter would be good.

26 thoughts on “Revising Liz and Vince

  1. Do what you must, just keep the Amazon review. Day 2 and I’m still laughing. It definitely works, just in case you were worried it wasn’t!

    0
  2. This is absolutely fascinating and the kind of process that isn’t talked about enough. I kept thinking when I was reading it that it was nice but it needed sharpening, and shaping, here you go with the specifics on how you’re going to sharpen it and shape it. It’s really interesting to see this kind of thing in progress. This is not the way I work and these are not the questions I ask, but that just makes it more interesting.

    0
  3. Thanks for sharing this. It’s amazing to see how the analysis makes it possible for the characters (esp. Molly) to carry their weight in this scene and give the scene a purpose other than fun. And the revisions seem relatively minor (the scene can stay, at least at this point) but they make all the difference between focused and sprawling.

    Not that anything is wrong with fun. Or sprawling, in the right context.

    Anyway, thanks! Off to find spines…

    0
  4. That you can give a mini-Master Class on scene revision in the way-too-early morning with insomnia — amazing. It’s fascinating to watch how something good and fun becomes more. Thank you!

    0
    1. Beats are units of conflict that escalate the action and raise the stakes in a scene.

      Molly is kind of a wild card here because usually beats have all the same protagonist and antagonist in a scene, but Molly’s beats are part of a frame, so they’re still beats that escalate the conflict and raise the stakes.

      0
  5. I know names are important. And I get Liz Danger – which is excellent. (I can think of so many titles for a series like that) But why Vince?

    0
  6. Wow. I had no clue how truely clueless I truely am! How the heck did I get anything published when I obviously have no idea what I’m doing? A 5 am lesson from Jenny Crusie knocks me upside the head and I learn something major.

    0
  7. Your blog is the best writing class I’ve ever experienced. And you’re a great teacher. That post above is a keeper. Thanks for sharing your process.

    0
  8. Speaking of beats in scenes, do you know what your beats are and where they’re going before you write the scene? Or do you just rely on the girls in the basement to send something up and later on figure out what and where your beats are as you revise the DLD draft?

    0
  9. Lots of people write great books without ever doing any of this, most of them natural storytellers. Krissie’s a natural story teller, Lani’s a natural story teller, me, not so much. So I have to do this or my stuff just sprawls all over the place.

    And thank you for all the nice words. My insomnia has not been wasted.

    And I never know where the beats are until I look for them. This one just automatically broke into beats because Molly and Vince kept changing seats.

    Vince. I’m not sure. Vince Vaughn may once have been a placeholder and that’s a placeholder name, it could change. I lost Vaughn quite a while ago because of acute smugness that I didn’t want in the character, but I like the name.

    0
  10. Screw shorter; leave it, lady.

    Also, this discussion about frames and beats was really, really helpful–it’s a good way to think about revision. Thank you!

    0
  11. So I’m not a writer, I’m a blogger. Which means I write but my stories are just crap that falls out of my head onto the keyboard. There is no rhythm to it. There are just bits of craziness. I’ve always wondered how people make their words create the emotional impact they are looking for and how they make random scenes come together to lead towards an end result. I can’t do that. I admire it but I can’t do it.

    But I can paint. While reading your description of beats and tweaking, I kept thinking it was the same. A tweak here to draw attention where you want it. A highlight there to bring this bit into focus. And subtle shadow over this to keep the rhythm. There is a tempo to most art if you look for it.
    Thanks for posting this, it’s a real eye opener for me.

    0
  12. You explain this well.
    If the others are natural storytellers, what are you? And why should unnatural storytellers put pen to paper?
    I don’t have that Ray Bradbury NEED TO WRITE feeling, but I can and sometimes do write. What’s the difference?

    0
  13. Thanks for posting this, Jenny. This example will help immensely when I start to revise my NaNo project. You are such a wonderful teacher.

    0
  14. I’m still a bit muddled (nothing to do with revisions). So Jennifer Crusie is writing a book about Rosie Malone with another writer, which will hopefully one day be published. In this book Rosie Malone writes mysteries about Liz Danger. Now Jennifer Crusie is writing four of these mysteries about Liz Danger and will publish these under the name Jennifer Crusie. In the Rosie Malone book these same books will be referred to as having been written by Rosie Malone. Have I got that straight? It seems convoluted but novel. And anything that makes you write is fine by me!

    0
  15. This is sooooo interesting and reminds me of why I’m so anxious for the Crusie & Mayer NF 2007 Writer’s Workshop book be published.

    Plus, I want my granddaughter, who’s 14 and just finished her first ms., to have it. I can’t wait.

    0
  16. Fascinating. Watched a supposed romantic comedy last night that clearly skipped this logical process. The result was not very effective as either a romance or comedy…

    0
  17. I love your deconstruction of scenes. I learned more from your Turning Points workshop at RWA that I have learned anywhere else, and I think it really improved my writing. (Goddess knows, something had to.)

    But I don’t ever remember hearing you or anyone else talk about “frames.” Can you explain them a little more…maybe the next time you have insomnia?

    and I looked for you on nano–I thought you said you were going under JennyS, but the only one there wasn’t you…

    0
    1. Jenny S, with a space. I’m there.

      Frame:
      Interview with the Vampire:
      Begins with a journalist interviewing a man in a San Francisco apartment. The man is telling him the most important thing he knows, he wants the journalist to tell everyone.
      Then you have the central story which is how Louis became a vampire, giving himself up to evil which will haunt him for eternity.
      Then you go back to the frame with the journalist and Louis tells him to tell everybody, to warn all about evil, and the journalist says, “Make me a vampire!”
      The central story is just an adventure story; the frame gives it depth by casting it as a story about the overwhelming allure of evil.
      Heart of Darkness is another frame story. Generally, frames are lazy writing, closely allied to prologues and epilogues, but when they give the central story depth, cast it in a new light, turn it on its ear, they can be really effective.

      0
  18. I am bummed that you aren’t working on slow men until the other books are finished. I love when you have sequels and the characters connect throughout your different novels.

    0
  19. Could also set Molly and Waylon up as secondary team of pro-ant, and play them for a prime team conflict later in the story. You do something like that in f.ex. Strange Bedfellows.

    0
    1. Murder mystery, not romance novel. Also, series, so these people will all be back in future books, no need to tied everything up at the end of this one except for the mystery plot.

      0

Comments are closed.