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.

This week, we’ll finish looking at A House to Let, a short story project by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elisabeth Gaskill, and Adelaide Anne Procter. They each took a chapter of the short story, and Dickens and Collins wrote the first chapter together, yet they all focus on a particular house and its history and why it has remained available for rent for so long. The narratives are very different, great examples of how an author’s individuality comes to light even while dealing with the same topic and themes as other writers.

If you are interested in sharing a scene of your own 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. To see last week’s scene, click here.

Author: Wilkie Collins

Scene location: Climax of the book

Genre: General Fiction

A House to Let: “Trottle’s Report”

It was getting towards dark, on Monday evening, the thirteenth of the month, when Trottle first set foot on the steps of the house. When he knocked at the door, he knew nothing of the matter which he was about to investigate, except that the landlord was an elderly widower of good fortune, and that his name was Forley. A small beginning enough for a man to start from, certainly!

On dropping the knocker, his first proceeding was to look down cautiously out of the corner of his right eye, for any results which might show themselves at the kitchen-window. There appeared at it immediately the figure of a woman, who looked up inquisitively at the stranger on the steps, left the window in a hurry, and came back to it with an open letter in her hand, which she held up to the fading light. After looking over the letter hastily for a moment or so, the woman disappeared once more.

Trottle next heard footsteps shuffling and scraping along the bare hall of the house. On a sudden they ceased, and the sound of two voices—a shrill persuading voice and a gruff resisting voice—confusedly reached his ears. After a while, the voices left off speaking—a chain was undone, a bolt drawn back—the door opened—and Trottle stood face to face with two persons, a woman in advance, and a man behind her, leaning back flat against the wall.

“Wish you good evening, sir,” says the woman, in such a sudden way, and in such a cracked voice, that it was quite startling to hear her. “Chilly weather, ain’t it, sir? Please to walk in. You come from good Mr. Forley, don’t you, sir?”

“Don’t you, sir?” chimes in the man hoarsely, making a sort of gruff echo of himself, and chuckling after it, as if he thought he had made a joke.

If Trottle had said, “No,” the door would have been probably closed in his face. Therefore, he took circumstances as he found them, and boldly ran all the risk, whatever it might be, of saying, “Yes.”

“Quite right, sir,” says the woman. “Good Mr. Forley’s letter told us his particular friend would be here to represent him, at dusk, on Monday the thirteenth—or, if not on Monday the thirteenth, then on Monday the twentieth, at the same time, without fail. And here you are on Monday the thirteenth, ain’t you, sir? Mr. Forley’s particular friend, and dressed all in black—quite right, sir!”

Author’s Point of View: The author has to quickly establish an ominous feeling, which none of the other authors created, as to why the house remains “to let,” leading up to the resolving climax and resolution.

A House to Let: “Trottle’s Report” (my comments in blue)

[It was getting towards dark, on Monday evening, the thirteenth of the month, when Trottle first set foot on the steps of the house. Given the rest of book was told in first person, writing this section as a report does a good job of switching us into third person. You might not normally want so many particulars, but since it is a report, I think it works.] [When he knocked at the door, he knew nothing of the matter which he was about to investigate, except that the landlord was an elderly widower of good fortune, and that his name was Forley. A small beginning enough for a man to start from, certainly! I found this amusing, since it this report is something Trottle wrote up, himself. He is telegraphing that we should be impressed with what he is going to achieve, even while knowing very little.]

[On dropping the knocker, his first proceeding was to look down cautiously out of the corner of his right eye, for any results which might show themselves at the kitchen-window. I like how you continue the official, professional tone. “Proceeding,” and “results which might show themselves.” Great choice of words!] There appeared at it immediately [the figure of a woman, Interesting. She is introduced, not as a woman, but as “the figure of a woman.” It helps make her seem like a suspicious person, as she isn’t quite human.] who looked up inquisitively at the stranger on the steps, left the window in a hurry, and came back to it with an open letter in her hand, which she held up to the fading light. After looking over the letter hastily for a moment or so, the woman disappeared once more.

[Trottle next heard footsteps shuffling and scraping along the bare hall of the house. I like how you included sound in this “report.”] [On a sudden they ceased, You haven’t really used dialect and colloquialisms in this so far. You might want to consider adding them more, or getting rid of them entirely. Trottle is our narrator, though, and he probably would use some, even if he’s trying to be formal.] [and the sound of two voices—a shrill persuading voice and a gruff resisting voice—confusedly reached his ears. I was divided on this sentence. I liked the “shrill persuading” juxtaposed with the “gruff resisting,” but the “confusedly” didn’t make sense. It seemed like he could make out the sound just fine. Are you referring to the confusion of words, meaning he couldn’t tell what either said?]

[After a while, the voices left off speaking—a chain was undone, a bolt drawn back—the door opened—and Trottle stood face to face with two persons, a woman in advance, and a man behind her, leaning back flat against the wall. I like the details, but you might want to deliver them with just commas between each. You have a lot of dashes in the same paragraph, and you usually want to save them for effect.]

[“Wish you good evening, sir,” says the woman, in such a sudden way, and in such a cracked voice, that it was quite startling to hear her. This is another effect I didn’t “get.” Her words are typical of what someone might say at a front door, though perhaps a little more polite than he had reason to expect. I’m not sure what is supposed to be sudden, when he surely expects her to say something.] “Chilly weather, ain’t it, sir? [Please to walk in. You come from good Mr. Forley, don’t you, sir?” Nice use of improper grammar to give us details on the character of this strange woman.]

“Don’t you, sir?” chimes in the man hoarsely, making a sort of gruff echo of himself, and chuckling after it, as if he thought he had made a joke.

[If Trottle had said, “No,” the door would have been probably closed in his face. Therefore, he took circumstances as he found them, and boldly ran all the risk, whatever it might be, of saying, “Yes.” I like how Trottle is reminding us of his courage, even as he lies to a complete stranger.]

[“Quite right, sir,” says the woman. “Good Mr. Forley’s letter told us his particular friend would be here to represent him, at dusk, on Monday the thirteenth—or, if not on Monday the thirteenth, then on Monday the twentieth, at the same time, without fail. And here you are on Monday the thirteenth, ain’t you, sir? You are repeating information we’ve already heard here, but I think it works. She asks him a question she knows he knows, hinting that there is more significance to it than we know.] [Mr. Forley’s particular friend, and dressed all in black—quite right, sir!” Again, she is congratulating him, this time on his appearance, and we don’t know why. The man he’s masquerading as is expected at a specific time, and wearing black is appropriate—is he to be in mourning, or are his actions to be such that suits wearing black? Something criminal, perhaps? Since you’re trying to set up mystery and suspense, I think you’re doing a good job.]

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 Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by Seemann, Creative Commons

One thought on “Writing That Scene: A House to Let, Part Four

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s