I’ve been teaching back to back workshops on writing sexual tension and developing a vocabulary to use when writing love scenes for OIRW this month and last. Next month (July 2016) I will be teaching about writing emotion at OIRW. In August we will dig even deeper and dig into how to develop a vocabulary, otherwise known as choose the words, to convey emotion in writing with Developing A Vocabulary For Writing Emotion.
Last week I received an out of class email from Joan, one of my students who took the class on writing sexual tension and who is in the current class on developing a vocabulary for writing love scenes. She wanted to know how to get her hero and heroine to the point where they blend physically and emotionally…especially in a romantic suspense in which there is danger and in which the hero and heroine each have their own trust issues.
The answer to her question backtracks to some of what we talked about in the classes on writing sexual tension and developing a vocabulary for writing love scenes but it also draws on material that we will be covering in Intensifying Emotion and Developing A Vocabulary For Writing Emotion. There is also a huge part that is plot related and another huge part that is related to thinking and writing in deep point of view.
So, while the answer to the question borrows material from several workshops I did promise to pull all the elements together in one place, and that’s my goal with this series of blog posts. Do be aware that what I’m sharing in this series of posts is a simplification…a summary. The workshops I teach on these topics go into much greater detail.
That said, first of all, we need to look at the plot elements and how those come into play in a story and how the plot impacts the blending of physical and emotional connection in a romance.
Romance novels are at their most central about the human need for physical and emotional intimacy. In romance novels the tension in the story derives from the characters’ needs (sometimes unacknowledged) for emotional connection (unconditional romantic love) and intimate physical connection and the characters’ inabilities to meet these two deeply important needs at the same time.
Everything in your romance novel should relate in some way to the characters’ struggle to achieve both physical and emotional intimacy at the same time. Some things will serve the purpose of pushing the characters apart and making it harder for them to achieve this goal. Other things will serve the purpose of drawing the characters together, making them (and simultaneously the reader) want this connection all the more. If you remember this when you are writing and when you are thinking about plots and plot twists it will serve you well because everything comes back to this paradigm.
Though everything stems from characters, developing characters who have built in, organic, reality-based conflicts between them will make it much easier to build the tension between what your characters want and what they can have. This tension is what will keep your reader turning pages to find out how your characters finally do overcome these obstacles to achieve their happy ever after ending (which occurs when they achieve emotional and physical intimacy at the same time, believing that it will last…which sounds an awful lot like the blending of physical and emotional that Joan asked about.)
The first major plot point in a romance is usually the point at which the hero and heroine meet or reunite for the first time after a long period of time apart. When the characters meet there must be some kind of conflict between them.
Whatever the conflict is at the outset, it gets worse as a result of what the characters do at the initial meeting or reunion or because of an outside pressure.
If the heroine arrives on the hero’s doorstep thinking they will be able to resume their friendship and he meets her with distrust, anger, and a desire to make her pay for leaving him at the altar ten years ago then there is a conflict. She wants the easy friendship they had. He is too angry to accept the friendship or to trust it. The situation can get worse for the characters in this situation if she stomps off angrily and in a fit of fury backs her car into his prized Porsche.
If the hero thinks he’s being asked to babysit a spoiled rich girl and she thinks he’s an overgrown bully there is a conflict at the original meeting. She doesn’t want a bodyguard. He doesn’t want to hang out with a spoiled, pampered, rich girl. The situation can get worse when she tries to ditch him and he catches on and takes her to an unmodern cabin in the boonies where he can keep her safe.
Authors sometimes use the outside pressure as a tool to keep protagonists together. In the example above, the father is being used as an outside pressure to keep the bodyguard and the spoiled rich girl together in the same geographical space.
When we have our characters trapped together and forced to stay together then things can begin to escalate and it usually gets worse before it gets better. Whatever conflicts existed before grow in magnitude. Whatever irritations there were before grow when the characters are put under the pressure of being forced together in close confines. The hero and heroine at this point in their relationship are not happy. Given the ability to do so without major repercussions, they would go their own ways…but they can’t do that.
Keeping them together…escalating the tensions between them forces them to move on to the next plot point. Since they are forced to be together, they decide to put their differences aside and call a truce. With the truce they begin to drop their guards a bit. Though they have probably had a grudging sexual attraction prior to this point it is at this point that they begin to allow their attractions to each other to surface. While the points before might have been rife with frustration, anger, banter and battle between your hero and heroine (or other protagonists), at this point they begin to recognize that they are not getting anywhere by beating their heads against the walls. While there may have been a lot of sexual tension between them before, the sexual tension and emotional tension between them tends to grow at this point in the relationship as the physical attraction becomes more emotional. The characters are no longer attracted physically, and wishing they weren’t. Now they are beginning to feel emotionally attracted as well…and they may feel tension because though they are feeling the stirrings of emotional attraction they may not want to feel it.
Though they may no longer be fighting each other, though they may have called a truce, and may be working on the same side at this point, the relationship has changed. Their emotional attraction (and the emotional tension) has deepened as has the sexual tension.
The characters are no longer arch enemies but have managed to build a grudging respect for each other. There will probably still be big issues between them. These can be either external issues or internal issues but even external issues will have an internal aspect. By this time the reader should understand why the characters each feel a sense of emotional importance over the issues between them. The issue has taken on a deeper emotional meaning because by this time the characters care about each other. They do still both want their own way, but not at any cost as they did at the outset. At this point they wish that there was a way that both could win. They no longer want to hurt each other.
The grudging respect grows. The attraction, and sexual tension between them grows. At this point, they will stay together without the external motivator that you may have needed at the outset. Eventually they share their first sexual intimacy, sometimes a kiss…sometimes more.
The romantic relationship continues to grow. The conflicts that they once had begin to recede, though new ones may arise. The general flavor though is that the characters are falling in love. They have decided to put their previous conflicts aside and they begin to build a relationship which becomes steadily more important to both of them. Now they no longer have to be forced to stay together. They WANT to be together. At this point you may find them hightailing it for the happy ever after at the finish line. But you can’t let that happen — yet.
Just when the relationship seems perfect, something happens to ruin the relationship. Often this is a resurgence or a different flavor of the original conflict…but now it seems bigger and badder than it originally did. All bets are off and it looks like the relationship is doomed. The characters may fight or may go their own directions at this point. Whether they are forced to be together or whether they are able to go their own separate directions neither is happy. This point is called the dark moment and it is a point of high emotional tension in your story. You want your reader to be completely vested, to WANT your hero and heroine to get back together though they should be unsure about just how this can be accomplished.
Both characters realize at this point that they are incomplete without the other. One of the characters, often the one who is most at fault, approaches the other. The characters clear up any misunderstandings between them and admit that they are incomplete without each other. They admit to each other that they love each other. The story ends with them looking toward some kind of a committed relationship. The resolution is often an emotional point as opposed to a point of high sexual tension although an emotional resolution can certainly be coupled with sexual activity. Typically the story ends with the characters promising devotion. There is the suggestion that they will be intimate, but this intimacy is often not seen on the story stage, even in erotic romance, though there are of course exceptions.
This is the basic romance plot line. It is part of romance novels of all types.
In essence, a big part of bringing the characters together at the end and blending the emotional and the physical is something that is done throughout the middle, late middle, and end of the book.
The opening of the book begins with the characters in conflict. From a plot standpoint, the points after that are generally about the characters moving toward emotional and physical connection as they move toward the end of the book. While I say that the progression of the plot from around the late middle onward is toward physical and emotional connection, this is accomplished slowly, gradually, with some steps forward and some steps back…but with a general progression toward more connection on both a physical and emotional level.