Friday, April 29, 2011

Writing Sexual Tension: Slowing Your Roll

A black tie awards ceremony.  An attractive man sees a beautiful woman across the room, one of the awards recipients.  He likes the look of her.  She spots him checking her out.  Their eyes connect and...he yawns.  Hard day at the office.  Boy, is he tired!  Maybe he should check out early and go home.  Lie in bed, watch some television, or maybe go over those figures for that early morning meeting one more time.  He's sure he saw some discrepancy...

Meanwhile, the woman is thinking about that cute little leather jacket she saw in the store window that afternoon.  Can she afford it?  Maybe if the cheque that goes with the award is big enough, she'll swing by and pick it up...


Not very interesting, is it?  Why?  Well, apart from the bad writing (which is my fault), the scenario is missing one of the biggest aspects of romantic fiction: sexual tension.  If a man and woman aren't feeling that frisson of awareness when they first glance at each other, that alert energy when they first speak, that hot shiver when their lips first meet, then neither are we as the readers.  And let's face it, that's what we all want to feel.

So how do you create sexual tension in a romance novel?

First of all, we slow things down (and not in the needle screeching over a vinyl record sense we saw above).  We savour.  We hear about that first look in detail.  Their eyes meet.  What do they feel?  What do they think?  What do they see in each other?

Tension builds as we see our characters anticipate the next step.  They don't just race across the room and start making out, they see each other, maybe they ask some of the other guests about that man or woman across the room, in the designer suit or tailored black dress.  Perhaps they rub each other the wrong way.  She thinks he's barbaric and sarcastic.  He thinks she's snobby and full of herself.  But fate keeps throwing them together.  They advance, they retreat.

Sexual tension is all about anticipation.  They notice each others' lips.  They start thinking about what it would be to kiss.  Maybe one of them has a naughty dream that seems all too real.  When they finally do kiss, time slows down to a near stop.  We read about the texture of their mouths, the rate at which their breathing speeds up, the rigidity of his arms around her back, a sigh, the slip of a tongue.  Bliss.  And it's all the more blissful for the delay.

Sex scenes can be the hardest ones to write.  When we get to that moment, we may be tempted to speed right through it.  Do the opposite.  Slow it down.  Spin it out.  Describe the details that evoke every sense: sight, smell, touch, sound, taste.  Red lips, fragrant perfume, soft tongues, softer sighs, the lingering flavour of the chocolate dessert they've just eaten at that awards ceremony.  Wait, what awards ceremony?

Photo courtesy of Carlos Porto at


  1. You're right, Nan. It's all about anticipation and slowing the steps down, just like in the real life :)

    great post, worth sharing.

  2. Definitely, Kate, we could use some of that in real life too.

    Thanks for stopping by!