Picture this: You're sitting down in your favorite writing chair, wrapped up in blankets, with a steaming mug of tea (or coffee) at your disposal. You boot up your laptop and open your story's manuscript. You're so excited to begin writing you can feel your heart fluttering in your stomach. Today's the day your protagonist and their love interest are finally going to be together after all the challenges, hardships, and obstacles you've put in their way. It's time for the big love scene. You go to type...and bleh. There's no spark and everything you type feels like a campy B-grade movie script. What happened to that tension and chemisty you've been building this entire time? Or perhaps the opposite is true. Suddenly it feels like you're the director of a low budget smut film. Yikes! How do you fix romantic problems like these?
Often times writers get stuck during romantic scenes because they've put this moment on a pedestal. Just as readers will wait on pins and needles for the two to share their first kiss, declare their love for one another, or finally have their first intimate moment together thus as writers we anxiously await our moment to shine as romance writers. The problem is that most of us aren't romance writers. Not even close. So for those of us who aren't naturally inclined to write within that genre, writing these types of scenes can quickly turn from highly anticipated dream to nightmare.
While practicing writing these scenes, having a third-party read them and give feedback, and research can go a long way to help you, they aren't fool-proof. There is a "science" to writing romance with methods that actually bring results. Here are some tried and true tips for writing enticing romantic scenes that your readers will drool over.
Know Your Characters
One reason romantic scenes may make you pause is because you don't know how your characters would approach this type of situation. If you're a pantser or the type of writer who develops characters as you write, this will more likely be the case. Unfortunately the only way to undo this type of block is for you to do some planning. It doesn't have to be extensive but taking a moment to brainstorm attitudes towards love, sex, and intimacy can help. Another option is to use writing prompts to test your characters reactions to different scenarios.
Write Like The Victorians
We can all agree that Victorian romance novels are some of the best romances ever written. Jane Austen's novels are immensely popular even today, even though her stories aren't salacious by modern standards. The trick to their infamy is simpler than you think. It all boils down to the art of restraint. With strict, old-fashioned courtship rituals love was no quickie in the backseat of a car. There was a build-up of sexual tension and time to establish a true relationship with whoever your intended was. This is exceptionally appealing to readers today who often no longer experience this type of dating.
Keep Plot In Mind
Romance novels are so much more than sex scenes strung together. Likewise romantic encounters in other types of novels are surrounded by more than just intimate moments. Like in reality, life needs to get in the way of love. Remembering that your novel needs to have a robust plot outside of your character's romance is important. You can't expect a romance that only centers around a perfect relationship to be interesting- for you as a writer or for your readers. Self-centered characters always grow stale.
Remember What Scene You're Writing
Keeping in mind what you're trying to accomplish in a scene is important. You can't expect a first kiss scene to feel innocent and playful if you're using words that belong in a sensual smut novel. You also can't write a sex scene if you're writing it like you would a fantasy novel, meaning that it's full of phrases like "mystical wonder" and "mind-blowing magical" lovemaking. Don't use words that build suspense in a thriller or horror novel to try and build sexual tension in your love scenes (unless you're writing paranormal romance). You also want to keep in mind what type of romance you're writing. If you're not writing erotica, it's best to place the emphasis on the development of the relationship rather than the sex scenes.
Avoid Purple Prose
For those unfamiliar with this term, it refers to prose that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery that it's distracting. It is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. When we're writing romantic scenes it's easy to adopt this style of writing because we mistake it for being "romantic". Instead of achieving our goal, what we accomplish is simply bad writing. This especially occurs when we don't want to use clinical words for body parts during sex scenes. Using euphemisms such as "silky honeypot" and "manroot" can get ridiculous, so alternatively it's better to imply romantic acts versus actually showing them in vivid detail.
Heighten Sexual Tension
A successful romance is made up of more than physical scenes. It requires the build-up of attraction over time and the emotional connection that forms when two people are forced to grow together. If you're hitting a block in your romantic scene, it may be the case that there isn't enough sexual tension or chemistry before you reach the major scenes. Go back and reevaluate your story. Are there enough little moments where attraction grows? Do your characters bond/emotionally connect enough? Do they help each other grow? If the answer to any of these is that you're not sure or no, that's your answer on what to do next.
Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is vital. For romance authors, your niche determines the types of romantic scenes that are appropriate for your story. On a broader spectrum, the genre of your book will also determine the degree and scope that you can use to showcase your romances. Middle grade romances are mild and usually implied never going beyond the "crush" phase. Young adult showcases coming of age romances such as first dates, exploring sexuality, and implied intimate moments without graphic detail. For adult novels you have a free range of what you can use, though there are restrictions depending on genre- obviously, you don't want to write a bondage scene if you're writing historical fiction, etc.
Don't Neglect Setting
Just because the focus of your scene is on the romantic aspects doesn't mean you should neglect your setting. Too often we see this in romance novels where writers forget place settings because they're caught up in the passions of their characters. While this may not seem like the end of the world, it is a sign of poor writing. To avoid making this mistake, simply scan each scene and assess whether more setting details are needed.
Seasoned readers can spot a cliche miles away. While they weaken your writing, they also tell the reader that you're running out of ideas. Similarly concepts such as the naive innocent girl turns into a vixen, the bad boy/good girl relationship where the girl "fixes" the bad boy with love, the heroine who runs away after getting her feelings hurt by her partner, the playboy rouge who suddenly recants his wayward lifestyle, and the wounded warrior who has steamy love scenes despite being mortally wounded are all examples of the types of stories that have been overdone over time. If one of these ideas appeals to you it doesn't mean you can't use it, it just means you'll have to work that much harder to put an original spin on it.
Bind Narrative With Theme
Your novel's theme should make an appearance within your romances. If your protagonist's main pursuit aside from love is to "find themselves" then some mention of this should be worked into their romantic experiences. Maybe they explore other types of sexuality, new sensual experiences, or even just in taking a chance by dating someone outside of their usual type. If family is your theme, then conversations about future plans and having children should appear.
Use Background Cues
Bringing background cues into your romantic scenes can serve to enhance the overall effect. If your heroine rides horses or your novel has a cowboy theme try to use words that would be used in that type of work/hobby. Things like "roping her into his arms" or "straddling him the way she would a saddle" can elevate the sexiness of a love scene without getting graphic.
Create Believable Connections
Nothing deflates a romance more than two characters who don't have a connection. Sending your characters into "love at first sight" scenarios doesn't work. Readers are looking to understand why two people learn to love each other and fall in love second-hand along with them. In order to do that there has to be a gradual progression of the relationship for it to be realistic. While attraction at first sight is possible, make sure your characters actually get to know one another and share interests or traits that allow them to bond over time.
Don't Focus Dialogue Around The Relationship
A surefire way to bore your readers is by only having your characters talk about their relationship. While certain conversations should be had to move the relationship forward, there needs to be another overarching problem and several subplots going on to fill the space in between. An example of where this is done well is when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice are forced to work together to spare Elizabeth's family the shame of her sister Kitty eloping. Even though they are fighting and otherwise avoiding one another, this problem propels the story forward and forces them to talk, leading to an eventual reconciliation.
During a romantic scene don't kill the tension by using excessive dialogue. Keep exchanges brief and centered around the physical acts or sensory details involved. You'll find your pacing will stay consistent and the scene will improve overall. Using non-verbal cues is also stronger than having your characters say how they're feeling. Lingering glances, loaded glares, seductive gestures, and telling kisses can speak miles past explanations.
Less Is More
Don't overstate the description. Many amateur writers make this mistake because they haven't found the boundary between less and more. Knowing when to use descriptions and when to use less can mean the difference between a smouldering romance and a dud. Any time long descriptive sentences are used, it slows down the pace. This means in scenes where action, emotional tension, or physical encounters like fights or kissing is involved you'll want to use shorter sentences, less description, and brief bits of dialogue.
Bring In The Universe
Connecting your character's romantic experiences to the cosmos is something we've seen before, but it's a smart idea. Many people say that when they're in love they feel a deeper connection with the universe, their authentic self, and sometimes a higher power. This is because love gives human experience deeper meaning, love within fiction should be no exception.
Delay The Kiss
While it may seem obvious, delaying the first kiss can add a lot of depth and dimension to your character's relationship. Longing, regret, and desire can be a tantalizingly potent concoction. The longer you delay this scene the more romantic your story becomes. Just like in real life, instant gratification sex without preamble disappoints. By prolonging physical contact you're giving your characters time for their relationship to fully evolve and mature before they find fulfillment.
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