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20 Steps to Writing Great Love Scenes - Part One
by Karen Weisner

Copyright 2002-2004 Karen Weisner

Have you ever read a love scene so perfect, your heart is full, your body is about to explode, your eyes are wet and you actually want to cry out at the beauty you've witnessed? Do you forget you've been reading "mere" words instead of experiencing the most emotional, exciting moment of your own life? Do you have the urge to light up a cigarette to savor the moment when it's done?

Authors don't write these scenes with "mere words." We know there is no such thing as mere words. Words are arguably the most powerful form of communication in the world when it comes to playing with a reader's emotions.

Here are twenty steps to learning how to write love scenes that will live on in your readers' memories forever. Please note that I've used examples from my own work throughout -- not because I believe I'm the only writer who can write effective love scenes, but because I'm a self-promoter to the extreme. Following these twenty steps, I'll list some of the greatest authors of love scenes.

STEP ONE: Decide what you're comfortable reading and writing.

It's becoming very vogue to write romance novels so hot, they'll melt in your hands. Does that mean you should join the crowd? Not necessary. It's a rare thing that an author will write a book with a level of sensuality they're not comfortable with because they'll automatically choose characters that fit their own comfort level. But don't dismiss the possibility simply because you're unfamiliar with the genre or assume that you don't have what it takes to kick it up a notch. You might want to introduce yourself slowly to these steamier stories, if you have a story in mind that requires something a little more racy than you're used to. Read a little of everything to figure out what suits your writing style best.

I remember when I first started reading romances, I was a teenager and, at that point in my life, I was satisfied with both the Harlequin teen offerings as well as some of the raciest types of books around (Carter Brown Mysteries.) In my twenties, I got a little more conservative in my reading, yet in my own writing I realized that the stories I had in mind required more overt sexuality. I started reading a wide range of books, acclimating myself to sexuality in books again and finding out what I liked and what I didn't. I discovered that I liked Silhouette Intimate Moments because the emotional and physical love scenes were nicely balanced. A lot of the other category romances were too unbalanced (either all sex, no emotions or all emotions, no sex) for my tastes. I also found that I liked the more racy "romantic erotica" most, as long as the emotions and characterizations were on even ground.

STEP TWO: Let your characters decide the level of intimacy, not publisher guidelines.

I used to base everything I wrote on what the publishers might buy. I suppose it makes some sense to do that when you're not published. Target your publisher, then tailor what you write to that set of guidelines. Sounds logical, right? I'm not so sure. A part of me really believes that the reason I didn't sell all those years was because I was trying to write for everyone else except myself and what fit my characters. If you're writing for someone else, you're not writing what's in your heart...and it's going to show.

The same is true for love scenes. In every one of my books, the level of intimacy is a little different, depending on what that particular hero and heroine dictate. RESTLESS AS RAIN and FOREVER MAN are strongly what I dub "romantic erotica" because the emotions are as hot as the physical lovemaking. The characters in these books are very extreme, larger than life and they demand a sexuality that suits their personalities. In FIRST LOVE, the sexual tension is definitely there from start to finish and the love scenes are satisfying without being overtly erotic. However, the hero and heroine in this book are in need of emotional healing, more so than sexual healing. Their lovemaking is part of that healing process, and it suited them to have emotionally sensual loves scenes rather than down-and-dirty, deep ones. LEATHER & LACE, my first published book, was completely different. The heroine in the book was very innocent and naive. When she thought of lovemaking, it was always in a more "romantic" sense and, because she was so private, having more low-key love scenes were appropriate. The sexual tension remained throughout, however.

STEP THREE: Respect your readers. Give them what you promise.

I read a Silhouette Intimate Moments a couple years, when they first introduced their "mainstream" theme, that was a wonderfully written story. Ultimately, however, I finished the book so disappointed I had to write to the editors about it. This was a story that had all the ingredients of a fantastic read. So why was I disappointed? I was expecting a romance, a romance that would blossom and the characters come to life as they fell in love. What I got was a romance that was a shadow to the external mystery and characters that came to life mostly in the external aspects. I felt very little for the characters in terms of their love bond. When they married at the end, I was only mildly glad.

That same month, I read a Terry Brooks fantasy novel that contained a secondary element of romance that was never brought to complete fruition. I finished the book and immediately started the next in that series, completely satisfied.

So why was I disappointed with the romance I bought, but not with the fantasy? Because in the first, I fully expected a good, solid romance that was equally balanced with a good, solid plot. After all, I bought a Silhouette and I expected a romance, but, dammit, I didn't get it. I felt cheated. In the fantasy, I never expected a romance, but there was one there nevertheless. I felt I'd gotten something extra for my money and time.

The moral of this story: Respect your readers for the time and money they invest in your book. If you set them up for a romance, give it to them in spades. If you set them up for a heavy, emotional drama, give it to them. If you set them up for a steamy romance that keep getting hotter and hotter, deliver it. If you don't give them what you promised them, you'll leave your readers dissatisfied, maybe enough to avoid your next book.

STEP FOUR: Make love scenes real instead of hokey or overly sentimental.

Writing love scenes effectively is very hard to do, yet they're no harder to do write than an action scene. A friend of mine told me recently that the editor-in-chief of a major trade house skips the love scenes when she reads because so many are utterly boring. Isn't that sad? So how do you make your love scenes real? People and relationships are tricky things. The word "normal" in the real world is an impossibility because if you broke down each person into the components they're made up of, you'd find someone who is illogical, contradictory, good and evil. You'd find the makings of a hero and quite possibly the makings of a Mr. Hyde. When you're writing a character, you're exploring those illogical, contradictory, good and evil people and their relationships. You need those things to make a character three-dimensional.

The relationship between a man and a woman is, I feel, the most complex one in existence. Here you have two people, each with their own emotional baggage, screwball ways and contractions trying to (or fighting against!) merging their separate paths into one. The road to that point is utterly fascinating. You make your love scenes real by making your characters real. A fully fleshed out character will make your reader look at the world around them and the people in it in brand new ways. And a fully developed character will certainly make you want to find out what turns them on.

STEP FIVE: Use exaggerated awareness.

"Exaggerated awareness" -- the first time I heard this term was from Sandra Brown. I can't imagine anything else that fits what sexual tension needs to be in a romance more aptly. In romantic fiction, an exaggerated awareness between the hero and heroine is so crucial, it can't be overstated. In a romance, you take for granted that these two were destined, meant to be, fated, designed for each other by God Himself. Therefore, every single look, touch, sense is made larger than life between them. The sexual tension must reach the breaking point and satisfy the reader (and characters) only temporarily until happily ever after. When the hero touches the heroine, even accidentally, the reader can see sparks igniting between them. When he looks at her, a profound feeling comes over the characters and the reader. The emotional impact needs to be conveyed through their every encounter.

STEP SIX: Start sexual tension from the get-go.

Exaggerated awareness between your hero and heroine needs to begin immediately, the first time they come together in your novel, and it needs to increase in depth with each subsequent meeting.

I remember I was critiquing a story for an unpublished writer a couple years ago, and we were at least halfway through the story. At this point, I not only didn't feel many sparks between her hero and heroine during their encounters, I was utterly humiliated when they began making love (though the actual event was, thankfully!, thwarted.)

There's only one of two reasons for a reader not wanting a love scene to take place: 1) they picked up a spicy book accidentally, or 2) the writer didn't set the stage for love scenes early or enough. If there's no tension between a couple, no exaggerated awareness, a love scene is going to shock and embarrass the reader as much as it will the characters. The last thing a writer wants is a sensual scene that's awkward. When a hero and heroine finally come together for a kiss, an intimate touch or lovemaking, the reader has to be exulted, panting for consummation, ready to claw tooth and nail to see that these two characters have a clear path to the bedroom and aren't interrupted while there! And, most of all, they'll be satisfied when all is said and done.

In this example, the hero and heroine are in the room together for the first time in two years. This is also the first time they're in a room together in the book, so technically it's their very first encounter. Notice the details as you read this excerpt: It's as if time stands still for the heroine during those minutes of facing him without warning. The way they look at each other, their breathing, right down to the sound of their voices when they talk reveals the depth of their feelings for one another.

Before she could finish -- and fathom the strangely uncomfortable expression on her father's face -- the back door opened.

Lori not only lost her train of thought, she lost all coordination.

Why didn't I prepare myself for this possibility? her chaotic mind wailed. How could she prepare herself? Prepare herself for a man who'd left her utterly boneless every time he looked her way when she was just a teenager. A man who, now at thirty-eight, affected her twice what he had in her troubled teen years. Ten times that!

Their gazes met and locked, sweeping her out of reality on a tidal wave of emotion, like always.

Why had nothing changed? She'd been gone for so long, any reaction to him should have been mild. She'd been all over the world, she'd met and dated a lot of other men. She'd somehow convinced herself Blackie was a brief part of her reckless youth...a part that had no ground in reality. Certainly not in her present or future.

God, he was sexy. Dark, dangerous, that sense of the untamed just barely suppressed below the surface....

His face was more mature, more shuttered than ever before, and impossibly handsome. He had dark eyes that seemed to hold all the mysteries in the universe, a long nose that flared slightly when he was mad, frustrated. Or aroused. The features of his face seemed to be carved from stone. At one time, she'd known every line, each texture. She'd actually believed she'd known the man... the inner man who remained an enigma even to his closest friends.

I loved you. God, I've never loved anyone the way I loved you. I would have given you everything I had to give if you'd only let me in a little.

Vows & the Vagabond by Karen Wiesner, Hard Shell Word Factory

It's just as important to create an exaggerated awareness in a book where the hero and heroine have never met before. It should be conveyed as if something is missing in this character's life and they recognize that missing piece--even if it's only subconsciously -- when they meet their eventual soul-mate. For instance, in LEATHER & LACE, the hero has always longed for a woman who's a little shy and inexperienced with men, one who'd love children and the whole forever-after thing. He sees that in the heroine as soon as he meets her and it creates a breathless tension until they meet again. One more piece of that puzzle needs to come together every single time your hero and heroine are in a room together, or simply in each other's thoughts.

STEP SEVEN: Don't use purple prose, hokey euphemisms, words or phrases that make you uncomfortable. But do use words that are appropriate, even if you're a little uncomfortable with them. Your characters are trying to tell you it's a word they would use.

The key to writing a great love scene is to not get mired in either the emotional aspect or the physical for too long. Don't let your characters get so swept away, they're riding on a cloud of the author's "purple prose" rather than the emotions of the most intimate form of bonding imaginable. At the same time, don't let your characters get so involved in the physical act that it becomes, quite disappointingly, mere sex. Readers don't want to hear all those cotton-soft euphemisms any more than they want to hear anything inappropriate to the scene. They want each sense to be well explored -- seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. Don't neglect the "jarring" senses either, like talking, moving, thinking, because that's where the sense of reality enters in.

Here's a good test of whether a word is good enough to use in a love scene. Say it out loud while you're right in the midst of the love scene you're writing. Does it make you hot? Hotter? Or does it make you laugh out loud? If you laugh out loud, that's a pretty solid indication that it's not a word you should use because your readers will probably do the same. I've been stopped many times while reading love scenes by words and phrases like: "his manhood bobbed up and down like a flagpole", "his rod of pleasure", "her honey pot" or "they soared on the wings of love and exploded into infinity." I cringe or I laugh.

Along the same lines, you may consider certain words too crude, rude or shocking to use in a romance novel. But what if those words fit the character's personality? What if it's something you know they would say?

When I was writing FOREVER MAN, I kept writing a scene that required a pretty crude word that I don't use in my regular conversations, let alone my intimate ones. I kept shying away from the word too. So I used the test I mentioned above and said it out loud. It definitely made me hotter, and not simply out of embarrassment at saying something like it. It simply refused to go away. Every single time I read the scene, I thought, 'He should think this. He has to. Brett would definitely think something this erotically, shockingly crude.' So I finally put it in. Now, whenever I read this scene, I feel the hero is so fleshed out, he could step out of the scene and leave me breathless in reality! I'm glad I got past my own shyness enough to include it.

STEP EIGHT: Set the scene and the mood for yourself and your characters.

How do you get yourself into the mood to write a love scene? Set the scene in your mind. Set the scene in your own living room if it helps you. Take note of things in their natural form. Scents, sights, tastes, sounds, textures. Indulge in pleasure. Light scented candles, peel an orange, play romantic and/or sexy music, put silk or lace or velvet against your own skin. Dab your husband's cologne on yourself. Put on his jacket. Don't answer the doorbell or the phone!

STEP NINE: Don't forget the genre you're writing in.

Imagine the sensuality of a love scene in a romantic horror novel where the heroine both fears and is helplessly attracted to the mysterious, potentially dangerous hero. The heroine would be aware of the temperature of the room, the coldness, and the way she warms when the hero appears in the doorway. She would be aware of that shift of tension within and without her own body. She'd be aware of her palpable fear and excitement, warring with each other. She'd be aware of the shadows of the room, the shadows in his face, on his body. The moonlight spilling across the stone floor. She'd be aware of the hero's smell, primal and raw. She'd start at the slightest sound and would hear her own heartbeat and bated breathing in the eerie absence of sound that follows. His voice would both unnerve her and catapult her excitement...

You can apply these sensations to any genre of romance.

STEP TEN: Use your characters background and experiences in your love scenes.

Your characters will help you choose the words they would use in a love scene. For instance, when writing the first love scene in RESTLESS AS RAIN, I found myself using "musical" references for the erotic acts they performed, since the characters were musicians. In FALLING STAR, the heroine is a dancer and she dances for the hero their first time, doing a sensual striptease that takes him past bearing simply watching her without touching her. In FOREVER MAN, the hero is a mechanic and a "road warrior." He thinks in terms of revved engines, power, ultimate freedom. Both the hero and the heroine are extremely raw, violently emotional and, occasionally, vocally rough people, so their love scenes had to fit their personalities.

STEP ELEVEN: Choose your point-of-view very carefully.

I've heard many, many people advise writing every love scene in both the heroine and hero's point-of-view. Naturally you know what works best for your books. Given that I'm a never-say-never type of person, I wouldn't advise anyone to never use two viewpoints in the same scene. Regardless, I caution against it. First of all, why spend the entire book trying so hard to stay in one viewpoint at a time, only to hop between two suddenly and wantonly? You'll confuse and possibly annoy the reader instead of deepen the connection. It makes more sense to make a decision from the very beginning of the book: Will you write in two points of view in any given scene or will you write in one at a time?

Second, you can't give both of their reactions to every single thing alternately. That would definitely be annoying and overkill. Therefore, when you give both points-of-view in the same scene, you're shortchanging one of the characters "alternately." When I write love scenes, I write it in one point of view. After each love scene, I give the pertinent reactions of the other person (the one who wasn't in POV during the scene) in introspection. I feel you heighten the intrigue of the individual characters by staying consistent with POV.

Go to Part Two...


Karen Wiesner is the author of ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING The Definitive Guide {The Most Complete Reference to Non-Subsidy E-Publishing}, which has won a number of industry awards and nominations including the 2001 Eppie, and the eBooks N' Bytes' 2002 Award of Excellence for Epublishing Book of the Year. The 2003 edition is published by Hard Shell Word Factory in two volumes: Electronic Publishing: The Definitive Guide and Weave Your Web {The Promotional Companion to EPTDG}. In 2003, Hard Shell will also release Wiesner's award-winning compilation of her former Inkspot column, titled Electronic Publishing Q&A. Karen has also won the Inscriptions Engraver award for best online columnist, the eXcellence in E-Publishing Award, the E-Pub Ambassador Award, and the Simply Charming Award for outstanding promotion of e-books. Karen also writes fiction, children's books and poetry; for more information, visit http://www.karenwiesner.com.

 








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