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


STEP TWELVE: Decide if you want to write chronologically or like an author on acid.

Another thing I've heard is authors say they make notes of where love scenes should fit in while they're writing, then write all the love scenes last. My opinion? I've never seen this go-where-I'm-inspired, chaotic way of writing work effectively for any author. If you leave out scenes and write them last, you change everything by adding it. You have to alter everything a little bit because you need to make sure the scene in question blends with all the others.

This is an illogical way to work. Your book won't be seamless if you don't write chronologically. It'll sound like the author (the characters too?) is on acid. Keep in mind that each sensual scene should be an outreach, a layering of the characters, showing their growth toward each other. If you just drop things in later, you lose the mood, the momentum and the cohesion from once scene to the next. Writing chronologically, everything will fall into place naturally. The progression and tension increase without taking the reader out of the book to wonder if the scene actually fits.

STEP THIRTEEN: Remember, it's all in the details.

Another trick to making sexual tension prominent between scenes is to focus on a certain aspect that intrigues the opposite character. Each characteristic, quirk or little act builds on what's happening in the story and makes it more powerful.

For instance, in my novel FIRE & ICE, the hero is obsessed with the heroine's mouth from the beginning. You can imagine how he reacts the first time he actually kisses it.

In another of my novels, an erotic obsession began early in the book with the heroine watching the hero drink from a bottle of beer. This common act is palpably exciting to her. As soon as he leaves the room, she picks up that bottle and puts her own mouth on it. The hero comes back to find her drinking his beer. This increases the sexual tension between them until the fantasy finally becomes reality.

In my upcoming novel RELUCTANT HEARTS (Early 2002), the heroine loves the way the hero smells, so much so that she tries to buy his cologne to wear herself but can't find exactly the right scent that matches his. The first time she enters his apartment, she ducks into his bathroom and snoops for it...and ends up spilling it on herself, so the hero knows she was snooping when she comes out. This sensual awareness increased the tension considerably.

STEP FOURTEEN: Dialogue is sexy -- use it to its fullest.

Can you imagine having sex in utter silence? Wouldn't it be embarrassing? The same is true in writing love scenes. Using dialogue within a scene of sensual awareness can heighten the erotic edge immeasurably. Just a few words can prompt enough excitement to make your reader unbearably uncomfortable.

Anger between the hero and heroine can also be as thrilling as movements:

She burst into his room, momentarily flummoxed about the fact that he hadn't locked it. "You're a coward!"

He turned from the window, full body. His eyes were so intense, they resembled glowing coals.

"You're not going to do this to me again. I won't let you."

Without the slightest warning, he stalked toward her. Lori's breath stuck in her throat. He was going to walk out of here and she didn't have a clue where he would go if he got as far as his car --

He did walk past her but instead of marching through the door, he slammed it closed and locked it.

When he spun back, a bolt of exhilarated fear went through her. She had no idea what he thought, what he planned to do...and she was afraid he'd come to his senses and not do any of it. That he'd leave her, as the song said, all revved up with no place to go.

She tried to swallow, but he was suddenly so close to her she couldn't even think. Not only did he reach for her, he went straight for the buttons on her light cardigan. Instead of unbuttoning it, he tore her shirt open. Lori heard the scatter of buttons hitting the wood floor but never allowed her gaze to leave his face.

"Why can't you leave it alone, dammit?" he asked in a low, don't-answer-me-or-this-is-over tone.

He undressed her as if annoyed by the whole convention of wearing clothes. He wanted them off and wanted them off ASAP.

"Damn, you're beautiful, Princess."

Tears filled her eyes at his unexpected, almost unwilling worship. But instead of increasing her need for tenderness, the tears made her feel needy, greedy...

I told you you can do no wrong in my father's eyes. You can do no wrong in mine either. There's nothing I wouldn't let you do to me, Lori thought desperately as his body covered hers and he kissed her at last.

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

Watch how dialogue heightens the erotic edge, even if the characters aren't talking about anything erotic, as in this excerpt:

Paul entered the hallway, and her face flushed even as she told herself he was on his way to the men's restroom. Nothing would happen here. But as she walked past, muttering, "See you later" casually, her head on fire, he grabbed her arm and turned her toward the wall.

It seemed only a second passed, so fast she didn't know how she got there and didn't even consider analyzing it. Paul was there, leaning against her, his arm so close to her head she could have curled into it if she had the guts. Bad enough that she couldn't breathe, speak, swallow or hear anything outside of her own painfully thudding heartbeat. She must have looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"You wanna get together?" he asked in a low voice that had her wanting to melt on the floor until she became nothing more than a puddle at his feet.

Managing to swallow past the baseball lump in her throat, she choked out, "To do what?"

He shrugged. She wanted to reach back, carefully unlace the leather strap holding his hair in place and touch him.

"I don't know. Bake cookies. Read Arabian Nights. Watch old movies."

Maybe it was foolish or childish, but she couldn't help asking, "Are you serious?"

"Why not?" he said on a roguish grin that made her dizzy with her own desire. "I haven't had a good cookie in a long time."

She was reading into it. His tone wasn't downright lewd. Was it? God, she was so excited, she was afraid her heart would beat right out of her chest...or she'd do something stupid like throw herself into his arms and scream, "I love you, I love you, I love you!!!"

"You know how to bake, don't you?"

Wendy laughed slightly. "I make a mean chocolate chip," she told him, breathlessly bold.

"Mhm. My favorite. The whole bag of chips, right?"

His arm slid down and then his fingers tangled with a strand of her hair.

Oh now! Just take me now. Pick me up in your arms and take me to your cave. I surrender.

"But of course."

Reluctant Hearts by Karen Wiesner, Hard Shell Word Factory

STEP FIFTEEN: Definitely use humor in love scenes, if it works.

Don't be afraid of humor, even in an introspective or dramatic book. Tenderness can sometimes cross the line into sentimental and, depending on the situation or characters you're creating, humor could ease the tension long enough to give the reader a magical glimpse into the depth and three-dimensionality of your characters.

He came down, into her arms, gasping and breathless as he threaded his arms beneath her shoulders and hair. The look in his eyes was naked with emotion. "Don't cry," he whispered, nuzzling her cheek as she hugged him viciously and her body wracked with sobs.

"I can't help it. I don't want it to go away. I don't want to let go of you."

He smiled ever so slightly, looking in some ways like an uninhibited child, as he gazed down at her. "Does this have anything to do with the fact that I'm gonna get sunburn on my rear end?"

Restless as Rain by Karen Wiesner, Hard Shell Word Factory

STEP SIXTEEN: Ask yourself if you should "raise the stakes" physically or emotionally... or both.

Another thing I've heard both editors and writers say is "You have to raise the stakes with each encounter", be it with a look, a touch, a kiss or lovemaking. Again, this is a theory I don't fully agree with. We're writing romance, not pornography, ladies. There isn't a fine line between these two genres at all. Romance has an equal balance between sexuality and emotional bonding. Pornography has sex, little or no bonding. The biggest problem with the "raise the stakes" theory is that the stakes involved in a romance are emotional, not necessarily physical. If it matches your book to continue to raise the sexual stakes, go with it, by all means! But remember that it's not always appropriate. It might be more appropriate to raise the emotional stakes instead. Or to raise both the emotional and sexual stakes.

In my book, FOREVER MAN, each love scene increased the sexual intimacy as well as the emotional bonding. The couple was red hot. It was appropriate to do so. In another book, RELUCTANT HEARTS, the emotional stakes were so high that it overshadowed the erotic pleasure, although their encounters remained highly sensual, if not graphic.

STEP SEVENTEEN: Emphasize the physical, but not at the expense of the emotional. Equalize the two as if on an analytical balance.

I admit it, I love reading "sexy books" (as my father-in-law is so fond of calling romance novels!) It might make me strange, but I absolutely adore writing love scenes too. Why do I love them? Because I'm a nymphomaniac or a bored housewife who just doesn't get enough? I'd probably be more interesting if I could claim either of those, but the truth is I read and write romance novels because they're about relationships.

Love scenes employ a wonderful combination of raw physical need and breathtaking emotional intimacy. The most exciting thing about writing a book to me is not action scenes or heart-pounding excitement from page to page. Writing a novel is about creating a character and making him or her so real, you'd never know that it's fiction if the book package didn't have a line that reads "All characters are fictional." All action, all heart-pounding excitement stems from the characters. If I can make you laugh and cry, want to throw your arms around my character(s) or even throw a chair at them, I feel I've done my job. If I make you want my hero so bad, you're all over your husband that night, I'm ecstatic. I've created a three-dimensional character that a real person can interact and feel with.

The reason I love romance novels with a high degree of sexuality is because these are two characters who get to know each other down to appendix scars. Every emotion is emphasized and the reader feels everything the characters do. I can fully immerse myself in them and live vicariously through them. I know everything they know, go through everything they go through, feel everything they feel and I'm privy to everything they think.

Sexy books that don't emphasize the emotional in the same scale as the physical are disappointing. It's simply not enjoyable to me and most lovers of romance to read about two people going at it like dogs when little or no emotional ties connect them. Sure, the two may end up together, but how can the reader feel as much for them as they want to? In that case, the reader becomes a voyeur and not simply someone who longs to get inside another mind and who loves to fall in love.

STEP EIGHTEEN: Remember, less can be more.

You can't write out every love scene in detail, but what if you still want all of them to be sensual? Sometimes a very short scene can sum up an erotic encounter better than two to five pages of graphic detail can. Writing succinct love scenes isn't easy, but it's a useful skill to learn. Some of the most erotically emotional scenes I've ever written were not graphic. But they were equally satisfying to both the characters and the reader.

STEP NINETEEN: Don't write sex for the sake of sex or simply to fill pages.

Some of romance novels I've read from traditional publishers are very exacting, especially in category romances. First kiss must occur by this page, first lovemaking by that page, and if the rest of the plot is a little weak, throw in a couple more love scenes as filler. It's sad that publishers require authors to compromise a story just to fill pages or because sex, sex and more sex is the theme of that particular imprint.

The heart of every romance novel should be the emotional bond between the hero and heroine. Everything else is a layer of that emotional bond--be it children, internal or external conflicts, and, yes, lovemaking. Don't lose sight of that as you write your love scenes. Make each love scene count, make it advance the plot and make it necessary to building the emotional bond into something unbreakable.

STEP TWENTY: Reveal something with each love scene.

As we said, don't use love scene for the sake of filling pages or just to write sex. That's cheating everyone. Love scenes should be as crucial to the plot of a romance novel as any other element of the plot. Don't just throw them in for no good reason. Reveal something with each of these love scenes. Reveal the character(s), advance some element of the plot, reveal hidden emotions -- even if only from one character to the reader and not to another character -- like an admission of guilt... or of love. If you can completely take a love scene out and it won't affect the story in any way, you've probably got an extraneous scene on your hands. Treat it the way you would any other extraneous scene. Cut it ruthlessly and don't look back.

Love scenes can be a chore. They can make editors and readers skip to the next chapter to avoid the boredom, purple prose or embarrassment. Or they can be written so perfectly, your heart is full, your body is about to explode, your eyes are wet and you actually want to cry out at the beauty of what you've created. You'll forget you're writing words instead of experiencing the most emotional, exciting moment of your life. You may even have the urge to light up a cigarette to savor the moment.

Copyright 2002 Karen Wiesner  


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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