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: Anthony Trollope

Scene location: First half of the book

Genre: General Fiction

Narrative Style: Third Person Omniscient

Can You Forgive Her?:

That this transom was modern was to be seen from the magnificent height and light grace of the workmanship in the other windows, in which the long slender mullions rose from the lower stage or foundation of the whole up into the middle tracery of the arch without protection or support, and then lost themselves among the curves, not running into the roof or soffit, and there holding on as though unable to stand alone. Such weakness as that had not yet shown itself in English architecture when Matching Priory was built.

“Is it not beautiful!” said Glencora. “I do love it so! And there is a peculiar feeling of cold about the chill of the moon, different from any other cold. It makes you wrap yourself up tight, but it does not make your teeth chatter; and it seems to go into your senses rather than into your bones. But I suppose that’s nonsense,” she added, after a pause.

“Not more so than what people are supposed to talk by moonlight.”

“That’s unkind. I’d like what I say on such an occasion to be more poetical or else more nonsensical than what other people say under the same circumstances. And now I’ll tell you why I always think of you when I come here by moonlight.”

“But I suppose you don’t often come here.”

“Yes, I do; that is to say, I did come very often when we had the full moon in August. The weather wasn’t like this, and I used to run out through the open windows and nobody knew where I was gone. I made him come once, but he didn’t seem to care about it. I told him that part of the refectory wall was falling, so he looked at that, and had a mason sent the next day. If anything is out of order he has it put to rights at once. There would have been no ruins if all the Pallisers had been like him.”

“So much the better for the world.”

“No;–I say no. Things may live too long. But now I’m going to tell you. Do you remember that night I brought you home from the play to Queen Anne Street?”

“Indeed I do,–very well.”

Alice had occasion to remember it, for it had been in the carriage on that evening that she had positively refused to give any aid to her cousin in the matter relating to Burgo Fitzgerald.

“And do you remember how the moon shone then?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“I know I do. As we came round the corner out of Cavendish Square he was standing there,–and a friend of yours was standing with him.”

“What friend of mine?”

“Never mind that; it does not matter now.”

Author Perspective: This scene gives us the backstory of Lady Glencora’s romance and explains why her elopement with Burgo failed. Thus, it has to carry a great deal of exposition while still moving the plot forward.

Can You Forgive Her?: (My comments in blue)

[That this transom was modern was to be seen from the magnificent height and light grace of the workmanship in the other windows, in which the long slender mullions rose from the lower stage or foundation of the whole up into the middle tracery of the arch without protection or support, and then lost themselves among the curves, not running into the roof or soffit, and there holding on as though unable to stand alone. Such weakness as that had not yet shown itself in English architecture when Matching Priory was built. This is the very end of a paragraph of description about the ruins of Matching Priory. The use of terms is appropriate, since this is omniscient narration; otherwise, I doubt Glencora or Alice would be so fluent in architectural terms. Nice use of the narrator to set the setting and add a hint of humor, commenting that modern architecture is weak because it clings to the roof or soffit instead of standing by itself.

I also liked the possible symbolism here. Two women are debating independence versus the need to cling to a man, in the form of a husband or a lover, to make their existence worth while. This is something Alice deals with throughout the novel, struggling to find her place and to know whether it is better to exist apart from any man.

[“Is it not beautiful!” said Glencora. “I do love it so! And there is a peculiar feeling of cold about the chill of the moon, different from any other cold. It makes you wrap yourself up tight, but it does not make your teeth chatter; and it seems to go into your senses rather than into your bones. But I suppose that’s nonsense,” she added, after a pause. I liked this paragraph. You left us without any description of the moon, but Glencora provides it. I think description works really well when it is given to us in dialogue, letting the character shade what is seen and acknowledged in the setting.]

[“Not more so than what people are supposed to talk by moonlight.” I found your choice to not categorize this sentence interesting. On my first read-through, I didn’t realize Alice was being sarcastic until I read Glencora’s response. How you have it written actually leaves it up to the reader’s interpretation. Is Alice saying this gently, and Glencora just takes offence regardless, or does Alice intend the line to be cutting?]

“That’s unkind. I’d like what I say on such an occasion to be more poetical or else more nonsensical than what other people say under the same circumstances. And now I’ll tell you why I always think of you when I come here by moonlight.”

[“But I suppose you don’t often come here.” Alice cuts her off, which is interesting. It indicates some disinterest in the disclosure, or perhaps apprehension, but, again, we are left to analyze Alice’s actions apart from any inner information about how she feels or even how she says what she’s saying.]

“Yes, I do; that is to say, I did come very often when we had the full moon in August. [The weather wasn’t like this, and I used to run out through the open windows and nobody knew where I was gone. I like this anecdote. It shows Glencora’s desire to get away from other people without her having to say as much. [I made him come once, but he didn’t seem to care about it. She is talking about her husband here, yet all she says is “him.” Very telling.] I told him that part of the refectory wall was falling, so he looked at that, and had a mason sent the next day. [If anything is out of order he has it put to rights at once. There would have been no ruins if all the Pallisers had been like him.” This sounds flattering, and makes it seem like her husband is capable of fixing anything, but her next statement makes it clear that, in her opinion, not everything needs to be fixed.]

“So much the better for the world.”

“No;–I say no. Things may live too long. [But now I’m going to tell you. Do you remember that night I brought you home from the play to Queen Anne Street?” You’ve done a great job of making this conversation feel natural. Glencora starts to tell Alice, and gets sidetracked, and then comes back to the subject and starts again.]

“Indeed I do,–very well.”

Alice had occasion to remember it, for it had been in the carriage on that evening that she had positively refused to give any aid to her cousin in the matter relating to Burgo Fitzgerald.

“And do you remember how the moon shone then?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“I know I do. As we came round the corner out of Cavendish Square he was standing there,–and a friend of yours was standing with him.”

“What friend of mine?”

[“Never mind that; it does not matter now.” I think this is my favorite line in the whole section. We know that the subject matters to Glencora, because she introduced it. She thinks of Alice, and this episode, most likely, every time she visits the ruins and sees the moonlight, yet she dismisses everything as though it didn’t matter. It contrasts greatly with the details of her memory, of how she knows she remembers, and she recalls the street, and rounding the corner, and that a friend of Alice was there. She’s reliving that moment, and when Alice seems to not remember, she seems to be jolted out of her memory and affects a lack of interest. All this, just with dialogue. Beautifully done!]

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
Photo by cooee, Creative Commons

One thought on “Writing That Scene: Can You Forgive Her?

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