Monday, March 23, 2020

Picking Apart Your Favorite Scene by Karen Hulene Bartell #writing #romance


Writing one of those favorite scenes, or lots of favorite scenes, is exactly what authors strive to do. Welcome my guest, Karen Hulene Bartell as she muses on what makes a scene so memorable.

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog. It’s a pleasure to be here!

We all have favorite scenes—but why? What about it attracts you? Does the rhythm of the words or the conversational lilt appeal to you? Does the imagery evoke memories or unexpressed emotions? Does the scene’s action grab your senses or transport you to another time or place?

Following is one of my favorite scenes from Wild Rose Pass, and in this blog, I’ll try to figure out why, so in the future, I and, hopefully, you can write other “favorite” scenes.

Cadence’s fingertips grazed Ben’s thigh, and she caught her breath.
He bristled as his gaze locked with hers. Then he inched closer, leaning into her space.
As if magnetized, she inclined her body toward his. How will his lips feel on mine? Eager to learn, she closed her eyes, parted her lips, and waited…
Moments passed.
“We’d better head back.”
His words sounded gruff and strangled. Opening her eyes wide, she stared horror-struck. Did I just make a fool of myself? Huffing, she jerked the reins. “Fine,” she called over her shoulder as she wheeled around her horse…

It’s almost a first kiss scene—yet not. Interest ignites. Sexual tension builds, piques, and vanishes. The frisson turns to friction, with humiliation and anger closely following.

Have you ever had your anticipations crushed? Let’s say I can relate, which makes the scene more poignant. In fewer than a hundred words, the heroine sizzles through a range of emotions, from initial attraction to expectant arousal, to disappointment, then mortification, and finally hell-hath-no-fury rage.

As the reader, I’m involved and absolutely on Cadence’s side!

Then in the next chapter, I read Ben’s side of the vignette’s tiff:

What was I thinking? Bad enough she’s the captain’s daughter—cultured and educated out East—but she’s West’s woman, and he outranks me.

Being outranked in the cavalry, Ben must be realistic, but feeling outclassed, he understandably displays prudence.

As the reader, I empathize with him, which creates a moral dilemma. Who do I root for—Ben or Cadence?

So why is the pseudo seduction scene my favorite? Partly because it’s pivotal in changing the protagonists’ relationship and heightening the story’s subsequent tension. Partly because it’s the moment when one protagonist’s reasoning counteracts the other’s and places me in a “what happens next” frame of mind. Who do I root for—Cadence or Ben?

So the next time you find a scene intriguing and pause to reread it, analyze why it appeals before you read on. You may just discover the trick to writing more emotionally engaging scenes.

Wild Rose Pass by Karen Hulene Bartell

Cadence McShane, free-spirited nonconformist, yearns to escape the rigid code, clothes, and sidesaddles of 1880s military society in Fort Davis, Texas. She finds the daring new lieutenant exhilarating, but as the daughter of the commanding officer, she is expected to keep with family tradition and marry West Point graduate James West.

Orphaned, Comanche-raised, and always the outsider looking in, Ben Williams yearns to belong. Cadence embodies everything he craves, but as a battlefield-commissioned officer with the Buffalo Soldiers instead of a West Point graduate, he is neither accepted into military society nor considered marriageable.

Can two people of different worlds, drawn together by conflicting needs, flout society and forge a life together on the frontier?

Reining his horse between catclaw and prickly-pear cactus, Ben Williams squinted at the late summer sun’s low angle. Though still midafternoon, shadows lengthened in the mountains. He clicked his tongue, urging his mare up the incline. “Show a little enthusiasm, Althea. If we’re not in Fort Davis by sunset, we’ll be bedding down with scorpions and rattlesnakes.”

As his detachment’s horses clambered up Wild Rose Pass, the only gap through west Texas’ rugged Davis Mountains, Ben kept alert for loose rocks or hidden roots, anything that might trip his mount. A thick layer of fallen leaves created a pastiche of color shrouding the trail from view. He glanced up at the lithe cottonwood trees lining the route, their limbs dancing in the breeze. More amber and persimmon leaves loosened, fell, and settled near the Indian pictographs on their tree trunks. When he saw the red- and yellow-ochre drawings, he smiled, recalling the canyon’s name—Painted Comanche Camp.

“How far to Fort Davis, lieutenant?” called McCurry, one of his recruits.

“Three hours.” If we keep a steady pace.

Without warning, the soldier’s horse whinnied. Spooking, it reared on its hind legs, threw its rider, and galloped off.

As he sat up, the man groaned, caught his breath, and stared into the eyes of a coiled rattler, poised to strike. “What the…?”

Flicking its tongue, hissing, tail rattling, the pit viper was inches from the man’s face.

A sheen of sweat appeared above the man’s lip. “Lieutenant—”

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About the Author:
Author of the Trans-Pecos, Sacred Emblem, Sacred Journey, and Sacred Messenger series, Karen is a best-selling author, motivational keynote speaker, wife, and all-around pilgrim of life. She writes multicultural, offbeat love stories that lift the spirit. Born to rolling-stone parents who moved annually, Bartell found her earliest playmates as fictional friends in books. Paperbacks became her portable pals. Ghost stories kept her up at night—reading feverishly. The paranormal was her passion. Westerns spurred her to write (pun intended). Wanderlust inherent, Karen enjoyed traveling, although loathed changing schools. Novels offered an imaginative escape. An only child, she began writing her first novel at the age of nine, learning the joy of creating her own happy endings. Professor emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin, Karen resides in the Hill Country with her husband Peter and her “mews”—three rescued cats and a rescued *Cat*ahoula Leopard dog.

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  1. Brenda, thanks so much for hosting me today! It's a pleasure to discuss our craft!

  2. I love your analysis. I've always thought anticipation is as much fun as the actual event.

    1. "Anticipation as much fun as the actual event" - couldn't agree more, Jennifer! BUT the actual event must follow - otherwise the anticipation quickly becomes frustration. Thanks SO much for dropping by!

  3. Very interesting analysis, Karen. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Appreciate your kind words - and your stopping by! Hope you found some gem you hadn't already discovered on your own!

  4. Nice to read about your work and your scene. Thanks, vb

  5. Great scene! You'e managed to put us on BOTH sides, actually, which is no easy task.

    1. Bless you, Dee/Ann - appreciate your kind words! Thanks for stopping in!

  6. Lovely scene and post, Karen. Wishing you great success with the book!

  7. Judy, thank you so much for your kind words - and for stopping by!

  8. I know I have favorite scenes in my books, too. Your new one sounds great! Best of luck on it!