Scene Revision: Liz vs. Aunt ML

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.

36 thoughts on “Scene Revision: Liz vs. Aunt ML

  1. Ouch. I can sure see why she hasn’t come back. You do a great line in dysfunctional families.

    protagonist: Liz
    Antagonist: aunt ML

    Liz gets Cash back. Or at least gets to dump him this time.
    Aunt ML has a really good reason for being that horrible, and we find out what is.

    What must be kept in this scene:
    The swing scene. Shows a bit of vulnerability from them both.
    The garotte comment and “Truth in advertising”. Great lines!

    What needs work:
    The stuff about how much better Lavender is than Liz, unless aunt ML has a really, really good reason for the vitriol.
    Molly’s comments about the fitting. If she’d told Liz about it earlier, wouldn’t she also have told Liz who’d be there? (Hard for me to say without reading the earlier scenes; it just grated a little so I thought I’d mention it).

  2. I thought the antagonist was going to be her mother but it’s obviously Aunt ML; she needs to feel more seamless from the interior conflict to the swing conflict – at the moment they feel like two different attacks and unless she’s just mean to the bone shouldn’t they be more like a focussing of the laser beam?

    protagonist goal: Liz doesn’t seem to have much invested in anything that wouldn’t let her just walk out and say ‘see you there’ to Molly; is there something we’d already know as to why she doesn’t do that?

    Random thoughts
    Hell, yes, her outside voice…
    As a geek, AuntML sounds like a markup language 😉
    Molly is awesomely ambidextrous with the buttoning and banging…

  3. Um… nothing’s “severely lacking” in this scene for me! All of the characters seem extremely real. It would be hard–very hard–for me to put the ms. down.

  4. The scene starts off with a recap of what the mother said, and then we get the aunt. Both bits are good, but they don’t seem to be connected, apart from being criticism. Are these two sisters? Do they form a united front? The cousins seem to. Then again, Molly does take an awful long time to put on a blouse. Did she wash and iron it first?

  5. Protagonist is Liz, antagonist is Aunt ML. Liz’s goal in the scene is just to pick up Molly (and to do it as quickly as possible, to get away from her aunt and associated vitriol as soon as possible); Aunt ML’s goal is to express her disapproval of the things around her that do not conform to her world view, and, specifically, to guilt Liz for her abscence (including how it impacts on Aunt ML, say with her not being able to spend Christmas with her sister). The good and needing to be kept is the conversation on the swing, gets a whole lotta past info and explaination as to why Liz doesn’t want to be around this town, but still sounding natural from this type of person, and I liked the use of internal monologue that she realises she said aloud; what needs work is the somewhat awkward shift from the observations about her mum internally to Aunt ML and that Aunt ML’s main goal towards Liz relates to her letter, but Liz has to bring it up and essentially force her to remember it, which seems to disconnect with me.

  6. Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal? Liz is the protagonist–it starts out about her and ends with her leaving so she has to be ther protagonist, right? But it’s the aunt who owns the scene, who is memorable when it’s over. Liz’s goal? Getting away from her mother and then her aunt.

    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? The aunt is the antagonist. However it feels less like conflict and more like her aunt reading Liz the riot act. She doesn’t like how Liz leads her life and wants to tell her about that in detail but how does that create conflict for Liz? If I was Liz I’d want to get out of town too.

    What expectations does this scene create? Where do I expect the story to go? I expect someone to have a change of heart, either Liz or the aunt or maybe both of them. For Liz at some point to see that there is something for her in Birney and maybe for the aunt to come to appreciate Liz in some way although that may be asking too much. Oh, and I think we might find out something about Liz’s mother and why she needs Liz.

  7. In an earlier post, you wrote that the reader is looking for someone to ride along with through the story. (I’m paraphrasing, but methinks that was the gist.) Reading this, I realized that what I need is an awareness of the emotional state of the protagonist. Probably if I’d read this scene in context, that would already be there. What I get from reading this is Liz’s reactions to the barbs her mother and aunt shoot at her. Those are knee-jerk reactions (def: a reaction where you want to knee the jerk), but there’s no sense of her overall state of mind.
    What does she want, in this scene? Her overall goal is to get out of town, but that’s been delayed. What does she want right now? I know I’m floundering around trying to express this thought (thoughts are slippery things to get hold of). She’s waiting for Molly and reacting to ML, but is there some active goal that she’s trying to achieve?

  8. Scene Critiques Questions (for Beta Readers)

    Who is the protagonist?

    Who owns this scene?
    Liz is in control because she comes and goes at will, but ML seems to own the scene in terms of getting her shots in. She made her point even if she wasn’t finished.
    What is her or his goal? To get away from her aunt and her guilt
    Who is the antagonist?
    What is her goal?
    To put Liz in her place and remind her of why she’s wrong to leave
    What expectations does this scene create?
    Another reason why Liz wants to get out of Birney and why it isn’t that easy.
    What must be kept in this scene?
    For me, the action starts when Liz arrives at her aunt’s house. The porch scene is the focus. The back and forth between Liz and her aunt is powerful in the sense that the reader sees this is an old argument or at least the rhythm of it is familiar. ML has an opinion, Liz has a snarky comeback. ML doesn’t know when to quit and neither does Liz.
    What needs work?
    The opening paragraphs seem like filler without a lot of purpose, so does the Margot conversation. If the point is that MariLou is a malicious gossip, it works but doesn’t seem to fit the expectation. Molly’s lines concerning the fitting seem like infodump, so does the last paragraph. Too much exposition? The entire scene feels like it goes from passive to active to passive again. That’s the best way I can explain it.

  9. Liz is definitely the protagonist, she is the one the reader is rooting for. Her goal is to escape the troublesome people and make the best out of the time she’s got to stay in Birney. (That’s why she wants to go out with Molly.)

    The antagonist in this scene is aunt ML whose goal is to make sure that she is the one who sets the (moral) rules – for the family and the town. The problem with the scene is while all the single things are working, as a whole the lecture she’s giving Liz is a little too much. (I think.) I had a similar impression concerning the bar scene but I can’t nail where to cut it.

    What this scene (without its context) shows is that this is a family who is very outspoken and not very tolerant with each other, so what I come to expect is that Liz is going to meet more of those prejudices and small-town convention. It will make her feel more like an outsider or a rebel, realizing that she’ll never be able to fit in, which in turn gives her the freedom to act freely without having to observe those rules.

  10. Ok, picking this up out of context is tricky, but here’s what I came up with:

    Protag = Liz; Goal = pick up Molly and escape the haranguing from her mom
    Antag = Aunt ML; Goal = to read Liz riot act over neglecting her mother for 15 years

    Expectations = there’s a lot of talk about Cash, so I expect there will be some sort of major wedding kerfluffle that will get blamed on Liz at some point

    Keep!: I like the pipe about the Blue family and Cash – seems like info we need and the pipe is hidden well under Aunt ML’s disapproval of all things Liz; “GED…like it was VD” LOL! “You spend too much time talking to yourself in that car,” also lol. I really like Molly.

    Work: I was thrown a little by the mom bit at the front and then she gets hammered by Aunt ML… it’s a little overwhelming, like does this girl never get a break? I think it sets up her fleeing to Molly nicely, but maybe there’s too much of it, it could be condensed? Also the line about “you not coming back for one year” totally threw me. I reread it twice and couldn’t figure out where that came from. If Liz’s been gone for 15 years, then what’s one year got to do with anything?

    Very much looking forward to seeing this in context. 😀

  11. Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?
    The protagonist is Aunt ML. She controls the scene and everything else that happens is a reaction to her. Her goal is to guilt Liz into staying in town.

    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?

    Liz is the antagonist. If she isn’t in the scene, Aunt ML has no reason to unload. Liz’s goal is to get the hell out of the house, away from her aunt and then out of town.

    What expectations does this scene create?
    That there is unfinished business between Liz and Cash; that there could be further conflict between Liz and Lavender at the fitting; that there will be further conflict between Aunt ML and Liz.

    What must be kept in this scene?
    A lot of the constant criticism of Liz by Aunt ML can stay, but I think it might be a little too relentless. If Aunt ML’s goal is for Liz to stay in town, does she really think that nastiness, bullying, and overwhelming belittling are the means to achieve that goal?

    What needs work?
    Is all the info about Margot, Violet’s conception, etc., really necessary here? Do we need this backstory to set up something for the future? The scene takes off when Aunt ML looks Liz up and down and criticizes her t-shirt.

  12. Protagonist: Aunt ML. Despite her late appearance, she runs the scene. Her goal (shared, interestingly, with Liz’s mother), is to prod/influence/shame Liz into conforming to a social and behavioral ideal that Liz evidently contradicts with every fiber of her being.

    Antagonist: Liz. Without her presence, nobody would have anything to criticize. Liz’s goal is to protect herself from all the sniping through her smartassed comments and, if necessary, by removing herself from the situation.

    Expectations: The expectation created by this scene is that Birney is a bad place for Liz; the senior members of her family are all tactless and rude, her past includes someone who kept dumping her, and she couldn’t even hang on long enough to graduate high school before she left. It led me towards the logical conclusion that something awful will be happening to Liz at the fitting, although I didn’t pick up the “unfinished business” vibe that some of the previous commenters mentioned.

    What needs to be kept: I think the level of nastiness needs to be kept. I think the key question in this section is Liz’s re: whether never would be a good frequency for her to come back– in other words, what on earth is making her maintain her ties to those people? (This idea undoubtedly influenced by the big discussion on a while ago about people who break up with toxic family members.)

    What needs work: I think a lot of the backstory stuff doesn’t fit– it’s like ML has two goals, berating Liz and confusing her, since if she’s aware of the rarity of Liz’s visits she probably knows that Liz wouldn’t be up on all the local gossip. I’m also not sure about the opening section– since MaryLou basically lays out all the same objections that are included in Liz’s summary of her mother’s conversation, do we really need to get them twice in that much detail?

  13. This is a quick comment, because the kids are in a show, but I wanted to play along. I also want to read all the comments, but I knew I should think first. 🙂

    1) Protagonist: Liz
    2) Protagonist’s goal: To pick up her cousin and go out for the night
    3) Antagonist: Aunt MariLou
    4) Antagonist’s goal: It’s ambiguous. First it seems to put down Liz, then it shifts to getting Liz to visit her mom.
    5) What do I think happens next: I expect Liz to push further from ML and I expect ML to up the tension to get Liz to submit
    6) Must keep: There’s a lot of stuff I like. I think my favorite part was the inherited bosom though. Or where she says out loud what she is thinking. I am _this_ close to being that insane. My kids and husband catch me having conversations to myself, silent, but the see my facial expressions change and I guess I might even gesticulate. 🙂
    7) Needs work: I don’t know if I believe ML would sit down next to Liz after the stuff she said. Also, I’m not sure I know why Liz is putting up with it. Why doesn’t she just flip the old bat off? Of course, I wouldn’t do that to my aunt, but I don’t have an aunt like that. I’m not buying the shift to ask Liz to come back more after the remarks she makes. ML is so mean, I don’t think she’d want Liz around.
    On a smaller note this section

    “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.”

    confused me. I thought the aunt was shifting gears, even though it turned out it was Molly talking. I suggest adding her name since there are 3 people and it’s early in the scene. The last thing is the parenthetical quotes. I think it was me coming in cold, but I had a hard time following them since it was the start of the scene.

  14. Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?
    Liz. She wants to get away from her mother, pick up Molly, and escape without confronting her aunt.

    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?
    MariLou. If you remove her you have no scene, no conflict. Her goal seems to be to castigate her niece, make her feel guilty. Guilty enough so that she conforms to ML’s expectations of what a good daughter and niece should be.

    What expectations does this scene create? Liz and Molly will meet up with the other girls and we will find out more about all of them.

    What must be kept in this scene? Although I hate to say this–MariLou. She is a character you love to hate. And, as always, the dialog. Spoken and internal. I like this [quote] “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

    What needs work?

  15. The protagonist is Liz. Her immediate goal is to escape her mother by pretending that Molly has invited her to the fitting. This is close to desperate since she’s willing to step closer to the wedding party. That can’t be easy since she has history with the groom that involves being dropped like a hot rock. Her larger goal is to survive the time she’s forced to spend in Birney without exploding and verbally annihilating sanctimonious infuriating relatives. Later, I expect that to expand and include coming to some kind of terms with the town that tried to break her.

    The antagonist is ML. If it could also be a place, I’d add in Birney. One of ML’s goals is to convince (browbeat) Liz into staying in Birney or at least visiting on a regular basis. Another is to shatter any illusions Liz might have about Cash and to remind Liz of all the ways she’s let the family down.

    I expect that I’m going to be introduced to Lavender shortly and to be reintroduced to Cash. I expect Lavender to be completely different from Liz and I’m curious about her. I think Cash will turn out to be even more of a jerk than I imagine. I expect to find out about Violet and Violet’s mother and father. I’m curious now about them, too. I expect to find out more about life in Birney before Liz left. I don’t expect mother or ML to change drastically. I expect that Liz will come into her own by the end of the book.

    The need to escape should stay. The dissatisfied mother and the vitriolic aunt have to stay. The mother didn’t even mention the bear! That has to stay. The “you’ve stayed away fifteen years and even one year gone would have been too long” should definitely stay. The jabs and come-backs should stay. The last visual of running while ML is yelling from the porch and the neighbors are being nosy should stay. It’s great.

    What needs work is harder. The scene has some great back-story and stage setting. I’d like to know more about Liz’s history with Cash, although it could come before or after. Again, I was curious. Is it a series of humiliating memories? Did she carry a torch for long after she left? Is it going to be painful to see him again and to have him see her? Is she dreading meeting beautiful, rich smart, perfect sounding Lavender? Then again, maybe I’m projecting. I was dumped in high school, too.

  16. So, protag Aunt guilting Liz about not returning to check on mom, antag Liz wants to get away from ranting Auntie. Families can be rancid, Liz’s expecially rancid to the point of pooling.
    Saying stuff aloud while believing it’s all in your mind — cliche, here redeemed by “You spend too much time talking to yourself in that car.”
    Love the scene, accept setup for what’s to come, cheer the energy. Lot happens here. Comb clean, tighten, but stay away from huge changes. Want to read on. Cheering from this bleacher.

  17. Everyone else seems to have covered the main questions. So… The first two paragraphs don’t seem really relevant other than to define the relationship between Liz and her Mom and give her an excuse to go to Molly’s. It felt like I was reading notes for a scene that would come later. Although it really read like a mother/daughter conversation. Why not start the scene at Molly’s and include the other stuff in a scene that is about Liz and her Mom?

  18. Protag: Liz
    Antag: Aunt ML
    Liz’s goal: Get Molly out of the house
    Aunt ML’s goal: Keep Liz in the house to harangue her
    Expectations: Based only on this scene – Cash may try to dump his fiancee for Liz; the fitting won’t go well, because Liz is there; Aunt ML will eventually reveal something about why Liz’s mom needs her; Liz will fight harder to get out of town.
    What must be kept: Liz’s quick thinking to be included on the fitting trip; Liz’s comebacks, progressing from unspoken to spoken (loved the last bit); Molly showing patience with Aunt ML; last visual of Liz and Molly escaping as Aunt ML yells and neighbors peek (EXCELLENT). You could end it right there…”what all the yelling was about”…without Liz’s final comment.
    What needs work: As others noted, info-dumpish tendencies (e.g., no need for Liz to mention she got her GED, since Aunt ML does it so wonderfully); confusion about Aunt ML discussing going away for 15 years, then one year; physics of porch swing setup. Unless you need to show some secret friendly feelings Aunt ML has for Liz, by having her sit next to her, how about having Aunt ML step forward to force Liz to stop swinging? Aunt ML stays standing, keeping her dominant position, and Liz really is trapped.

  19. Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?

    Liz. She’s trying to get away from her mother by going out with Molly? But that’s really frying pan into the fire, I think.

    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?

    Aunt Mary Lou. She’s trying to give Liz a guilt trip, and get her to come to town more often (and stabbing herself in the back while she’s at it, LOL).

    What expectations does this scene create?
    Well . . . I expect that Liz will be even less likely to come back home; she’s going to redouble her efforts to get out of town. I don’t have any expectations for ML; bitter old woman stuck in the same old town.

    What must be kept in this scene?
    This really feels like a linking scene; getting us from point A to point B. I can’t really tell what’s necessary unless I’ve got points from the rest of the alphabet (-:.

    What needs work

    Beginning paragraph . . . . Also, I get a strong feeling that old patterns of behavior are asserting themselves — starts in the first paragraph, and continues on the line. So, perhaps punch up that aspect in several subtle ways? Although, it *is* there. (-: Maybe I’m asking for a two by four. I love the way that the “script” goes awry when Liz makes the comment she doesn’t realize she said out loud; it seems like the only time she acts who she is now (although she instantly goes back to being a kid, running away from the aunt with Molly).

  20. Protagonist: Liz
    Protagonist goal: see Molly
    Antagonist: aunt MariLou
    Antagonist goal: Aunt MariLou’s goal isn’t clear in the beginning. Initially seems her goal is to make Liz feel like shit. Then I think it’s to reprimand her for neglecting her mother. Then I think it’s to make her stay in Birney to look after her mother.
    What expectations does the scene create? I expect the Cole Port issue to come up in the future – maybe he does want Liz back? And sooner or later Liz is going to have to confront her mother’s frailty and make a decision about staying or going.
    What must be kept in the scene? Her mother making her feel awful in the beginning. Her aunt attacking her appearance and then making her feel guilty about her mother, and the stuff about Cole’s wedding. Her aunt might be awful, but she cares about her sister which is a redeeming feature.
    What needs work? Make her aunt’s goal clear in the beginning – could cut the stuff about Margot and the suspicious death as that seems like backstory being woven in (artfully). After the hellos, you could go straight to the aunt’s comments on her appearance.
    Think you need to show more of the good stuff about her mom and aunt (maybe just a comment ‘take a sweater – it’s cold’). BTW, if they’re so unrelentingly awful, what’s her conflict about leaving Birney? As a reader, I’m thinking she should get the hell out of Dodge asap. Is it Molly that pulls at her in Birney? Also Liz is something of a punching bag for these awful people. That can be hard to respect; her inner sass helps. But I was glad she finally said something to her aunt in her outside voice.
    BTW, noticed in the bar, Liz’s goal was also to spend time with Molly – so her goal is always interrupted or delayed, but it seems a weak goal. Unless she has a pressing need to be alone with Molly (something private to discuss?) The real goals seem to belong to other people in the scene, not the protagonist POV character (Liz) – her aunt wants to keep her in Birney and Vince wants to seduce her. Think this maybe makes Liz seem rather reactive for a heroine, not active.
    BTW, I noticed that Liz runs away. She runs away from her mother, she runs away from her aunt. And she ran from Birney. I’m expecting her to run from Vince. I am also expecting that inner sass to become outer sass.

  21. Totally off topic, but I just realized your upside down monkey in the banner is the EVOL monkey in Toy Story 3.

      1. I think Toy Story used real old toys. They did that with the slinky dog in the original movie. So the cymbal monkey is probably a real toy that they used for the movie and you used for your website.

  22. Just saw the movie – now I know why that monkey looked so familiar!
    They use vintage toys, so it might very well be that monkey.

  23. Okay, I am probably really clueless about this but here’s how it strikes me:

    Liz SHOULD be the protagonist, with the aunt (by proxy) and the offscene, therefore mostly-absent mother (by reference) together playing the antagonist.

    From what I can gather, Liz’s goal is either to leave Birney and everything it represents, or to move toward something that she yearns for in the outside world, but hasn’t managed to really figure out. Meanwhile, she’s leading her life in some kind of superficially active way that’s basically a kind of marking time while she flees the stuff she’s fleeing and while she tries to make the mysterious thing she yearns for come into focus.

    Meanwhile, Aunt ML (or at least the way she’s portrayed here) is the feisty pissed-off piece of work who basically steals the scene.

    Making HER the protagonist, and turning Liz into the stubborn inconsiderate ungrateful badly-groomed antagonist who keeps LEAVING, for cripe’s sake, because she can’t stop for just one freaking second and think about her Poor Old Mother.

    If Liz weren’t in Aunt ML’s scene, the conflict would collapse, or turn into some kind of background annoyance that would be kind of fun as something to carp about. Since she’s there, Aunt ML just basically HAS to yell at her to try to make her realize how much she’s hurting her Poor Mother.

    Meanwhile, the scene makes me expect that:
    a) Liz will continue to try to run away, like Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind, basically forever;
    b) both the mother’s and Aunt ML’s world views, based on the difference between Good Girls and Bad Girls, will be cemented in their present state;
    c) Some kind of wedding thing will go on and many people will have the kind of heavy drama & discomfort that weddings always seem to engender; and
    d) Liz and Molly will commiserate and feel younger and freer away from the Mothers From Hell.

    The things I hope will be kept in the scene include lots of the dialogue and small points of conflict between the generations. I also liked a lot of the stage business that characterizes Aunt ML — the crossing the arms, the sniffing, the tsk-ing, the name progression (“Elizabeth,” “Elizabeth Marie”) and the half sentences that kind of signal she’s been saying these things for aeons.

    Things I think need work are:

    Family roles: you’ve got two generations here, with Aunt ML and Liz’s mother presumably sisters raised in the same family, and Liz & Molly presumably cousins raised three houses apart. As a sister of sisters, part of me expects to be able to see now how the two older women used to relate to each other as sisters, how Liz and Molly carved out their family roles with reference to the previous generation’s, and overall, how both generations are playing out much longer-term family roles [e.g., “Us Jones women are brave, and we don’t waste our time with X, but we do Y and Z much better than anybody else”].

    Molly the cipher: Apart from her risque clothing and her quick conversational reflexes, I can’t really tell anything about Molly in this scene. She stands up for Liz on a couple of points, but for some reason it comes off to me as a sort of placeholder, like somebody needed to chime in against ML at that point, and since Molly was defined as on Liz’s side in general, it ended up being her.

    The evil stepsister feeling that the two carping older women give me. They seem like one disagreeable, nagging, complaining figure who’s been transformed into twins just to make the town of Birney a better place to run away from. Granted, I haven’t read the scenes that precede this one, so I don’t know much at all about the mother except the litany at the beginning of this scene, but it’s like the mom and the aunt are reading and carping from the same script.

    The thought occurred to me as the aunt was sitting down on the swing that pretty much all of her earlier carping and complaining could just as easily have been overheard by Liz, rather than experienced directly by Liz. That way, some of the background could have come out in somebody else’s conversation, and the brunt of the “You’re hurting your mother” stuff could have been what Liz; had to shoulder when she was face to face.

    So why do I still feel delighted to read the whole scene as is, even when I can shred it to pieces when asked to?

  24. Skipping the 27 comments before me and giving my answers before seeing if I’m right, and only cheating a little as I read ArghInk, they are…

    Scene Critiques Questions (for Beta Readers)
    Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?
    * Liz – to leave

    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?
    * Aunt ML – make Liz stay

    What expectations does this scene create?
    * the future murder of Aunt ML, okay, not really, but it would be nice. I’m not liking ML much. So, really, I’d expect in the next scene or in the car, Molly would get Liz’s mind off of ML. I’d expect Liz to avoid ML as much as possible, but fail and be nagged again. I’d expect Liz to ponder more about what she can do for her mom due to the guilt ML has raised in her.

    What must be kept in this scene?
    * ML nagging Liz and Liz fighting back. Molly’s part as it gives Liz a reason to be there. Liz’s rejection of the gossip?

    What needs work?
    * I don’t know.

  25. First, I’m loving the story. Second, thanks for letting us play.
    Protagonist: Liz
    Her goal: escape her mother’s criticism and go hang out with her cousin Molly.
    Antagonist: Aunt ML — she ramps up the criticism and tries to intimidate Liz.
    Expectations: some fallout from meeting Lavender Blue. A possible face-to-face with Cash. Maybe even relief that she’s totally over him, ’cause we have to think of Vince and that relationship. ; )
    What must be kept: pretty much all of it.
    What needs work: Not much. A couple more beats. A little bit of staging.

    I didn’t get a sense of where Aunt ML or Liz were once Liz sidled in through the door. Did they just stand in the hall the whole time? I’d like to see Molly tell Liz to sit, and maybe Aunt ML sit on the sofa beside her and get right up in her face. That way Liz is trapped. It would be an opportunity to show her reaction to the attack from her aunt and prevent her immediate retreat. Also I’d love a thought from Liz on how much the sisters are alike (her mother and Aunt ML)
    Clarification on who is speaking with the “she said, shifting gears.”
    Also, maybe another comment from Molly, after “I’ll be down fast,” it might show more of the time lapse, perhaps “I have to fix my hair.”
    There is a lot of dialogue covered in this scene, it seems at least ten minutes has gone by with them standing around in the hall, if it’s shorter than that let the reader know and skip the sitting on the sofa suggestion. It could be something as simple as her thinking, two minutes and I’ve already got my foot out the door. Or, two minutes is about all I can take of this woman. “I’ll wait on the porch.”
    I think if there is any slow part in the dialogue it comes in when they’re on the porch swing. Some of it repeats and could be trimmed without losing any of the impact. And as always, good stuff.

  26. I’m with Jinx in that it is not obvious, from this scene alone, that Liz is the protagonist. She does not come off particularly well, certainly not as someone with a positive goal.

    But I’m glad that the site is back up – I was undergoing withdrawal earlier!

  27. Off Topic – Jenny – Bob alert! I dropped over to his site to read his latest post… and… he sounded upbeat, energised, dare I even say excited about what’s happening in his world!

    Are we no longer doomed?

    1. Oh, good for him. I know he’s really excited about the new publishing venture he’s doing, but we sort of lost touch after that.

  28. My take – for what it’s worth:
    I buy Liz as the protag – I’m a rebel & I like rebellious protags. Her goal is to stay out of the kill zone (hehehe).
    Antag ML – Her goal is to make Liz feel guilty about everything. Especially about supposedly neglecting her mother.
    Scene Expectations: Liz will never please her mother or ML.
    What to keep: Everything except stuff about Margot, Vi, dead man.
    What needs work: “…we have to be on time or Lavender will kill all of them.” Why?

  29. I’m making the assumption that, Jenny, you need Liz to stay in Birney so she can have a romance with Vince – but I could be wrong??

    Great stuff going on here!!! It is a privilege to read your WIP.

    Who is the protagonist? That is, who owns this scene? What is her or his goal?
    Aunt MariLou owns the scene. Her goal is to convince Liz to stay in town. Does she achieve it, no and furthermore, because Aunt ML (and Liz’s mom) is so critical and snarky to Liz, I think it makes the reader (at least I did) start to question how and why Liz made the decision to come back to this place after all these years. Doesn’t seem like a very nice place to “visit or to live in” me.

    Liz doesn’t fit in – I noticed that all Liz’s friends have “flowery, exotic types of names”. Maybe Liz never fit into this “little town” where she grew up – so I’m thinking once she broke free of the “Birney “Stepford” town rules and regulations” all those years ago – there’s no way in hell she would have returned – unless some catastrophe event happened to make her come back. What is that event?

    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 conflict to collapse? What is her goal?

    Liz seems to be antagonist. I think Aunt ML wants Liz to stay in town (not sure why at this point) and Liz doesn’t want to stay in town.

    What is Liz’s goal? Pick up Molly so they can go out for drinks. Does she achieve it? Yes, and what happens because she achieves her goal? Maybe nothing happens because she achieves her “external goal” but maybe there’s some kind of internal or emotional goal that Liz has in this scene that we don’t know about yet.

    Maybe this is the first time she finds out that Cash is getting married. I don’t understand why everyone in Birney would be “talking about” Liz coming back to town to break up Cash’s engagement. I mean, after 15 years wouldn’t the people in this little town have forgotten all about whatever happened between Cash and Liz? Unless whatever happened had been sooooo bad, that it’s never been forgotten?

    Maybe she decides to stay in Birney because she’s going to get revenge on Cash? Although I like to think that at 33, Liz would have gotten over all that Cash baggage, but maybe, in some small way, there’s something leftover from Cash that won’t let Liz move forward with her life. Something that she has to face and after having faced it, is able to change and/or grow as a person????

    What expectations does this scene create?
    I expect Liz to start to consider that staying might not be a bad idea – because right now, I’m thinking why in the world would Liz want to stay in this place where her mom and aunt are trying to make her feel bad about herself.

    I don’t understand why, now after 15 years, she did decide to come back. I know why she says she came back – because her aunt wrote her that “guilt letter” about her mom. But I don’t believe that’s why she came back. I mean her mom isn’t exactly nice to her either, so I empathize with her having stayed away for 15 years. I mean, there are some people you have to weed from your garden, and I can totally understand why Liz would have weeded her aunt and her mom (I know that sounds harsh, but I can see how critical and negative her mom is to her now – so I can only imagine how much more critical and negative her mom must have been to Liz while she was growing up – so I wouldn’t think less of Liz for having “abandoned” her family 15 years ago – I applaud the fact that she had the courage to do so!

    I don’t know who Cash is or how important he was to Liz, but perhaps, if her aunt had written her that Cash was getting married, that might have been what made her decide to come back after all these years. I know Liz says that’s not why she came back, but maybe it is. Or maybe if her aunt told Liz her mom was dying and maybe Aunt ML was exaggerating; Liz’s mom isn’t dying, but Aunt ML wanted Liz to come home so badly, that she sort of lied to get her there. So how come Aunt MariLou wanted Liz to come back home so badly?

    What must be kept in this scene? What needs work?
    As with all your novels, the dialogue and inner thoughts of the heroine are just so terrific! Funny, snarky, and totally believable!! Definitely keep all that stuff.

    I think the scene is important – I think the interaction in this scene between Liz and Aunt ML is somehow important to your story – that somehow whatever transpires between Liz and Aunt ML during this scene somehow makes Liz start to think staying won’t be so bad after all. Not sure how you accomplish that, though. Cause right now, if I was with Liz, I’d be telling her “run, run away as fast as you can from this place” where, once all those years ago, they tried to crush you and your dreams, and if you stick around here for much longer – it’s going to happen again – the person you’ve tried to become over the past 15 years will be crushed and you’ll turn into a “Birney Stepford Wife” .

    And I think Liz deciding to stay is what is going to move your story forward, otherwise she’s just going to keep saying “I don’t want to stay”, but I am staying (so, unless Liz finds a believable reason to stay, the reader is going keep thinking, why are you staying in this crazy little town) – okay, her car breaks down, but that isn’t what’s “forcing her stay” – I mean, if she truly wanted to leave, she’d find a way — she could take a bus or have someone pick her up in Birney and then just come back and get her car.

    So what’s happened in this little town that changed over the past 15 years – what’s happened that might make Liz more willing to stick around for a while now? Again, I’m assuming Liz has to stick around – so that she can become romantically involved with someone.

    Anyway, great stuff going on here – Jenny, you’re a gifted storyteller – love your books and your characters!!! Thanks for all the great reads!!


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