Left Behind and Loving It Workshop – The Anatomy of Sex Scenes Part Four




NOTE: Paperback Writer(PBW) has organized an awesome group of bloggers doing Left Behind and Loving It workshops all this week and weekend while everyone’s away attending the RWA National Conference. Click here to find the links to all the workshops, including PBW’s!


Something that makes love scenes powerful is having the reader know the chances the character is taking in giving to their feelings and sexual need, besides the emotional. This can be a simple as risking pregnancy (especially in historicals, which has impacts on multiple levels) or as complicated as lovers crossing class and/or religious lines. Romeo and Juliet crossed lines of loyalty. Their emotional issues aside, there are serious consequences to these issues.

Depending on the genre you’re writing in, it could mean death for a character to make love to another, or the loss of family, or rights, or job, or even their own feelings of self. Something changes when characters make love—always. Make sure if there are external stakes involved and affected by the characters making love, that you clearly identify them. This makes their lovemaking even more powerful.


Sexual tension is not sex. It’s not the act of sexual intercourse. It’s the spark, the attraction between the characters that draws them to each other. It’s chemistry. It’s what gives life and blood to your romance. Every single romance has sexual tension, whether or not there’s a love scene in the story. It’s an awareness of two people, emotionally and physically. But a romance that culminates with at least one love scene—that’s where you can start to fire up the sexual tension. To start at the beginning of the book and draw that tension higher and higher until the characters explode.

Think of movies, where you can really feel the sexual tension develop between the characters, like the movie THE BIG EASY…the scene in the bedroom between Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. The thing that always fascinated me about this scene is that it’s so short, yet it conveys so much. He’s touching her….and the camera doesn’t show what he’s doing. The entire scene is above the waist. All you hear is dialogue and all you see is her face. And that’s enough. It’s one of the hottest scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie and it’s not graphic, it shows nothing of the characters below the waist, but the sexual tension is so thick in that scene you can cut it with a knife. Because the camera shows her reaction. The way her face twists with desire, her breath catches, her face flushes. It’s all in the dialogue and the body language. You have a pretty darned good idea what he’s doing based on her reactions, but the camera isn’t showing it. What the camera IS showing is her reaction, and it shows it beautifully. That’s what you want to convey to the page when you write a love scene, or when you want to lead up to a love scene. Tension. Tension is what drags the reader along in your story, keeps them turning the page, waiting for THAT moment.

Don’t forget your dialogue! I’m a big advocate for dialogue leading up to and during sex. A bit of it can set apart an insert slot A into tab B scene into something hot, something the reader really connects with. Dialogue can be used to show conflict, caring, encouragement or just good, old fashioned lust.

There are a lot of ways to set up a love scene. Dialogue, sexy or antagonistic banter between two characters, is a way to get your characters, and your reader, hot and ready for the action. The things they say, or think and don’t say, can have a profound impact on the scene.

Candlelight and soft music work for a reason. As an author, the atmosphere and situation for your love scene must be right for your plot. It must be at the right time, for a reason your readers will understand. There should be enough conflict to keep it tense but not so much that your reader is wondering why the heck these two are even speaking to each other…much less having sex. And if I haven’t said it before, it must be an appropriate time. Deciding to have sex in the middle of a gun battle? Not a great idea. Always use common sense when setting your scene. If demons are chasing your characters through the jungle and their lives are on the line, the last thing your hero and heroine are going to be thinking about is dropping to the ground for a quickie. Don’t make your readers roll their eyes during the sex scene. You want them primed, ready and anticipating what’s about to happen.

The scene must also be right for your characters. Keep in mind who your characters are. A contemporary setting for a love scene will be quite different than a futuristic. A scene with vampires will be completely different than setting up a love scene in Regency England. Always remember your setting and choose your scene appropriately.

Keep in mind your characters’ sensibilities, NOT YOURS! It’s sometimes difficult to divorce your mind and mores from characters’. But while your h/h may be shades of you, they are not you. You might be totally turned off by the thought of having sex in a semi-public place where you might be caught, or taking a can of whipped cream into the bedroom for a little oral play, for example. But those things might be right for your hero and heroine. Think about what works for them, and tap into fantasies. We all have them and it’s okay to use them. It’s okay to use someone else’s fantasies too. There are some wild things in my books, and believe me, not all of them are my personal fantasies. I’m not that kinky. But because a lot of the books I’ve released are erotic romance, I’ve had to dip into the wild fantasy well and pull out some doozies. Which doesn’t mean I fantasize about traveling off planet and having sex with an alien who has two penises. And yes, I wrote a book like that.

So always think of who your characters are when you’re writing a sex scene. What’s right for them? If you have two characters who are wild and adventurous, the sex scene might be a little crazier than two characters who tend to be more reserved and cautious.

-     Don’t cheat the reader!!!  This is my personal pet peeve.  If you’ve been laying on the attraction, ratcheting up the sexual tension for 150 pages, making me smolder with anticipation, giving me amazing kisses, treating me to some great X-rated thoughts and then give me a love scene that’s 2 paragraphs long, I will throw your book across the room.  I won’t be the only one.
-     Likewise, if your h/h has shared little interaction, I have no hint of their attraction and no sense they are destined to be a couple, telling me they feel connected and/or attracted isn’t going to make me believe it. Showing me 20 pages of them doing the wild thing isn’t going to convince me they are meant for each other, either, especially if those 20 pages are nothing but that long tired anatomy lesson I mentioned earlier.
-     Think carefully about the following questions and let them dictate the length of your scene:
1. The market you are writing to – this will dictate a lot of your content. You simply can’t put a bondage scene into a sweet category romance. Or exclude sex from an erotic romance. This is where reading in your targeted genre comes in handy. Know the books that are being published where you want to be published. That’s how you find out what’s appropriate in your sex scenes.
2. The characters you’re writing about – We’ve covered this, but you know how to keep your H/h, their wants, conflicts, etc. uppermost in your mind.
3. Is this the first love scene? – If so, unless there’s a REALLY good reason, show it. Every detail of it. Every sigh, every kiss, every move of his flesh over hers (as appropriate to your plot, character and market). Readers have been waiting for this moment for a while. Deliver!
4. The tenth? – If it is…think twice about laying it on thick. Unless this love scene ad
ds something really necessary or spectacular to the book, say what needs to be said and move on. Sometimes these later scenes are the best times for a quickie. A few paragraphs or a page to describe the scene, the motivations, the emotions, then done. Every sex scene doesn’t need to be 20 pages long. Really, it doesn’t. Sex is important, but don’t bore the reader or bash them over the head with repeated sex scenes that serve no purpose.

More tomorrow, and don’t forget I’ll be drawing a winner for a prize at the end among all of you who’ve commented.