How to Write a Love Scene
An Editor’s View
Fewer things in writing are as daunting as creating a love scene. There’s no step-by-step guide or tried and true method for guaranteed success—not only that, but writing a love scene can be a very personal expression of the author’s self. For the purposes of this article, I will address mainstream romance, not erotica.
According to the Romance Writers of America, romantic fiction has the largest share of the consumer book market in the US. Women make up a whopping 91 percent of the readers, are typically between the ages of 30 and 54, and are in a romantic relationship. Women who read are looking for an escape from the stresses of life. That doesn’t mean they want to be pandered to; they are looking for something to make them feel good and give them an emotionally satisfying outcome.
Most people who read romance stories either have had some type of sexual encounter or at least know how it works. So when a love scene has an excess of steamy details without emotion for balance, it begins to read like a how-to guide for sex. If a book simply has too many love scenes, the reader may feel the focus of the story has shifted away from the relationship and is now about the sex. These types of situations may give a book a “been there, done that” quality, causing the reader to skim. The goal should be a fully engaged reader because a fully engaged reader is a happy reader.
So what exactly is a love scene? It can be a simple kiss to copulation and anything in between; and depending on the genre, can range from a chaste peck to very steamy sex. This moment typically happens between the male and female protagonist of the book.
Before that first kiss or moment of unbridled passion takes place, certain things need to happen. Undeniable attraction is an essential precursor to the moment when an expression of physical love occurs. A heated look, heightened awareness, a lingering touch, and constant opportunities to verbally spar and interact are elements that build the sexual tension before the moment they come together physically. Without this element, the love scene will feel awkward or forced and not part of the natural course of the relationship.
A love scene needs to be necessary to the plot and development of the relationship of the two main characters. A simple but effective test for this is to remove the love scene. Did it change the story or the romantic relationship? If removing the love scene didn’t do anything to change the relationship of the romantic couple, the scene is unnecessary.
Typically a love scene that is deemed necessary is one in which the couple take their relationship to the next level, not just physically but emotionally and intellectually as well. The feelings and thoughts going through a character’s mind are what make the love scene come alive and shine.
Engaging the senses of sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound with the intellect and emotion are all ways to round out the scene, but don’t try to write the perfect love scene. Write the scene that best fits the characters of the book. Humor is often overlooked and can add a delightful element to a romantic story.
A word of caution, no matter what level of sexual tension a story has, one thing is universally agreed upon when writing a romance book—the two main characters are faithful to each other. The typical romantic fiction reader buys a romance for a reason and expects certain elements to remain constant; one of this elements is fidelity. Any prior sexual encounters stay in the past. This doesn’t mean that the past can’t be mentioned; but for the purposes of this story, these two characters are working toward a monogamous relationship.
I read a book by a best-selling author… I should say “tried to read” because I abandoned the book when the male protagonist not only slept with a prostitute while in the same house with the female protagonist, but the author chose to write the sex scene. The male protagonist no longer appealed to me as a romantic lead, and I didn’t bother finishing the book.
Know the rules of the genre and the publisher you are writing for. Every publisher has a set of guidelines for each imprint they market. These can range from clean romance with little to no sexual tension to steamy romance with constant sexual tension and descriptive love scenes. But across the board, a romance story is about two people coming together, falling in love, overcoming adversity, and finding a happy ending.
So get to know your audience and happy writing!