Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writing Sexual Tension: Part II

As a book coach (yes, 3L Publishing provides coaching services), I am working with a client who is writing a romantic fantasy book. As I was coaching her, I noticed she ran right into a problem with her love interests. She had them immediately bonding and kissing within pages of their initial encounter. After having written my first contemporary romance books California Girl Chronicles, I had stumbled across this great piece on writing sexual tension. When I pointed out to my author there was 12 steps, she was surprised. She didn't know there was so much involved in creating sexual tension between characters.

But haven't you ever wondered why you're on the edge of your seat, demanding your favorite love interests get on with it already? It's an emotionally manipulative process for sure, but nothing wrong with that. So with a big acknowledgment to where this material originates from, here is the "12 Steps to Intimacy" written by Nancy Odell and reposted as a simple list by Angela Quarles in regards to why it's so steamy between love interests Eric and Sookie on True Blood.

  • Eye to body

  • Eye to eye

  • Voice to voice

  • Hand to hand (or arm)

  • Arm to shoulder

  • Arm to waist, or back

  • Mouth to mouth

  • Hand to head

  • Hand to body

  • Mouth to breast

  • Hand to genitals

  • Genitals to genitals

  • Here is also a point I made to the author. Sometimes the sexiest thing doesn't even involve sex or exposure to nudity. Sometimes the sexiest thing is a small, intimate gesture or touch. It's the longing and anticipation it builds up. So let me take two simple examples.

    The Lover -- in the film adaption who can forget the car ride where Jane March's character and the "Chinaman" (as she calls him) touch fingers? It wasn't anything more than a forbidden touch of fingers no less. Yet by the time she gets out of the car, you want them to jump each other. That simple clandestine moment became infamous and used in other films.

    Sense and Sensibility -- the longing and looks between Emma Thompson's character and Hugh Grant's character were all we got to see for an entire film. These two never touch each other. They talk and take walks together and many, many looks pass, but no kissing or sex. It's a completely chaste courtship, but you want them together none the less.

    True Blood -- Eric and Sookie took essentially three seasons to build up to their romance. The first season was a lot of looks passing between them. In season two, the looks escalated and the "dreams" sequences commenced. Yet we still didn't get to see them in real life until season four. Even then Alan Ball doesn't immediately give us the payoff. We spend a lot of time on more looks -- and Alexander Skarsgård plays longing and vulnerable really well. The look on his face in the episode when she introduces and leave him in his "cubbie" to attend "human stuff" was pure longing.

    My point in these descriptions. Notice the sexual tension does not involve actual sex. The tension is the build up. And build up requires work in your writing. You cannot make characters meet (unless there is a no purpose involved in the storytelling) and then just go at it. Classic love interests play on the readers or viewer's emotions. We want our lovers to consummate all that desire -- that's the payoff. But you can't shove them together in two or three pages and expect the audience to having rooting value for them.

    One more note: the way you go about building that tension and how you tactically apply it sends other messages about the nature of the character's relationship. I pointed out that in my book California Girl Chronicles, the tension between love interests Drew is always a bit twisted, as is the nature of their relationship. When he "looms" over her that is about sexual dominance -- and he is the bad boy love interest. So pay attention to the kind of tension you build and how you build it to make a statement about the relationship too.


    1. I understand sex is still important part of the marriage or in the couple, but I can say I can live life without having sex if I have to and it is not a big deal to me. My husband; on the other hand, tells me he cannot live without having sex at all and needs to have sex once in a while at least in his life. When I was younger and has never really talked about the sex life with girlfriends, I thought I was something wrong because I never really felt that I wanted to have sex.

      - See more at: Japanese women in bed

      1. Noriko,

        Sex and sexual frequency is very individual to each person's libido. Writing sexual tension, though, has nothing to do with your own intimacy, so not I'm not sure why you're posting your sexual situation on my blog LOL? If you're looking for an ally, not me. I enjoy sex with my lover very much, and I have sex daily... so you know, it's definitely an individual thing.