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 a free 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: Rafael Sabatini

Scene location: First third of the book

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

Narrative Style: Third Person Omniscient

Scaramouche:

Through the bustle of traffic on the quay a cabriolet, the upper half of which was almost entirely made of glass, had approached them. It was drawn by two magnificent bay horses and driven by a superbly livened coachman.

In the cabriolet alone sat a slight young girl wrapped in a lynx-fur pelisse, her face of a delicate loveliness. She was leaning forward, her lips parted, her eyes devouring Scaramouche until they drew his gaze. When that happened, the shock of it brought him abruptly to a dumbfounded halt.

Climene, checking in the middle of a sentence, arrested by his own sudden stopping, plucked at his sleeve.

“What is it, Scaramouche?”

But he made no attempt to answer her, and at that moment the coachman, to whom the little lady had already signalled, brought the carriage to a standstill beside them. Seen in the gorgeous setting of that coach with its escutcheoned panels, its portly coachman and its white-stockinged footman—who swung instantly to earth as the vehicle stopped—its dainty occupant seemed to Climene a princess out of a fairy-tale. And this princess leaned forward, with eyes aglow and cheeks aflush, stretching out a choicely gloved hand to Scaramouche.

“Andre-Loius!” she called him.

And Scaramouche took the hand of that exalted being, just as he might have taken the hand of Climene herself, and with eyes that reflected the gladness of her own, in a voice that echoed the joyous surprise of hers, he addressed her familiarly by name, just as she had addressed him.

“Aline!”

“The door,” Aline commanded her footman, and “Mount here beside me,” she commanded Andre-Louis, in the same breath.

“A moment, Aline.”

He turned to his companion, who was all amazement, and to Harlequin and Columbine, who had that moment come up to share it. “You permit me, Climene?” said he, breathlessly. But it was more a statement than a question. “Fortunately, you are not alone. Harlequin will take care of you, Au revoir, at dinner.”

With that he sprang into the cabriolet without waiting for a reply. The footman closed the door, the coachman cracked his whip, and the regal equipage rolled away along the quay, leaving the three comedians staring after it, openmouthed… Then Harlequin laughed.

“A prince in disguise, our Scaramouche!” said he.

Columbine clapped her hands and flashed her strong teeth. “But what a romance for you, Climene! How wonderful!”

The frown melted from Climene’s brow. Resentment changed to bewilderment.

“But who is she?”

“His sister, of course,” said Harlequin, quite definitely.

“His sister? How do you know?”

“I know what he will tell you on his return.”

“But why?”

“Because you wouldn’t believe him if he said she was his mother.”

Author Perspective: This is a turning point in Andre-Louis/Scaramouche’s relationship with his fiancé and fellow actor, Climene, and reintroduces Aline into the plot. The choice to show the scene from Climene’s point of view heightens the drama, because she doesn’t know the carriage or the woman inside, even though, we, the readers, would at least recognize Aline.

Scaramouche: (My comments in blue)

Through the bustle of traffic on the quay a cabriolet, [the upper half of which was almost entirely made of glass, This detail made me think of Cinderella’s glass slipper and her golden-pumpkin coach all rolled into one. It definitely adds to the fairy tale aspect and is convenient, as a narrative device, since Climene can see through the walls to see the young lady within.] had approached them. It was drawn by two magnificent bay horses and driven by a superbly liveried coachman.

[In the cabriolet alone sat a slight young girl wrapped in a lynx-fur pelisse, her face of a delicate loveliness. Even though this is mostly from Climene’s perspective, you don’t lose your omniscient narrator here, which is consistent. I don’t think Climene would describe this rival woman as “delicate loveliness.”] [She was leaning forward, her lips parted, her eyes devouring Scaramouche until they drew his gaze. When that happened, the shock of it brought him abruptly to a dumbfounded halt. Great use of words. “Devouring,” “dumbfounded,” and “shock” all reinforce the emotions of the moment. The only one I don’t think you need is “abruptly,” because between shock and “dumbfounded halt” I think we know it’s abrupt.]

[Climene, checking in the middle of a sentence, arrested by his own sudden stopping, plucked at his sleeve. There are an awful lot of participial phrases here. Two are past tense, which helps, but then we also have a gerund (“stopping”). It adds up to a whole lot of “checking, arrested, stopping, plucked” in a single line. I like all the action, though, especially the fact that she was in the middle of a sentence to which Scaramouche is obviously not paying attention. And the phrases, with their accompanying commas, do create a kind of jerky communication of Climene’s own confusion.]

“What is it, Scaramouche?”

[But he made no attempt to answer her, and at that moment the coachman, to whom the little lady had already signalled, brought the carriage to a standstill beside them. Seen in the gorgeous setting of that coach with its escutcheoned panels, its portly coachman and its white-stockinged footman—who swung instantly to earth as the vehicle stopped—its dainty occupant seemed to Climene a princess out of a fairy-tale. Again, we have a nice mix of Climene and the omniscient narrator. She is noticing that Scaramouche isn’t answering her and the overall grandeur of the carriage, and the omniscient narrator has the clarity to explain who was doing what, when, and how.] And this princess leaned forward, [with eyes aglow and cheeks aflush, stretching out a choicely gloved hand to Scaramouche. Again, I like your choice of words. “Aglow” and “aflush” have nice parallelism, and the “choicely gloved hand” was great.]

[“Andre-Loius!” she called him.

And Scaramouche I like the juxtaposition of his real name with his character-stage name. You could’ve just said “he” here, but contrasting the two names mirrors what I’m sure Climene is doing in her own mind.] took the hand of [that exalted being, just as he might have taken the hand of Climene herself, and with eyes that reflected the gladness of her own, in a voice that echoed the joyous surprise of hers, he addressed her familiarly by name, just as she had addressed him. Again, nice coloring, and I like all the comparison of his familiar manners between the two women.]

“Aline!”

[“The door,” Aline commanded her footman, You don’t really need the second “Aline” here, but there is a chapter break at the beginning of this sentence.] and “Mount here beside me,” [she commanded Andre-Louis, in the same breath. This is the second “commanded” in the same sentence, but it fits, I think. She could’ve said “Mount here beside me,” in any number of tones, and “commanded” makes her choice clear.]

“A moment, Aline.”

He turned to his companion, who was all amazement, and to Harlequin and Columbine, who had that moment come up to share it. “You permit me, Climene?” said he, [breathlessly. But it was more a statement than a question. I don’t usually like clarifying statements, because I feel they should stand up on their own, but in this case, we are so close to Climene that her reaction (noting that his question is truly not a question) can follow hard upon the statement itself. It’s a fifty-fifty, I’d say, especially since the next paragraph notes that he doesn’t wait for a reply.] “Fortunately, you are not alone. Harlequin will take care of you. Au revoir, at dinner.”

With that he sprang into the cabriolet without waiting for a reply. The footman closed the door, the coachman cracked his whip, and the regal equipage rolled away along the quay, leaving the three comedians staring after it, openmouthed… Then Harlequin laughed.

“A prince in disguise, our Scaramouche!” said he.

Columbine clapped her hands and flashed her [strong teeth. Interesting choice of words. Makes her sound more animal and even aggressive.] “But what a romance for you, Climene! How wonderful!”

[The frown melted from Climene’s brow. Resentment changed to bewilderment. I like that you don’t tell us she’s jealous, but hint at it with all these clues. “Resentment,” a frown, and all the comparisons between herself and Aline suggest it, leaving it up to us to put the pieces together.]

“But who is she?”

[“His sister, of course,” said Harlequin, quite definitely.

“His sister? How do you know?”

“I know what he will tell you on his return.”

“But why?”

“Because you wouldn’t believe him if he said she was his mother.” Great piece of comedy and very fitting. He is flippant about the whole thing, as a guy would be, and as an improviser, he would come up with this response.]

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 AcrylicArtist, Creative Commons

 

4 thoughts on “Writing That Scene: Scaramouche

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