Writing Love Scenes – Beyond the Mechanics

On Tuesday I blogged about writing sex scenes using Linda Howard’s 12 Steps to Intimacy. A side topic popped up in the comments about moving beyond the mechanics of sex. What makes each love scene different? How can we make sure they’re not the same scenes recycled? After all, sex is sex. Tab A goes in Slot B.

Not quite.

Without going into the Kama Sutra, there are all kinds of ways to make love but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about going beyond the mechanics.

It’s about the emotion.

Like I said in my last post, love scenes in a romance are about the journey of the characters. For me, when I write them, I’m always thinking about action/reaction. What is the internal reaction of the character caused by the action of making love? These characters weren’t born on page one. They had a life before their story started and all of that backstory, all of that living, will have an effect on the emotional aspect of their lovemaking.

Why is it important that your hero and heroine make love? Other than the fact that you’re writing a romance and it’s expected. Put that aside. Look at your characters. Why should your hero make love to your heroine? What will it do to him when he does? What foundation of his is shaken due to this act? What fundamental part of him will change because of this act?

Ask the same questions of your heroine. How will her life irrevocably change because she made love to the hero? What inhibitions (both internal and external) must she overcome in order to make love? What inhibitions (internal and external) did she not overcome by making love?

And most importantly, how did this scene change the story? How did it move the story forward? Because we all know that every scene, every sentence, every word MUST move the story forward. If you’re inserting a sex scene because it’s expected, then you’re not doing your job right. The love scenes should flow with the story just like every other scene. If it’s just plopped in there because you’re on page 100 and your characters haven’t made love yet, you will pull the reader out of the story and that’s the last thing you want to do.

So tell me, how do you make sure your love scenes are different?



Insert Love Scene Here

A few months back I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about what romance writers really research. It was all about how people think our poor (ha!) spouses have to put up with our love-making “research”. The funny thing is, that post gets the most hits per day than any other post I’ve written–even now.

While the love scenes take up only about 5% of my books (some authors are more, some are less) they are integral to the storyline. For those who don’t read romance, they think the scenes are just thrown in there to attract readers but, in my opinion, love scenes are so much more than that. For most stories, they’re the culmination of two characters finally coming together after an emotional, roller-coaster ride. It’s the final hurdle they need to overcome to realize this love is real and here to stay. For other stories, its the catalyst that will forge the rest of the plot (especially if the love scene comes to soon for one of the characters).

So, while authors don’t necessarily wear out their spouses researching ;-), they do recognize the importance of the love scene.

To write one is difficult, as most authors will tell you. You have to be in the right frame of mind (not that frame of mind!). It’s emotionally and physically tiring to write them. I know some authors who write them out of order. Some who put INSERT SEX SCENE HERE and move on with the rest of the story, waiting until it’s fully written before going back to well, um, insert sex scene here. I’m not that type of writer. I’m linear. I have to write everything in order, even if I know the last scene before the first scene.

The best thing I’ve ever discovered to help me with love scenes is Linda Howard’s 12 Steps to Intimacy (and you thought I was going to say some adult only site). I can’t even tell you where this article originated from (I searched the internet but couldn’t find its origin other than Linda Howard wrote it and Ms. Howard doesn’t have a website where it would be stored). But here are the twelve steps:

1. Eye to body

2. Eye to eye

3. Voice to voice

4. Hand to hand

5. Arm to shoulder

6. Arm to waist

7. Mouth to mouth

8. Hand to hand

9. Hand to body

10. Mouth to breast

11. Hand to genitals

12. Genital to genital

Ms Howard has an explanation for each bullet point that’s too long to go into in one blog post but they’re pretty self-explanatory. These are what I refer to when I write my love scenes. They help because they force me to slow down, to not rush anything. Every gesture has to mean something, not just physically, but more important, emotionally. For romance it’s all about the emotion, all about the journey the characters take with their emotions. The love scene should be no less than that.

But if you think this is a template, you would be wrong. It’s a guideline, for sure. But what if you switch it up? What if you, say, put #12 before #1? What does that do to the characters? How do they feel about that? In a way, that’s what my novella, Hands Off, is all about. The main characters immediately jump to #12 and while the love scene is long and encompasses #1-12 completely, it’s the first thing that happens in the book. The characters don’t take time to learn about each other, to experience, over a long period of time #1-11. So while the love scene is wham-bam right there front and center, it messes with the characters’ emotions. So they put the brakes on, take a time out and decide from here on out it’s all hands off so they can learn about each other. It’s not an easy journey for them because they know what #12 is like–the mystery has been taken away–and they want it again. But first they have to get through #1-11.

I highly encourage any romance author to at least try out these steps with their characters. It’s interesting to discover what it can do for them emotionally as well as physically (okay, we all know what it can do physically).

If you try it, let me know what you think!