Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Sexual Tension: The Devil in the Details

Sexual tension starts from the very beginning of a romance novel and builds steadily to a crescendo.  This culmination of tensions (i.e. sex) can happen near the beginning of the novel, as with erotic or steamy romances, or in the middle or end for "normal" heat levels, or not at all.

I'm not talking about the "not at all" category here.  I'm talking hot and steamy.  Sex on the page, in vivid detail or, in the case of erotic romances, sometimes graphic particulars.  The point is that we get to see the details in these types of romances.  That's what makes the ultimate sex scenes hot.  But it also adds to the build up.


From the beginning of a good romance novel, the hero and heroine are focused on each other.  They may not like each other--in fact, they may even hate each other at their first encounter--but they are never indifferent.  This awareness appears on the page in a hypersensitivity to each other.  Tiny aspects of each others' looks or behaviours that the hero and heroine will completely ignore in the minor characters will be noted in each other and even take on an exaggerated importance.

For instance, we often read about the shifting sparks or lights in the heroine's gaze or the muscles working in the hero's jaw.  We don't notice such details in real life, not unless we are in love with someone.  And then we notice every little thing about our beloved.

So too does it have to be with the hero and heroine's attentions to each other.  They are going to fall in love at some point, whether they know it or not.  More importantly, the reader will have to fall in love with them and that's where such attention to detail pays off.

Intense responses

Just as the main characters notice every detail about each other, they are unusually affected by one another.  A slight movement of an eyebrow can send one or the other of them into paroxysms of guilt or ecstasy, just as a small accident touch can cause shivers and shudders.

The intense response is key to the characters fixating on each other.  Again, they may not know what they're feeling but the reader is going to anticipate the next step: sex.  And when it happens, because these are romance novels, we need to know that the sexual encounter didn't arise out of nowhere but was based on pre-existing and inevitable signs.

Sex on the page

When we finally get the main characters into the bedroom, the tactics used above should be employed here as well.  The characters are both overly sensitive to each other and feel intensely when touched by the other.  The key is to use these techniques without self-parody.

The characters don't just magically doff their clothes.  The faint contact of skin-on-skin while undressing is treated with fine attention to detail.  This is part of the seduction.  If a sex scene was simply about genitalia then we wouldn't be writing romances, we'd be writing pornography.

Physical intimacy is also importantly about how the characters are feeling.  Each physical action that moves the sex scene forward should be accompanied by the emotional reprecussions for the characters.  Reactions can say more than words here.  The heroine may not have declared her love for the hero as of yet but her responses to him can make her feelings clear.  By using these details, you can create a whole picture of fulfilling sexual passion.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Porto at freedigitalphotos.net


  1. Do you have any tips for writing a scene where there may be tension but only one character is attracted to the other? I have written some romance but it hasn't been a main focus of mine.

  2. Fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you’ve a great readers base already!

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