I’m currently teaching a workshop on writing emotional and sexual tension in romance novels. During this workshop we’ve talked at length about the elements that must come together to create emotional and physical tension between the characters. In general, the characters need to have both things that draw them together and things that keep them apart in order to create the push and pull between emotional and physical tension that creates story tension.
But regardless of the conflicts that we have in our story or the journey that our characters take on the way to physical bliss they will pass through several phases on the way to ultimate physical pleasure – otherwise known as orgasm.
As writers, if we don’t understand these phases we will in general not use the proper words to convey what is happening to the character(s) at each step along the physical journey to bliss. Using the wrong words for the particular phase of the character’s experience will result in a love scene that doesn’t work as well as it could.
Writing a scene where the hero becomes aware of the heroine is much different from writing a later scene in the book where they are making love for the first time and are in the need phase straining toward completion. That scene is much different from the third or fourth love scene at the end of the book where they’ve developed a fair degree of intimacy and are barreling headlong toward their physical completion.
It helps to be able to identify where our characters are on the path to physical fulfillment because the words we use will be greatly impacted by this, as will the way that we string the words together.
The first phase our characters enter when we start a book is the awareness phase.
When our characters are in the awareness phase they are becoming aware of each other. They are noticing things about each other–which doesn’t mean that you need to word this as she noticed that he had long fingers, sharp elbows, and a shock of red hair.
In the awareness stage we’re looking for very descriptive language (especially in the opening of a book where the characters are first becoming aware of each other physically.) Though a lot of people don’t think of writing character descriptions as writing an intimate scene, the character description lays the groundwork for all of the intimate scenes that follow it. It is important in establishing basic awareness between the characters.
In the early stage of our books, before our characters have become intimate with each other the characters are becoming aware of each other. This usually means that he is becoming aware of her body style, her hair color, the color of her eyes, the color of her skin, her height, her clothing choices, and so on. She’s becoming aware of the same sorts of things about him.
What we don’t want to do is the grocery list character description where you’re in his point of view and you say something like he saw her the moment she walked in. She was tall, lanky, with a smooth bob of platinum blonde and alluring blue eyes that looked dark against her pale skin. The red evening dress she wore hugged her curves in all the right places.
This is dull. It is boring. There is no CONNECTION…no CHEMISTRY…and it will be hard, hard, hard to port this into attraction (the next phase in our character’s journey toward bliss.)
We need to pull out the stops when it comes to the description.
We want to use specific words to describe the hero and heroine.
We don’t want to include everything about her the first time the hero sees her. Instead we want him to see one or two things that he reacts to…and then feed in another one or two within a pocket of action or dialogue.
When we do descriptions we typically want to do description in motion…so that there is motion in the scene. The character we’re describing may not be moving, but if she isn’t then we could have something else in the scene moving. Movement is interesting. It keeps it from seeming as if all of the action has stopped in order for the description to take place.
Because we want the description of the heroine to establish the hero’s awareness of her we want him to react to the things he describes.
In the awareness phase the things that the describing character sees are often things that make him think something, feel something, or want to do something.
So, rather than saying she had a sleek, platinum blonde bob I might say that her sleek, platinum blonde bob, without a hair out-of-place made him wonder what she’d look like bed tousled and fresh from sex.
Do you see how the bob becomes an area of focus? He doesn’t just see a bob…it makes him think something…it makes him wonder what she would look like mussed. And in this thought we’re edging into the sexy already. This is EASY to port into deeper attraction later on when it is time. It is so easy in fact, that you may not even realize when it has happened.
Here’s a bit bigger example from the opening chapter of His Perfect Submissive by Alyssa Aaron.
He lifted his gaze from the stack of messages he’d been sorting. His annoyance at her intrusion dissolved as he allowed his gaze to glide over her.
Innocent. The single word echoed in his brain, reverberating like a sharp kick to some buried part of his soul. The descriptive encompassed her and described her perfectly, yet left plenty of room for expansion into the many layers he sensed buried beneath her surface.
He let his eyes linger on the soft waves of dark hair that hung loose around a pretty face with a pert nose. Her peaches and cream skin glowed softly making his fingers itch to touch the soft line of her cheek and the full swell of her lip.
Her soft musky perfume teased his nostrils as her wide brown eyes skittered away from his. They echoed a hint of shyness and sadness that didn’t quite detract from her attractiveness.
She was dressed simply in black slacks and a white sweater that hung off her shoulders. The soft folds of the sweater brushed the full softness of her breasts before drifting downward to skim full rounded hips. The thick folds ended precisely at her knees.
Some would consider her overweight but he found her softness perfect. She was rounded and soft in a way that had him reining in thoughts of plunging hard maleness into female softness.
The shy way she waited for him to take the lead stirred the sensation of deep protectiveness in him.
Do you see how the author builds awareness here? The first thing that he sees isn’t that she has brown hair and is overweight. He sees that she is innocent. He has a reaction to her innocence.
Next he notices her hair and her skin. Her skin makes him want to touch her cheek and the full swell of her lip.
He notices her perfume and the way her eyes dart away from his. He notices shyness.
He notices her clothing…her figure…full breasts…rounded hips. She’s described as being what some would consider overweight, but he finds her softness perfect…and he has a reaction to the softness.
Next he notices her shyness…and he reacts to that.
There are the same grocery list of attributes in this excerpt as there might be in any. She has dark hair, dark eyes, soft peaches and cream skin, full breasts, round hips, she seems shy…. But because the attributes are described by the hero and he reacts to them the attributes create his awareness of her.
You want your characters to BE aware of each other. When he notices something about her you want him to have a reaction to it. You want him to always be figuring out what her expression means, what her slumped shoulders mean, what she’s worried about when she’s nibbling her pencil. These things create awareness. They create chemistry. They play into the fantasy that all of us have about our mate REALLY seeing us, REALLY understanding us.
Awareness is the foundation for building a strong love scene. Without awareness the characters will lack chemistry and it won’t matter what they do to each other physically, they won’t seem connected.
The next stage that characters go through on the way to physical bliss is attraction. I’ll be covering the other phases on the way to physical bliss – attraction – awareness – desire – need – and climax and how to convey them in my upcoming workshop Developing A Vocabulary For Writing Love Scenes. See the full description or register for the class at OIRWA.