When there’s a romance brewing between two characters in a story, even in genres other than romantic fiction, readers will want the characters to, at the very least, kiss.
When I’m reading, I know that I always want that to happen – and I feel let down when a story with a promising slow-sizzle ends without a physically sensual moment. I’m sure the protagonists feel cheated too.
One might imagine that it is easy to do, to insert a kiss or two, or write a couple of love scenes into the story, considering that one is already writing romantic prose. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as all that.
Before I actually write it down, I imagine my fictional characters getting hot and bothered between the sheets – in my head, their movements are smooth and fluid, and their coming together is sophisticated and graceful; however, when I put it down on paper, the sublime act of love-making runs the risk of sounding tawdry and awkward. Readers, I suspect, will be as put off by a missing love scene as they will be by one that is unbelievable or is crude and inelegant.
What is one to do then? How does one find the words to describe an indescribable act of love? And, more importantly, how does one try not to cross the line between two characters having sex and them making love when writing a romance?
Here’s what I recommend:
- The first thing to do is to decide what heat level you are comfortable with writing. If you hate reading spicy-hot scenes, don’t write one even if your think readers expect it. It won’t sound natural and it won’t make you happy.
- I find that readers are more turned on by believable, lovable characters than they are by what the characters do or don’t do in bed, so that could be your focus, really, if you don’t want to write hot bedroom scenes. It is not a problem, because you’ll still attract readers who like sweet or moderately sensual love stories.
- You can be as explicit as the heat level of your story allows, but always keep your readers in mind. You want them to be enchanted and not repelled. They will want more, so don’t give it all away in the first go – save something for later on in the book.
- Ramp up the tension. Slowly. Don’t take the reader by surprise. Show, through action and dialogue, how it’s all building up to that moment – to the first kiss. It is so much more believable, and delightful, when there is anticipation and a simmering awareness.
- I used the words ‘sublime’ and ‘graceful’ in relation to love-making; however, as in real life, so also in fictional love-making, some clumsiness is absolutely acceptable – like, say, the heroine falling off the bed during energetic play, or when a touch meant to titillate ends up tickling instead.
- Use dialogue to show all sorts of things – like flirtatiousness, humor, frustration, anger – anything that can push the scene forwards; however, don’t overdo it. Too much talking can detract from the action and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
- If your characters are vulnerable, your readers will feel that they are real people. It will also change the focus from sex and will convert the act to love-making. When something changes in one or both characters as a result of their physical union, when their awareness of each other is enhanced, then you know that you haven’t written a sex scene – it’s love-making.
- Ensure tenderness and respect – even if the plot dictates that the protagonists are furiously angry with each other – so as not to repulse the discerning, sensitive, reader.
- The scene should not be reduced to a description of the anatomies involved, but should describe the intimacy, the feelings and emotions invoked, so as to save it from becoming vulgar and tasteless.
- Let your characters stop to draw breath. Even though they’ve been longing for the moment, make them worry about whether they’re doing the right thing. People do, in real life. Most decisions involve a struggle – show the struggle in order to make the eventual capitulation that much more rewarding for the protagonists and for the reader.
The final test for the love scene you are writing is to read it out slowly and see if it makes you cringe – if it does, rework it. Use your imagination, or your memory, or your fantasies. If, on the other hand, it makes you all hot and bothered, well, consider it done and dusted then.
Sometimes authors are wicked, leading characters up the garden path, and then delaying gratification just to build up anticipation. Here is an excerpt from “No Escape from Love” where I have some fun at Mohini’s expense. She wasn’t very happy with what I did. Read on:
Mohini squeezed her eyelids shut and tried to blank out her thoughts. She buried her face in Aalok’s neck – taking strength from the strong column of his throat. Hanging on to him, she wrapped her arms tight around the broad, powerful shoulders and let the musky scent of his skin invade her nostrils.
She needed this – the salty warmth against her lips brought her back from that horrible place – it helped to block out the awfulness. She burrowed into him as he carried her to the bed – the journey took forever while she closed both her eyes and her mind, and focused fiercely on the moment.
She concentrated on the hardness of his chest against her breast, on the ripple of muscle under her palms as he strode with seeming ease across the room. Her cheek rested against a pulse that beat just under the angle of his jaw, and the steady throb reassured her.
She moved so that her mouth found the pulse, and it jerked, becoming erratic in an instant – and that also reassured her. This was now. This was mindless and far removed from the past.
He laid her down on the bed and gently disengaged her grip from about his shoulders. When he moved away, she shivered. Her eyes were shut but images intruded. Her mind craved blankness.
When he returned and covered her with a sheet, she whispered, ‘I’m so tired….’ The words held a wealth of meaning.
‘Sleep,’ he murmured, smoothing the hair back from her face. ‘I’ll be outside. Just yell if you need anything.’