Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing
to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching twitterati) Roni Loren  posted some effective advice for amping the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses not just sight. (Note: this is an
opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc. -RL)

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love. -RL)

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

Roni Loren’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in January 2012! Represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @RoniLoren or visit her website at RoniLoren.com.

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9 Comments

Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

9 responses to “Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

  1. Thanks for posting about my article! Glad you found the info helpful! 🙂

    • My pleasure (pun intended ;P)
      I applied your tips to my outline as a checklist and found that enormously helpful. Now, can you help us with writing sex scenes??

      • Lol, here’s a post I did on love scenes, maybe that will get you started. 🙂

        http://fictiongroupie.blogspot.com/2010/09/love-scenes-101-dont-be-corny-or-porn-y.html

      • Roni, you read my mind! Your post is perfect–it pointed me some aspects I’m missing. I’m in the process of writing a sex scene between a married couple on the verge of separating–from the man’s POV. Phew! I’m not afraid to use certain words, but I don’t want to make my reader uncomfortable–at the same time, I want the words to “sound” like a man’s thoughts. He wants her back, it’s been a while since they touched, and they’re both a little desperate, but for different reasons. Edit, refine, edit, refine…. my life story. 🙂

  2. “… “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?”

    I LOL’ed at the “hi mom” part! I do have some romantic tension planned for my WIP, but the mere thought of my mother ever reading it makes me cringe. Maybe I’ll just “edit” the copy she gets? 😛

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! Yes, I wrestle with that too–but the final decision depends on your plans for your book. If you are planning to publish, your mother will be proud as punch and she’ll tell all her friends and the pastor on Sunday that her daughter is an author and will become your number-one local book promoter… and that G-rated galley she’s been fawning over? Well, the truth always prevails. 🙂
      In the end, I’ve decided that we’re all grown-ups, and my mom’s penchant for mystery/crime novels often feature (if truth be told) a hot and spicy romantic subplot. For as long as I’ve known her she hasn’t blushed at any steamy scenes she’s read–so she can/will likely extend the same courtesy to my manuscript. Right? Hopefully?

  3. Pingback: SEX LOVE AND WRITING « My Novel Writing Adventures & Other Words

  4. This is very helpful! thank you! I’m writing a paranormal romance via blog and now my family have all started reading it so I’m dreading the planned love scene about 2/3s of the way through! Thanks again

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