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Back to Basics: Creating Emotional Intimacy in Steamy Scenes

By Harlequin Medical Romance Author JC Harroway

Intimate scenes in a romance novel aren’t simply about the mechanics of sex, a step-by-step guide of which body part goes where. Romance authors are so much more than puppet-masters when it comes to writing a truly satisfying love scene. We are the conductors of a physical experience that demonstrates the growing emotional connection between our hero and heroine. As romance readers, that connection provides the buzz we crave, no matter the heat level of the book. The evidence that these two characters are meant for each other, despite the obstacles in their way and regardless of whether or not they themselves have yet realized their compatibility.

After writing for Dare and now, Medical Romance, here are my top tips for combining emotional and physical intimacy in an intimate scene:

  1. From the moment of initial eye contact to the steamiest romp, remember to use the five senses and all of the stages of intimacy when writing those intimate scenes. Don’t shortchange your characters or your readers by rushing ahead and skipping those delicious firsts – smile, touch, kiss etc., because they build tension and anticipation. Use humor, dialogue and scene setting to heighten and embellish an intimate scene and have fun with it!
  2. Emotion is the most important factor to show in a romantic scene. Get inside your character’s head by asking how they feel about the other character at the start of a love scene and what will have changed for them by the end of the interaction. Remember physical intimacy always changes something for our hero and heroine!
  3. Don’t be scared to make your characters emotionally vulnerable to each other. When the clothes start coming off, the barriers should slip a little too. After all, an intimate moment brings out their humanity. They can’t help but feel, and those feelings change what is at stake.
  4. Emotional intimacy grows between two characters who know each other. As much as your hero and heroine might want to get physical, deny them this until they have also begun to see and understand the other’s feelings, thoughts, dreams and fears. Showing this crucial element of human validation, will help the reader to feel how perfect your characters are for each other, and to root for their happy ever after.
  5. Begin the journey of emotional intimacy on page one of your story by showing the reader how the characters feel about each other, beyond physical attraction! It’s a given that the heroine is going to fancy the hero and vice versa, but what else do they like about the other? A sense of humor, down to earth personality, a love of dogs? Draw out the tension further by torturing your characters. Make them crave, reason, beg, dither, retreat and deny until they are crazy with need for the other. Then and only then are they ready to take the next step along the intimacy path.

By exploiting the emotional intimacy between the hero and heroine of your story, you can show them not only falling into bed, but also falling deeply in love, the ultimate goal of all romance novels.

If you want to see how I implement these tips, pick up my debut novel for Medical Romance Forbidden Fling with Dr. Right, coming in March 2022!

And catch more great romance-writing advice in our Back to Basics series!