Creating Sexual Tension in a Romance
by Tina Donahue
I write steamy romances where sexual tension is a must. However, even the ‘sweet’ variety (stories with no more than hugs and a few chaste kisses) has the same kind of buildup in them or they should. It begins with the first time the hero and heroine see each other. How their pulses pick up, their hearts turn over, their bodies weaken. Without that, the writer doesn’t have a satisfactory story and readers won’t pick up the author’s next book.
Some who haven’t read steamy romance mistakenly believe it’s all about the bedroom play—that is, the stories titillate but don’t move or inspire a reader. It’s just page after page of sex with no discernable plot, no real character development, and no lasting satisfaction. I can’t blame anyone for avoiding that type of tale. I certainly would. And I’d never consider penning something like that.
That said, the sole difference between steamy and sweet romance are the intimate details. There are no other distinctions. Both should have strong characterization, believable plots, and tons of emotional build.
To me, sex is the least important aspect of any romance, including erotic. What matters most is the emotional connection and the sexual tension that comes prior to any bed play. The way the characters look at each other before they even touch. Their banter and flirting. The longing in their souls. That’s what makes for a great romance no matter the subgenre.
So, how do you build sexual tension? How do you incorporate emotional involvement?
You have your characters behave as real people would. That means there’s a reason for them to be drawn to each other. It can’t simply be because your character’s horny. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been lonely too. However, the vast majority of us wouldn’t go to a bar, proposition a complete stranger (no matter how good-looking he is), and do crazy things with him in the bar’s bathroom. That’s something you see in triple X-rated films, not as a common occurrence in everyday life. If it does happen with a character in a book, the only way it would appear logical and satisfying is if there’s a compelling motivation for it. Something introduced about the character’s personality and past that would drive her or him to that point.
How do you keep a romance real? How do you make your people behave like ordinary folk before they get lusty?
Let me give you an example. In one of my erotic romances Sensual Stranger, Toni, my heroine, is desperately in need of work. She’s flat broke, has no home, no family, and is in a strange town. As a motorcycle performance artist, she can fix motors, so she goes to Zach’s garage to ask him for a job. Their first glance is very telling. The world seems to stop. The surroundings fade. Everything goes quiet. It’s as if they’re the last two people on earth. It’s not that Toni’s a beauty. She isn’t. However, something about her hits Zach in a way he never expected. He’s intrigued and aroused. She takes his breath away.
As a healthy young male, he’s certainly having all kinds of smutty thoughts about what he’d like to enjoy with her, but he certainly doesn’t act on them. That would be ridiculous, and IMO, it would break the magic between them.
Because Sensual Stranger is a romance first, and erotic second, Toni and Zach act as normal people would. Getting to know each other. Testing the other out. As they work side-by-side, the sexual tension builds between them. Although they don’t touch, they certainly look at each other and talk. In an early scene, Zach buys Toni breakfast. He figures she’s hungry. She’s already told him she’s broke. As he watches her eat, he can see her pleasure in having a real meal for the first time in days. Her situation touches his soul. It opens his heart to her. He wants to know how she came to this terrible place in life without anyone to count on. She won’t tell. At least, not yet. His interest rises…along with the readers’.
It’s these quiet moments and intimate times that allow for emotional involvement to build in both your characters and your audience. When your hero and heroine do finally melt in each other’s arms, it makes your readers squeal, “Oh yeah!”
Sex is a goal. It’s not the entire journey. That’s what I call ‘heat with heart’.
In each of my novels, I’ve always worked the hardest on the scenes with emotional intimacy—those instances where the characters reveal their dreams, hopes, and fears to each other. Believe me, once you get past that, the sex scenes are incredibly easy to pen. They’re a natural outpouring of two people (three in a ménage) who were meant for each other.
In my latest romance Intimate Details, I’ve done the very same with my characters, while adding a lot of obstacles to their HEA. Shana, a world-class computer hacker, is a young woman seemingly without a past. Mike and Cody, the guys she works for, aren’t only intrigued by Shana, they want to get to know her, to help her with whatever she’s running from. Their journey to friendship and love is the most important aspect of the story that’s ultimately enhanced by the sex.
I agree, Tina! The build-up to the rest is the best part sometimes. Thank you for visiting us today. :)
Guest Blogger Bio
Tina Donahue is an award-winning, bestselling novelist in erotic, paranormal, contemporary and historical romance for Samhain Publishing, Ellora’s Cave, Siren Publishing, and Kensington. Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times and numerous online sites have praised her work. Three of her erotic romances (Adored, Lush Velvet Nights, and Deep, Dark, Delicious) were named finalists in the 2011 EPIC competition. The French review site, Blue Moon reviews, chose her erotic romance Sensual Stranger as their Book of the Year 2010 (erotic category). The Golden Nib Award at Miz Love Loves Books was created specifically for Lush Velvet Nights, and two of her titles (The Yearning and Deep, Dark, Delicious) received an Award of Merit in the RWA Holt Medallion competition (2011 and 2012). Take Me Away and Adored both won second place in the NEC RWA contest (different years). Tina is featured in the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. She was the editor of an award–winning Midwestern newspaper and worked in Story Direction for a Hollywood production company.
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