On Love And Sex

by Leigh Michaels

Many kinds of books show characters making love, but the love scenes in a romance novel are different from those in other kinds of fiction. Love scenes in romance novels are integral to the plot and to the character development, and thus they're more important than love scenes in most other fiction. Since the love developing between the main characters is such an enormous part of the romance novel, physical expression of that love is a crucial element of the story.

Like many things about romance novels, however, it's difficult to sum up love scenes in a few words. People who haven't read a lot of romance novels are apt to ask, “Is there always a love scene?” or “How many love scenes are there in the average romance?” or “Where are the love scenes placed? Should there be one in the first chapter?”

Because there are so many varieties of romance novels, there's a wide range in how physical affection is handled, so the answer to those kinds of questions is. “It depends on the kind of romance it is.”

Love Scenes
It's important to understand that a love scene isn't the same as a sex scene; a love scene in the romance novel can be defined as any physical expression of affection between the main characters. A kiss, a hug, a touch between hero and heroine are all love scenes on a smaller scale. Even a look can sizzle with sensuality, and a foot massage can—if well-written—be as arousing for the reader as a consummated sex act.

Relatively speaking, sex is a very small part of love, and romance novels— even those toward the erotic end of the spectrum—are love stories, not sex stories. While it's hard to picture two people falling in love without displaying any physical affection at all, a romance novel might include nothing more than a touch of the hand here and there, and a single chaste kiss on the last page. Or it may include mind-bending and intimately-described oral, vaginal, and even anal sex in every chapter.

Physical attraction between the characters is important, of course, but when their attraction is deeply emotional as well, the love scene will be far more involving for the reader.

To be effective, love scenes have to fit into the course of the story and heighten the tension and conflict. Even if the actual love scene is a calm interlude in the conflict between the two main characters, the act of loving should lead to increased difficulties later. Every love scene should have a purpose in the development of the overall story, not just be added to titillate the reader. If the love scene can be removed without destroying the story, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Two people who have slept together are going to behave differently afterward. They will not hop out of bed the next morning acting as if nothing happened the night before. Their actions have changed them and the situation—and, inevitably, the rest of the story. Once your lovers have kissed/touched/made love, they may try to pretend it never happened—but they, and the reader, cannot forget.

In many beginning writers’ stories, love scenes are like frosting on a cake. Frosting is applied to the surface, and it adds nicely to the taste. But essentially it changes nothing—the cake is still the same underneath. A good love scene is more like applying heat to the cake batter—once it’s started to bake, there’s no way to reverse the process.

Sexual Tension
The most sensual romances aren’t necessarily those in which there’s a lot of sex, but ones where there is a high level of sexual tension. One of the biggest misunderstandings beginning writers have about sexual tension is thinking it’s synonymous with foreplay. The characters do not need to be touching in order to create sexual tension; they certainly do not need to be kissing or in other intimate contact.

Sexual tension is the unsatisfied attraction of the hero and heroine for each other. The key word here is unsatisfied. Why can’t they act on their attraction to each other? What’s keeping them from getting together? The stronger the reason, the more emotionally involving the story will be.

Sexual tension begins at the moment the main characters meet, with their first awareness of each other. They might be angry, interested, wary, tense, but their heightened sense of awareness of this other person provides the first stirring of sexual tension.

This is excerpted from Leigh Michael’s book On Writing Romance.