In the format of a non-traditional critique, Writing That Scene examines the fundamentals of what it takes to make a scene powerful and memorable for readers. The opinion expressed is my own, and other readers’ opinions may differ.

The goal is to provide an opportunity for authors to learn from each other and to see their own “problem scenes” with fresh eyes. In my own experience, hearing what other writers and readers think of some of my own writing scenes has helped give me a fresh perspective, getting me thinking “What if…” and pointing out possibilities I hadn’t even considered.

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: L. Frank Baum

Scene location: The beginning of the book

Genre: “Modernized” Fairy Tale

Narrative Style: Third Person Omniscient

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor, and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds.

Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by the trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway, and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rain washed it away and now the house was as dull and grey as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Author Perspective: This scene has to depict Dorothy’s home, establishing normal so it can be compared later to the wonderful vibrancy and strange characteristics of the Land of Oz, where Dorothy goes after a cyclone carries her away. This is the only part of the story that has Kansas, but Dorothy talks about it later, so it has to stick in the reader’s mind.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: (My comments in blue)

[Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Describing Aunt Em, not as his wife, but the farmer’s wife, adds a bit of formula to it, like a child’s rhyme (Farmer in the Dell, for example), where the occupation is more important than the name.] [Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor, and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. I find it interesting that everything is so specific, save the “three or four chairs.” It is almost childlike, to state that they are there, more or less, and not to explain where the fourth has gone when it isn’t there.]

Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. [There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by the trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole. Nice way to introduce the cyclone cellar and the concept of whirlwinds, which plays into the plot later.]

[When Dorothy stood in the doorway, and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Again, I like the details. Everything is general enough for your genre, since this was written with children in mind, but the details are what makes this interesting. It isn’t just a gray mass, but it has “little cracks running though it.”]

[Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rain washed it away and now the house was as dull and grey as everything else. Some might say you should probably get on with the action, soon, but I like the establishing of Kansas.]

[When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. I really like how you take the time to focus on Aunty Em, showing her, not as Dorothy would know her, but as a sympathetic narrator can see her. She isn’t just the farmer’s wife, now, but a real woman.] [When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at. This was my favorite section of the whole beginning. There is a story there, I think, about Aunt Em and her inner life, where laughter grates so much that she must scream in response. It suggests that there is more to adults than children see or understand, and it made me want to read more about the relationship between Aunt Em and Dorothy.]

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!

 Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren

3 thoughts on “Writing That Scene: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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