How to Write a Love Scene

Love scenes are the staple of romance novels.  At some point your characters are going to get down and dirty.  Unless you’re writing Inspirational or sweet romance.  Personally, I love a good love scene and I really enjoy writing them.  I know a lot of people who don’t though.  In fact, a couple of years ago I attended a workshop on how to write sex scenes and I was surprised at how many fellow participants absolutely hated it.

So here is a bit of advice from my own pen and from that workshop to help those who are squeamish about the process and direct those who’s minds are willing but pens are lagging behind.

The thing I’ve come to realize about writing love scenes is that it’s hard to judge the timing of them in one pass.  Why?  Because there’s a weird time warp between the amount of time it takes to A) have sex, B) imagine having sex, C) write a love scene, and D) read a love scene.  Love scenes are definitely not one-draft prospects.

Not a lot of "safe" pics I can use for this post

Having sex is long and repetitive – if you’re doing it right. 😉  Describing every detail would be incredibly boring.  Conceptualizing a sex scene, for me at least, involves a lot of zoning out, staring at my computer screen as I imagine exactly how I want the scene to unfold physically (what moves my characters have) and how I want to convey the emotion behind the action.  Because ultimately in a Romance novel it’s the emotion behind the action that is most important (unless you’re writing erotica, which I don’t).

Actually typing the words takes another big chunk of time as I try to figure out how to make mundane but essential things, like the removing of clothes, take place realistically without being boring.  Trust me, all that touching and kissing and description of where these actions are taking place and how it feels can be deadly dull if you’re just describing it.

Not to mention figuring out what words to use for body parts.  Because as we all know there are technically correct terms, vernacular terms, and vulgar terms, and depending on the character involved you want to use different words … without repeating the same word over and over.  I’ve discovered more recently that my heroes use different words when I’m writing a love scene from their point of view than my heroines do.  In fact, my latest heroine is downright coy about how she describes things in the confines of her own mind, even thou she’s turned out to be a bit of a nympho with her husband.  The point is that the words should fit with the character.

And just in case you were wondering what words to use, I found this brilliant, hilarious, and useful site, Glossary of Sexual and Scatological Euphemisms that has more terms than you ever needed to know listed.  Warning though, it’s not PG.

Okay.  So finally, once you’ve spent what feels like an hour writing a love scene and getting everything just right … it’s too short.  The first draft is always too short.  Because you’ve always spent too much time thinking about it.

So then you go back and fill in the blanks (no pun intended).  This is where you can really get into the head of the characters.  Ask yourself these questions:  How is the point-of-view character feeling?  Do they have expectations?  Are they anticipating anything?  Are there external distractions or influences?  What does this mean in terms of the relationship?  What kind of touch feels good?  What kind of touch feels REALLY good?

As you’re writing it you might think it sounds stupid to harp on each little touch and sigh and motion so much.  But the end product will read faster than you think it will and it will have a lot more impact.  The more detail you can throw in there the hotter it will be.

Because ultimately the whole point of a love scene in a novel is intimacy – the intimacy that the reader feels towards the characters.  You, the reader, want to feel yourself in the character’s skin, experiencing the emotions they’re experiencing.  Otherwise you don’t need a sex scene at all.

I would like to point out one last thing before letting you run off to daydream about your characters doing the horizontal hokey-pokey….

Know your audience!  There are levels of hotness out there.  This chart from All About Romance.com is my favorite because it lists example authors that fall into the different categories.  I personally think I fall into the “Hot” category.  Readers, you also need to know what you’re getting yourself in for when you pick up a Romance novel.  It isn’t fair to fault the author for being too spicy for your tastes when you have the wrong expectations.  This is why I personally think there should be a ratings system printed on Romance novels, but that’s a debate for another day.

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14 thoughts on “How to Write a Love Scene

  1. Fill in the blanks no pun intended – juvenile giggling at this keyboard when I read that!
    Seriously, I’m bookmarking this post for the future, I know I’m gonna need some romantic, you know, gettin it on scenes but blatantly I’m going to need advicecrafting them!

  2. This is something I’ve always found quite difficult. I’ve started using the technique of getting so far with the action and then ‘Later’ or ‘Afterwards’, just because I can’t think of new ways to describe what’s going on.

    • I have to admit that I started writing love scenes long before I ever actually HAD a love scene. But if you read enough romance novels you start to see that there’s actually a formula to them, in a way, and since the reality of the thing is so exaggerated you can get away with a lot. 😉

  3. When I wrote my first one it was hard but not because I didn’t want to but because I lacked the confidence I could pull it off. I feel much more confident now. I think I fall in Hot too. I agree it takes several passes. One of mine is a “setting” pass — is there anything about the setting that could influence what happens, even in a bedroom? When I did that for my sex in a carriage it really added to the action 🙂

    • I totally hear what you’re saying about confidence. I think I wrote many, many really bad love scenes before I was all, like, “You know what? Screw it (literally). I’m just going to go for broke”.

      P.S. I’ve been spending the last two days compiling everything I need ready to join the Author Salon. It’s a lot of work! But just doing the work I’m discovering all sorts of ways to make my latest WiP better. I’m benefitting from the site before I’ve even joined it! Thanks SO much for bringing it to my attention! =D

  4. I thought I wrote a hot scene, but my crit group still teases me as to what I think an R rating is. lol I guess it needs work. thanks for these tips. Like Angela says, I think it’s because I lack confidence, especially when writing for public consumption.

    • Thanks! I think that maybe the same rules that I was taught about performing on stage apply to writing love scenes. You just have to remember that your audience really, really wants you to succeed, so you can be as shameless as you want. 😉

  5. I like writing those hot scenes for my characters, too. Descriptions of anatomy are hardest for me (along with wondering just when my hero managed to remove his socks!) so I thank you for the Glossary link. (Although some of those terms would really make me a master at writing letters to Penthouse Forum! LOL) Great post, Merry!

    • Thanks Juli! At the risk of being banned from my own site for inappropriate content, my favorite euphemism from that website is “slobbing the knob”. I still roll with laughter every time I see it … even now. =D The more serious terms have come in very handy for me.

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