As a writer, I’d like to say I’m more known for my fantasy and thriller novels than for my romances and erotic romances (as V. J. Devereaux) but given how often I’m asked about the erotica, I’d have to say it’s about even. *grin* However, anyone who has read any of my books knows there are very few of them that don’t contain a certain level of romance. I’ve always wondered why we’re far more comfortable showing acts of mayhem and murder but we can’t show two people expressing affection and intimacy, one of the most joyful expressions of life? Far more important to your writing, though, is the reason you’re including that scene, whether you stop at the door, take a few steps inside, or go all the way.
Many people mention it should be organic, it should be natural and that’s very true because if it’s not natural it won’t work. Now, I’m a pantser – that is I write by the seat of my pants – so it always flows for me, but I also understand the reasons why it comes so easily to me. I hope those reasons help you whether you’re a pantser or a plotter.
(Oh, and before I go too much farther, let me admit that I like writing love scenes. Also, with all due respect to the LGBT community, I’m just going to do the male/female thing, this would be far too long if I tried to consider every permutation, so just switch the sexes around if that’s okay?)
So, this wonderful new story idea comes to you. Hopefully it’s like a new relationship, full of promise and excitement. And, typically for your male and female leads, it’s also the beginning of a new romance. Very few of us write books where we come into the relationship in the middle.
Now, for the old married folks writing, it may be a little harder to remember those halcyon days when you first met your significant other… the heady excitement, the newness, everything fresh, that first kiss, the will we or won’t we dance… those brilliant moments when your heart swelled and a part of you really believed no one had ever loved anyone as much as you did each other or in the same way. Of course, that’s true, each person is unique and so is the way they love, but over time you forget that.
With this new novel, though, you have the chance to relive that and express it once again. For those of us whose memories are more immediate, it’s much easier.
In either case if you’re not madly in love with your characters that will show to your readers, you have to care about your characters as much as you want your readers to care about them. Most of us can describe crying through some scenes but we seldom mention that we also experience those delirious highs. You want your readers to share that delight and rapture, that joy. It draws them into the relationship, makes them fall in love with the characters, too, it makes the journey that much more intense as they live that relationship vicariously through your characters.
Writing a good love scene isn’t always easy though, no matter where you stop.
First, the scene has to advance the story or take the relationship of the protagonists to the next level.
Secondly, ask yourself, is it a natural progression…or is it a leap? Have they been dancing around each other, a slow build, or is it as sudden as lightning? Say, for example, you’re writing a thriller. Your heroine accidentally put herself in harm’s way (a pretty standard romantic trope). The hero gets angry as men do rather than dealing with his fear or his attraction. He wants to shake her…and kisses her instead.
Now is when you have to decide…stop at the bedroom door…step inside it…or… And it has to be consistent. If you bypass that first moment of passion, you can’t add a more intense love scene later. That first time sets the stage, your readers won’t appreciate not being able to share it. Also, whether you stop at the door, step inside, or take them to the bed, you have to give the reader the afterglow if only as a comment or a reflection in the next scene. Or regrets, if it comes to that.
All right, now for the fun stuff. At this point I’m going to assume that most of you know how to write to the bedroom door and maybe a step or two beyond it, so we’ll move on to the nuts and bolts of writing a great love scene.
1. There must always be foreplay. No slam, bam, thank you ma’am. It can be fast, it can be intense, but biology is biology.
2. Don’t use graphic language – except in erotica where it’s required – or only use it sparingly. There are lots of euphemisms for almost any part of the human anatomy.
a.) Don’t use the same words repetitively, it’s annoying. That’s harder than you think. I have a list.
b.) When you use descriptive language, don’t get too flowery and be careful of the visuals. Someone once used melons as a descriptive for breasts. (Seriously, I kid you not. No, dude… just, no.) Women don’t like this. One of the lists of alternative words for a part of the male anatomy suggested using ‘sword’. Umm… no…. that’s surgery, it sounds painful.
c.) Don’t be clinical or cutesy either. Phallis or vajayjay just doesn’t sound good, the last might work in chick lit, the first doesn’t work anywhere.
3. Folks, if you want to be realistic don’t be too realistic. Please understand, it’s not me, it’s actually required by many romance publishers that the hero be taller than 6 foot and fit, if not muscled. True story. Sorry guys, don’t blame the novelists. I have a hero who’s a forensic accountant. He doesn’t look like an accountant. Another hero is an attorney, a great stand-up guy who isn’t necessarily tall, dark and handsome, but he is easy on the eyes and fit. My heroines very rarely view themselves as attractive, rightly or wrongly, reflecting society and many women. In either case there has to be something appealing about them. Very few people want to have sex with a troll…unless it’s in a fantasy novel…and the troll really isn’t one.
4. Write emotion – love, passion, need – and write sensation – touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight. Draw the reader into the scene. If it’s not turning you on, it won’t turn them on either.
5. Throw some rules out the window. For some love scenes you’ll linger, for others, you’ll race.
6. Choreography is critical. Just as in real life you have to pay attention to where arms, legs and assorted parts go, so do you have to pay attention to which direction someone is facing. Not all sex is in the missionary position or even lying down.
7. Remember that you’re writing for both sexes. We all know the generalizations – men express love through sex, women through affection and nurturing. If you want to be read by both sexes you have to write for both sexes. See Rule 1. I’ve never had a man complain about my love scenes and rarely had a woman do so.
So, foreplay…. (Yes, this is taken from one of my novels but I had to get a sample somewhere!) I write from multiple points of view as you’ll see – I tend to view love scenes as a pas de deux – but you can write them from a single point of view. However, avoid omnipotent voice, giving the other person’s point of view. Unless they can read minds, all the lovers can go by is the expression on each other’s face.
Fair warning, what follows is at least PG-13….
As the thunder rumbled, Mitch lowered his mouth to hers and found he was right, there was fire there, and heat, and they poured into him, seared through him.
Jesse lost her mind, gave it up willingly. Who was there to know, to care, but the two of them in the dark and the storm? It was her and him and it had been so long since she’d let anyone touch her. (Deliberate over use of ‘and’ to convey her racing thoughts.)
Her blood pounded in her veins nearly as hard as the rain on the tin roof above them as she rose up on tiptoe to meet him more than halfway.
Mitch devoured her mouth and found her as hungry for him as he was for her. Unreserved fire and passion met him, incredibly. His tongue plunged between her lips, tasted her, found her tongue twined around his. His hands drove into all of that lush black hair, grabbed handfuls of it and crushed her mouth to his as her strong fingers slid into his hair to pull his mouth down against hers.
Her body seemed to melt against his.
He could feel her, the fullness of her, the supple length of her against him.
Blindly, he turned them to drive her back against the wall, he needed that limber body hard against his, needed to feel the press of those firm, full breasts against his chest as he wedged a thigh between hers. The need to touch, be touched, to take and give, nearly overwhelmed him.
Hunger surged inside him. A demand.
Jesse ached. It had been so long since she’d been touched. So long since she’d wanted to be. It felt as if she couldn’t get close enough to him, that she strained against his body, against the press of his broad chest, the muscles solid beneath his shirt as she was driven up against the wall and all of him pressed hard against her.
The touch of his hands so warm on her bare skin sent another burst of heat straight to Jesse’s core and made it ache as a small sound escaped her.
Mitch had needed to feel her warm skin beneath his hands. It had been so long since he’d felt anything like it. Tugging at her t-shirt, he drew it up just enough to slide his hands beneath it. He closed his hands around her waist, her skin soft and silky to the touch and sought out the curve of her waist, the arch of her ribs. He tightened his hands, pulled her closer as her mouth moved beneath his, nibbled, sucked. It was delicious torment. He groaned as her skin heated at his touch.
She stroked her hands over him to spread them across the muscles of his chest.
*grins* You get the gist. Okay, it took a little doing but I finally found a fraction of a lovemaking scene that would pass PG-13… barely. (Different book, btw)
Thank God, he thought, before his hands slipped over lace, over a curved, tight bottom, to draw her against his aching hardness and then all he thought was Oh, my God.
Perfect, his hand cupped her perfectly, pressed her against the rigid length beneath his slacks. (Deliberate repetition to reinforce the idea.)
He slid his hand over one curved hip, over the smooth skin, slipped the lace down over it. Down, his fingers sliding between her thighs. She jumped, twitched. Her hips lifted to his touch as his fingers sifted between those golden curls. Sliding his hand over to the other hip, he drew the lace away as she lifted her hips to let him. There was nothing between them now but his own clothing. He pulled her against his hardness, pressed it into her hip.
It had been so long, Ali craved, needed to be touched…
His hand slipped between her thighs and she cried out on a half sob of pleasure as he touched delicate, aching flesh.
All Ali could feel was his touch, all she knew was the heat that moved through her, the need. She was speechless, nearly mindless.
You see what I mean by euphemisms? We know what’s being touched but you don’t need to be graphic in the descriptions – unless you’re writing erotica, then it’s required. Notice that there’s also a difference in speed between the two examples. In the first it’s all passion and fire, in the second, it’s a little more languid, slower. Both suit the novels, the characters they portray, the scene and plot.
Writing these scenes is the chance for you to work out your mildest or wildest fantasies with no harm. Writing love scenes doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable but if you find yourself blushing or squirming the first few times, that’s okay, who’s going to see? Unless of course you’re writing in Starbucks, then it could be a problem. Otherwise, when you’re done, go show your appreciation for the inspiration to the person closest to you. (Guys, remember, foreplay! You might have been writing sex scenes, but she was doing dishes. Oh, and ladies, too.)
Writing love (sex) scenes can be surprisingly liberating… try it, you might like it.
12 thoughts on “How to write a good love (sex) scene…”
Valerie this was enlightening. lol But seriously, I am in complete agreement with you. We can entice the imagination without bludgeoning with graphic body parts.So much more engaging for the reader.
My edible body paint scene was pretty good – and not one dirty word in it. Heh.
please excuse poor one-handed typing… I'm kidding.
Actually, it strikes me that writing good lovemaking scenes holds more pitfalls than writing other kinds of intense scenes such as violence, and I wonder why that is.
Just look at Congress… and contraceptives…
Great post. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for this, Valerie! A big challenge for writers is knowing when or if to fade up into the trees, so to speak. I've found that the greatest character reveal happens in those moments before the first move is made. The flirting, the banter, the look, the touch…who starts, who hesitates…and then after, what has changed? What else is revealed? Sometimes those moments are hotter than the actual sex. I wrote one where a will-they-or-won't-they couple were cooking dinner together. Eventually, they abandoned the meal altogether, but those moments at the stove, the ballet of stirring the pot, adding the spices, tasting…SO HOT!
Great article! I always say my two biggest and most difficult scenes to write are love scenes and battle scenes. In my Dragonslayer's series, I have both (although not at the same time!). Choreography is paramount!
Not at the same time?! lol Funny.
"He raised his hefty club to smite the dragon but noticed something in the beast's eyes that made him hesitate…"
Great post. You say – "you have to care about your characters as much as you want your readers to care about them."
Truer words have not been said.
I really enjoyed this article – liked and tweeted! I completely agree that repetition can sound a little textbook sometimes. I also agree that there are other words which can be used and even choosing the right word, can sum up the whole emotion/sensation at once. Strangely, a particular scene in Dexter Season One often pops into my mind where Dexter says to the damaged Rita, "We have a White Elephant in the room and it's called Sex." Often, I'll use this as an example and even an exercise to impart the passion but leave out the elephant aka naming word instead. Metaphors can be a lot of fun, using different words to describe the one you're trying not to use. Using the word 'Dagger'? No thanks, the phallogocentric imagery of the hero's psychoanalytical insecurities would spoil the mood 😉
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