In the format of a non-traditional critique, Writing that Scene examines the fundamentals of what it takes to capably convey a scene to one’s readers. The opinion expressed is my own, and other readers’ opinions may and will differ.

Thanks to Christina Wehner for suggesting this scene for this week’s edition. If you are interested in sharing a scene that you have written for a future post, click on the Writing that Scene Submission link. Or, you can suggest a scene from another writer’s work for us to analyze, as Christina did. To see last week’s scene, click here.

Author: P. G. Wodehouse

Scene location: Middle of the book

Genre: Humor, Romance

Damsel in Distress: (Original Scene Text)

His position, of course, was delicate. He could not go to Maud and beg her to confide in him. Maud would not understand his motives, and might leap to the not unjustifiable conclusion that he had been at the sherry. No! Men were easier to handle than women. As soon as his duties would permit—and in the present crowded condition of the house they were arduous—he set out for George’s cottage.

“I trust I do not disturb or interrupt you, sir,” he said, beaming in the doorway like a benevolent high priest. He had doffed his professional manner of austere disapproval, as was his custom in moments of leisure.

“Not at all,” replied George, puzzled. “Was there anything…?”

“There was, sir.”

“Come along in and sit down.”

“I would not take the liberty, if it is all the same to you, sir. I would prefer to remain standing.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable, that is to say, on the part of George, who was wondering if the butler remembered having engaged him as a waiter only a few nights back. Keggs himself was at his ease. Few things ruffled this man.

“Fine day,” George said.

“Extremely, sir, but for the rain.”

“Oh, is it raining?”

“Sharp downpour, sir.”

“Good for the crops,” said George.

“So one would be disposed to imagine, sir.”

Silence fell again. The rain dripped from the eaves.

“If I might speak freely, sir…” said Keggs.

“Sure. Shoot!”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“I mean, yes, Go ahead.”

“Might I begin by remarking that your little affair of the ‘eart, if I may use the expression, is no secret in the Servants’ ‘All? I ‘ave no wish to seem to be taking a liberty or presuming, but I should like to intimate that the Servants’ ‘All is aware of the facts.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” said George coldly. “I know all about the sweepstake.”

A flicker of embarrassment passed over the butler’s large, smooth face—passed, and was gone.

“I did not know you ‘ad been apprised of that little matter, sir. But you will doubtless understand and appreciate our point of view. A little sporting flutter—nothing more—designed to halleviate the monotony of life in the country.”

“Oh, don’t apologize,” said George, and was reminded of a point which had exercised him a little from time to time since his vigil on the balcony. “By the way, if it isn’t giving away secrets, who drew Plummer?”

“Sir?”

“Which of you drew a man named Plummer in the sweep?”

“I rather fancy, sir,” Keggs’ brow wrinkled in thought, “I rather fancy it was one of the visiting gentlemen’s gentlemen. I gave the point but slight attention at the time. I did not fancy Mr. Plummer’s chances. It seemed to me that Mr. Plummer was a negligible quantity.”

Author’s Point of View: The scene is a turning point in the novel, as the butler and arch-strategist Keggs gets involved in the troubles of George and Maud, trying to help George out so Keggs can win the sweepstakes of the servants’ hall.

Damsel in Distress: (Original Scene Text)

His position, of course, was delicate. He could not go to Maud and beg her to confide in him. Maud would not understand his motives, and might leap to the [not unjustifiable conclusion that he had been at the sherry. Great way of wording this! The long words give us a flavor of Keggs’ thoughts.] [No! You probably don’t need this exclamation, but I liked it. It gave greater force to his determination against going to Maud.] Men were easier to handle than women. As soon as his duties would permit—and in the present crowded condition of the house they were arduous—he set out for George’s cottage.

“I trust I do not disturb or interrupt you, sir,” he said, beaming in the doorway like [a benevolent high priest. I really liked this description. It gave such a nice, quick picture of the man and his view of his own importance.] He had doffed his professional manner of austere disapproval, as was his custom in moments of leisure.

“Not at all,” replied George, puzzled. “Was there anything…?”

“There was, sir.”

“Come along in and sit down.”

“I would not take the liberty, if it is all the same to you, sir. I would prefer to remain standing.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. [Uncomfortable, that is to say, on the part of George, who was wondering if the butler remembered having engaged him as a waiter only a few nights back. Keggs himself was at his ease. Few things ruffled this man. Even in omniscient narration, some people object to “hopping heads,” or, in this case, going from Keggs’ thoughts to those of George. Personally, it has never bothered me, but modern readers supposedly find it disorienting, so you might want to try to reveal this information by George’s actions or words.]

[“Fine day,” George said.

“Extremely, sir, but for the rain.”

“Oh, is it raining?”

“Sharp downpour, sir.”

“Good for the crops,” said George.

“So one would be disposed to imagine, sir.” Great use of dialogue to reiterate the awkwardness of the situation, with short answers that don’t go anywhere.]

[Silence fell again. The rain dripped from the eaves. I liked how you didn’t say that Keggs heard the rain, but merely commented that it was happening. He doesn’t seem like a man who would’ve condescended to hear the rain.]

“If I might speak freely, sir…” said Keggs.

“Sure. Shoot!”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“I mean, yes, Go ahead.”

[“Might I begin by remarking that your little affair of the ‘eart, if I may use the expression, is no secret in the Servants’ ‘All? I ‘ave no wish to seem to be taking a liberty or presuming, but I should like to intimate that the Servants’ ‘All is aware of the facts.” You might want to consider your use of dialect here, with the dropping of the “h’s.” Some people might consider it stereotyping, but you are writing in the genre of humor, so you might be able to get away with it.]

“You don’t have to tell me that,” said George [coldly. I think you don’t need this adverb. We can tell how he spoke by what he said and how Keggs responds.] “I know all about the sweepstake.”

A flicker of embarrassment passed over the butler’s [large, smooth face—passed, and was gone. Nice description! “Large and smooth” reminded me of a shirt-front, immaculate and free of wrinkles, and I liked the “passed, and was gone.” Technically, you didn’t need the comma, but it does give a nice pause to emphasis the banishment at the very end of the sentence.]

“I did not know you ‘ad been apprised of that little matter, sir. But you will doubtless understand and appreciate our point of view. [A little sporting flutter I liked this phrase. Very fun!]—nothing more—designed to halleviate the monotony of life in the country.”

“Oh, don’t apologize,” said George, and was reminded of a point [which had exercised him a little from time to time since his vigil on the balcony. I didn’t understand this sentence. Exercised his curiosity? Or did the point bother him? I wasn’t sure how it would exercise him.] “By the way, if it isn’t giving away secrets, who drew Plummer?”

“Sir?”

“Which of you drew a man named Plummer in the sweep?”

“I rather fancy, sir,” Keggs’ brow wrinkled in thought, “I rather fancy it was one of the visiting gentlemen’s gentlemen. [I gave the point but slight attention at the time. I did not fancy Mr. Plummer’s chances. It seemed to me that Mr. Plummer was a negligible quantity.” Very telling way of describing this other man’s attempt to win Maud’s hand. It tells us a lot about how Keggs sees other people.]

You’re welcome (and encouraged) to share your own comments, keeping a tone of constructive criticism in mind so we can all learn from this project together. And feel free to disagree with any and all of the advice and comments I gave. Thanks!

Comments Andrea Lundgren

4 thoughts on “Writing That Scene: Damsel in Distress

  1. Good to have come across this one. Well analyzed. If I had to do it, I would perhaps focus equally well on George!

    Plum’s scenes are replete with words of wisdom, class references, clues to the personality he is describing and, to top it all, the narrative is liberally laced with humor of the most sunny kind. Other than the moods and sentiments of Home sapiens, he is also equally at ease when capturing characters of a feline and canine kind.

    Like

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