Left Behind & Loving It Workshop -The Anatomy Of Sex Scenes Part Three



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!


The more conflicted your characters are with each other, the more sexual tension there tends to be. Yum. I love sexual tension. The best part of a book is not the actual sex, it’s what leads up to it, the way the characters dance around it, what happens before–and usually after–the sex. Delicious conflict and tension, the push/pull of attraction. All the reasons why they shouldn’t, but they do anyway. This is the great stuff of romance. This is why we buy the books, why we anticipate the sex scenes so much. This is why we try so hard as writers NOT to let the reader down.

Your job as a writer is to figure out your characters’ conflict, and use it to your advantage to increase sexual tension between the characters. That conflict can be internal (between the characters) or external (an outside force). But either way, conflict drives tension, especially sexual tension. Your characters can butt heads, disagree about the conflict, especially if it’s internal, whatever way you want them to engage each other. Remember, in every scene that’s not sexual, it’s still foreplay. Use that in dialogue, in their interactions with each other, in body language and visual cues. Everything ratchets up the tension between these characters.

But keep in mind that you have to show us this tension, this burgeoning relationship between the characters. Don’t tell the reader how they’re feeling and reacting. You’ll get a much bigger emotional reaction from a reader if you allow the reader to experience this conflict and tension through the characters’ eyes. Show versus tell, always.

Anger and frustration can be a powerful aphrodisiac, can set the tone for explosive sex scenes. Antagonism that masks long checked sexual attraction can be a potent turn on.

Fast heartbeats, curling toes, fluttering stomachs may seem cliché, but when phrased originally and used in a situation that’s both sexual and emotional, readers will FEEL the power of that attraction. Also include unique thought that belongs exclusively to that character. Phrase responses in such a way that they are the only character in the story who would have said such a thing in exactly that wording.

But why sex when there’s trouble in paradise?

Consider your characters’ conflicts.  What’s preventing them from committing? And how can you use sex to show this?

With any conflict, external or internal, incorporate a plot twist that allows the hero or heroine to believe that things are different.  Or to accept that they will never change and allow themselves to set aside their differences temporarily.

It sounds elemental, but you have to make the reader feel in her bones that now is not just a good time for these characters to take their attraction to intimacy, but the perfect time, despite the conflict.

The event or emotion that provides the impetus to sex must be a natural part of your plot, whether beginning, middle or end. Whatever you choose, make sex necessary in the next moment.

Sex is a journey and an integral part of the relationship between characters. It’s tied tightly to the conflict.


It’s not always about tenderness and poignancy, though you can certainly use those. But you can also set up your love scenes to portray reluctant fascination, that refusal to fall for the other person…even as they are, fury, a dark desire to possess, or even (given the right circumstances and people) a determination to remain indifferent. Think the gamut of emotions when you think about love scenes.

Here’s the beginning of a love scene from Surviving Demon Island, the first book in my Demon Hunter series with Bantam Dell. This scene comes about in the middle of chaos, of panic, of the characters’ worlds being shattered by a stunning revelation. If ever two people really needed each other, it’s at that moment:

Their gazes locked and before he knew what was happening, he was bending down to press his lips to hers. Maybe it was just a need to offer comfort, maybe it was just the pain shadowing her eyes that got to him. And maybe he just wanted her and there wasn’t any other reason.

She came off the table and damn near threw herself in his arms. He tightened his hold around her, drawing her close as if he needed to shelter her, protect her from the demons around them.

Because the demons were still around. On the island, within the island, somewhere close. Instinctively, Gina had to know that. Maybe she was kissing him with such wild abandon because of fear, because of stress, because she wanted to shut out what she’d seen and heard tonight. Maybe she was molding her body against his and digging her nails into his back because she was trying to crawl inside him for comfort and safety.

Honestly, he didn’t really care, he was just damn grateful that she was. He slanted his mouth across hers and deepened the kiss, gladly taking whatever she was willing to give. And when he came down over her she didn’t protest, just wrapped her legs around him and lifted her hips, whimpering into his mouth.

He realized then what she needed, and why, and how important it was that this be for Gina right now. What he needed could wait.

It’s never just the physical between two characters. There’s always so much more at stake. Never forget that.


More tomorrow! And I forgot to mention there’ll be a prize at the end so I’ll draw from everyone who comments this week! More on that later.