Romance is one of the top-selling book genres across the world. That’s because people like to read about love. It brings hope and creates warm, happy feelings that everyone enjoys. And in this popular genre, romantic scenes can make or break books. A well-written romantic scene can enhance your book. It demonstrates the connection between characters and works as both a plot point and a moment of growth. It can escalate a point of conflict and create a story arc within the main plot. But how do you write a good romantic scene?
Read to discover:
- Who does romantic scenes well
- How to do romance right
- Why it works
Who does romantic scenes well?
Nicholas Sparks is one of the romance greats. His books are wildly successful for countless reasons, but one of his strengths is his romantic scenes. In The Notebook, he develops two intimate scenes between Allie and Noah, first as young love then again when they are reunited. In both scenes, he demonstrates the passion between the characters while, at the same time, marking major turning points in the plot.
Tamora Pierce utilizes romantic scenes to demonstrate character growth. In her Daughter of the Lioness series, she writes a coming-of-age moment as her heroine, Alianne, experiences womanhood, sharing a deeper connection with Nawat, the man she loves. This moment is both romantic and emotional but also incredibly relatable, as it addresses young love and sexual exploration.
And Diana Gabaldon’s romantic scenes in the Outlander series mark turning points in Claire’s life, establishing the depth of connection between her and Jamie and revealing character traits as they grow together. These scenes develop emotional conflict—like the first time Claire has sex with someone other than her first husband, Frank—or even physical conflict as adversaries insert themselves into the love affair.
How to do romance right
There are several key elements to consider when making a great romantic scene. These considerations will help build impactful moments that both draw the reader to the characters as well as allow the scenes to flow with the rest of the book.
Build the tension
Start by building up to the moment. A romantic scene doesn’t start when the characters’ lips first touch. It’s built throughout the story, increasing tension as the story progresses. Start with attraction and consider each step of intimacy. Start with eye contact and verbal interactions, holding hands, putting an arm around a shoulder, placing a hand on someone’s hip, then move on to kissing, hands exploring each other’s bodies, and finally reaching the body to body experience. Your characters should meet each level of intimacy in order to ensure their progression is both natural and suspenseful. Each of these steps is crucial to setting the pace and making the romantic connection feel right.
Set the scene
When writing romantic scenes, also consider the setting. Where the romance takes place can reveal a lot about the emotions involved. Do they make it romantic with candles and mood-setting music? Is it an impromptu tryst in an awkward location? Do they have to keep it secret and drive somewhere secluded? The setting says a lot about the couple’s relationship, so set the tone through their choice in location.
Keep your perspective and tone in mind. Has this been a G-rated romance until now, sweet, steamy? Write within your chosen steam level. If your readers expect chaste first kisses, it will jar them from the moment if suddenly your characters are moving on to an explicit threesome. Consider what kind of romantic scene fits with the story you want to tell and what level of steam you’ve been using, then write within those boundaries. For more information on steam levels and picking the right one for your book, check out this blog.
Include thoughts and words
Romance thrives with both the verbal interaction between characters as well as the intimate perspective of what the protagonist is thinking during the moment. Find a balance between internal monologue and external dialogue. Consider whether the characters’ words match their thoughts. Do they want to play it cool, but in their mind, they’re crazy about this person? Is it their first sexual encounter and they have insecurities they don’t want to reveal? Or are they so in love with the person that their spoken words can’t do their thoughts justice? Characters’ words can enhance or contrast their thoughts in countless ways, which will add depth to the romantic scene and the lovers’ personalities.
Fill the scene with emotion
While romantic scenes are physical expressions of a couple’s love, emotion plays a large part in bringing the romance scene to life. Consider your characters’ emotions leading up to the scene as well as during it. How does their partner make them feel? Are they ready for what’s happening? Anticipating it? Yearning for more? Emotion is what brings the characters to that romantic moment, so it’s important to maintain it during the scene and develop it throughout the action.
Account for all the senses
Love manifests in many ways, through all five of our senses. People experience heightened awareness when in a passionate state, so take each into consideration when writing your romantic scene. What do your characters see? How do they perceive the setting, the appearance of their lover? What do they hear? Music, nature, a noisy neighbor? Think about the smells: Are the candles lavender-scented? Does the protagonist like their lover’s choice of cologne? Then think about taste. It could be the minty flavor of toothpaste on their lover’s tongue or the salty sweat on their skin. Now consider their sense of touch: the soft silk sheets against their back, the coarse stubble scratching their chin. Each sense adds dimension to the scene, breathing life into it.
Consider what’s at stake
Before writing your romantic scene, ask yourself how it will change things. Will it escalate a problem, develop a conflict, alter your character’s perspective? Sex shouldn’t be part of a book simply for the explicit content. Romance is a useful tool in developing the storyline, furthering the conflict, and generating change. So placing your steamy scene where it is most effective can make all the difference in how it impacts the reader.
Keep it simple
When in doubt, start simple. Romance doesn’t have to be verbose or entail a play-by-play. It can be as simple as a sentence or two and contain straightforward language. It is easier to go back and add content if you decide more is necessary than to force yourself through a painful description that sounds inauthentic. Sometimes less is more, even when it comes to sex.
Edit for mechanics
Getting the emotional content down is more important than focusing on whose hand went where. When picturing two bodies intertwined, it’s easy to lose track of a limb here or there, possibly even an entire shift in position. But the emotion of the scene is what empowers the content, so focus first on getting that down first. Then go back and edit to ensure your characters’ bodies are adhering to their physical abilities.
Why it works
Great romantic scenes are key to romance novels and effective in all genres when used properly. They build tension, develop characters, and move the plot forward. Writing a good romantic scene means building suspense, considering the character’s perspective—emotional, physical, and vocal—and giving the scene purpose, utilizing it to further the story. If you take these components into consideration when writing your romantic scenes, you’ll have a ticket to success.
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