Posted On April 16, 2014 by Print This Post

Burning Up the Pages…and the Sheets – An easy guide to combining short story structure with super-hot sex by Rie Warren

Lately, I’ve noticed that our posts on writing love scenes and sexual tension are among our top trending columns. With that in mind, I’m excited to welcome Rie Warren to the RU campus. Using a three-act structure, Rie shares her tips on weaving conflict and emotion to develop that sizzle factor for your reader.  

So happy to have you here, Rie! 

I’ve become a recent convert to writing novellas. Creating a kinetic plot with killer sex in under 25K is no easy feat for me considering most of my novels are 90K plus. Cue the heart failure and hair pulling! So, why even attempt it? Novellas are a fantastic way to explore secondary characters or to show more of your world in depth. They’re fast to write—taking two weeks from start to final edit at most. You can give free rein to your writing muscles that may suffer from the entropy of working on a long series or simply give in to that bouncy little plot bunny that gnaws away at your mind. When done right, novellas can help grow your fan base and become lucrative.

Are you sold yet?

I promise, this won’t hurt at all. I’m going to show you how to tie a condensed story to strong erotic and emotional content. You’ll want to begin with a little lesson in the basics of short story structure. As a reader and a writer, I prefer a lot of plot with my hot over PWP any day. A great place to start is here Go down to Step 4 for the quick practicalities, but I will reference them here…with a sexy spin.

First of all, there are all kinds of sex. M/M, BDSM, straight sex, ménage, polyamory. Gritty, romantic, explicit, illicit, humorous… I write everything from slightly kinky to male/male to erotic male/female romance. I’m pretty pansexual when it comes down to it. The partners and pairings may change, but in all genres character connection and bonding is the key to keeping readers happy and not just horny. And this is how it all begins:

The Spark—Act 1

Since you don’t have much time to hook the reader, this story better be compelling from the start. In your very first chapter you have to do the Rie_Warren_Headshot_For_ANGSTYmeet/greet between your two main characters where their attraction should become quickly apparent. Then there’s the inciting incident. Outside influences or internal issues pit them against one another. This is also known as the opening conflict, AKA ‘I hate him so much, I have to have him. But I can’t because of xyz.”

Readers are left salivating for more, excellent!

Building the Fire—Plot Point 1:

For whatever reason you decide, or your plot decrees, your hero and heroine (or pairing of your choice) are pushed together. There will be internal struggle here as well as outward pressure clearly defining their growing attraction and why it’s impossible. Think unrequited lust—or UST. They will most likely act on their desires at least a little bit until a twist tears them apart. Is this a story surprise, the realization of how futile it is to become romantically entangled, an event that throws them in opposite directions? You are the master here. (Okay, that’s a lie. Usually my characters keep me awake late at night telling me how they think the story should go. I just pretend I have all the control over them).

Explosive Heat—Act II:

Conflict! Wheeee! Now we’re on fire.

Having admitted their attraction, more obstacles keep your hero and heroine apart, so when they do come together at this point, it’s explosive. The fervor of wanting gives way to fraught desire and finally sex.

Now remember, we don’t want to experience any technical difficulties here that pull the reader from the scene. I’ve chanced upon a few stories where the characters are naked but then a few paragraphs later, they’re undressing again. What? I have to back up and re-read and that’s bad. Or they start out missionary and are suddenly reverse-cowgirl. Switch up your verbs. Do your characters talk dirty? What terms are you going to use–you know–those erotic euphemisms? What you’re going to call ‘those body parts’ depends in part on your voice, your genre, your audience, the period in which you’re writing, and how much explicit heat you want to convey.

I’m personally all for full throttle, bring-it-on sex.

At this stage, even though your characters have come together, they know it cannot last.

The Mind-blowing Midpoint

As the intensity of the plot picks up, the emotional connection escalates as well. In terms of writing a sex scene at this point, it can’t just be sizzling hot. You must demonstrate growing intimacy between your characters. This is a special kind of lovemaking even if—especially if—your hero and heroine haven’t admitted to deeper feelings yet.

It’s no longer ‘wham bam’ but ‘Oh, wow. I’ve never felt like this with anyone else before.’ Show the change through subtle actions, touches, murmurs. Create a sensual and captivating romance scene… they are now emotionally invested. Because chances are, in order to set up the crisis point coming next, one or both of your characters is going to fess up to having fallen in love here.

Big Bang—Plot Point 2

This is the pinnacle of your story! Everything before must build up to this desperate impasse. A life-altering situation, a huge black moment, total change of circumstances—something must occur that makes love impossible. Your characters are ripped apart and shredded in two. Drama. Angst. Dire circumstances. All those good things that make readers keep turning the page.

At this point I like to break my characters down to the bare bones then kick them over the edge. Yes, I am that evil. It makes the triumph coming—both in story plot and love perfection—that much sweeter. There is likely no sex here but ‘a race to be together’.

Happily Ever Hotter–Act  III

I like to use this entire final chapter to rebuild sexual tension, kindle the chemistry, show the longing because I’m a shmush like that. Love is finally realized and allowed. Hurrah! HEA sex can be all kinds of things from tender and emotional to wicked and a little bit naughty, or a combination of both. The most important part in a short romance at this point is love prevailing, with a smidge of lust. Round it all out with some snappy dialogue and a perfect last line and you’ve got it in the bag…or the bed.

Now you know writing an emotionally and sexually charged story in 25K or less can be a lot of fun and filled with all the tension you’d find in a longer novel. Let those ideas fly!

I’m a lover of longer novels and short stories over anything in between. Give me 400 pages of exquisite detail or 40 hard-hitting ones, and I’m a happy reader. What length–*ahem*–do you prefer?

Author A.O. Peart joins us on Friday, April 18th. 


IHS--THIS_ONE!In His Sights – See Rie put her money where her (big) mouth is with her Don’t Tell spinoff novella, In His Sights, coming April 24th, 2014. The Don’t Tell trilogy is Grand Central Publishing-Forever Yours’ vanguard male-male series. In His Command launched in 2013 and On Her Watch comes June 3rd. But first—Hawke and Mayce:

Can two enemies overcome the battles within and the war without to find love? Or will the revolution destroy their chance at happiness?

At the outset of the revolution against the oppressive Company regime, Hawke is a freedom fighter on a mission. Infiltrate Alpha Territory, kick some Corps ass, and stay alive. His plans unravel when he’s captured by the enemy on his first sortie. Prepared for death by the soldier sworn to kill him, all his training couldn’t have prepared him for what happens next.

A corporal in the Company’s military branch, Mayce is a hard-liner intent on ridding his city of the insurgent threat. Yet one look at the gorgeous Freelander named Hawke and years of yearning and unrealized desires change his course permanently. If discovered, he’ll be branded a traitor and a homosexual—and sentenced to death.

Mayce and Hawke act on their intense and immediate attraction. But amid the escalating revolution their dangerous trysts come at the risk of their own lives, as Hawke soon finds out.


Bio: Badass, sassafras Rie Warren is the author of Sugar Daddy and the Don’t Tell series—a breakthrough trilogy that crosses traditional publishing boundaries beginning with In His Command.

She lives in gorgeous Charleston, South Carolina, with her small family where she basks in the sunshine during the day, and adjourns to her woman cave at night. A nocturnal creature, she stays up way too late talking to herself, her characters, and anyone who will listen. She’s all about writing with heat, heart, and a hint of the dark, and she doesn’t shy away from the impossible.

Rie’s work has been called “edgy”, “daring”, and “some of the sexiest smut around”.

Visit Rie’s website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.


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21 Responses to “Burning Up the Pages…and the Sheets – An easy guide to combining short story structure with super-hot sex by Rie Warren”

  1. Morning Rie!

    I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a novella….I write short, so I figured that would be right up my alley!

    Do you self publish your novellas? Or are they through a publisher?


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 16, 2014, 9:07 am
    • Hi, Carrie!
      It sounds like a novella will be right up your alley. Go ahead and give it a shot; it really is a lot of fun!

      My upcoming novella, In His Sights, will be self pub as a little something-something extra to the longer series published by Grand Central/Forever Yours.

      Going the hybrid route is a fantastic way to learn about the publishing business inside and out.

      Best of luck to you,

      Posted by Rie Warren | April 16, 2014, 1:55 pm
  2. Fabulous post, Miss Rie! I’ve really come to love writing novella-length romance in the last couple of years. It helps an author hone their writing skills. We are forced to boil the plot points to the essentials then build tension from there. IMO, adding the sizzle to a shorter romance requires us to write tighter, faster and sharper. It’s quite a challenge!

    I also love reading shorter romance. I’m not a fan of prolonged misunderstanding plots or having an author spell every little detail out for me. Give me a smoking hot novella, and I am a happy reader.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Posted by Maggie Wells | April 16, 2014, 11:10 am
    • Howdy, Mags!

      I’m totally on board with everything you said about novella writing. You nailed it!

      ‘Prolonged misunderstanding’…yeah, that can be a sticking point.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You know I have the utmost respect for your writing!


      Posted by Rie Warren | April 16, 2014, 1:59 pm
  3. Perfect timing with your post, Rie. I’m struggling with this now. Or rather, a novella idea keeps hitting me on the head while I’m in the middle of writing a novel. GRRR.

    After reading your suggestions, I think I can get it down on paper enough to satisfy me and my muse (always a difficult balance).

    Posted by Tamara | April 16, 2014, 11:50 am
    • I’m glad to be of help, Tamara. It is really nice when you can sketch out the basic skeleton of a story that wants your attention, then let it germinate while you finish a bigger project.

      Here’s hoping you strike that mythical balance!


      Posted by Rie Warren | April 16, 2014, 2:02 pm
  4. Thanks much for the shout-out for our novella post. Novellas are their own art form, and so far I haven’t been able to master it. But I keep trying!

    Posted by Anne R. Allen | April 16, 2014, 1:23 pm
    • I have to fangirl for a moment! I follow your blog like a fanatic; definitely one of the best for real ‘how to’ advice. So, many thanks for sharing your knowledge with writers everywhere.

      Yes, novellas are a different animal altogether. They help free up my brain from all the intense years’ long plotting of longer series. I bet you’ll conquer it.


      Posted by Rie Warren | April 16, 2014, 2:19 pm
  5. Printed and saved for later reference!!!

    Posted by TwiliteAddict | April 16, 2014, 1:37 pm
  6. Hi Rie,

    These are terrific guidelines that can be applied to novellas and, I believe, lengthier novels. I’m making generalization here, but most romance readers expect a love scene, though the heat level may vary. And as you’ve pointed out, conflict and emotion are important factors in setting up ‘the scene’, which leads me to my personal peeve, love scenes without any emotional arc/build up or plausible motivation, and the aftermath where neither character experiences any change in their outlook.

    How do you keep the scenes fresh without feeling as if you’re re-writing a scene from a past story?

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 16, 2014, 3:56 pm
    • Hey, Jennifer, thanks for the opportunity to be here. I’m having a blast.

      I love your question. Quite frankly, I have an incredibly pervy, dirty mind. That may come as a shocker to some folks…not. Here are some easy ways to overcome the trap of writing repetitive, stale sex scenes:
      Vary the setting. You won’t have the same sex in a nice comfy bed as you will in a wet, sexy shower.
      Switch up the position. Who’s on top? Who’s in control? Is it equal give and take?
      Don’t go all the way, if you know what I mean. Sometimes a steamy foreplay scene is even more satisfying than DTD,
      And as noted, change the emotional intensity between scenes.
      Change partners <—- I'm kidding!! Don't do that. Never ever do that in romance. That is a cardinal sin.

      Also make sure to write down all those sexy little tidbits and thoughts that come to you, for any story, whether you're currently writing it or not. Keep a document for each story's ideas and add a place for sex scenes. Chances are when it comes time to write the tale, you'll already have some nice spicy scenes worked out.


      Posted by Rie Warren | April 16, 2014, 4:56 pm
  7. Rie! Yeah, I love that dark moment when all is lost! Really getting the story arc down is critical, and once you do it, you can write different lengths. Good post! In His Command, I’m experiencing the wham-bam-thank you-man in the first part. Oh yeah.

    Posted by Aaron Michael Ritchey | April 16, 2014, 9:07 pm
  8. Acts… structure…It’s enough to give a pantser the willies, but I’m game to try this. I need all the help I can get!

    Thanks for a very helpful post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 16, 2014, 9:38 pm
  9. Rie, this was great! Finally found a proper way to get inside your head! Now I just need more! Fortunately, it seems I have the right formula’s – the real key seems to be coming up with that fresh voice, that fresh approach to the oldest deed on earth. And by golly – you have got the market cornered on all that!
    Your writing amazes me the most with its range of emotions, and the twists you come up with. I’ve never laughed and cried reading books the way I do with yours.
    Real quick – whats the line in the sand between erotica and romance these days? Do you think we have to choose up front between the two and not try to blur the lines?

    Posted by Lori | April 18, 2014, 7:55 pm
    • Thank you so much, Lori!

      On to your question–don’t take it easy on me or anything–can I just say, ‘I don’t know?’

      No? Figures. Erotica to me is pure sex. Romance has a definite plot. Romantica combines plot with character connection with sex.

      I don’t consider myself an erotic writer but a Romantica writer. My stories are complex…with explicit sex. I don’t do fade-to-black scenes. I do tell all but it’s combined with intimacy.

      Every writer needs to find their voice no matter what genre and it is not as simple as choosing Contemporary over Erotica over Category. In all writing and all genres, crossing the gender boundaries and sex games, you’ll find your strength and stick to it.

      How’s that for gray area?


      Posted by Rie Warren | April 19, 2014, 12:01 am
      • Great response. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, I thought maybe there were ‘rules” in the publishing world that created genres, based on lines we crossed as writers. Like the use of certain words ( I can think of a few we laughed about lately) and those that give it to us explicitly, vs fade to black’s, lighting up that post deed smoke.

        I love your category Romantica! I think its the new standard, actually – and you Rock It!
        Thanks – Rie! You need to do more of these.

        Posted by Lori | April 19, 2014, 9:34 pm


  1. […] you missed it, I blogged my sexy heart out on Romance University yesterday Hell yes I gave away all my secrets to writing a condensed short story with sizzling heat, […]

    Time To Tease! | Rie Warren - April 18, 2014

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