The 12 Days of Liz: Day Two: The Problem of the Antagonist in the Dining Room Scene

So I have a scene in here that I can’t get a grip on. I firmly believe that every scene needs a protagonist and an antagonist. Without that tension, you get a lot of information transfer with no story. But I have a scene where the protagonist/antagonist tension is, uh, iffy. The premise is that Liz gets stuck in her hometown just at the moment that her old high school boyfriend is about to get married to the most beautiful woman in Burney, Ohio, and since all of his friends dislike the bride, they’re hoping Liz will do something that will stop the wedding. Liz is not interested and just wants to get out of town. Her cousin and best friend, Molly, is at the bride’s house for a bridesmaid’s dress fitting, and Liz goes to pick her up. She meets the bride, Lavender, at the door and has a very short conversation with her in which she tells Lavender that she has no interest in breaking up her wedding. Lavender is polite about it and takes Liz to the dining room. Which is where the story falls apart. Long scene ahead:

We went into an oval-shaped dining room with big windows that looked out onto the drive where the Porter’s truck was still sitting front and center. Patsy knew how to park to annoy. There were three women and a little girl at the end of the long table. One was Patsy, looking flushed and angry. The second looked like she was still a teenager, twenty tops, her thick dark hair falling in her hot dark eyes, the raw kind of beauty that comes with too much youth and too much libido, with a strong little chin that looked like it did a lot of leading. She had to be the disliked younger sister Skye. The other woman looked to be in her late twenties, baby-faced, pretty, sad, and a little vague looking over the drink she was clutching for dear life, so I pegged her for Margot, the pregnant schoolgirl/widow. The thin little dark-haired ten-year-old leaning on her leg and glaring at me with the famous Blue violet eyes pretty much cinched that guess since she had to be Navy’s daughter, Peri, except that she was alive where her mother was sad, sharp where her mother looked fuzzy, alert where her mother seemed not to know exactly where she was.

The kid scowled at me. “Who are you?”

They all turned to look at me, and I remembered that everybody had probably already heard about the plan to bring me in as a wedding destroyer.

“I’m Liz, and I’m not staying,” I said to the room in general. “Leaving tomorrow. Just in town to drop off a bear, then I’m out of here. Will not be at the wedding. Best wishes to all. Where’s Molly?”

“A bear?” Peri said. “You brought a bear?”

“Oh, no, you should stay,” Skye said, her smile curling like a cat’s. “I bet Cash would love to see you again.” She lifted her glass and toasted me, and I realized she was high. Not reeling, but definitely loose.

“What bear?” Peri said again.

I started to answer her but then Lavender said from behind me, “Have a seat. Molly’s in the library getting her dress fitted.”

I took a step forward and hit something soft. I heard a tiny yipe and looked down and saw a kind of blonde floor mop, shaking next to my foot as it slunk under the table. “What’s that?”

Peri went down on the floor on her knees. “That’s Veronica,” she said, giving me a look that said, You’re an idiot. “She’s a dachshund.” She made kissing noises, and I crouched down to look under the table. In the shadows, I saw a long narrow nose separating two tragic close-set dark eyes flanked by long fur-stole ears.

“They make blonde dachshunds?” I said.

Veronica shook harder.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s just nervous.” Peri made more kissing noises, and I looked at Veronica again.

Okay, here’s a secret: I like dogs. I can’t have one because I’m always on the road, but I love them—all sizes, all shapes, all breeds—and of all the dogs I’d ever seen, this one was the most miserable. So I bent down and pulled her out from under the table and picked her up, and the poor thing almost had a coronary right there in my arms. “Shhh,” I said, patting her, and her eyes peeled back until they were like little black golf balls. I switched from patting to stroking, trying to soothe her. She had a tight little dog body under all the platinum fur, the softest dog I’d ever touched and evidently the most neurotic, too. I wondered if that was from inbreeding or the tension in the room, but I didn’t much care. I just wanted out of there, and I was pretty sure Veronica felt the same way. Kinship.

The fitter came in, Sharon Ways, a harried little woman I remember from the sewing machine shop in town because she’d given me so much advice when I was a teenager trying to learn to sew. She had four hangers in one hand, holding them up so the purple skirts of the dresses on them weren’t touching the floor. One of the dresses was a little girl’s party dress with a big lavender bubble skirt, but the other three were long and looked to be empire, probably chosen when Margot was pregnant, and they weren’t awful except for the clusters of lavender flowers that were sewn over the bodice. Behind her was Faye Blue, Fay Banky that was, looking like her daughter would if Lavender spend the next twenty years drinking too much and laughing too little, an assumption helped along by the fact that she had a drink in each hand and a folder under her arm. And behind her came Molly, thank you, God, so we could go.

“Was the dress as awful as I thought?” Skye said to Molly.

Faye turned on her. “You just shut up. It’s because of me you’re the goddamned maid of honor.”

“Picture me thrilled,” Skye said.

“It was fine,” Molly said, and the way she said it made me pretty sure it was as awful as Skye had thought.

Margot ignored them all and drained her glass. Faye put a fresh drink in front of her, and she grabbed onto it like salvation.

Peri watched her mother slam back a third of that glass with flat eyes.

Don’t drink in front of your kid, I thought, and definitely don’t drink before you drive her home.

Margot looked up and saw me watching her and flushed, and then she glared at me, so obviously I’d now alienated somebody else in Burney, but once your drunken mother has driven you into a tree, it’s really hard to look at any woman drinking in front of her kid without scowling.

Lavender spoke up from behind me, startling me because I’d forgotten she was back there. “Take Peri next, Sharon.”

“No,” Faye said, “she’s going do Patsy next. Patsy has an early day at the garage tomorrow, so she should go next.”

I don’t think it was my imagination that she stressed “garage” with a sneer in her voice that didn’t bode well for the marriage. Cash wasn’t always faithful to the women in his life, but he’d go to the wall for his family every time. Lavender had a lot to learn about the guy she was marrying if she was going to let her mother treat the Porters like dirt.

Then Lavender said, “That’s enough, mother,” in a voice that could have cut glass, and Faye shut up. “Do you mind waiting, Patsy?” Lavender said, politely, and Patsy shook her head, refusing to meet Lavender’s eyes, her strong little chin set hard.

I was starting to think I might be Team Lavender after all.

At the end of the table, Margot drank again, and I watched Peri watch her, her little body still and tense, and I thought, Put that glass down, you’re driving that kid home.

Veronica whined in my arms and I patted faster, annoyed with everybody in the room.

Sharon the fitter said, “Peri?” and Margot stood up, taking her glass with her, and I thought seriously about grabbing it as she went past.
But then Lavender reached out and pulled the glass from her hand, patting her on the shoulder at the same time. “I’ll get you a Coke,” she said quietly, and Margot looked at the drink with longing and then followed Peri out of the room.

“Was that really necessary?” Faye said to Lavender when they were gone. “Margot isn’t a child.”

“Margot’s fine,” Lavender said. “Are those the seating charts?”

Faye looked at the folder under her arm as if she was surprised to see it there. “Oh. Yes. But don’t you worry, I fixed them.”

Lavender held out her hand, and her mother’s jaw tightened but she handed them over. Lavender sat down and opened the folder.

“We should get out of here,” I said to Molly, and she nodded and started to say good-bye to her hostess, good manners 24/7, but Faye was leaning over Lavender, haggard and insistent.

“Now listen,” Faye said. “I’ve been thinking, and we gotta have those little bags of rice. The bridesmaids can make them and tie them with little lavender ribbons.”

“We’re not going to have homemade bags of rice,” Lavender said, frowning at a seating chart in the folder. “We’re not going to have rice at all. It’s bad for the birds.”

“Oh, like you care about birds,” Faye said, listing a little.

“I care about the bad PR a bunch of birds dying at my wedding would cause. Cash is going to be a senator. The environmentalists would be all over him. We’re going to have rose petals.” She frowned down at the charts. “This isn’t right.”

“People can’t throw rose petals,” Faye said.

“We can leave now, right?” I said to Molly.

“Yep,” Molly said and picked up her purse.

“If you’d just listen to me,” Faye whined to Lavender. “Your mother knows best. Don’t you think?” she said, swinging around to look at Molly and me. “Shouldn’t she take her mother’s advice about something so important?”

Molly said, “We really have to go now, thank you for having us,” and I said. “No.”

“What?” Faye said, blinking at me.

Molly sighed beside me, but I’d been a victim of maternal micromanaging too damn often not to fight back.

“You had a big wedding, right? Well, that was your turn. It’s over. This is Lavender’s. If she doesn’t want bags of rice, she doesn’t want bags of rice.”

Faye’s eyes narrowed. “I am the one with experience.”

“Right. And now it’s Lavender’s turn to get some experience.”

Faye drew herself up. “Who do you think you are?”

“I think I’m one of the people you asked about Lavender taking your advice. I say no.” I looked at Molly. “How are you voting?”

“No,” Molly said.

“Well, I never.” Faye straightened with difficulty. “I’m just trying to be a good mother.”

“You’re trying to hijack my wedding,” Lavender said flatly. “You got your answer. It’s my wedding. Now go drink yourself unconscious.”

Faye looked at her with such absolute loathing that I was startled, but Lavender was oblivious, looking back at the seating charts now. “You’ve put Aunt Violet and Aunt M.L. at the same table.”

“So?” Faye said.

“They hate each other,” Lavender said. “They should be across the room from each other. These charts are going to have to be done over again.”

“Well, it’s your wedding,” Faye said, sounding sloppy and snotty at the same time, and then she toddled out, probably convinced that had been a snappy comeback.

Lavender sighed and picked up her pen. I put Veronica down—the ungrateful little beast immediately streaked under the table as if I’d been torturing her—said, “Best of luck on your marriage” to Lavender, and beat feet outside while Molly was still saying a polite good-bye.

I got in the van and watched Molly come out of the house, but I was thinking about Lavender, who’d ignored her sister’s snotty comment about her bridesmaid’s dresses, taken the drink away from Margot, and stood up to her mother without yelling. Clearly, there was good stuff there. Burney had it wrong again.

Molly got in the van. “Thank god we’re out of there. I need a drink.”

“Well, you know where to go,” I said, and we headed back down the hill.

So here’s the problem:
I think Lavender is the antagonist in that scene. I think Liz goes in expecting to dislike her and through observing Lavender’s actions decides she likes her after all. But Lavender is an unconscious antagonist–she doesn’t know she’s battling for Liz’s approval and wouldn’t do it if she realized it–and that makes her a weak antagonist because she can’t escalate the conflict. Plus there’s the stuff with Peri and Veronica that’s not linked in there yet. So I think this scene is a mess, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I THINK I have to make Lavender Liz’s doppelganger here, not wanting to like Liz, either, but I don’t want her to be hostile. So somehow, I’m going to have to rewrite this so neither Liz or Lavender wants to like the other but they’re drawn to each other just the same, while being polite, incorporating Peri and the dog. Which is a fairly major rewrite once I figure out how to do it. But it has to be done. This scene is too sloppy to publish as is.

92 thoughts on “The 12 Days of Liz: Day Two: The Problem of the Antagonist in the Dining Room Scene

  1. It feels a little chaotic, maybe, with all these characters I don’t know. I know that if I were reading the book, I’d have a better handle on who’s who, of course, but I couldn’t figure out whose mother was drinking and who was trying on dresses and so on. Maybe trim it down to Liz, Lavender, and either the sister or the mother, who’s trying to take charge. Did Liz go in thinking the sister/mother were her allies? Or did she think the whole family was a disaster? Make the two parts clearer – Lavender as potential antagonist, then realization that Lavender is a potential ally. And a sister or mother as antagonist all the way through?

  2. Are you trying to do too much in it? That was a lot of characters and a lot of different family dynamics to introduce at once. You’ve got Lavender’s drunk mom and Peri’s drunk mom and Liz’s drunk mom, right? Keeping track of that many drunk moms felt like a reader challenge.

  3. (Not that I thought Liz’s drunk mom was actually present, but she’s mentioned, right? That’s the mom who drove into the tree?)

    1. Yeah, I have a real drunk-mom thing going on there.
      Readers will know who Patsy is, she’s been in earlier scenes. They’ll know Molly. They’ll have heard of Lavender throughout and met her in the previous scene. They’ll have heard of Faye, Skye, Margot, and Peri in earlier scenes. Still, too many people. I can cut the fitter easily. I need Margot and Peri in there. Possibly I can cut Skye for this scene.
      Must cogitate.

      1. If Liz is the protag, then it seems like Liz’s mom is the antagonist and she’s not even there. All Liz’s anger is tied to her. You’ve got the drinking in front of your kid thing. You refer to pissing off Margot as the second person who’s been upset, and I’m assuming Mom was the first. Liz steps in to “fight back” against the MOB because of “maternal micromanaging” issues.

        I almost felt like you were using a mirror where it was Faye/Lavender as protag/antag illustrating the larger conflict between Liz/Mom. It’s there when Liz defends Lavender’s right to her own wedding–I could hear Liz thinking about her own life and her mother’s attempts to live through her–and then you had Liz’s comment “Burney had it wrong again” where Lavender reprises Liz’s role as the unjustly judged.

        So, I took away that there’s a LOT of Liz/Mom issue going on. But, Liz brought her mom a bear, so I may have that relationship all wrong.

        On a totally different note: you have two strong little chins, but they’re on two different people. I’m not sure if you meant to do that (you do those crazy tie in things and I might just not realize it means something) but it confused me.

        Whatever else you figure out, though, I loved the way you described Skye. She just leapt off the page at me. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I think you need a reaction from Lavender when Liz tells Faye to stop trying to hijack they wedding. As is, Liz slaps her mother down and Lavender…just sits there. This should be a moment of connection: Lavender looking at Liz, Liz looking at Lavender, both of them thinking, “Holy crap. She’s JUST LIKE ME.”

  5. There were a few too many people in that scene for me, too. I was confused but figured if I already knew a bunch of the characters, I wouldn’t be. Still, the scene kicked in for me when Faye came in the room. In part because Faye was so focused in her obnoxiousness and also because she was so clearly at odds with Lavender. Perhaps the reluctant approval could be emphasized if there was more going on while Liz was glaring at Margot — she might notice Lavender noticing and presume that Lavender was hostile and then not realize until Lavender quietly takes Margot’s drink that they are in agreement. And then perhaps a little more recognition between them while Liz tells Faye off? Though I don’t know what I’m talking about and I really liked seeing your critique of the scene and your sense of what needs to happen there.

      1. I was about to say that. (Coming in late here.) Faye’s clearly the antagonist in the scene. Could even be that a lot of people who want Liz to break up the marriage do so because they assume Lavender will one day be like her mom, Faye, and so want to spare Cash. Or they just want the spectacle of watching Faye implode.

        Random thought — but if Faye’s this hostile, what’s she got against Liz? Maybe she wants Liz to be the villain trying to steal her daughter’s man because she thinks that’ll make Lavender lean on her more, become more amenable to her suggestions. If Liz is a man stealing ho, then Faye would think she’d appear to be the hero in Lavender’s eyes, outting the ho. ;D So she tries pushing Liz’s buttons just to make it clear that Liz has ulterior motives. (They all seem to take her “leaving tomorrow, best wishes” at face value, but what if Faye didn’t take them at face value. What if Faye purposefully read something condescending into it, like “best wishes=wishful thinking you idiots because I’m stealing Cash before you hicks even know what hit you). (Well, that’s seriously random, since I don’t know the characters well, but Faye looks exceptionally manipulative. She needs something to set her off and running in that scene.)

        1. Oh, wait. Thank you Rox and Toni and Muria and Jennifer and everybody else who said, “Uh, I think Faye is the antagonist.”
          FAYE should be the one who meets Liz at the door in the previous scene. DUH.
          So I have to rewrite two scenes. But it’s okay because I think that fixes the problem.

        2. My thoughts fit in here, I think… I wondered if the scene could be more coloured by Liz’s expectations of Lavender, i.e. the reader experiences the world as Liz does, and doesn’t question that Lavender’s the bad guy. This way Liz can initially buy in to Faye’s POV that Lavender’s being difficult/precious etc. and then it’s a bigger turnaround when she starts to realise Lavender’s actions don’t match up. Also, this would allow Lavender to be a bit antagonistic to Liz without being downright rude – because Liz will interpret all of Lavender’s behaviour badly anyway. (I hope any of that made sense!)

  6. I think Liz goes in thinking the entire Blue family are her antagonists, then discovers that Lavender is a potential ally. But what’s the conflict? They want to suck her in and she wants to go? They want to embarrass her and she wants to avoid that?

    Everyone except Molly seems somewhat indifferent to Liz, except at the very end when she opposes the mother. Can you give the participants a stronger initial reaction to her presence?

    1. Yeah, that’s big. Liz really doesn’t have any conflict here.

      I think I’m going to have to scrap this and rewrite.

    2. I concur that I read the scene as “the Blues are supposed to be antagonists, but Lavender turns out to be all right.” If anyone’s the antagonist to me, it’s the drunk mom for the reaction that she brings out in Liz.

      I do concur that there’s tons of people in the scene to keep track of, and Liz is mostly observing.

  7. I got lost with the large cast of characters but I’m sure reading what comes before this I’d be fine. I do notice that between the short bit yesterday and this snippet today, you mention chins three times. I think Faye is the antagonist and like that Liz and Lavender aren’t enemies in this. Can a “circumstance” be the antagonist? Because that’s what I get here. Several aspects of this scene remind Liz of unhappy/bad stuff. Reveals backstory and character without dumping anything on the reader.

    No connection for me with the dog and the kid stuff so those aspects seem unnecessary. Though she never explains the bear and I can’t imagine this child giving up before she gets an answer.

  8. It’s static. A face-to-face conversation that doesn’t have enough tension. As I read, I kept remembering the director’s comments from Mr and Mrs Smith. He had the protags in conversation on what each character’s “way out” was, but it didn’t *work* until he put them under a stormwater grate as they were evading the bad guys.

    I don’t think you need a grate, but you’re right about antagonists.

    Btw, to techies: Day two appeared in email notifications but day one didn’t.

    Hi ArghPeople, I miss you. My laptop is being repaired so hopefully I’ll rejoing the blogosphere soon 🙂

  9. I think you cut off your conflict when Liz tells Lavender (before the part of the scene that we read) that she’s not interested in screwing with the wedding. Even if she’s not interested, does she need to tell Lavender that *at that moment*? Couldn’t she go into the scene thinking that, but so not wanting to gt involved with the mess that she stays silent, which will have Lavender (and everyone else in the room) believing she’s there to mess things up?

    Ugh, not saying this well. At any rate, when I read your set-up, I felt all the air go out of the balloon even before we got into the scene.

    1. Agree. If she plans to get in and out of the house without saying much, then why have her say she’s not there to ruin the wedding? Let that thought linger and you have more tension, all aimed at your protagonist. Good observation, Carol.

    2. The problem is, Liz would tell her that. I need that part because that’s in Liz’s character: she never lies and she takes problems head on and solves them. But you’re right, if Lavender believes her, that removes Lavender as an antagonist. Of course, Lavender has no reason to believe her.

      1. Well, there you go then. I know Lavender is marrying Cash, but is she very much in love with him? People who are very much in love have trouble believing other people aren’t also very much in love with their beloved.

  10. I was busy trying to keep the people straight, but I think that’s just because the scene is out of context. I didn’t get a sense of Lavender as antagonist. I didn’t even really pay attention to her until her mother was there. Faye definitely felt like the antagonist. Maybe make Lavender’s disapproval of Margot’s drinking apparent earlier, and have Faye come in much sooner? I don’t know if the sister (Skye?) serves a purpose here.

  11. BTW – this leads to a question, because I never think of this when writing a scene. Should the protagonist always be the POV character? I know this is first person, but mine is 3rd person so the POV shifts from hero to heroine and if every scene with just the two of them should have an antagonist, I have no idea who it should be or how to pull that off. So much to learn!

    1. I think the protagonist of the scene has to be the POV character in the scene, but I don’t think the protagonist of the book has to be the protagonist of the scene unless you only have one POV character. This is first person, so every scene is in Liz’s POV. If the only two people in your scene are the hero and heroine, then the POV character is the protag and the other one is the antag (only one POV per scene, right?). If they have no conflict, you have no scene. They don’t have to be fighting to have conflict, though. Just different expectations will do it.

      1. No headhopping here. No, ma’am. Good thing I’m only three scenes in. Pretty sure I’m in desperate need of tension. As you say, must cogitate. Thanks!

  12. This doesn’t speak to your antagonist/protagonist dilemma, but my immediate reaction is: Too much description slowing things down, too much to sort out and remember. Could that be part of why the scene feels messy to you? Can you wait and describe Skye later, maybe the first or second time she speaks, instead of in the first paragraph? Do the oval shape, the big windows, and the truck need to be there? The “park to annoy” line is great, but maybe it has to go the way of that great football line in your previous post? The critical thing about the three dresses is that they’re not awful except for the flowers. Maybe dispense with the “long, empire, chosen when pregnant” stuff? The sentence about Cash seems unnecessary because the critical information is in the next line (“Lavender had a lot to learn”). It feels cluttered to me – maybe if you get rid of some of the clutter, then it will be easier to see how to fix the antagonist/protagonist stuff that’s bothering you.
    Just the thoughts that went through my mind, offered on the off chance something might be helpful. I LOVE your writing.

    1. Yeah, I kept feeling thrown out of the story by the detailed descriptions of people. Much as I love the descriptions, they broke the flow. I think for me it would feel a little stronger if they were a more amorphous, possibly slightly hostile mass until you get to Peri. Peri is distinctive, both as a personality and as the only child in a room full of women.

  13. Actually, I got the impression that all the bridesmaids and the MOB were the antogonist. Like maybe they’d heard the rumors and were ready to hate Liz on Lavener’s behalf? But nothing about Lavender struck me as antagonistic towards Liz. She seems like a truly nice person whom Liz begins seeing as someone she could like. In other words, I didn’t feel any tension in the scene you posted between the two. Maybe that would have carried over from the conversation in the scene before?

    One of the things that threw me was Lavender’s persona shifts when she starts talking directly to her mother. It was like, woa! where did that come from. She was gentle and understanding and quietly fixing things a minute ago and then suddenly she’s telling her mother where to get off. It took me by suprise. But there again, I’m I haven’t read the prior interactions between mother and daughter, so maybe that wouldn’t be surpring after all? The other thing I had trouble with was there were A LOT of people in this scene. I’m certain that in the conext of the rest of the book it won’t feel that way, but here, by itself, it was very hard to keep up with everyone.

    1. That’s a good question. That’s supposed to be a tip-off to the reader that Liz misses because she agrees with Lavender, the idea that there’s a bad temper there that’s only partially under control, and that Lavender can lash out at any minute. It’s part of a three-beat, but if it knocks people out of the scene, I have to do that another way.

      1. Well, yeah. There’s got to be a reason why Lavender gets knocked off. From this scene, I got the feeling that she was very ambitious (Cash is going to be a senator), and underneath the Good Wife exterior, she was hard as nails and ready to get things done. Now I see why you used “doppleganger” — Liz fixes for good. I bet Lavender fixes for her own personal benefit. (Rather Glinda the Goodwitch-y)

  14. Maybe the antagonist is internal and Liz is her own antagonist in this scene? She only wants to do a fly-by stop in and quickly escape, to not make any new connections, and yet when it comes down to it, she can’t resist the urge to pet the dog, offer her opinions to Lavender, glare at drunk mom. Her intentions to not get involved at all, and in spite of that, she comes out of the scene trapped in all this little spider webby threads.

  15. Oh heck. I’m useless. I think everything you write is fabulous. But I do understand about the scene needing an antagonist and agree that when Liz says she’s not going to screw up the wedding takes some of the fire out of it. As Lani would say: She’s being too nice. (Or not, I can’t really speak for Lani!)

  16. My first thought was to cut the paragraph about the dog. You have so many people there (I’m sure it’s easier to follow if you read the whole scene in context), but I can’t get rid of the feeling that Veronica is just there because you’re so partial to dogs. Or is this meeting crucial for a later scene in the story?

    1. I have to agree about the dog. When I was reading it, it really didn’t fit in the scene and also, it sounded so much like your description of Steve in Faking It (I think that was the book Steve the long-haired dachshund was in.)

      1. Ditto, ditto. I know you love dogs, but I’ve read this dog intro before, and I really felt that right here the dog was just one too many characters to cope with. Sorry.

    2. I’m going to say I liked the dog in there — I saw a parallel between the dog and Peri, and also a parallel between the little girl that Liz was (survivor of an alcoholic mom). The dog is also a big barometer of the scene — I wasn’t really feeling the tension in the room until the dog pointed it out. Needs a little smoothing out.

      (-: Can I just say how wonderful it is that you show us these non-perfect things? In general, we only see the edited versions of things, and in your case, they are always fabulous. It’s so heartening to think, “Oh, even Jennifer Crusie struggles! If I just get my butt into gear, I can do this too.” (-: Well, maybe not, but it’s terribly nice to think that. Thank you!

  17. I really like how you’ve teed up the scene & can’t wait to see how it all resolves! I did have a two comments:

    – Liz is the protagonist, but compared to the other more active characters, she seems a bit passive & an observer here. What does she want? I mean, I know Liz is there to pick up Molly, but what does Liz get out of going to Lavender’s house?

    ex. Does she want to reassure herself that she’s better off as “the one who got away” compared to Lavender? Does she try to snap a picture of Lavender’s top secret wedding dress to win a bet?

    – Liz neatly takes herself out of the conflict after she declares hands off the ex-boyfriend, so Lavender has nothing to fear. They’re both polite, and no one has annoying habits. Maybe it’s explained elsewhere, but I’m not sure what the conflict is between these two in this scene.

    Perhaps it would help to give each some kind of issue. ex. Liz wants to hate Lavender (who is so likeable, like Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding) but can’t, and that makes it worse. Lavender is jealous that Peri and Veronica like Liz better.

    Hope this is helpful! Looking forward to reading your story!

  18. It looks to me like Lavender is not your antagonist here. You and Liz expect her to be, but she seems to be turning into an unexpected ally. Faye, Margot and Skye seem to be the antagonists here.

  19. Would Lavender really be that totally OK with it all? Though she doesn’t think Liz is going to break up the wedding, she has to know that some of the other people don’t like her AND that Liz and Cash had *something* going on long ago. It seems a little off that she’s so blase about Liz and her arrival. Even if she wasn’t openly hostile, it seems like she might feel some tension about it.

    Especially with the family tension and all that — she’s already balancing and juggling a lot, does she really want Liz to see “the dark side” of her family dynamics, and can she handle it all so matter-of-factly without a little glaring or something? She just seemed really self-contained for someone in a situation that would seriously stress most people out.

  20. I don’t think you need to trash it. The stuff is all in there and maybe just needs to be rearranged and the good stuff highlighted. Perhaps:

    Instead of Lavender being polite at the door, have her say something softly like “Yeah, right. Of course YOU wouldn’t create trouble.” and then wave her inside, with a cheerful, “Look who is here, everyone.” So you immediately start off with unease between them.
    Don’t have Liz immediately identify each character, just see a sea of faces and be seething about Lavender’s comment. Have her stress to everyone she isn’t going to break up the wedding or cause trouble.
    Remove the entire dog section unless the dog features in the story because it takes away from the tension of the scene.
    Have the kid keep bugging her about the bear, “is it a live bear?” “what kind of bear?” “is it a big bear?” while she’s mentally trying to place all of the people.
    Have Lavender be syrupy to Liz in front of everyone else. There should be a reference to Cash between them. Something snide or underhanded like “My husband–” “Well, he isn’t yet–” those sort of quick jabs that would raise the interest of the rest of the women who are boozed up and itching for a cat fight.
    Lavender’s initial response to Liz will be more in keeping with her response to her mother, and everything else in the scene. Liz recognizes under that polished beauty and sophistication Lavender is nobody to be messed with, and more like her than she would ever have imagined, and makes her escape.

    1. The problem is, Lavender is much too cool (as in controlled) to do any of that. Lavender in that scene is right, she’s the one thing I got right.
      I think I just have to take it completely apart and look at the pieces, figure out the central conflict, and then get rid of anything that doesn’t support that.
      Which, of course, is basic scene structure. How many times do I have to do something before I learn it?

      1. Oh, okay then. Well in that case, the antagonist is definitely Faye. I agree with Toni and the others way up there at the top. : ) Just give her a few more snide remarks or jabs at Liz and you’ll be good to go. Could her motivation be that she has a longstanding issue with Liz’s mother (maybe she was once in love with Liz’s father and Liz’s Mom stole him from her) and even though she thinks Cash is beneath her daughter on a societal level she’s happy that Lavender won over Liz?

      2. “How many times do I have to do something…? ”

        All the time.

        I ride horses. I started riding 20 meter circles in (counts, using thumbs) 1972. I am still riding 20 meter circles. They are a basic building block, and they are required to be perfect, every time, and they never never never go away. I can do other stuff now, fancy stuff that non-horse-savvy observers might think looks interesting, but I always have to do the 20 meter circles too; first to warm up, then to remember, then to get them right.

  21. Ok, is Margot pregnant or not? On the one hand, there’s the empire-waist skirts, and two references to Margot being pregnant (when the dresses were chosen, and pregnant schoolgirl/widow), but she’s drinking like a fish, and for the most part, people are letting her. Did she lose the baby? Is the baby in the NICU (born early)?

    I agree that Faye reads as the antagonist, but she seems more like Lavender’s antagonist. Unless the antagonist is that Liz really wants to leave, and everyone’s conspiring to make her stay, in which case, more people would be telling her to stay (in other words, make everyone the antagonist, and not about the thing that Liz expects, which is the wedding wrecking thing).

    I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. I’ll be interested to see how it comes out, though. 🙂

    1. She was pregnant, had a miscarriage, and dropped out of the wedding. That’s in an earlier scene, but I can’t expect people to remember that, so I have to fix the confusion.

  22. Without the drunk mother, Liz and Lavendar wouldn’t become allied to each other. Perhaps she is the antagonist and Liz has a co-protagonist in Lavendar.

  23. I don’t think you have to scrap the entire scene either. There’s a lot of terrific material here. I think you can start with more tension between Lavender and Liz. If nobody likes Lavender and hopes that Liz will break up the wedding, Lavender will, of course, know this. She’s no dumb ass. Plus, by the time that Liz arrives at the house to get Molly, Lavender has already been dealing with Margot, Faye, Skye, a seamstress doing fittings, a child who can’t possibly be happy in the situation, etc. Faye or Margot alone would be enough to get on any woman’s last nerve, so Liz showing up is the last thing that Lavender wants or needs.

    Even if Liz reassures her that she’s not in town to steal Cash, why should/would Lavender believe her right off? A woman who has a hyper-critical mother like Faye and a drunken Margot hanging around is not prone to accept what people say at face value. Maybe she’s just too polite, or determined to hold onto her sanity, to snort and scoff in Liz’s face, but I think it’s absolutely valid that there would be immediate tension between them.

    Liz knows she’s being up front and honest, but since she’s not a dumbass either, she’ll know that Lavender doesn’t buy what she says, so perhaps from her perspective, Lavender has just become one more person that gives her crap. More tension.

    In this sea of people, they are antagonist/protagonist while everything else is going on up to when you roll out a masterful sequence of events that shifts everything. Liz notes that Cash will never put up with people treating his family badly, then Lavender shuts up her mother. Liz has had it up to here with the drunk Margot, and Lavender handles it by taking away the drink. Faye gives Lavender crap and Liz speaks up for her.

    I’ve read this part of the scene three times. In short order, you give them valid reason to bond and they become the united protagonist against the Faye antagonist. It works for me.

    What doesn’t work as much for me is some of the stuff in the middle. I love Veronica, but what purpose does she serve right in this scene? Is it vital that we know right here that Liz loves dogs?

    You can definitely lose the fitter and the dress descriptions. All Molly has to do is come out of the room and Skye can ask the same question about whether the dresses are awful. Then Lavender just has to tell Peri that she’s next for Faye to say that Patsy should be next, etc.

    Dog (sorry Veronica) and fitter out of the scene should tighten it up.

    Sorry, that’s a lot of two cents, adjusted for inflation. 🙂

  24. My daughter found this awesome website for teen girls called Rookie (the founder was on TED for Teens; please tell Lani about this site for her girls), My daughter posted this article about powering through TV series on her Facebook page. I immediately thought of you!!! http://rookiemag.com/2012/05/all-together-now/

    I agree with Mary that Liz rightfully starts thinking about being on Team Lavender–she respects her. But that just makes Lavender a really good antagonist because she needs to be as smart if not smarter than Liz. So I think Lavender needs to challenge Liz, equal to equal, and Liz needs to be scared or balk. That will be her conflict. Maybe Lavender dares Liz to stay, in the guise of inviting her to sit at the head wedding table or something. Maybe she dares Liz to be the one to pick up Cash from somewhere right before he heads to the altar. Maybe Lavender is so damned confident she gets a thrill out of playing with Liz, like a cat toying with a mouse. Maybe Liz doesn’t like being the mouse and knows what’s happening, but she can’t not accept a dare, however subliminal it is.

  25. Quick comment before reading your comment and the others’ comments. It seems to me that this is a big set piece. It’s trying to show what a mess this family is with the alcohol and the rivalries and everything. I’m assuming you’ve done tons of backstory, but you can’t put it all in, of course. Just hinting.

    In detective stories, observing is VERY important. There are CLUES to be had. So, I think Liz is playing an observer in this scene. It’s not her story yet, although you are laying down reasons for why this is going to be her story pretty soon. You’ve got a whole boatload of antagonists and protagonists in this scene, and I don’t think you should simmer it down to one or two — you want a big, heapin’ mess of Southern Gothic antagonism here.

    Peri vs. Margot. Skye vs. everyone. Mother vs. Lavender and vice versa. Patsy barely registers except as Patsy vs. the Scenery (her parking). Molly, Veronica and Liz are observers and witnesses. The last third really picks up and gets interesting, from about “I’ll get you a Coke.”

    1. No, actually, I want to hear the truth. The last thing I want is a soft critique so that the book goes to print less than it could be.

  26. I’m extremely curious now about what Lavender will do to make someone bump her off. And, I also wonder why she’s still having these power issues with her mom, despite showing a lot of backbone. Is it possible that she’s been out of town, too, until just recently? Even if she’s just in the next town over, it gives her distance to ignore her mother’s micromanaging, and then when she comes back, her mother doesn’t realize she’s grown a backbone. If she’s been in town all this time, is it just the confidence that comes from having her own minion to manipulate that makes her stand up to her mother? Or maybe she “swings” — sometimes she goes back to being a weak little girl with her mom, and sometimes she comes up strong, and her mother always goes for the weak little girl because there’s a 50/50 chance that that’s the Lavender that is manifesting this hour . . . .

    LOL, what a ramble! I need to go write my own book, but it’s so much fun to fan-speculate about yours!

    1. She was under her mother’s thumb until she went to college. Then she graduated and came home to work as fundraiser for nearby private college, and she’s grown-up, her mother can’t get to her any more.

  27. I agree, it’s a bit messy in the middle. Lots of characters moving around all aiming there darts at Liz, who remains cool. I wonder if there are any who want their own piece of Cash. As Sarah said, a number of family dynamics and drunk moms that I had difficulty following as well, but then I’m not familiar with the characters so…
    I also agree with Mary Stella, is Veronica really necessary.
    There’s so much percolating underneath in the scene, it’s fascinating. I love it. 🙂
    I really warmed to Lavender and Liz’s new take on her. Made me smile when Lavender quietly took control. If she’s threatened by Liz, she’s not showing it. And does Lavender only care about the bad PR or is there more to her. If it’s any help, in this scene, Lavender shines.
    I want get my hands on the rest of the book now 🙂

  28. Liz is there to get Molly. And you give her Molly. Withhold Molly. She could be a prisoner of her own manners with Faye as the jailer. (I agree with others that Faye is the antagonist.) Faye sees this as her wedding. Molly is has a role that Faye has imagined she needs to fill. And if Molly is that polite and willing to go to the mat to help Lavender to have her dream wedding she’ll hang herself with her own politeness.

    Liz’s conflict in the scene can be derived from rescuing Molly. Her extraction of Molly can lead Faye to accusations of sabotaging her big day and you’ll still have room in the scene to create mutual respect, and tentative kinship, between Liz and Lavender.

    I write this fully realizing that this might just be superfluous to the process and maybe you’ve already rewritten the scene so it sings. Either way, I enjoyed reading the snippet and thank you for posting the process. It’s very interesting to read about it as it unfolds. 🙂

  29. I agree with all the people who think Faye is and should be the antagonist. I also think this: “I THINK I have to make Lavender Liz’s doppelganger here, not wanting to like Liz, either, but I don’t want her to be hostile. So somehow, I’m going to have to rewrite this so neither Liz or Lavender wants to like the other but they’re drawn to each other just the same, while being polite, incorporating Peri and the dog.”
    I’m sorry if it requires a major rewrite for you, though.

    1. Babe, writing is rewriting. The first draft is just getting something down on paper so I can rewrite it.
      It’s figuring HOW to rewrite it that can make you nuts.

  30. I agree with the others who said too many people. I think even being introduced to them in earlier scenes won’t help too much. Also, in the interests of brevity it seems like most of the bridesmaids aren’t really important to this scene so they can be cut with impunity, maybe?

    Agree the dog stuff needs to be tied in better.

    The whole Lavender lashing out thing doesn’t feel enough like lashing out to me enough to signal “Anger problem.” Maybe underscore that beat just a little more.

    And now I’m going off-topic (I have a bad habit of that, don’t I?) because I discovered this really awesome singer/songwriter I think you might enjoy. Carsie Blanton. She does really clever wordplay: “it was a lousy deal on both our parts/ you bet me a body and I raised you a heart/ but you foiled my plan when you called my bluff/ I got a decent hand but is it good enough to win?”

    Her one song “Money in the Bank” always, ALWAYS makes me think of your books. (Especially “Bet Me” and “Faking It”). So I feel like you should hear it…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22yg6WM9G1w

    Her other song “Baby Can Dance” is also quite good and features some great swing dancing (which is near and dear to my heart.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a3TNV5ApMs

    Hoping these provide happiness/inspiration as you plow through Liz.

    p.s. Didn’t Burney used to be Birney? Or am I crazy?
    p.p.s. With two links I’m probably going straight to the spam filter…

  31. Patsy serves no purpose in the scene other than as the subject of Faye’s snide remark. Faye can still make a rude remark if Patsy is either not there at all, or in the other room. (If the seamstress brought an assistant, they might be taking two or three women at a time.) Skye doesn’t seem to serve any purpose either. Faye does serve a purpose — perhaps she could be in the room earlier?

    The Veronica stuff seems to drag to me, but I assume it’s there for a reason. Maybe you could have Liz’s petting calm her down, therefore giving Liz a reason to stay in the tension-filled room. There was quite a bit of stuff between Molly entering the room and Liz saying to Molly that they should leave — it didn’t ring true to me that Liz would stand silently observing instead of instantly grabbing Molly and heading for the door.

  32. While there were a lot of people, I think changing how they’re introduced would unclutter it a bit. Because Liz walks in and goes into “how would I write about these folks” mode. As others said, she’s an analyst here. I see no action or emotion from the first four or five – nothing causes Liz to do anything but analyze. And her analysis makes her seem cool, calm, and collected, which she’s still projecting when she claims to be there only temporarily. If one person was really glaring daggers at her, I would expect a recoil.

    It’s not until she mentions that she and the dog want to leave that I get any tension from her at all. Maybe some mild annoyance (parking). The dog projects the emotion from the scene but I don’t see the dog being necessary just for that reason. The situation with the dog doesn’t escalate. She picks her up, pats her in some manner, the dog is equally neurotic the whole time. No flow. (also, I agree about the Steve Goodight comparison. I just finished thoroughly enjoying a reread of Faking It a couple days ago, and the close set eyes thing is too Steve. Plus, I’ve seen pics of Veronica. I would not notice close set eyes, just the lush blonde fur, myself.)

    Fitter = take or leave. Do we need to know Liz can sew? We don’t get the fitter as an ally, just as scenery. Liz has no “I’m grateful she helped me” thoughts. No emotion, just fact. I spent mental energy expecting Liz to have an aside with the fitter about why she allowed awful dresses when she’s capable of better. (answer=you know brides. B’s be crazy.)

    The end where she’s predicting Lavender and angry with drunk moms is excellent. It moves. Except for Molly, who’s kinda static. Having a mom who takes a hour to say goodbye, I understand slow leavetakers, but I thought Molly could have been hustled out of there far earlier if Liz was as determined to leave as she claimed.

    Again, just my impression. But I want to enjoy rereading this as much as I do WTT and FI, so thought I’d toss in my feedback. (as for the intros, either group them differently, space them differently, or have Liz react more or all three. – editing is hard on the iPhone so sorry this last is out of place and for ant weird autocorrects I missed.)

  33. Wow, it was so much more fun thinking about your scene that rewriting my own! I love your writing and while I agree, the scene needs work, it is such a please to read your draft.
    I agree the scene is a bit crowded with new people. One thing that might help here is rename Veronica. We are meeting a lot of women. It would me nice if the dog had a name which didn’t sound like she was one of the bridesmaids.
    I see what you mean about the protagonist/antagonist thing and that’s a tough one. I had a sort of thought:You mention the Liz thinks thinks she might be on Team Lavender. That might imply there is a Team Liz. What if some there were a Team Liz (the people who hope she will break up the marriage and we could know who in that room is on it? Skye is angry in general. Could she somehow be pro Liz and anti Lavender.?
    I did a work round on the first couple of pages. I find that sometimes when your words are moved around, it sparks new ideas.

    We went into an oval-shaped dining room with big windows that looked out onto the drive where the Porter’s truck was still sitting front and center. Patsy knew how to park to annoy.
    There were three women and a little girl at the end of the long table. They all turned to look at me, and I remembered that everybody had probably already heard about the plan to bring me in as a wedding destroyer.
    Patsy looked flushed and angry.
    The second looked like she was still a teenager, twenty tops, her thick dark hair falling in her hot dark eyes, the raw kind of beauty that comes with too much youth and too much libido, with a strong little chin that looked like it did a lot of leading. She had to be the disliked younger sister Skye.
    The other woman looked to be in her late twenties, baby-faced, pretty, sad, and a little vague looking over the drink she was clutching for dear life, so I pegged her for Margot, the pregnant schoolgirl/widow.
    The thin little dark-haired ten-year-old leaning on her leg and glaring at me with the famous Blue violet eyes pretty much cinched that guess since she had to be Navy’s daughter, Peri,
    Margot looked up and saw me watching her and flushed, and then she glared at me, so obviously I’d now alienated somebody else in Burney, but once your drunken mother has driven you into a tree, it’s really hard to look at any woman drinking in front of her kid without scowling.
    Peri scowled at me. “Who are you?”
    “I’m Liz, and I’m not staying,” I said to the room in general. “Leaving tomorrow. Just in town to drop off a bear, then I’m out of here. Will not be at the wedding. Best wishes to all. Where’s Molly?”
    “A bear?” Peri said. “You brought a bear?”
    “Oh, no, you should stay,” Skye said, her smile curling like a cat’s. “I bet Cash would love to see you again.” She lifted her glass and toasted me, and I realized she was high. Not reeling, but definitely loose. (she sounds like she might be on team Liz)
    “What bear?” Peri said again.
    I started to answer her but then Lavender said from behind me, “Have a seat. Molly’s in the library getting her dress fitted.”
    I took a step forward and hit something soft. I heard a tiny yipe and looked down and saw a kind of blonde floor mop, shaking next to my foot as it slunk under the table. “What’s that?”
    Peri went down on the floor on her knees. “That’s Veronica,” she said, giving me a look that said, You’re an idiot. “She’s a dachshund.” She made kissing noises, and I crouched down to look under the table. In the shadows, I saw a long narrow nose separating two tragic close-set dark eyes flanked by long fur-stole ears.

    ( Peri sounds like it could be a dog’s name. Veronica sounds like a woman’s name.)

    “They make blonde dachshunds?” I said.
    Veronica shook harder.
    “What’s wrong with her?”
    “She’s just nervous.” Peri made more kissing noises, and I looked at Veronica again.
    Okay, here’s a secret: I like dogs. I can’t have one because I’m always on the road, but I love them—all sizes, all shapes, all breeds—and of all the dogs I’d ever seen, this one was the most miserable. So I bent down and pulled her out from under the table and picked her up, and the poor thing almost had a coronary right there in my arms. “Shhh,” I said, patting her, and her eyes peeled back until they were like little black golf balls. I switched from patting to stroking, trying to soothe her. She had a tight little dog body under all the platinum fur, the softest dog I’d ever touched and evidently the most neurotic, too. I wondered if that was from inbreeding or the tension in the room, but I didn’t much care. I just wanted out of there, and I was pretty sure Veronica felt the same way. Kinship.

    (What’s Peri’s reaction to that.)

    The fitter came in, Sharon Ways, a harried little woman I remember from the sewing machine shop in town because she’d given me so much advice when I was a teenager trying to learn to sew. She had four hangers in one hand, holding them up so the purple skirts of the dresses on them weren’t touching the floor. One of the dresses was a little girl’s party dress with a big lavender bubble skirt, but the other three were long and looked to be empire, probably chosen when Margot was pregnant, (she’s not pregnant any more?) They weren’t awful except for the clusters of lavender flowers that were sewn over the bodice. Behind her was Faye Blue, Fay Banky that was, looking like her daughter would if Lavender spent the next twenty years drinking too much and laughing too little, an assumption helped along by the fact that she had a drink in each hand and a folder under her arm. And behind her came Molly, thank you, God, so we could go.
    “Was the dress as awful as I thought?” Skye said to Molly.
    Faye turned on her. “You just shut up. It’s because of me you’re the goddamned maid of honor.”
    “Picture me thrilled,” Skye said.
    “It was fine,” Molly said, and the way she said it made me pretty sure it was as awful as Skye had thought.
    Margot ignored them all and drained her glass. Faye put a fresh drink in front of her, and she grabbed onto it like salvation.
    Peri watched her mother slam back a third of that glass with flat eyes.
    Don’t drink in front of your kid, I thought, and definitely don’t drink before you drive her home.
    Lavender spoke up from behind me, startling me because I’d forgotten she was back there. “Take Peri next, Sharon.”
    “No,” Faye said, “she’s going do Patsy next. Patsy has an early day at the garage tomorrow, so she should go next.”
    I don’t think it was my imagination that she stressed “garage” with a sneer in her voice that didn’t bode well for the marriage. Cash wasn’t always faithful to the women in his life, but he’d go to the wall for his family every time. Lavender had a lot to learn about the guy she was marrying if she was going to let her mother treat the Porters like dirt.
    Then Lavender said, “That’s enough, mother,” in a voice that could have cut glass, and Faye shut up. “Do you mind waiting, Patsy?” Lavender said, politely, and Patsy shook her head, refusing to meet Lavender’s eyes, her strong little chin set hard.
    At the end of the table, Margot drank again, and I watched Peri watch her, her little body still and tense, and I thought, Put that glass down, you’re driving that kid home.
    Veronica whined in my arms and I patted faster, annoyed with everybody in the room.
    Sharon the fitter said, “Peri?” and Margot stood up, taking her glass with her, and I thought seriously about grabbing it as she went past.
    But then Lavender reached out and pulled the glass from her hand, patting her on the shoulder at the same time. “I’ll get you a Coke,” she said quietly, and Margot looked at the drink with longing and then followed Peri out of the room.
    I was starting to think I might be Team Lavender after all.

    1. The other team is Team Patsy (g). It’s really hard to critique a scene in the middle of a book, but this is the 12 Days of Liz so I’m not trying to be coherent.

  34. What Mary Stella said about lots of terrific material in here. I’m sure you will fix it and it will be even more beautiful.

    Very little to add, other than I love the family stuff (as always) and it reminds me of Hot Money. Even though there are no horses or jockeys involved. Or millionaires.

  35. The moment I really bought into this scene was the line about Team Lavender. That was when the pace picked up and Lavender emerged as a real character with a potentially interesting personality. And I agree that Faye is the antagonist here. Given that Liz has issues with her own mother, and that there’s a hint that Faye’s behaviour is bringing up those issues, could it be that what we’re seeing is Liz and her mother’s battles played out at one remove? Would Liz be, perhaps, envious of seeing someone else (Lavender) handling similar situations better than she did, or mentally taking notes?

    And I don’t care how confident of Cash Lavender is, or how much she believes Liz’s stated intention of leaving asap, she’s going to be feeling some measure of tension. And if she isn’t, that’s an interesting question in itself – is Lavender so disinterested in Cash that she really doesn’t care that an ex-girlfriend has suddenly turned up on the doorstep in the middle of the wedding preparations? What if Liz made some slightly inept comment that showed her past knowledge of Cash? You need something to either show that Liz and Lavender reluctantly recognise each other, or wholeheartedly find an ally in each other. And either way, why are they reluctant or keen to like each other? Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  36. Also, I kept wondering why Liz wasn’t offering to take Peri home. Or at least making sure that Peri had a safe ride… could that be what’s holding Liz up from leaving? Liz doesn’t seem to me like someone who would hold back from making social waves if she’s concerned about a little girl’s safety.

  37. just my two cents:

    the phrase “tight little dog body” sounds creepy pervy.

    also, maybe the conflict between Liz and Lavender could their approach to the same situation with different tactics but same ethics?

    To me, personality-wise Liz wouldn’t be polite to the drinking mother, she would be the one to walk over and take the glass away from her (maybe even down it herself). It would also bond her with the little girl (there was crunchy, unspoken angst there). As opposed to Lavender, who is so polite and would essentially distract the mom by giving her errands or something. Subtly manipulating away from the situation.

    I feel like there needs to be more of a divide between the two characters – Liz and Lavender. So where one is crass, the other is a bit cold. And also, to me it wasn’t clear that Lavender on any front (subconscious or otherwise) wants Liz to like her. So maybe a clearer motivation, like I’m getting your ex and I’m better for him (except when you left the guy, you might have been on to something)? Which would then establish a different rapport between them. Because even if Lavender does inadvertently like Liz, logically she shouldn’t want to (she’s the hell raising ex. She’s COMPETITION).

    And, I, too, agree the only clear antagonist is Faye.

  38. I am doing exactly the same thing as you right now, Jenny. And feeling annoying stupid, so I’ll just sit here staring at the pieces of this scene I need to rewrite, and find some comfort in the fact that somewhere in Ohio, you’re staring at the pieces of your scene feeling less than brilliant, too.

    If Jenny Goddam Crusie sometimes has to rewrite, who am I to whine?

  39. What everyone else said. I felt like there was tons of environmental tension, I could feel myself tense up just reading it. The only other thing I’d say is end it with the ‘go drink yourself unconscious’ line. Everything else seems … epilouge-y. I did like the “park to annoy” bit. I think the difference between that and the football/maim our young line from yesterday is that the parking tells us something about Patsy.

  40. I guess it all boils down to who do you want us to care about-the drinking woman? her daughter? the dog? the bride? the sister who has lost a baby? My emotions were all over the place as I read the scene. I was even asking myself” would that dog let a stranger, who just stepped on it, pick it up?” [My dog would have bit or growled! ] I think your main character needs to zero in on the person she has come to see and try not to be so reactive and judgemental to these women she has not seen in many years.

  41. The only true antagonist I saw in the scene was Faye. Everyone in the room was reacting to Faye when she wasn’t even present.

  42. Am I the only one who has seen this and worse regarding wedding crap? I had no trouble with all the people. I actually thought it was a few short.

    Yeah, the fitter and dress stuff should go unless you’re going to have Liz or Lavender make a direct remark to someone. I love dogs, but I had trouble with the scene because most people with a dog that was upset with all this would never have let Liz, a complete stranger to the dog, drag her out and pick her up. Definitely more needs done with Faye; she certainly pushed my buttons. I had no trouble with Liz observing. She is, after all, trying to get the hell out with a minimum of fuss. I say keep it somewhat messy. Walking into a room like this cold can resemble being dropped into a mini tornado. Liz wants -out-. Just tighten the tornado a bit.

  43. You have great advice here, I’ve voted on the ones I agree with. I just wanted to say, reading the scene you are having problems with gave me an immense boost in confidence. I thought I was the only one who got lost in her own scenes.
    I’m looking forward to reading this book when you are done.

  44. I have to disagree with the “too many people” judgement. Look at the end of Bet Me . . . how many people wind up in Min’s apartment by the end? It’s just a matter of choreographing. True, this isn’t the climax — but it sounds like one of the big set pieces that a writer uses instead of exposition to make the characters clear. It sounds like it should be one of the key pieces for establishing motive (or laying a red herring, as the case may be).

    Unless I got an extended visit from The Muse, I would have a lot of trouble with handling this many people in one scene — but I’m a beginning writer. Crusie has been in training for DECADES and she’s up to this challenge . . . . But (I always have a caveat) I always do enjoy a well-handled mob scene in a book. Screwball comedies with people rushing in and out of the doors building to a big WTF just happened here? (-: Maybe it needs a couple more characters added to the scene.

    Ah, I’m rambling instead of housecleaning.

    1. I think for me it’s not the number of characters in the scene, it’s the number of new introductions. Every one of the characters gets their descriptive air time, and it’s a little distracting, whereas in Bet Me, by the time everyone ends up in Min’s apartment you know who they all are, a little about what makes them tick, and have a fair idea of their motivation in being there, so all they have to do is turn up.

      1. I think that’s a good point. Everybody in the scene (except for the fitter who is now gone) has been referred to before. Lavender’s been mentioned several times. So has Faye. Margot and Peri have been mentioned once, in the scene previous to this. Patsy’s physically been in three different scenes. Molly’s been in several different scenes. So the reader isn’t going in cold, but it’s still a lot of newbies in there.

  45. Jennifer, I’m new to reading your blog, but I love your books. I’ve read and reread most of them and I love your writing voice.

    About this scene, Faye does strike me as the antagonist, and if she’s lived in Burney forever, and Liz came from there, it strikes me that Faye would have more of a backlog of snide comments, either about Liz personally, or her family, to help tweak the tension. I know many people like Faye, and when they are fixtures in the community, they usually love gossip, and they seem to remember every spicy tidbit of it that they’ve ever heard.

    Give Faye a bit more to say, maybe, and you’ll have plenty of tension to go round. It actually seemed weird to me that she didn’t say more than she did, or that she wasn’t cattier than she was, especially toward Liz, whom she doesn’t have to worry about getting along with for the next umpteen years.

    🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

  46. There would be instant tension if, like you mentioned, Lavender opened the door. Take it a step further, it’s just Lavender and Liz in the room until Faye escorts Molly back from the fitting. Nothing is more tense and awkward than small talk with an enemy. Let them soften toward each other until the MOB comes in and stirs the pot. Unless the rampant alcoholism will further the plot later, maybe cut it back to a comment by Liz on how much the open bar is going to cost b/c of all the drinkers in Cash’s family. Then Lavender can reply with woes of lushes on her side too. Just my thoughts. I want to thank you too for opening your writing process to us.

    1. The thing is, once Liz and Lavender are alone–they have lunch two days later–they’re fine. It’s the nutjobs around them that make for the crazy.

  47. A professed dog lover would have to be stupid to go under a table and drag out a shaking, nervous dog she just kicked without asking a single person if the dog bit when cornered. Dachshunds have the highest bite rate both for biting strangers and their owners. Given the breed, Veronica’s level of stress, and Liz just punting her, I was expecting a fear bite, or at least a warning show of teeth.

    I assume Veronica’s based on one of your own dogs, so you KNOW she wouldn’t bite, but I lost all respect for Liz’s logic skills and professed love of dogs when she dragged out the dog. It took me a while to get back into the scene, and even now I’m wondering why the dog isn’t hiding in a different room without people.

    Having Veronica try to hide behind the new person as the one unstressed person in the room (after all, Liz is only there to grab Molly, this is just shit she has to deal with while she’s in town waiting for the car to get fixed and then she’s gone) and then having the dog get more stressed as Liz notices and reacts to the drinking would make more sense to me.

    Please, for the love of biscuits, don’t have people drag scared dogs out from their hiding places. Even if it is fiction, it’s a really, really bad idea. Or point out that it is a bad idea by having the dog act like a scared dog confronted by a stranger and scoot away or snarl or do SOMETHING that says “hands off, weirdo!” or “OMG, don’t kill me!”

    Faye’s your antagonist, and it’s Team Liz+Lavender that take her down. That’s a conflict worth reading, as it covers finding allies in unlikely places and dealing with the memories of the past overlaying the present- and possibly getting a chance to do it right this time. The rest of the women, aside from Margot and Peri, clutter the room when Liz walks in. They can come into the room latter, being with Molly during the fitting and coming out one by one, or coming in from the kitchen, or something so the reader’s not left like the new kid at school trying to nail down social politics, names and affiliations in the new group.

    Changing Veronica’s name to something like “Buttercup” (somehow assuming she’s the kid’s dog?) or something else a kid would dream up so that it’s not a human’s name would help a little with the “who’s on first?” you’ve got going on.

    1. That’s a good point, that I know Veronica. Actually the first thing I did when I met Veronica was pick her up even though she was cowering. She’s still the most neurotic dog I’ve ever met although she’s much better now. But yeah, that’s a good point, I’ll have to fix that.

  48. Now that it’s mentioned, I agree with the dog objection, but my main problem with the scene as written is that 95% of the information I have about it is visual, and I can’t pull myself into the room without more sensory information. It seems to me that if you had more stuff going on that would create sounds, so that there were sound cues that helped move my attention around the room, it would be easier for me to follow mentally.

    Do you think the problem also might be related to the furniture in the room? As it stands, all you have is a big pretentious oval room with a long table down the middle and a bunch of people in it. If it’s a really pretentious wedding, you could have the dining table pushed off to one side, and covered with wedding presents, and you could put all the different secondary women to work opening the gifts, writing a list of gifts and who gave them, taping the notes or gift tags to the opened box, etc. Which would create rustling noises and reaction sounds as gifts were pulled out of boxes.

    And I would find it easier to follow the overall thread of the action if what Liz sees as she walks in the room is a bustling scene involving people and activity, with each person kind of emerging out of the bustle through an action or a remark or both. That way, the hair color and look of each individual could be described once they come into focus, instead of a series of physical descriptions that can be sort of tedious as they are listed in turn.

    You could also use each of the gifts as signals about the giver, the opener, and the overall tone of the wedding and the town, in a kind of background way.

    And it would also mean that the girl could have something to do, and pull in props that could connect in with the Veronica scene — say the girl was folding the paper and stacking it, and tossing ribbon and bows into a single location, while the dog attacked each piece of flying ribbon. Which would mean Liz wouldn’t have to pick up the dog — she could just kind of rescue her from some kind of airborne attacking ribbon that had gotten caught in the dog’s fur.

    And I felt very uncomfortable about the dresser walking into an otherwise echoing dining room full of people, carrying a group of heavy long bridesmaid dresses on hangers. Could those dresses be hanging on a rack next to a pantry door or something?

    By the end of the scene, I found Faye to be the most obvious antagonist, but up until that point, I thought it was Margot, the vague and fuzzy woman who was also glaring pointedly at Liz — a contrast that surprised me. Then here comes stage manager Faye, making snide remarks, and the hostility vibes were mainly coming from her. However, I kind of think that Faye’s entrance needs to be spotlighted more in some way, with sound or action or reactions of the people in the room. She just comes in from who-knows-where and begins talking, except for the gesture with the drinks. She could have broken something or grabbed something from someone, or corrected the behavior of someone — anything to show her character with action, rather than just with tone. If her activity at that point could be something about the dresses, I’d feel her character was based on personal vanity & appearances — if it was about the wedding gifts, it’d seem more like pride of possessions & status. If it was something else, it’d give me something else to be part of her story. Just alcohol wasn’t enough for me — I’d have liked it better if it were just an adjunct problem.

    Finally, if Liz was in town after years and everybody except the child had known her in a town context years earlier, I would expect people’s reactions to Liz to have involved some reaction to how she looks now compared to before. For me, at least, that’s one of the head-shaking, confusing parts of seeing somebody I haven’t seen in a long time — trying to mesh some old visual memory with the person I’m looking at.

    Overall, though, I’m liking Liz and also Lavender. Looking forward to reading the book. 🙂

    1. Most of these people didn’t know her, their spheres didn’t overlap. Liz was in high school with Margot’s now dead husband, but that was about it. So she knows Patsy and Molly and the rest are strangers.
      The rest of it is adding stuff to an already overloaded scene, so no presents, no dresses, less of everything that’s there. But really, I think the scene is too broken to fix. So I’m junking it and starting over. Best thing to do, otherwise I’m just washing garbage.

  49. *grins* I find it hard to believe that a family that contains Skye Blue, Periwinkle Blue, Navy Blue, and Lavender Blue would not jump at the chance to name the dog Blue. *sings bad folk song* I had a dog, and his name was Blue … betcha five dollars he’s a good dog, too. Now c’mon, Blue! You good dog, you …

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