If you write romance, or have a romantic subplot in your story, you have to come up with the mushy stuff, or the hot stuff, whether you feel it or not. And that’s hard, excuse the pun. So what tricks can you use to generate a bit of romance when you really, really cannot be faffed? Music-? Reading or watching something romantic -? Perhaps, except you are supposed to be using your precious writing time for writing, not getting in the mood for love. So here are a couple of things you can do to introduce a little Unresolved Sexual Tension, aka sizzle, when otherwise every character would remain platonically friendly forever.
Smell. Lovers like how each other smell. Oh yes. Make sure your romantic leads get a faceful of each other’s delicious personal scent. Be a bit poetic too. She smelled like almond leaves and hope is rather purple, but in a first draft, it gets the job done.
Touch. Have them keep touching, preferably without planning it. Think, their hands brushing by chance, as they labour together on a shared mission. Cram them up against each other in lifts whilst tending the rescued puppies. You get the gist. It’s corny but it does, quite literally, bring your characters together. Perilous situations offer the perfect excuse for this, clinging to swiftly-fraying ropes, and so on.
Listen to what your leads are telling you. I threw my hero and a beautiful princess together in chapter one of my WIP, a but in a throwaway line he told her he wasn’t interested, and I frowned, and then he met the antagonist and took one look at him and I was like right, so there’s where we’re up to then and had to rewrite a whole lot of everything because these two kept gazing at each other. True story. It was also much better than my original plan, because there is so much to prevent my hero and his opposite number getting together, whereas the rebellious princess was, in my hero’s opinion anyway, far too available.
So if your lead characters really don’t want to get together, then put them with the one they do want. It’s usually your author instinct telling you that there is a more interesting story going on over there in the B characters than in your good-looking, competent, successful A characters (who frankly, when you look at them, are boring.)
Enforced bed sharing. This always works. Have them obliged to share a sleeping space through some hotel booking mishap, or oblige them to share a tent or a teetering ledge on the edge of the mountain they’re climbing. Enforced intimacy reveals lots about both characters, and Inappropriate Thoughts begin to occur, and off you go. It can be funny, romantic, or disastrous, but it always peps up a story. This is the oldest trick in the book, but it does work.
If your two characters absolutely must get together and you cannot bear to see it, write it with your eyes squinted shut – by the numbers, dial it in, and return to it later. He kissed her, she kissed him, they fell into the hay gasping and clutching at each other – new chapter. When you revise, the scene might not be as awful as you think, and anyway, improvement is what the editing stage is for. I write a passionate climax scene that I had really lost interest in by the time I reached it – but thus far, nobody has commented. It was a while ago, and reading it over recently, I found that the romance had never been the heart of that story anyway – other themes of trust and madness were the focus. So my less-than-sizzling scene was not the climax: that took place earlier, and the romantic get-together was the denouement. Phew. Some writers distance let me see this.
Write a really really long build up. If you were about to jump into bed with someone, you might start by hoiking them up into the sink, Fatal Attraction style. But probably not, probably it would be all, can I take your coat, oh right, thanks, have you got any decaff because I’ve got an early shift tomorrow… and if you keep that going and really put yourself in that awkward, real moment, you can usually write it. Eventually.
Please don’t have your leads get it on in their regular bed. Dull dull dull. Pick a fantastic location, like a lighthouse in a storm, or inside a clock tower, or on top of a burning building. This is fiction. Why would you have them make love in the master bedroom, when all of 1930s Paris, say, is at your feet?
Make sure the romance climax, pun intended, is tied to the story climax. They must solve the mystery AND get it on within or close to the same story space. Their emotional arc must intertwine with the story’s mystery arc, or the romance feels bolted on. If the romance is in fact bolted on, take it out. Much as I love romance, not all stories need it.
I love writing romance, but sometimes I am exhausted with it by the time I reach the all-important romantic climax, so my top tip for writing those scenes is to write them first, when you first imagine the story. Don’t waste that passion on planning, Put the plot in later. If you have an amazing scene in your head for how your two characters get together, write that out now and then build in the rest. Without this approach, my Musketeers story would never have made it to 60,000 words and the big reveal scene. I was shattered with the intricate plot and the length of time the story took to write, but luckily I’d written that romantic scene months previously, and could pull it out and slot it into place. Use your passion when it strikes, and your most difficult romantic scenes should be down on paper by the time you have to fit them into your story.
I recommend this book for anyone approaching their first (explicit or implicit) love scene: Be a sex writing strumpet, by Stacia Kane. It’s hilarious and packed with practical advice about writing those intimate scenes.
I’ll be back on Monday with M – Main characters and how (not) to write them