Steamy scenes, the intimate moments between characters that physically demonstrate their attraction, can be incredibly impactful when used appropriately. But how do you know if you should include sex in your story? And what components make up a great steamy scene? There’s a difference between using romantic scenes to further the story and including it as filler. But if it will enhance your story, there are several elements of steam that will bring your scene sizzling to life.
In this article:
- Knowing when to include steam in your book
- Elements of a steamy scene
- Tips for writing steam
When to Include Steam
When you’re deciding whether or not to include a steamy scene in your book, ask yourself these three questions:
Does it impact the plot and/or characters?
If not, then leave it out. Sex is like an action scene. It should be used to propel the story forward or change your characters in some way. If it doesn’t do that, then the sex is pointless and will fall flat for readers. When writing steamy scenes, know what’s at stake and where things will go from there.
Will it enhance the story?
Again, if not, then don’t include a sex scene. Steamy moments represent smaller climaxes in the major plot. They’re turning points that generate tension and give readers insight into characters' personalities in ways that other scenes cannot. But without these key purposes, sex can come across as gaudy or macabre.
Does it fit with what you’re writing?
Consider your audience, subject matter, and intent when asking this question. The level of steam should be appropriate for the readers you want to engage—if it's a young adult, perhaps more G-rated steam would fit, whereas you have more flexibility with adult readers. The steamy scene should also match the content of your book if you choose to include it. If you’re writing about school bullies, sex may not be appropriate, but if it includes first love, then it would be. It depends on what you intend to write into your story.
Elements of a Steamy Scene
When writing steam, there are several elements that enhance the quality of the scene. They fit into three categories: physical, emotional, and structural. If you implement each of these elements into your scene, the romantic moment will be much more potent.
Set the mood by choosing the location. The details in the setting can reveal a lot about the romance, or lack thereof. Candles or no candles? In the car? In the alley behind the club? Each of these details develop the tone of the steamy moment.
Use all five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. Each plays a part in bringing the scene to life because, in a steamy moment, these senses are heightened. By drawing attention to what your character experiences through their senses, the scene is more visual and engaging.
We’ve all heard the phrase “show, don’t tell.” This is never more true than in a sex scene. Rather than giving simple statements of “it felt good” or “she wanted to entice him,” think about what details might evoke those statements: “His finger grazed her neck, sending a shiver of pleasure down her spine” or “She slowly raised her shirt over her head to reveal the flimsy lace she’d donned just for him.” Conveying emotional content through details helps the readers visualize the moment.
Increase the tension in the scene. Consider what’s at stake and include conflict. This means building up the sexual tension beforehand, developing the desire between the characters, before finally bringing their attraction to fruition. Then consider how the steamy moment is going to change things for them. Will it hurt or help their relationship? What about the people around them?
Stay true to your characters. Let them experience the scene as they are. If your protagonist is a virgin, that might involve nerves since they’ve never done it before or fumbling around from inexperience.
Just as it takes time to build tension between the characters, once the steamy scene arrives, take your time. Build to the climax so the moment feels significant. This could be for anything from a passionate kiss to the first time they have sex. And find the appropriate timing to place the scene in your book. It should represent an important moment and set the pace for how erotic you plan on making your story.
Utilize dialogue and implement deep thoughts. People don’t stop thoughts and communication in moments of intimacy, so reflect that in the scene. Your characters could confess their feelings or say something sexy to their partner. And internally, characters can experience a whole gamut of emotions when sharing an intimate moment. Are they nervous or self-conscious? Unprepared? Express these thoughts throughout the scene.
Give it a beginning, middle, and end. Sex scenes require a build-up to a climax and a resolution just like any other scene. It is important to set the stage for the romance and develop the steam before the big moment. And afterward, it is good to have the characters react to the results of the scene.
How to Prepare Yourself for a steam scene
Writing a sex scene can feel awkward or daunting. But you can take steps to set yourself up for success:
- Read more sex scenes. Educating yourself on how good authors write sex scenes will help you emulate the styles you respect and enjoy.
- Visualize your characters. By closing your eyes and imagining the scene as it unfolds, you’ll find that your imagination can add detail where your analytical mind might struggle to develop a complete picture.
- Lower your inhibitions. Let go of the discomfort or concerns you might have with what others think. Focus on being creative. You’ll have plenty of time to feel self-conscious or worry about other people’s opinions later. But when you’re writing, be in the moment with your characters, and let go of your apprehension.
- Have fun with it. Don’t worry about getting the scene right the first time. Play with your ideas, and broaden your creative side. You can go back and edit later. It is more important to free up your imagination so you can better bring the scene to life.
- Use language you’re comfortable with. If you stumble on more explicit language, stick with more euphemistic words. And if you just can’t think of an eloquent way to identify anatomy, write the term you know. The more authentic your language is, the more naturally the scene will flow.
Good Steamy scenes can be impactful and fun to read as well as write. When done well, sexy, sensual moments enhance books and draw readers in. So take the time to consider whether a steamy scene will help your book, utilize the physical, emotional, and structural elements of great steam, and write!
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