For My ROW80 Check In, A Scene With A Twist

A quick check in for ROW80, especially as I didn't actually provide an update last week!

I've reprinted The Handful of Time to edit it all over again, but found myself at loose ends in general day-to-day editing tasks, so I've -- possibly foolishly -- sent out a few more queries for two of the other novels.

And I went back to Larksong for the month, in order to participate in the latest exercise on The Lit Forum, which might be called the flip...

"When we write, we paint a scene with our words. Some writers provide a sparse scene with their words, leaving it to the reader to fill the blanks with their own imagination while others add so many visuals aids (colours, smell, touch, etc) the reader can use those to make this more than just a scene, it become alive in a way.

However detailed, the end result is always that the reader has built up a mental picture of the scene, the surroundings, the character, and the reader is relying on this image to follow the story and the characters in this setting.

But what if, for whatever reason -- plot-point, creation of ambiguity, confusion by the POV character -- this scene is portrayed wrongly -- on purpose!

There is something we want the reader not to see just yet, something we are either leaving out or mentioning in a way which distorts the scene. But either during the scene, in the middle of the story, as part of the climax of the story, we will have to show the reader that what they’ve imagined isn’t quite what they’ve been imagining from the beginning.

For this month’s exercise, this is what we are attempting to do."

The only note I provided before submitting my scene is the following: George McKerrow and Alice Cunnick, small town outside Montreal, summer 1914. George has a broken leg. Living room of a small cabin-like lakeside house.

What would you have me do?" George asked, as he shifted in his seat, hoisting himself with both hands on the chair. He'd meant to give her a smile, but ended up grimacing as waves of soreness spread out through his muscles as he stretched.

"Walk around a bit." She gave him an answering smile despite the face he'd pulled. "Then let me fetch you a cushion or two."

He collapsed back in his seat, grinning ruefully. "That obvious, is it?"

"Not to others, maybe," she said and her eyes darted to the open door. The whispers from the pantry hadn't abated. "But I remember. And my cast only came up to the knee."

She held out her arm, and between her support and his own hand on the chair back, he managed to rise, groaning as all his weight rested on his good leg while he arranged his crutches, shoving them one by one under his arms and flexing his fingers as he settled them on the handles. There wasn't much to choose from between the aches in his back when he sat for too long and the cramping in his fingers and pain in his shoulders if he walked even a short while.

"It's a frightful nuisance, this cast," he said, as he began his progress across the room. He tried to keep his voice light, as though complaining of no more than a lack of hot water for tea. "It won't come off for another three weeks at the least." He turned before the mantel and lumbered off in the opposite direction. "If [Wilson's note doesn't hold back the Kaiser], England might be at war by then. With all the physical training I'll have to do after they've cut off the cast, I won't be fit to sign up for a month or more. The war'll be over by then!"


Alice kept silent, to evade all further talk of a war, and watched his progress with a practiced eye. He certainly was strong in the arms. None of them had seen Albert defeat his brother in the arm-wrestling bout. George had declared Albert the winner; why would he lie? Yet it was easy to see how developed his muscles were; he handled the crutches as if he'd been born with them and not been forced to adopt them a mere week ago. His well-tailored pants and shirt moulded to his every movement, setting off the rounded muscle of his good leg, both in calf and thigh.

It took no effort to picture him in a darker suit, with hat and tie, arriving at a ball or dance. If she was on his arm, how the other girls would envy her the handsome companion she'd won. She hadn't yet written to her sister to say she'd be unavailable to help at the hospital for the next few weeks; perhaps when she wrote she might ask, in a roundabout fashion, what Grace knew about the McKerrows. That wouldn't tell her what she really wanted to know at that moment, though, which was whether or not George was a fine dancer. And how his arms might feel about her shoulders.

He banged the crutch ends on the planks as he spun about and made for his chair. "What about those damn cushions?"

"Now you're up, you can fetch them yourself," she snapped back, startled out of her inappropriate thoughts. The McKerrows were certainly volatile; butter wouldn't melt in their mouths one minute, and the next they were all fire and brimstone.

She turned her back on George's twisted face, to hide the blush she felt creeping up her own, and poured out a measure of whisky for each of them.

"Miss --" The crutches banged one by one against the leg of the wing chair. "Alice. Forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive," she said quietly. He mustn't guess the extent of her feelings, that was all. She'd have to do better at keeping her own tone level.

"No, I suppose you can't forgive my essential nature. I'm a brute and a cad."

"Shall I feel sorry for you?"

She stepped aside, to allow him room to manoeuvre into his chair. But with both hands holding onto the sideboard, he inched the two steps towards where she stood before the chesterfield, dragging his bad leg behind. "Certainly not." He clutched the arm of the sofa and eased himself into a sitting position, taking up the glass she'd set before him. "The last thing I want is anyone's pity."

She almost told him, then. Blurted out that she was not who she'd said, not a governess at all. The warmth of the whisky had lulled her into thinking that they felt a mutual closeness.

"Come, sit beside me, Miss Alice," he added, and gave her a knowing smile.

Suddenly, all his actions were tainted. He meant to treat her as Albert did Pixie, was doing at this very moment in the pantry, whispering who knew what flattery and false promises into her ears.

Was it right that they should be so callous towards herself and Pixie; to flirt with them of a weekend and then drop them, simply because they were of a lower class? George wouldn't be half so forward with her if she'd met him as his equal, if he'd known from the start not merely that she wasn't from Pixie's neighbourhood, but that she was a Cunnick, from his.

She ought to have turned him away before now, and not been so glib in her own banter. But she'd been overcome by his charm, and slipped out of the role that she'd assumed.

"I think it's best if I retire, Mr. McKerrow." She clipped her words to keep from lashing out at him with all her garbled emotions. "Tomorrow is like to be a long day."

She gave a prim nod, bade him goodnight, and left.

A high-pitched giggle, echoing from the pantry, followed her up the stairs.

Did you feel the flip? Was it a sudden shock or more of a gradual understanding?
What differences might there be in reading the scene as part of the novel, where the reader already knows the truth of what Alice is hiding?
And, have you ever written anything with a twist?


That's tricky to set up a scene to mislead the reader. Mystery writers do it so well, but it's beyond me. Glad you were up for the task.
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks, Alex! I've only ever written one real mystery, a short story. I love reading them, but they're very difficult to write!
Hi Deniz - you certainly keep yourself busy!! Interesting note about short stories though ... and yes that mystery ... I always never know 'who dun it' ... cheers Hilary
That's an interesting technique. I've never tried to set up a scene in that way; I usually just stick with the traditional way of "what you see is what you get." But I have read scenes that were written in the way that you described, and I like the skillful way that those writers did it;it's always fun when writing surprises the reader.
Deniz Bevan said…
I sort of know what you mean, because I didn't actually set this scene up to be a mystery -- the reader of the novel already knows who Alice is and why she's pretending to be someone she's not. But George doesn't, not yet...

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