Turning Up the Heat: The Key to Red-Hot Romance

By: Katie Gowrie & the Harlequin Dare Team

Is opening the bedroom door on your hero and heroine the biggest challenge of writing a romance novel? Quite possibly. The romance writing community will have answers to this that run the gamut of opinions.

Some might say writing sex scenes is tons of fun and totally rewarding…when you get it right! Others can’t say enough how uncomfortable this feels. Spying on your beloved characters? No thanks!

But depending on what series you write for—whether it’s one of our passionate lines or not—authors frequently find themselves in this position. Knocking on that closed door, needing to open it up (how far?) and let the reader in.

If you’ve been following our SYTYCW150 challenge  you know that in October we talked about sensuality.  And if you’re not a member of RWA or couldn’t attend this year’s conference, now’s your chance to get the scoop on a workshop you may have missed: How to Write Good Sex Scenes…if You Dare! Our tell-all session on writing stronger sensuality in your books, presented by the team of our newest (and steamiest) series, Harlequin Dare.

So without further ado, here we go. Our top tips on how to write the sexy stuff:

  1. Pop quiz: When is the best time to establish sexual tension between your characters? At the beginning of the story! Or, as soon as possible. Don’t want to force the sexual tension out of nowhere in Chapter One; it should arise somewhat organically. But don’t wait too long—it doesn’t do to introduce that chemistry right before the couple falls into bed. The sexual tension and buildup is not only fun, but a big part of what makes a good sex scene work.
  2. Write using all five senses! This is especially important in the sensual scenes: what do your characters see, feel, taste, smell? Help bring your readers into the moment.
  3. Keep the forward momentum of the scene. This is true in all writing, but particularly in these scenes. Interrupting the action with too much dialogue, exposition or deep inner monologue can weigh things down and get a bit awkward. If the chemistry’s been established, it’s okay to cut to the chase. 🙂
  4. Every action requires a reaction. How does your character respond to what’s happening? (Pssstt—show, don’t tell!)
  5. How long is too long? Sensual scenes, like any other scene in the book, should drive the plot forward. As you write, consider whether you’re adding steam for the sake of it, or if your scene takes your characters in a direction they need to go. When the sexy stuff drags on and the rationale dries up, it’s time to write your ending.

Writing sensual scenes can be challenging, but the key to red-hot romance isn’t a shocker. Sensual scenes can come together naturally when all the building blocks are in place: strong characters, solid plot and of course, good writing. Most importantly, though, we can’t have the physical without the emotional! Strong sex scenes aren’t just a scorching play-by-play but rather the manifestation of what your characters feel for each other at the time. What do they feel? Portraying the depth of their emotions can take a scene from clinical to pivotal!

As always, remember to have fun and stay true to yourself. If you don’t, you’ll know, and likely we will too. Write what you’re comfortable with, what you can relate to, and what you find sexy.

Tell us what you love and hate about writing sensual scenes in the comments!


8 replies on “Turning Up the Heat: The Key to Red-Hot Romance”

#6 Characterization. Nothing else matters if I, the Reader, don’t care about the characters by the time they do the deed, no matter how well the rest of the story is written. I will groan and toss it and not recommend it to my friends.
Honestly, as a Reviewer, as well as a Reader, that’s the biggest fault I see.

Kim – I am reading a book right now that it took the characters until the middle of the book to kiss and other than an occasional “look” at one another, there was nothing, not sizzle, no spark, so imagine my surprise when almost at the end of the book there is this very explicit sex scene. It didn’t fit the characters, nor the story line. In fact, these characters had another taboo or so I’ve been told. Every one of the characters “rolls their eyes”, almost every few pages. It was actually rather funny. This is a new release but I’m not finishing the book. 🙁

Yeah, I just tried to read one like that too. The story’s premise was great. But, the characterization was so poor that any affectionate at all felt foreign. We need to care in order for the story to flow.

The first book I wrote many years ago had no sex scene. I was told by several different people, including editors, that it wouldn’t sell without one. So I rolled up my sleeves and wrote my first sex scene. it turned out well, but not nearly as hot as I can write them now. I enjoy writing foreplay too, but only when I can get into the characters’ heads. Reading a sex scene, unless it is done well and matches the characters personalities, is really boring. I’ve read ones so mechanical that you wonder why it was included. That said, I’m glad Harlequin has lines for all sensual levels.
I don’t think I can write a romance without the sex scenes now, but I know there are some folks who prefer not to read them. I’m hoping to crack the secret to writing a super hot romance for the new Dare line one day soon. 🙂

BTW: Thank you, Katie! I enjoy, print, and read all these “little hints” to better my writing that SYTYCW offers.

Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

Oh-oh-oh! I have a question??? I tried to jump right into the sex scenes with two of the ms. I wrote for Dare. Was that a bad thing to have them get physical before they get to know each other? Is there a limit to the number of sex scenes in a Dare? Too much, too little? 50,000 isn’t many words to work with and it’s difficult to get a full story in, flesh out the characters, and have lots of sex too. I think I failed in not enough characterization with my characters. But I am not giving up. Any more clues or advice would be helpful. thanks!

Hi Chrissie,
Glad you enjoy the blog and the helpful hints–that’s why we do it! It’s great you’ve taken an interest in Dare, as well! Jumping right into the sex scenes is okay with Dare, and many of our books have them in the opening chapters. This works well, as long as the chemistry and sexual tension have been established from the start–we still want to feel like this physical connection needs to happen, it shouldn’t make us cringe if it’s too forced or too random 🙂 There’s no real guidelines on how many sex scenes should go in the stories, the main thing is we need to feel that high heat level throughout. For some stories that means plenty of steamy or creative sex scenes, and for others that means less sex but keeping up that heightened sexual tension throughout. Hope that helps!

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