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:~: Monday, February 19, 2007 :~:

Sexual Tension

This week at RWKF we're talking about sexual tension. What it is, how to get it and what about it that keeps you reading.

Because we're primarily romance writers and readers, sexual tension is an important element in our books. If it's not there, the romance doesn't pop, and the reader has no interest in reading forward. Two weeks ago we talked about Happily Ever Afters and why we all like romances. For me, though I know the book is going to end on a happy note, the one thing that keeps me turning pages is that spark between the hero and heroine. What is it about the other person that sets off that crazy attraction? And what is the primary conflict keeping them apart?

I'm reading an RS right now that has virtually zero sexual tension. Two hundred pages into the book and I honestly don't care if the hero and heroine get together. The primary focus of this book is the mystery/suspense plot, and if I were to categorize it, I'd label it a mainstream with romantic elements. The heroine has already told the hero about the defining moment in her past, and we know the hero's defining moment as well. They're working together to solve a crime, there's a spark of attraction (a small one), but there's nothing keeping them apart. They like each other. They're professional, but there's no underlying, I have to have him! oh, I really can't have him! element to the relationship. To me, this book has failed at sexual tension.

Sexual tension varies across the romance genres, but even in a highly suspenseful book where the romance is secondary to everything else, I think it's possible to keep the sexual tension high. So long as the conflict between the hero and heroine is believable, it can be achieved through internals, deep POV, and digging for characterization. If we know the character, understand them, we have a better idea what's holding them up or why they can't give themself fully to the other person. Physically it's a look, a touch, an awareness that never really goes away. Sexual tension doesn't necessarily mean lots of gratuitous sex and nonsensical arguments. It's that spark, that continuing hum, that push pull between the two characters that keeps you reading. Amidst dangerous situations, what is it about these two that makes you root for them? Why do you so badly want them to get together?

If you're a writer, how do you keep the sexual tension high in your books? If you're a reader, what authors, in your opinion, do sexual tension well?



Blogger Joan Swan said...

Great post, E.

As a writer, I try to keep the sexual tension high by digging into the characters internals.

When we're infatuated with or attracted to someone we notice everything about them--their looks down to the way their hair curls at the ends, their smell, their voice, their mannerisms, their smile, their moods. We learn to anticipate them based on watching them. And we fantasize about them.

I put all that in my characters internals--but I usually show them not acting on their desires. That's the push-pull that creates tension.

Another element that I think heightens sexual tension is how the other character reacts to the interest shown (or not shown, as the case may be).

As for authors with high sexual tension, I think Nora does a pretty decent job of it -- not in all books, but in most. I think Linda Howard is also very good at keeping that tension humming. But I read a Roxanne St. Clair book last year for the Daphne Published Contest, and I was so surprised by the level of sexual tension in it, I went back and reread it, trying to figure out how she did it. And it was with a look here, a fantasy there, a feeling slipped in. Then having the character resist acting on their attraction because it compromised their own goals, their own sense of ethics.

Okay...think I'll climb off my box now. :-)

4:20 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I agree, J. Roxanne St. Claire does a fab job with sexual tension. I haven't read Linda Howard, but I'm going to pick some of hers up soon. I'm always on the lookout for a new (to me!) author.

Great additions to what makes sexual tension sizzle. I think you hit it on the head - how a character reacts to interest shown is a biggie.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Edie said...

Eli, I'm amazed that you haven't read Linda Howard. You have a treat ahead of you.

I have to admit that the instant lust at first glance thing does get old for me. Like Joan said, Nora does it well. She has her characters interact and shows the growth of their attraction.

My wip is a women's fiction. The romance isn't the main thing, so the sexual tension doesn't need to be simmering through the whole book.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Elisa said...

Janet Evanovich does a good job with the Stephanie Plum books. Even though they aren't romances, there's a lot of tension between Stephanie and Joe as well as Stephanie and Ranger. A lot of times, it's that tension that keeps me reading the books.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...


I forgot about Stephanie and Joe and Ranger -- super sexual tension there. Always!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I haven't read Janet Evonovich, either. I think I live in a vacuum. ;) I have a group of girlfriends who are working their way through the Stephanie Plum series. They love them. Another group of books I'll have to pick up. ;) Thanks for the suggestion, Elisa.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Edie, I think it depends on the characters. Sometimes that lust-at-first-sight thing really works, and sometimes it feels forced.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Theresa said...

This is going to be a treat for me this week,

Creating and maintaining sexual tension is something I struggle with, so I'm reading all these pearls of wisdom with great interest and anticipation

9:16 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...


I love what you had to say on your soap box. lol

I hope your blog is going to touch more on this? I tend to use the senses more than anything when it comes to my attempts to show and maintain the sexual tension.

Scent and touch more than anything--although visual also carries a huge load of sensual tension

9:18 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I really love a book with good sexual tension. One author that stands out for me as doing this well is Tami Hoag.

The thrill of the chase or the adventure or the mystery is enhanced so much but that buzz of sexual attraction, but I have a real pet peeve about the instant lust thing. Yes, you can see someone and say YUMMY, but I've seen it taken over the top and its a sure fire way to get me to put the book down.

12:13 AM  

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