Good morning! Today, we’re sharing a post from our archives written by one of RU’s first regular contributors, editor Theresa Stevens.
Physical intimacy is an important part of romance. In fact, you might say that it’s what distinguishes a romance from a friendship. In romance novels, the degree of physical intimacy ranges from the implied or subverted to the outright celebration of adventurous sex. If you include scenes of physical intimacy in your stories, here are some tips to make sure those scenes work well.
Consider the Internals First
Before you write the sex scene, decide which character will be the point-of-view character. If you’re uncertain which point of view to choose, consider which character will change the most during the scene. This means determining both characters’ emotional states at the start and end of the scene and being able to accurately appraise which change creates the stronger arc. This can require you to consider the totality of the story and how the scene will unfold. For example, changing from frustrated to satisfied might be stronger or weaker than changing from frightened to secure, depending on the depth of each emotion.
Regardless of the emotions involved, take a close look at the change arc. What can you do to sharpen it up? How can the beginning and end emotions be made deeper without veering into melodrama? Will the arc move smoothly through the scene, shifting from one emotion to the next in increments, or will it be a sharp, sudden change? Which type of arc will have more impact in this particular scene? A lot of this is specific to your particular scene and story, but often, if we think carefully in advance about the emotional arc, we can generate a better scene with fewer drafts.
Consider the Setting From an Emotional Position
Now that you’ve identified both the pov character and the dominant emotions at the start and end of the scene, the next step is to consider ways to use the external environment to highlight the internal emotions. Yes, I know, you want to start writing the fun parts, but the fun parts will be even more fun if you re-evaluate the setting first.
Think about your pov character’s opening emotion. What kind of setting would highlight that emotion? Will that setting also tie into the changed emotion at the end of the scene? If the starting emotion is fear of intimacy, and the ending emotion is newfound trust in the partner, then maybe a slightly unsettling environment will tap into that emotion. In other words, if the heroine is in her own cozy living room when the hero makes his move, her fear might not feel as pronounces as if they’re in a car and he stops dead in the middle of a one-lane bridge. Her safety might not be literally compromised on the bridge as it might be, say, on the railing of a high-rise balcony. But the sense of isolation and exposure and strangeness might be enough to show first, that she’s fearful, and second, that it’s safe to trust him after all.
Consider the Use of Props From an Emotional Position
Now that you know how your characters feel and where the scene takes place, the next step is to examine the environment for props that might help dramatize the emotions. Props are things that can be removed from the environment without resulting in a change in environment. Consider everything – clothing, small objects, big items. How might they be used?
In our one-lane bridge example, what would best tie into the emotional arc, a big van with a bench back seat or a tiny sports car with little room to maneuver? I’ll bet you can make an argument for either, but the point is to figure out which works better for your specific scenario. Should the heroine be in a skirt or trousers? Are there any objects in the car that might help or hinder the sex scene?
We tend to think of props in the erotic romance sense – bindings, blindfolds, toys, and the like – and these are certainly useful props for a particular kind of scene or story. But don’t overlook the surprise value in using an unexpected prop during these scenes. Which would be more memorable, a car scene in which the man ties the woman’s hands with his necktie, or one in which he uses the seat belt for the same purpose? Even if your sex scene will be traditional, you can use props to add layers of emotion. What if they have to race to finish against the oncoming headlights of a big, slow truck?Be inventive. This is a chance to play and flex your creative muscles.
Now, About That Sex
There is one important thing to keep in mind about sex scenes in romance novels: They’re meant to tap into feminine fantasies about good sex. This might seem obvious, but the implications of this core truth are wide-ranging. What are some of the hallmarks of these fantasies? There’s a strong emotional compenent, without question, which we discussed above. Also, the heroine always climaxes, no matter how unlikely or even impossible that might be in real life, unless there’s a compelling plot reason to keep her from finishing. Sometimes, she even crosses that finish line more than once. The focus is on what would feel good – in both the emotional and physical sense – for the woman. But that doesn’t mean the sex will be one-sided because women take pleasure in men’s bodies, too.
So think about your complaints and your girlfriends’ complaints about sex, and then eradicate them from your sex scenes. He finishes too fast? Romance heroes know how to make it last. He falls asleep the second he finishes? Not a chance – our hero likes a good cuddle, though he might revert to focusing on the external plot after sex. He can’t find her g-spot with a flashlight and a map? Come on. This is a hero we’re talking about. Not only does he find it, he teaches it new tricks. He’s not only good at sex in general, but he’s particularly good at it with the heroine because he’s so into her. He pays attention to her responses. He knows how to read her body. He makes her feel gorgeous.
And this is all true no matter what kind of romance novel you’re writing. Even in the sweetest stories, the implication is that he’s eager to get wild with her, and that when that day eventually comes, it will be gloriously fulfilling for her. Yes, for her. Whether implicit or explicit, the sexual content in romances is female-oriented, and that’s something to be cherished. Everywhere else in life, we might have to worry about other people’s needs. But in the pages of a romance novel, the woman gets to be the undisputed star at center stage of a beautiful fantasy. So, writers, have fun with it!
RU Crew–What are your favorite tips for writing sex scenes? Have you ever read a scene with a really great, unusual prop or setting?
Theresa Stevens is the Publisher of STAR Guides Publishing, a nonfiction publishing company with the mission to help writers write better books. After earning degrees in creative writing and law, she worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm in Indianapolis where she represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors. After a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry to practice law, Theresa worked as chief executive editor for a highly acclaimed small romance press, and her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers. Visit her blog at http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/ where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.
- Writing Integrated Love Scenes, by Ask An Editor Theresa Stevens
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- Ask an Editor: Two Types of Action
- Ask An Editor: Dos and Don’ts of Settings
- Ask an Editor: Theresa Stevens on Ten Steps to A Clean Submission