Thursday, January 26, 2012

English and French Scenes and Beats: learning to see your story's mechanical and innate rhythms


Editor or agent says your story is good but "wanders"

Abundant notes scrawled in the margin saying "why is this here?" "Cut way back" or "Move somewhere else." You can see the point of the notes but haven't a clue how to comply without screwing things up.

You've been very careful about viewpoint and you know you wrote it all in limited viewpoint, either single viewpoint throughout or one viewpoint at a time, but several editors—especially the more careless ones who don't seem to be able to remember character names or events—are telling you that you need to learn to write in viewpoint.

You notice yourself that you seem to be spending too much time on setups and you've had to repeat some of them multiple times (a cab ride across town that happens because your hero needs to meet with two people who live far apart, an EVA to replace the Astrocrevulator for the fourth time, Nellie walking her dog hoping to meet Allen, Allen crouching in the parking lot trying to get up the nerve to rescue that poor abused dog from Nellie), and you're sure many of them are unnecessary.

Editor or agent (or sometimes critique group if they're astute) is complaining that everything in the story always goes on a little too long and seems to just trail off.


For some reason you're not responding to or controlling scene and beat structure. Probably the great majority of people with this problem never learned how to read scene and beat structure at all, which is a bit like having learned to play an instrument and read notes without being told what those two little numbers at the beginning of the score mean, or studying ballroom dance without anybody ever teaching you to count beats or listen for resolutions.

Many other problems are fixable once you get the basic skill of perceiving the scene and beat structure, so we'll be back to this many times in the weeks to come, but the symptoms I describe above are directly caused by not seeing it.

 Sometimes people  just never learned scene and beat structure (it's not there in most fiction writing courses), sometimes they have learned an inadequate version (accompanied by exhortations to do it better), and many times if the teacher is a "natural" who has that structure in the bones, the teacher may sense that it is an issue but feel helpless about explaining it.

In every art there are mechanical rhythms and innate rhythms, and much of the micro-scale interest and excitement comes from the interaction between the two. A mechanical rhythm is a simple, mark-outable pattern that could be produced by a machine (like a metronome):
•the kind of beat you get from a drum machine
•the alternation of light and dark bands as your eye scans outward from the initial focus of a painting
•the act structure of a conventional movie
•the structure of a knock knock joke, a "how many X does it take to change a light bulb?" joke, or a "yo mama so [adjective]" joke are obvious, but also the innumerable jokes with three successive sexual encounters [the first two are alike to establish the pattern, the third varies].
•narrative diagonal eye travel in many photographs and paintings; the eye is first drawn to something attention-getting like an odd facial expression or interaction, then moves outward to the thing that explains it.
•the fitting of a base step to the music (like a novice learning to fox trot, as left-step-close-right-step-close, and then swing as dig-step,dig-step, l-o-n-g step).
•the alternation of question shot, speaker shot, reaction shot, speaker shot in documentary interviews.
•all those metric terms in poetics like dactylic trimeter (the first, second, and fifth line of a limerick) or anapestic tetrameter (the rhythm of The Night Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas), or iambic pentameter (Shakespearean blank verse).

So those are mechanical rhythms in the sense that they are rules a robot could impose. But purely mechanical rhythm is dull; it would be like tangoing to a metronome, never changing the setting on a drum machine, having the hero's partner always killed at 22:38 in cop movies, or what Samuel Johnson was satirizing when he ad libbed the metrically perfect (and deliberately dreadful) verse:

I put my hat upon my head
And went into the strand.
There I met another man
Whose hat was in his hand.

If mechanical rhythm were all there is to art, we'd be better off dancing to clocks, watching randomly placed webcams, reading the plot summaries in TV guide, and listening to tones from a random number generator. Luckily, though, subject material has innate rhythm—things that need to be drawn out or shortened, places where the emotional or intellectual content forces a push-back against the mechanical rhythm. Alfred Hitchcock knew the tension between innate and mechanical rhythm as well as any director ever did, which is why Psycho abruptly restarts after the shower scene. Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours LP might be the best illustration you could find of mechanical/innate rhythmic tension—listen to how he gracefully contrasts the emotional sense of the (apparently trite) lyrics to the (apparently) mechanical rhythm of the orchestra (apparently because Nelson Riddle is doing some amazing stuff there too), and suddenly the trite and clich├ęd lights up into the universal and timeless.

Mechanical/innate rhythm tension is a major component of what ballroom dancers call musicality, the way each couple puts together a distinct phrase that matches and comments on the phrase in the music.
Finding the right balance is what makes Hamlet's suicide soliloquy such a crazy bugger for an actor to cope with; metrically you could score that first line as

to BE or NOT to BE that IS the QUEStion,

five evenly distributed stresses (with that little on-hanging syllable at the end), ba DUMP ba DUMP ba DUMP ba DUMP ba DUMP-uh,

but while the meaning is perfectly clear, it's not very interesting.

Several alternate scores are possible. What if the idea of dying is more emotionally loaded for Hamlet than the idea of living, either because he longs for death or because he is horrified by it?* Then what if the words expressing the idea of death were turned into the harsh drum-roll of a triplet? Of course then you'd need to slip in another stress (because the triplet would combine two stresses, and you need to keep the five stresses to a line rule going mechanically). Then you'd be looking at:

ba DUMP ba DUMP-DI-DUMP. DUMP ba ba DUMP-uh,

To BE or NOT-TO-BE. THAT is the QUES-tion.

Or you could slow the beginning down into pounding spondees and pack the unstresses into the end:

DUMP DUMP, ba DUMP-diddy, ba DUMP ba DUMP-uh.

TO BE, or NOT to be, that IS the QUESTION.

and that slower innate rhythm might suggest less passion and more contemplation. Is Hamlet a thoughty guy driven to violent action, or a violent, passionate man wracked by doubt? The adjustment of innate to mechanical rhythm in that single line (and then in many others) will express that, and that's one reason actors spend a lot of time walking in circles and reciting the same phrases to themselves over and over, and directors and actors sometimes engage in screaming matches over the stress on a single word.**

Even the humble knock knock joke can apply an innate rhythm against its mechanical rhythm to become more funny***; when one of my stepsons was much younger, he was fond of this one:
"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"The annoying cow who interrupts."
"The annoying—"
"—cow who int—"

Fiction, despite the extraordinarily strenuous efforts by people I won't mention here, is an art, and it's got that mechanical and innate rhythm dialog like anything else. So today's tool is a way of marking out the mechanical rhythm and then seeing what the innate rhythm is doing with and to it. (And if there is no innate rhythm, your story will be "predictable"—i.e. what a musician means by "square," a poet by "sing-songy," and nearly everyone means by "dull.")

Prescription: Mark out the rhythmic units of the work to find the mechanical rhythm. Title them to find the innate rhythm. Systematically decide either to put the two rhythms into resonance or contrast at each point.

First some terms I learned mostly in my training as a theatrical director, have used to mark up dozens of scripts, and have applied to most of my own novels and nearly every book I've doctored over the years. I realize some of them are confusing, especially the frequent use of scene to mean different things, but I have preferred to use inherited terms as much as possible, rather than coin new ones and make matters that much more confusing.

Writing "in scene" versus "in narrative summary": scene is experienced by the reader as the "happening" or "shown" part of the book; narrative summary as the "explained" or "told" part.**** For example: Harry burst in and shot them before they could get out of bed, is narrative summary. Scene would be more like:
She sighed and curled against Nathan. A slight sound made her look up. She saw the doorknob turning. "My god, it's Harry—" As she tried to sit up, the door swung wide, revealing Harry with his gun. Before she could say Don't! there was a terrible roar, and she felt Nathan fall back beside her. She felt the scream forming in her throat, but then there was a roar, a red blur, and nothingness.

English scene: An English scene is a block of text entirely in scene—it begins and ends at marked scene/chapter/part breaks or at the beginning or end of narrative summary. By its nature it will be continuous in time, may be continuous in action, and might be continuous in other regards like characters present, location, etc.

French scene: A block of text within an English scene in which the important cast is continuous; it begins/ends with exits or entrances of significant characters. (Maids, waiters, random yeomen, etc. are often not important enough to break a French scene, but might be; it's your call).

Expansion on the above: English Scene and French Scene are actually printer's terms.
English plays were printed with each scene identified by physical locations and times:
Scene 1: The vicar's garden, St. Swithin's Day, about teatime.
Scene 2: the same, four hours later.
Scene 3: Amelia's dungeon, morning of the following Christmas, just before dawn.
French plays were always printed with each scene identified by a list of who was on stage:
Scene 1: Vicar, Dobbins, Girl Scout 1, Girl Scout 2
Then when the Girl Scouts leave, we have
Scene 2: Vicar, Dobbins
until Amelia comes in with two nonspeaking policemen and Inspector Borderline:
Scene 3: Vicar, Mr. Dobbins, Amelia, Borderline, policemen
and once the cops take the Vicar away, we finally have
Scene 4: Dobbins, Borderline, Amelia
and those 4 French scenes might all fit within English Scene 1.*****

Meanwhile, back at the definitions:

Beat (in theatre textbooks you may see this called "director's beat" because there are several other kinds): the interval within a scene in which one action or motivation is paramount.

Beat title. A single sentence describing the most important thing that happens in the beat.

Core beat. The beat in which the most important thing that happens in the French scene actually happens. "Most important" is decided by you, the artist.

Now, it's possible to have one French scene be a single beat—a character enters and does something for a reason, end of scene. And obviously you can have an English scene with only one French scene—there are just no exits and entrances. But the more common situation is that people will go in and out during one English scene, creating more French scenes, and that people will frequently do more than one thing during one French scene. So the logical numbering system is
English Scene #.French Scene #.Beat #
For example, in narrative summary, one day at the zoo, Timmy and his mother are watching the tiger, talking about how sad it is that Daddy has been dead for a year, when a handsome zookeeper approaches and talks to Timmy about the tiger as an obvious way to try to pick up Mommy, except suddenly Uncle Ned (Daddy's dead brother) rushes up and gets into a fight with the handsome zookeeper, which Mommy and Timmy flee, and then it's revealed that the zookeeper is in a conspiracy with Uncle Ned. Half an hour later, Mommy assures Timmy that Uncle Ned is just a crazy asshole.

So that's two English scenes—it all happens at the tiger pit at the zoo, continuously, then moves to McDonalds a little later. That's four French scenes (caused by 3 entrances/exits). And that's several beats per French scene. This would be the numbering (which is very easy to do on an Excel spreadsheet, by the way):

1.1.1. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 1, Beat 1) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy and Mommy. Timmy and Mommy talk about how it's been a year since Daddy died

1.2.1. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 2, Beat 1) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome. Mr. Handsome, the zookeeper, introduces himself and offers to talk about the tigers

1.2.2. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 2, Beat 2) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome. Mr. Handsome transparently hits on Mommy

1.3.1. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 3, Beat 1) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome, Uncle Ned. Uncle Ned arrives suddenly and accuses Mr. Handsome of being up to no good

1.3.2. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 3, Beat 2) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome, Uncle Ned. Uncle Ned assaults Mr. Handsome.

1.3.3. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 3, Beat 3) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome, Uncle Ned. Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome slug it out

1.3.4. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 3, Beat 4) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Timmy, Mommy, Mr. Handsome, Uncle Ned. Timmy and Mommy flee.

1.4.1. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 4, Beat 1) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome. Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome instantly stop fighting and make sure neither of them is injured

1.4.2. (that is, English Scene 1, French Scene 4, Beat 2) Place/Time: Tiger pit at the zoo, Wednesday morning. Characters: Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome. Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome agree that Phase I has gone very well.

2.1.1. (that is, English Scene 2, French Scene 1, Beat 1) Place/Time: McDonalds, half an hour later. Characters: Timmy and Mommy. Mommy reassures Timmy that Uncle Ned is just a crazy sonofabitch.

Don't number blocks of narrative summary as you find them; just mark them. Sometimes—I have this problem often—narrative summary is disguised as expository dialogue, and you may decide to just mark it "Narrative Summary: Uncle Ned's Backstory" rather than "Uncle Ned and Mr. Handsome talk about how Daddy prevented them from carrying out their plot to rob Fort Knox, and had to be killed." But if all it is, is explaining things to the reader, it is narrative summary, and should be labeled as such.

Those beat titles, the one-sentence summaries of each beat, are where you will find the innate rhythm. If you need more than one sentence to say the single most important thing that happens in a beat, your beat is too big or too unfocused; split it. This doesn't mean that no more than one thing should be happening in a beat—see my notes about single duty scenes on that—but a man who is juggling bowling pins on a unicycle while escaping from the Nazis and remembering his mother is probably doing one of those things more than any of the others at any given instant, and that is the action that should be there as the beat title.

Narrative summary sections should get a one-sentence or one-phrase summary too—"Milton's hobbies include skydiving," "How the Confederacy conquered Cuba," "Basic procedure in forensic entomology."

Put all beat titles in the active voice; it will save you a ton of time and rethinking.

Now, sort of a checklist:

Look at the grammatical subjects of the beat titles—who is doing what in what beats?
•Is the subject of every sentence the same thing for a while, then something else for a while, etc? That's telling you what character we need to follow—possibly by making her/him the viewpoint, possibly by focusing the narrator's attention there. So … is that who you're following? Are they getting the most attention? (Surprisingly often in new writers, they are not).
•Do the grammatical subjects alternate? That is, do they form a pattern like:
Tom demands that Nellie explain why she did it
Nellie books passage to Qatar
Tom makes plans to pursue her to Qatar
Nellie talks to her mother …
and on and on and on …
Alternating subjects can be good or bad, but they happen for a reason, and you need to know what that reason is. Are you cutting back and forth too much, so that what really ought to happen is recombination into different sequences of beats (perhaps spread across different English and French scenes)? Or are we watching a fight from both sides, and is that how we should see it? Big hint: interesting fights in stories are generally one-sided till a final reversal, so if the sides are winning about evenly, and in alternation, think seriously about giving all the wins till a final big reversal to one side or the other. And note "fight" does not have to mean broken furniture, flying plates, and baseball bats; two paraplegics in adjoining beds can have a hell of a good fight from a story standpoint. Or is the alternation caused by a building convergence—you're cutting back and forth between the man finishing a dull day in the office, and his boss making the decision to fire him? Convergences can be effective, but also very tricky. Do you want that or not?
•Is a minor character the grammatical subject through a whole long sequence? You've just discovered a new major character who may need to be rounded out.
•Conversely, does the grammatical subject change a lot and irregularly? Could beats be rewritten or reassigned so that a smaller number of characters directly caused more of the events in the book?

Look at the main verb of each beat title.
              •Does it involve change? conspires, hits, kisses, approaches, recruits, mollifies—those all involve change. Those are almost always good.
              •Is it static? tells, enjoys, explains—those are static. They can be all right but they are spots where your narrative may flag.
              •Is it entirely internal to the viewpoint character's mind? contemplates, remembers, considers, reflects  This is a special case of static verbs in the beat title, and you should consider either finding something more interesting to have happen, or just zooming through it in narrative summary. (Here's a place where telling beats hell out of showing). Or of course just ditch it.

Look at the structure of each French scene.
•Do the beats increase in tension, interest, dramatic value, humor (if it's funny), or intensify in the overall mood (if there is one?) Can they be rearranged to do so?
•Is there a dud beat that kills the effect of the French scene, and can it be moved, replaced, or omitted?
•Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won't, but always check to see if the last sentence of the last beat in a French scene can be a good "curtain line" (i.e. something that dramatically nails the point of both the beat and the scene). Readers tend to pay more attention to entries and exits, so what you say here is apt to be remembered; don't waste the opportunity if there is any potential use for it.
•Also see if the first paragraph or so of the first beat in a French scene has potential to start things off with a bang, literally or figuratively.
•Do the beginning and ending beats in a French scene have direct bearing on why people came in or went out? If not, can they be made to do so? It helps a great deal if characters appear to be entering and leaving for their own reasons, rather than the author's.
•Identify a core beat in each French scene, and place it for dramatic effect. A core beat is the exact beat in which the single most important event of the French scene happens. Assuming the French scene has multiple beats, there are basically three places to put the core beat: beginning, middle, and end of the French scene.
                  ===> Put the core beat at the beginning if the French scene is basically about people dealing with the aftermath—accepting, grieving, rejoicing, scheming, somehow responding
to the event in the core beat.
===> Put the core beat in the middle if the French scene is one of reversal or dramatic change; the early beats prepare us for the change, and the late beats show us that the change has happened.
===> Put the core beat at the end, paradoxically, for either resolutions or cliffhangers; if the most important thing about this French scene is that it either ends a major sequence of events, or that something much bigger is to follow it, that core beat should be at the end to signal either.
                           As a quickie example, suppose the title of the core beat is Bill beats Nancy to death
. If the French scene is about the grief and rage of her friends and family, the core beat goes first; if it's about how everything in the community changes because of that murder, that core beat goes in the middle; if it's the shocking end to a sequence of events, or if the next major scene will be about the manhunt for Bill, then Bill beats Nancy to death should be the last beat in that French scene.

Check the structure of French scenes within the English scenes
              •Is any character being made to come in and go out repeatedly? That almost always looks like an author improvising or temporizing. "Sorry," said Lady Garrulous, "I must leave the room or you will never be able to gossip about me. I shall be back when you begin discussing Lord Credulous and his marital difficulties." If the French scenes can be moved or switched so that people come and go just once, that's generally a good idea—but don't blow the dramatic structure for it. Instead:
              •If there are many French scenes, consider breaking the English scene into some smaller English scenes.
              •Considerations about placing a core French scene within the English scene, exactly parallel to those of placing a beat within a French scene, might or might not apply; look to see if they do.
              •Estimate the time credibility of the English scene. Just jot down about how long each French scene would take in real life and add them up; if you notice that people are having early morning breakfast for nine hours, adjust.

When you have finished modifying the English/French/beat structure, redraft accordingly. The process is time consuming, hard work, a miserable job all around—and can absolutely transform a novel if pursued rigorously and seriously.

An example:
The following is a beat and scene summary of about the first quarter of a novel I book doctored many years ago, very heavily search-and-replaced to conceal everything about it, because the author went on to revise it in light of the discussion we had about this analysis, it sold, and it went on to modest sales and is now out of print. You would truly not recognize it from what it was before.
If you're wondering whether my original description of the beats was this brutal: yes, at the publisher's request. The author had many darlings to murder and needed motivating.

1.1.1 Fort Heroic, Province of Dirtbag. Reign of the Old Emperor. Aabli, Commotion. Aabli meets his father, General Commotion, who is on his way to the front to fight against Chief Extra Noble, of the Noblesavages, up in the Poverty Range, and is taken along.
2.1.1 Joyful City. The present from which Aabli views past events. Aabli, Bari, Caggy, Duxo. Aabli natters on about the circumstances of his birth to his now very old friends, who apparently never heard it before.
2.1.2 Joyful City. The present from which Aabli views past events. Aabli, Bari, Caggy, Duxo. Aabli natters on about what a smart guy his teacher, Braino, was, and then philosophizes at random.
2.1.3 Joyful City. The present from which Aabli views past events. Aabli, Bari, Caggy, Duxo. In an after dinner speech, Aabli recounts the entire history of the last three emperors.
3.1.1 Province of Dirtbag, the Poverty Range, a few weeks after 1.1.1. Aabli, Caggy, bunch of natives. Noblesavage rebels sack the camp after defeating Commotion, and capture Aabli.
3.1.2 Province of Dirtbag, the Poverty Range, immediately after the last scene. Aabli, Caggy, bunch of natives. Noblesavage rebels dispose of Aabli and Bari as prisoners.
4.1.1 Fort Heroic, Imperial provincial capital of Dirtbag, immediately after. Aabli, Bari. Aabli looks out the window as he rides in a carriage through newly-captured Fort Heroic.
(from here on the location doesn't change much and the French scenes are sort of obvious, so I'll omit that in the interest of readability; you may want to do something similar in your own work)
4.1.2. The Noblesavages put Aabli and Bari into a cell in the Torture House of Fort Heroic.
4.2.1. Aabli discovers former Governor Pompous Windbag is in the next cell.
4.2.2. Pompous Windbag talks for six straight hours and gives the entire recent history so the readers will know who Chief Extra Noble is.
4.2.3 Pompous Windbag tells how he was captured by Chief Extra Noble and how the Emperor's Own Guard were massacred.
4.2.4. Pompous Windbag explains that they are hostages
5.1.1. It is dull in the Torture House.
5.1.2. Pompous Windbag decides to teach fighting to Aabli.
6.1.1 Pompous Windbag teaches Aabli swordsmanship.
NARRATIVE SUMMARY Chief Extra Noble pays several cordial visits.
7.1.1 Aabli is summoned to meet Chief Extra Noble.
8.1.1 Aabli meets Chief Extra Noble.
8.1.2 Aabli meets Chief Extra Noble's children, Minniehottie and Duxo.
9.1.1. Aabli confides to Bari that he has a crush on Minniehottie
9.1.2. Aabli is invited to spend time with Chief Extra Noble's kids.
10.1.1. Minniehottie treats Aabli with disdain.
10.1.2. Aabli clashes with Minniehottie and Duxo on the subject of Joyful City.
10.1.3 Aabli slugs Duxo.
10.2.1. Chief Extra Noble comes in and breaks up the fight
10.2.2 Chief Extra Noble explains his ideas to Aabli, who is instantly converted.
10.2.3. Aabli patches things up and becomes instant close, good friends with Duxo and Minniehottie.
11.1.1. Aabli lies to Bari and Pompous Windbag about the conflict with Chief Extra Noble's children.
NARRATIVE SUMMARY Chief Extra Noble has a powerful dream of Aabli.
12.1.1 The fortune teller freaks out when she reads Aabli's Tarot, and seems to be god-possessed.
12.1.2. Chief Extra Noble interprets the prophecy to mean Aabli will be good luck to him.
13.1.1. Aabli tells Bari and Pompous Windbag about Chief Extra Noble's dream, the fortuneteller, and Chief Extra Noble's interpretation.
NARRATIVE SUMMARY Aabli becomes more a member of Chief Extra Noble's family and gets to go out and see things more often.
14.1.1 The New Emperor appoints Chief Extra Noble as Governor of Dirtbag.
15.1.1 Aabli is politically betrothed to Minniehottie.
15.1.2 Chief Extra Noble explains, and explains, and explains the politics.
15.2.3. Minniehottie tells Aabli she's glad about the deal because she loves him.
NARRATIVE SUMMARY Wedding customs and engagement.
 16.1.1. Pompous Windbag and Aabli say goodbye.
17.1.1 Aabli moves in with Chief Extra Noble's family.
18.1.1. Aabli and Duxo watch the parade and think about being generals someday.
19.1.1. Bari gives his gift to Aabli.
19.2.1 Aabli receives his sword from Chief Extra Noble.
19.3.1 Aabli meets Minniehottie officially, in her betrothal clothes.
19.3.2 Aabli and the others watch an absolutely enormous number of games and diversions.
19.4.1 A rider brings word: the New Emperor has invaded Dirtbag.

Now, what did I note from all this?
Aabli is the subject of most beat titles.
Whenever Aabli is not the subject, it's some older adult with a dull verb like "explains" or "tells". Those beats are ripe to be replaced by very brief narrative summary.
Far too many main verbs were meets, is, explains, tells, etc. Since Aabli is a politically important child in prison, consider multiple viewpoints so that characters who are doing more can be the focus of the action in these areas.
French scene numbers are fairly low, and most English scenes only have one French scene; that means there are hardly any exits and entrances. The combination of attention getting events and continuous flow would be enhanced if more French scenes were packed into some of the English scenes.
English scene 10 is the most important part of the story emotionally. Its first French scene has a great core beat at the end(10.1.3) and its second French scene has a great core beat at the beginning (10.2.1), two interesting structures to put against each other. Right here, the writer was really showing what she could do.
English scene 19 has a tedious rhythm of single-duty French scenes and beats; one thing happens, then one thing happens, then one thing happens. This is a shame because that last beat in 19.4.1 is a great shocker.
English/French scene 12.1 needs at least one more beat to show the change of Aabli's status is real and permanent.
Throw out English scene 2 entirely.
English/French scene 4.2 is where the boys realize their situation, so 4.2.4 should be made a more dramatic core beat, and the other beats kept brief to get to it ASAP.

The writer, for the most part, took my prescription; the book was eventually published. Again, these analyses are a terrible amount of work—but perhaps you feel your book is worth it.

* or most interestingly, both.
** One of the reasons.
*** marginally
**** beginning fiction writers don't understand this difference, and mix narrative summary with scene. Since they don't have much in the way of fiction chops yet, they then often resort to narrative summary because it looks easier. But scene tends to be what we remember best and what readers enjoy most, so nearly every beginner needs to be driven away from narrative summary and toward scene. This is where the "show don't tell" rule comes from. In fact showing/telling is a complicated balance with immense artistic implications—once you know what you're doing. Fitzgerald, Conrad, Ford Maddox Ford, Steinbeck, Ian Rankin, James M. Cain, Heinlein, and William Gibson all often use narrative summary where they could use scene, and they are right very nearly every time.  While you are learning, though, "show don't tell" is a rule like "play it the way it is on the sheet music," "come out of every block with a punch or a kick from your back hand or leg," or "do the speed limit in the rightmost lane where people aren't turning or entering." I.e. it will mostly keep you out of trouble and allow you to sort of have the experience.

*****The reason for the difference was severalfold: for centuries French dramas tended to be written to occur as continuous action in a single place, so there weren't many changes of place or time to record in scene breaks. Also, in general French scripts were used much more extensively by actors than read for pleasure. For rehearsal planning, the main issue is usually which actors to call, and French scenes make that very easy for the regisseur. On the other hand, the English plays had a somewhat larger reading public, which didn't really care about which actors should show up, and the tradition handed down from Shakespeare was of frequent changes of scene, so that information was much more important.