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Writing a love scene is the worst

It’s no deep, dark secret that I love bacon.

Or that I hate writing love scenes.

Love scenes should be tastefully done. I’m not a huge fan of graphic language. Having said that, graphic language is difficult to avoid. Otherwise, the cute euphemisms can make a scene sound as if it was written by a fifteen-year-old girl. Too much graphic language, and an image of some sweaty old dude on a typewriter in a dark attic, penning a letter to Penthouse, springs to mind.

I think we can all agree those are both disturbing images.

So. If you’re writing contemporary romance, or books with romantic elements, a love scene is hard to avoid. If I write them last, they’re in danger of being too clinical. I have to be inside the characters’ heads, and understand their emotional states at that specific point in the story, in order to make them work. I’ll avoid them for a few scenes, maybe even a few chapters, but I definitely have to write them before the next major turning point.

That might just be me. It is what it is.

But how do I make a love scene into an actual emotional connection between two characters, or at the very least, elicit an emotional response?

A. I know their states of mind. What do they want out of sex? Human beings are complex. They always want more than the physical act, even if the act is their primary goal. Is it about dominance? Burning off excess energy? Wanting to connect with another person? What do they believe the act will give them when it’s complete?

B. Linda Howard does a great workshop on the 12 stages of intimacy, but I have a background in anthropology, so I prefer to go straight to the source her material came from. Zoologist Desmond Morris wrote Intimate Behaviour back in the 1970s and this book is an amazing resource for how (and why) primates interact. Every writer should read it, regardless of genre.

C. I stay in the POV character’s head. I know what they want, but for the most part–unless they’re a total selfish jerk–they’re trying to figure out what their partner wants.

D. There are a whole lot of writing techniques that go into drafting the scene–show, don’t tell; use of powerful words; building emotional tension; goal, conflict, and disaster–you get what I mean. It takes a lot of hard work to make a scene seem so simple.

E. At the end of the scene, whatever the POV character’s state of mind is at the first of it–whatever they believe they want out of it–I make sure they either don’t get it or get more than they expected.

Conflict. That’s what a romance is about. Internal and external.

And, to show what I mean, here’s the first love scene from my latest contemporary romance, Branded with a Kiss:

 

He guessed that took the last remnants of mystery out of the evening. Shy, sweet little Alayna Brand had come here looking for sex.

Patterson had a difficult time connecting the dots in his head. The other night, everything about this girl had shouted innocence at him. He’d planned on getting to know her. On taking things slow. This was his friend’s sister, after all. Plus, she was a good deal younger than him. He normally pursued women with more age and experience behind them, and with few to no expectations.

But she’d knocked him ass over kettle, as James T. was fond of saying, and her wide eyes sheared away the last bit of willpower he owned.

She scrabbled behind her with one hand and grabbed her bag off the floor near the sofa. She fumbled inside it and emerged with a handful of packets she then dumped into his hand. He blinked a little at that. It seemed she planned on being busy all night—or at least until just before dawn broke, since she’d seemed intent on keeping her presence here a secret between the two of them.

Good thing she was hoping for more than one round. He had his doubts as to how long the first one would last. When he’d caught sight of her in the parking lot in that short skirt and with those long, bare legs, he’d lost his ability to think.

Then, when she’d kissed him…

He’d wanted to back her up against her car and take her right there. He had his horse, Rudolph, to thank for saving him from himself. And right now, he could do better for her than an old, sagging couch that was too short for either one of them, or the worn rug on the floor. He had a king-sized bed that was made for his height, and just right for all kinds of fun and games.

He tucked the condoms into the pocket of his unzipped jeans. His discarded shirt lay on the floor. He sat back on his heels to admire the sight she made between his thighs while he tried to regain some control. Her cheeks were flushed. Her hair was a puddle of honey. She looked well-kissed, with swollen red lips and brilliant blue eyes that glittered in the soft light of the lamp. One strap of her sundress had ridden off her shoulder, exposing the pink-tipped breast he’d teased with his teeth and tongue. The skirt of her dress bunched at her hips.

He’d never seen anyone as pretty.

He stood. Taking her hand, he encouraged her to her feet. She slid the strap of her dress into place, covering her breast, as he led her into the darkened bedroom. She paused at the side of the bed.

“What would you like me to do?” she asked.

Her voice came out so softly, little more than an eager breath of excitement. He ran his hands under the skirt of her dress. He’d been hard most of the evening already. The promise of an entire night spent exploring what made her hot too had him close to the edge.

“I believe I should be asking you that question. Ladies first,” he forced himself to say.

“I want you to surprise me,” she said, a spark of challenge in her eyes.

She tugged on his jeans, sliding them down his hips. He sprang free, his erection thrusting hard against her breast, bringing a gasp to her lips. She straightened. Then she wrapped her hand around him, one gentle finger exploring the rounded tip. The slide of her palm as she moved it up and down, the way he’d encouraged her to, made colorful lights sparkle against the backs of his eyelids.

“Okay. The first time was going to be really fast. He could at least make it memorable. Thank God they had all night for him to redeem himself. He stooped and found one of the condoms she’d given him. Tearing it open, he quickly rolled it into place.

“Turn around,” he said. “Bend over the bed.”

She did as he instructed her, glancing back at him over her shoulder. Her hair splayed in a fan across the blankets, and he spread her legs a bit wider apart with his knee. He flipped her skirt up and smoothed his palms over the round, perfect cheeks of her ass. He’d had a lot of practice peeling women out of thongs and he put it to good use. She arched her back in anticipation, bracing herself against the mattress with her forearms. He placed one hand under her belly to steady her, and holding himself in the other, bent his knees and guided his erection into position. With one hard, single thrust, he was inside her.

And, oh God, it was every bit as good as he’d imagined.

She cried out. At first, he assumed it was from excitement. On the third thrust he caught the faint sob she couldn’t quite stifle.

His ears had to be playing tricks on him. She’d been as ready and eager as he was. He thrust again, but more gently this time. Her whole body trembled, her belly clenched tight against his palm supporting her weight, although she uttered not one word of protest.

Or encouragement either.

His brain tried to explain to the rest of him what had just happened. It took two more thrusts before he received the full message. By then, it was too late. He came on a wave of pleasure mixed with a sense of things gone terribly wrong. It might have sucked a bit of his soul from him too.

He withdrew, his heart hammering. She had a death grip on the blanket covering the bed and her face was turned away from him. Her shoulders were shaking.

Incapable of speech, he grabbed his jeans off the floor and stalked into the bathroom, where the evidence confirming his suspicions made itself plain. He cleaned up, hauled his jeans on, then stared at himself for a long time in the mirror. He’d just taken a virgin from behind, and with a total lack of finesse. He didn’t think he’d ever disliked himself more.

And then he was furious.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience, she’d said.

He stalked back into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed, waiting wordlessly while she took her turn in the bathroom. When she came out, she had her dress rearranged and smoothed into place. She’d tidied her hair and washed her face. She looked young, and innocent, and composed.

All of which fed his rising anger.

She looked young. She looked innocent.

And as for composed

Good for her. That wasn’t at all how he was feeling.

He was slow to anger by nature. When his temper boiled over, however, as it did now, it turned into a heat-seeking missile in need of a target. He had a few things he planned to get off his chest and she was going to listen. She’d been so disrespectful—to him, coming here the way she had—but more importantly, to herself.

Tonight shouldn’t have happened this way.

Why me? He wanted to ask, but he didn’t. He was afraid he already knew the answer and right now wasn’t a good time to hear it.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded instead.

 

On the surface, this scene appears more about straight-up sex than love. It’s a “coming of age” story, and the heroine, Alayna, is looking for her first experience. She neglects to mention that to Patterson, the hero. Patterson is older than Alayna, and he’s looking for a little more. Alayna really isn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl, which Patterson knows. Patterson is definitely a one-night-stand kind of guy, and Alayna knows that. Patterson doesn’t know Alayna wants to be that kind of girl with him. Alayna doesn’t know that Patterson is interested in her for a more meaningful relationship. He’s ready to settle down and she’s not.

The characters dictate the language that drives the love scene. In the male POV, it tends to be more graphic, although not always. Depending on the heroine’s personality and life experiences, the language I use might be a little more…polite. Or maybe not. It’s up to them.

In the end, regardless of how I end up writing the scene, I try to keep it true to the characters when I’m in their POVs. And I will always prefer bacon.

If you have any tips of your own for writing love scenes, or preferences for reading them, feel free to share!

One Response to Writing a love scene is the worst

  • Thanks for sharing this, Paula! I love learning about other writers’ processes and love scenes. This is such a great opening sex scene. It sets up a seemingly unsurmountable conflict that makes reconciliation appear impossible – and that much more rewarding when it finally occurs.