Love Scenes: More Than Physical

Writing an effective love scene is more than describing the actual mechanics of the act. Otherwise, romance novels would read like biology textbooks, and where’s the fun in that? These scenes also require more than good use of the five senses. They demand context and emotion. Take the following scene, for example:

(1) She sat, unmoving, as he stood behind her chair and ran his hands over her shoulders.

“So tense,” he said.

He massaged her knotted muscles until she relaxed. If he could make her feel this good with such a simple touch, she couldn’t wait to enjoy the rest of the night.

Goose bumps popped up, and her skin tingled when he shifted his hands to the front of her blouse. She watched, trembling, as he loosened the buttons one by one.

Okay, that’s heating things up. It looks like the beginning of a hot love scene. But look at what happens with a few minor changes:

(2) Tied to the chair, she sat unmoving as a he stood behind her and ran his hands over her shoulders.

“So tense,” he said to mock her.

His grip tightened over her knotted muscles. It was a simple touch, but it made her dread what he had in store for her tonight.

Goose bumps popped up, and her skin crawled when he shifted his hands to the front of her blouse. She watched, shuddering, as he loosened the buttons one by one.

The “he” in the first example is obviously the hero. In the second example, he’s the villain. How do we know? Several ways:

(1) Context — We know the heroine is tied to the chair in the second example, so she’s probably not there of her own volition. Unless she signed up for a bondage game, of course, but we know that’s not the case because of

(2) Word Choice — He “mocks” her in the second example, and she “dreads” being with him. He even makes her skin “crawl” not “tingle.” Then we also have her

(3)Emotional Reaction — In the second example, the heroine dreads being with him and has to brace herself. She doesn’t anticipate enjoying the evening with him like she does in the first example.

Context is the easiest element since the writer has the whole work to establish the characters and their relationships and motivations. Word choice and injecting emotion can be trickier. Some people interpret a word like “grabbed” as a violent motion, while someone else might simply think of it as “to pick up or take hold.” Revealing emotions can sometimes be tricky to show not tell, especially in the midst of a scene with a lot of physical sensation. It can be difficult to show that the characters are falling in love as well as lust.

It takes the right combination of all these elements to make a love scene really sizzle. When that happens, though, the result is a nice hot read.

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