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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Snakebite Scenes: A Key to Romance

Please welcome guest blogger Carrie Lofty

Thanks to the FF&P chapter for letting me stop by today!

I'm here to talk about what I've come to call snakebite scenes. It's not a coincidence that I'll be presenting a workshop entitled “Snakebite Scenes and Hollywood Plots” through FF&P beginning on January 17. You can read more about that here.

But in the meantime, what exactly do I mean by snakebite scenes? I cut my teeth on romances during the late 80s and early 90s, which happily coincided with my fascination with the Old West. Back then, when every author and her sister decided to write Westerns, the snakebite scene became common fare. A man and a woman, thrown together in the wilds of the frontier, denying every last romantic feeling they might ever have for one another, find themselves confronted by the height of awesome, kitschy drama: a snake.

Preferably hungry. And deadly.

What’s a romance couple to do? Let’s find out:

Harlan took two halting steps toward her. That’s when he saw it, not another shadow but a long black ribbon undulating toward him. It was a death he’d learned to recognize as a boy growing up in the bayous. He shouted, adrenaline giving him voice at last, then kicked out. Too late. He saw the flash of its white mouth. Fangs bit through the cotton fabric of his trousers just above his boot.

Pascal spit the blood on the ground, careful not to swallow the poison she’s sucked from Harlan’s leg. His eyes were closed; his head jerked left and right, as if he were fighting off the pain. She could see that despite her efforts, the poison was killing him, killing him slowly. No, don’t even think that.

Santana Rose by Olga Bicos (1992)

The drama of the moment, in which the hero or heroine had to suck out the poison, forced intimacy well ahead of when they might otherwise have been ready to admit their attractions. It also served to create a lasting history. After all, what girl can simply walk away from the guy who locked lips on her calf to save her life? That history draws them together, keeping them in one another's thoughts well after the snake has been killed, skinned and eaten.

However, snakebite scenes don't necessarily need to involve reptiles and fangs. In contemporary romances, the equivalent might involve a little something like this:

That clip is from a movie I watched only last week, a romantic comedy called Leap Year. Don't mind the cliched plot and farcical action. Instead I focused on my growing crush on Matthew Goode, and the fact that Amy Adams is one of the most adorable women on the planet. Oh, and it's a really good example of romance devices. They're a little heavy-handed, saved primarily by rather good acting, but they serve as useful teaching points.

When watching Leap Year with my critique partner, I mentioned about thirty minutes in that the couple was still rather snarky and snappish. They had no reason to like one another, no way to look deeper and find likeable qualities, no motivation to stay together long enough to fall in love. They needed help. Quickly!

But no snakes reared their scaly heads. Instead...bar fight!

Suddenly the surly hero shows that he possesses a few gallant traits, and the heroine gets to see them in all their surprising, action-packed glory. She cannot look at him the same way after he rescues her suitcase from a trio of thieves, leaving the men sprawled on the floor.

Leap Year is actually rife with such moments. The above clip, where they spend the night in a bed & breakfast and must share close quarters, is another example where external forces push them toward physical intimacy. In classic road movie style, they have to make due in a bad situation, slowly revealing one another's inner loveability. Here's another, where the innkeeper pressures them to share a kiss. They're posing as a married couple, you see, and have to keep up appearances...

I'm not saying that your romances require snakebites or skinny beds in out-of-the-way hostels. Many of these examples are fabulous because they're so obvious--and frankly, cliched. But we can better see the technique demonstrated, and apply the resulting set of feelings and outcomes to our own fiction.

So, what to take away from all of this? First off, read more Westerns. Do you miss them as much as I do?? Second, go see Leap Year because it's adorable. And finally, sign up for my workshop. We'll go into so much more depth, work with examples, and then dig deep into Hollywood plots--a whole other style of storytelling.

Hope to see you there!

Carrie Lofty’s latest historical romances, SCOUNDREL'S KISS and SONG OF SEDUCTION, are available now. In 2011 watch for Carrie's new Victorian series from Pocket, as well as her "Dark Age Dawning" apocalyptic romance trilogy from Berkley, co-written with Ann Aguirre as Ellen Connor. "Historical romance needs more risk-takers like Lofty." ~ Wendy the Super Librarian

Snakebite Scenes, presented by Carrie Lofty, runs January 17, 2011 - January 30, 2011


Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Loved that little snippet of video, too. Helps bring the point home.

Kelly McCrady said...

For the first time, the light dawns on the meaning of "snakebite scene"--I never deciphered it before LOL. Moment of enforced intimacy pushing the boundaries of a new (or not yet) relationship. Excellent illustration, Carrie. Now I'm going to be analyzing every book and movie for such moments. New craft toy...Your workshop will no doubt be awesome!

Bella Street said...

Great post. I'm actually working on a story that has a snake bite and didn't know it was a cliche (allbeit a charming one). LOL However with regards to modern medicine requires antivenin instead of sucking. Alas!

I LOVED Leap Year and enjoyed seeing the smooch scene again. Thanks!

Carrie Lofty said...

Hi everyone,

Glad to see you here! I think one of the key things about studying craft is not necessarily learning how to write. We know a great deal about putting words to paper! The important part is becoming aware of what we're reading and writing, and why a scene or series of scenes resonates with us so strongly. That self-awareness demystifies the process, so that we're more conscious of the tools at our disposal.

That's what I tell myself, anyway, when I'm flailing around in a plot that isn't working ;)

Stacy McKitrick said...

Sounds interesting. I signed up for the class!

Anonymous said...

Great Post! I'd never heard of a snakebite scene. Thanks for sharing this.

Savanna Kougar said...

Inner loveability, that's great!

Snakebite scene, yeah, there's that moment of force intimacy because of the circumstance.

I do have a rattlesnake in erotic western romance. However, no one gets bitten. The heroine, however, does see a side of the hero that lets her know he has a healthy survival instinct as well as compassion for Earth's creatures.

Carrie Lofty said...

@Stacy -- Great! I'll see you there.

@ciara -- I know other people have probably discussed this particular type of forced intimacy and initial relationship turning point, but I just gave it a snake-y name :)

@Savanna -- I think that's what we're all looking for in romance, that moment when the h/h realize something about one another that no one else has ever known. That intimacy, to me, says romance.