How to Write Steamy Romance.
by Cathrine Swift
If you’re part of the BookTok community, you may have recently heard about a certain “Chad” person who called out those of us -specifically women- who read romance novels as a red flag. I missed his original video entirely and only saw the backlash he received and the beauty of our romance writers and readers banding together, but I think it’s safe to say romance books are a very integral part of our society.
Insta-love, soul mates, fated, second chance romance and beyond, you obviously need emotional intimacy between characters. Show them engaged in meaningful activities, sharing their interests, bonding in moments of happiness and sadness. And, if the age and sexual orientation is right, AND CONSENT IS GIVEN, let them get it on, in whatever capacity you feel comfortable writing.
Whether we are talking full-fledged spice scenes that would make anyone blush, or the sweetest fade to black moment, it’s pretty safe to say many of us enjoy the journey of falling in love with the great fictional he’s, she’s, and they’s of the bookish world.
Confession time: Let it Reign, (my debut novel) did not always have steamy love scenes in it.
In the original three drafts I did a lot of fade to black or straight up just didn’t mention intimacy at all. I was afraid the themes I was working so hard to give a platform to (diversity, community, empowering inner strength, etc) would be ignored or shadowed. Not taken seriously, simply because I wrote about the adult characters in bed- and various other locations- expressing their love or lust for one another in a physical way.
And it was finally around the fourth and fifth drafts where I kind of threw my hands in the air and said “Screw it!”
I love romance. I love steam.
I’ve been known to lose FAR too much sleep staying up late reading it in all its forms more often than not.
Leaving steamy love scenes out of Let it Reign would have been a disservice to myself, if I’m being honest. Would it have saved me some time and money? Sure. Every word and every page counts after all, but I did my best to include love scenes that added to the plot. Rather than distract from it. Scenes that excited the reader and moved the story along. In my opinion, there wasn’t a love scene I included that didn’t really belong. If you haven’t already, maybe read it for yourself and see if you agree or disagree.
Now, the way I ensured my steamy scenes were not a burden on the plot or characters was by asking myself very specific questions while plotting out my novel. You can find the whole array of questions on my YouTube channel in a video called Creating Scenes Your Readers Will Devour // 15 questions to create a binge-worthy story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNQNqaPmKbM.
But even if you aren’t a plotter, there are a few I think could benefit even the free-est of minded pansters.
1. Is this scene increasing the tension, raising the stakes, showing character growth, or creating more conflict?
Simply put, your love scenes have to MEAN something, both to the characters and the readers. Is this another one-night stand in a string of them for a woman just recently divorced? Is this the first time between two high school graduates before they separate for college on opposite sides of the country? Is this the last time before one partner goes off to battle? Is it the first time in a long time?
Or the first time your character is letting someone be close to them, emotionally as well as physically? (Hello, character development.) Or perhaps we’re creating conflict with a married person having an affair. The possibilities are endless, and of course will be impacted by your plot and characters characteristics (try saying that five times fast), but if you go into the scene knowing the why and the how of this scenes importance on your story, your readers will surely enjoy it.
2. What emotion needs to be communicated to the reader in this scene? And what three ways can I reinforce this through body language, prose and dialogue?
This one is pretty straight-forward, but going into the scene with an intention is always a good idea. How do you want your reader and characters to feel throughout the scene, and at the end? Satisfied? Empowered? Head over heels in love? Shocked and surprised? Heart-broken?
When it comes to writing steamy scenes for me, the way I keep the spice meaningful is I have the emotion be one of the most important parts. If not THE most important part. It’s often so easy to get wrapped up in the clinical side of sex. His hand is here, her hand is there, their hand touches that, blah blah goes in blah blah. It can get overwhelming, especially if you aren’t sure how descriptive or graphic you want to be. But if you focus on the emotion first, it should carry you through even the simplest fade to black or expletive free love scene.
3. How can I incorporate at least three of the five senses to draw your readers into the scene?
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine took a photo of a self-pleasure scene from Let it Reign and sent it to his friend, enticing her to pick up a copy of the book for herself. She messaged him back immediately enraptured, despite knowing literally nothing about the characters, the story line or anything else. It wasn’t my conversation, and I wasn’t there, so I can only speculate, but I really have to hand it to my practice of intentionally incorporating the senses into my scenes. ESPECIALLY, my love scenes.
The rumor goes that males are more visual and females are more emotional. I kind of think that’s a load of crap and we shouldn’t be putting any gender into a box, BUT whether you enjoy watching or reading intimacy, I think there is something to be sad for creating an immersive experience for your readers.
Don’t just say character A touched character B. Say how it made them feel. Describe the scent of someone’s hair or perfume. I recently wrote a scene for Born to Reign where a couple included champagne into their foreplay so I could add in taste.
Another thing to remember when you’re sitting down to write love scenes is to keep in mind not all characters are created equal, just as all people are not. Perhaps your characters have different sex drives. Different sexual orientations. Even something simple, as knowing their heights will affect the logistics of certain positions. (Aka: shower sex is not for everyone.)
With certain authors, I find their love scenes can become very formulaic. Every single one of their couples from every single one of their books all engage in intimacy the same way, and I’m here to tell you that’s obviously unrealistic.
Some people have experienced sexual trauma or have eating disorders, which can greatly impact their confidence, self-worth, promiscuity and comfort levels with intimacy.
Some people are more dominate, more submissive, or can switch between the two, with kinks and preferences. Some people prefer making love over. . .well, you know. 😉
Some people prefer particular positions or like to use toys. Of course, when and where your story is set and where you’ve chosen as a scene location will also have an impact on availability.
Some people are asexual and can be repulsed by or simply have no interest in sex. Some people can only feel sexual attraction and/or achieve orgasm when they love their partner. And sometimes we are in relationships with people who like the opposite of what we like or don’t yet understand or know of our preferences. That can throw a curve ball into what otherwise could be a pretty straightforward good time.
You don’t have to dig deep into every aspect of intimacy and come out with the knowledge of a sex therapist or relationship psychologist. Unless you’re like me and you think that sounds freaking fantastic.
Bottom Line: really get to know your characters. Explore their likes and dislikes, both in and out of the bedroom.
If you’re into horoscopes or enneagrams or Myers Briggs personality stuff, identify where your characters fall on those spectrums and see how that affects their interactions in relationships.
And for heaven’s sake, have a good understanding of human anatomy and how things work on a basic level.
Cathrine Swift is a Canadian multi-genre indie author who specializes in steamy and empowering and steamy fiction. Her debut novel, Let it Reign is available wherever books are sold online through www.books2read.com/letireign. Stay in touch with Cathrine across social media @authorcathrineswift and at www.authorcathrineswift.com