So here’s something to practice on: a severely lacking scene from Lavender. Here are your beta reader questions for analysis:
Scene Critiques Questions (for Beta Readers)
Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?
Who is the antagonist? That is, who is the person causing the conflict in this scene; the person, who if removed from the scene, would cause the conflit to collapse?What is her goal?
What expectations does this scene create?
What must be kept in this scene?
What needs work?
And here’s the scene:
For the next hour, my mother kept on talking about my make-up (lack of), my clothes (still jeans and T-shirts and “there you are pushing forty”), my job (racketing around the country instead of getting married and reproducing and me the last of the Dangers), my romantic history (“You could have had Cash Porter if you’d just remembered you were a lady”), and my general personality (ungrateful, poorly dressed, and not-the-daughter-she’d-raised).
She still hadn’t said boo about the bear, either.
“Gotta go see Molly,” I told her at six-thirty and ducked out the door in clean jeans and my “Graduation is for Quitters” T-shirt that Molly had given me when when we’d met on the road a year after I’d left town. I’d gotten my GED by then, but the thought was still appreciated.
Three houses down, I knocked on the door and my aunt MariLou answered.
“Well, look who finally came home,” she said, opening the screen door with no welcome in her voice at all as she looked down her skinny nose at me.
“Yep,” I said, sidling in. “Molly here? We’re going to go out–”
Molly stuck her head over the stair rail, and I looked up to see her in her bra and some black cigarette pants that looked sprayed on. “I told you I have the fitting first–”
“And I’m real excited about going,” I said loudly.
“Well, you’re right on time,” she said, shifting gears. “The fitting’s at Lavender’s so it’ll only take a minute to get there. It’s me, Patsy, Skye, and Violet, so we have to be on time or Lavender will kill all of them.”
My aunt tsked. “Too bad about that Margot.”
When my aunt made that superior little ticking sound, it meant somebody had come to a well-deserved bad end for violating her personal code of honor which was basically anti-pleasure and pro-guilt. “Who’s Margot?” I said to Molly. “Who’s Violet?”
“Margot Wilcox that was,” my aunt said. “Senator Wilcox’s daughter from up in Columbus. Navy Blue snatched her right up before she even finished high school.” She gave me that look that said, “Just like you didn’t finish high school.”
“Margot finished high school,” Molly said with the same look of incredible patience she always got when her mother was knifing somebody. “And so did Liz, Mom, so knock it off.”
“GED,” my aunt said, like it was VD. “And she was pregnant before she graduated, you know she was.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, since pregnancy was one of the few crimes I hadn’t given Birney to talk about, but Aunt ML kept on going.
“Had that little Vi right away. Premature, they said, but you know she wasn’t.” She gave me the evil eye again, as if little Vi, whoever the hell that was, was my fault.
“I’ll be down fast,” Molly said to me.
“And don’t you tell me that accident was an accident, either,” Aunt MariLou said, on a roll now. “That man killed himself.”
“Mother!” Molly said and disappeared at a run, probably for a blouse. I’d have gone for a garotte, but I supposed being a daughter slows that instinct down some.
Aunt ML wasn’t stopping. “He was drunk but–”
“I don’t want to hear about it,” I said, taking a step back. You listen to enough of that crap, you start to do it, too.
Aunt ML looked me up and down. “You and those T-shirts. You going out like that?”
“I’ll wait out on the porch.”
“Your hair’s too long. Makes you look slutty.”
“Truth in advertising.”
I went out to sit on the front porch swing.
Aunt ML followed me out. “So you wouldn’t come back for your mother’s birthday for fifteen years but you’ll come back for that worthless Cash’s wedding?”
Yeah, it’s amazing I didn’t come back for this. “I’m just in town for the night. I didn’t even know he was getting married.” I pushed off and the swing began to move back and forth, but my aunt’s beady little eyes never left my face.
“I heard what everybody’s been saying, but he’s not gonna give up Lavender Blue for you, you know.” She crossed her arms under her bodacious rack which Molly says is the only good thing her mother ever gave her. “Cash Porter knows a good thing when he sees one. Beautiful girl, smart, rich. He’s not going to give that up.”
“Good for him.” I pushed off harder.
“Can’t believe you thought you could get him back. How many times did he dump you in high school?”
“Aunt MaryLou, I came home to give mom a bear because you wrote me a guilt letter, and when I got here my car broke down, which is what I deserve for coming home. I told you, I didn’t even know about the wedding.”
Aunt ML sniffed and sat down beside me, showing some nice timing since I had that swing going at a pretty good clip.
“Elizabeth, your mother is not getting any younger,” my aunt went on, and I went back to swinging which took some real calf muscle at that point. “Did you hear me?”
“Nobody’s getting any younger.”
“None of your smart mouth, Elizabeth Marie, your mother needs you.”
Molly came out of the house, banging the screen door as she buttoned her blouse. “I’m ready . . .” she said, her voice trailing off as she saw her mother had me cornered on the swing. “Oh.”
“You can wait a minute,” Aunt ML said, and turned back to me. “I wrote you that letter because you’ve been gone fifteen years, and I wanted you to know that leaving your mother alone for all that time was not all right with me.”
Frankly, I didn’t give a rat’s ass what was all right with her, but she had a point about neglecting my mother, which is why her damn letter worked. “I see her every Christmas,” I said.
“You make her travel to wherever you are,” Aunt ML snapped. “You take her away from family.”
Since her family was ML, I didn’t see the drawback there.
“In fact,” Aunt ML went on, “you not coming back for one year is not all right with me.”
How about never? I thought. Is never all right with you?
She sucked in her breath and drew back, and I realized I’d said it out loud.
Molly reached across her mom, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out of harm’s way. “You spend too much time talking to yourself in that car,” she said as she shoved me toward the steps.
“You come back here!” my aunt yelled.
“Can’t we’re late,” Molly called back to her as we ran across the lawn like we were teenagers again, and the neighbors pulled their curtains back so they could watch. If I had to pick one picture to represent Birney, Ohio, it would be my aunt ML standing on the porch glaring at us while the neighbors twitched their curtains to see what all the yelling was about.
Yeah, I’m never coming back here.