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:~: Monday, October 30, 2006 :~:

Wham, Bam, Thank-You Ma'am. Now What?

There is a difference between writing sexy and writing sex. We all know it when we read it -sex scenes that fall flat for reasons we can't quite pin down. Then there are books where the consummation of a romantic relationship doesn't happen until the very end of the book, where nothing physical is going on, and the book's so steamy it burns your fingers.

What's missing in the books that just don't cut it? Simple - sexual chemistry. That initial attraction, the force that pushes the hero and heroine together. Sex, in my opinion, is boring to read about unless the build up is there, unless the author's written a compelling story fraught with sexual chemistry and sexual tension and the promise of a major pay-off at the end. Stick two characters in a room alone together who have no sexual chemistry, and your plot - no matter how well researched - is going to flop. In real life, you can have sexual chemistry without love, but in a romance novel you have to have that first spark that ignites a passion in two people, and that passion, in turn, is something they then struggle with through most of the book.

How do you know if your characters have that sexual chemistry? You feel it. Electricity flows when they're together. It comes across in the writing, it literally flies off the page. Dialogue is witty with clever undertones. The scenes where the hero and heroine are together flow and are (for the most part) easy to write. When you (or a critique partner) read over your chapters, the writing doesn't feel forced, the characters feed off each other, sexual tension builds from one point to the next. Have you ever started a book with a great plot and premise and then had it fall apart on you? What was missing? If it was a romance, probably the sexual chemistry between your two protagonists. Allison Brennan said when she wrote The Prey she got about 150 pgs in and got stuck. It was then she realized she had the wrong hero. It happens, and not always to unpublished writers.

If sexual chemistry isn't your problem but you're finding the romantic relationship dwindling later in the book, perhaps you're letting the sexual tension fall off. This happens a lot after two characters have gone to bed together. Everyone's happy, everyone's satisfied, the world is (for a few minutes) right. The key with a romance is to keep that sexual tension high even after the love scene. In fact, the tension should increase because of that love scene. The coming together of two characters should reveal something about one or the other that creates new obstacles for the romantic relationship. Separate them afterwards if necessary, have them each reflect on what happened, learn something they didn't know about themselves, and let that revelation impact the romantic relationship in a way that increases your tension again right away.

If you find your characters don't have anything else to get past, then consider moving your love scene back. Increase the sexual tension by delaying the love scene as long as possible. The longer you make them wait, the more tense the atmosphere becomes. Remember that you want your readers rooting for that moment as much if not more than the hero and heroine. Page turning sexual tension happens when readers can't wait to see what will happen next.

What are your tips for writing compelling sexual chemistry and sexual tension. And what authors do you think do a fabulous job at one or the other or even both?


Blogger Lisa Pulliam said...

Great post! One of the absolute best books I've read with sexual tension that sizzled was A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole. That book was HOT.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Thanks, Lisa. I'll have to check that one out!

8:37 PM  
Blogger wavybrains said...

Great post. I've been reading a lot of Blaze and other spicy series as research for an idea I'd like to pursue. What I've learned: You can pepper a books with a dozen sex scenes and have NO chemistry. I read one recently where I was just so bored I no longer cared if they ever even SAW each other again. A mistake a lot of writers seem to make is to have sex be the only thing their characters think/talk about--this creates a one dimensional character that is no fun to read. Cue the boom chick boom porno music, cause it's no longer about character/story when you don't give them anything else to work with. On the other hand, you can have a rip-roaring sexy book with only two sex scenes. Jennifer Cruise's "Don't Look Down" is so sexy precisely because it isn't all about the sex--the suspense, the comedy, the secondary characters all drive the story and it's because the main characters are so invested in these other elements that the sexual attraction leaps off the page--they have all these other things going on and they STILL want each other--that's way sexier than "Hi, stranded beach, nothing else to do, let's jump each other." Make the characters give up something to have sex: sleep, food, a meeting, a chance to catch the criminal, an easy escape. Sorry for the novel length comment--I've just been thinking about this alot as I prepare for my next manuscript and future projects. Great post!

11:03 AM  
Blogger wavybrains said...

I just thought of a good example of a book that breaks many of the "rules" and still suceeds: Christina Skye's Code Name: Princess. The hero sees the heroine nake within the first 10 pages, there's a single (burning hot) sex scene very early in the story, and the characters spend huge stretches of time apart from each other and not interacting. Why does this book rate as way more hot in my book? 1) the sex is so hot b/c it breaks many "rules" for both character, 2) deep POV means we know that they can't stop thinking about it, 3) the characters as so well-developed, even by the early sex scene that you are deeply invested in seeing where this relationship goes. Done. Promise.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, Bethany. You don't have to be "done". I love a good discussion.

I have Don't Look Down in my TBR Pile. You've inspired me to pick it up. And I'll definitely look for Code Name: Princess. Sounds like a great read.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I agree sexual tension has nothing to do with the sex/love scenes and everything to do with the before and after.

I don't read as voraciously as all of you, so I can't really name any books, but I'll sure look up the ones you've mentioned so far.

Great post Eli!

8:33 AM  

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