You can make any love interest sexy! The secret is to pay attention.
It’s no secret that romance readers love a hot hero. But what makes a love interest sexy? Is it their bulging muscles or their come-hither stare? The cut of their sharp suit? The color of their hair?
It can be all of these things, but it’s so much more. Sex appeal is a journey we’re about to go on together—and trust me, there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. And since today’s St. Patrick’s Day, we’re going to prove it to you by using a leprechaun as an example! (Can a leprechaun be sexy? Well, yes. First of all, that Irish accent.)
In a way, making a love interest sexy is about physique, and it is about suits and eyes and hair, but it’s more than that, too. In fact, whether your hero is corded with muscles or not is beside the point. What matters is how your protagonist notices these attributes, and then interprets this information. Together, noticing and interpreting will contribute to tension—and tension is sexy.
How noticing your love interest can capture a reader’s attention
When you think about the first time you saw your crush, what was your reaction? You probably noticed things about them, such as their smile or the way they entered a room. You might even have found it hard to look away. When we’re attracted to someone, it becomes impossible not to note their looks or the sound of their voice or their endearing habits.
In writing, this quality of noticing is what telegraphs to the reader, “Hey, pay attention. This is important.” Because, in a world where distractions abound, to pause and notice is meaningful.
Let’s take our leprechaun as an example. We may notice his red hair and beard and green eyes. He’s sitting on a pot of gold, tapping his foot, and smiling. It’s a start, but there’s something missing, right?
Remember, to notice is a verb; it’s an action word. This is a thing your protagonist does, not something that happens to them. To take note is the first step in tapping the reader on the shoulder and saying, “There’s something about this person.” The next part is to interpret it.
How interpreting your love interest’s qualities can make the reader feel something
When you think about your crush’s smile, you probably think about more than just an uncomplicated grin. You probably attribute qualities to it, such as beautiful or charming, which are about more than just the mechanics of the way a person’s mouth moves. Your crush’s smile makes you feel something. When you witness it, your imagination runs amok.
Your insides are all aflutter as a kaleidoscope of butterflies wings its way around your stomach. You yearn. You want.
This is next-level noticing. You’re not just paying attention, you’re captivated. You are assigning meaning to your crush’s smile by teasing out its effect on your thoughts and feelings. Your mind is racing. You are interpreting.
Let’s go back to our leprechaun. He’s not merely smiling—he wears a smirk, the corners of his mouth quirked up, playful and knowing. And his eyes, they’re not simply green—they’re lit from within, like polished gems, burning as though he knows something we don’t. As he reclines on his riches, the sunlight hits him just right, throwing sparkling coin-reflections dancing over his skin, colouring him golden in a way that leaves us breathless.
Our pulses race as we watch him, beating against our wrists like hummingbirds in a cage. He leans forward and grins, stroking his stubbled chin as he opens his mouth to speak.
We’re not just noticing physical attributes anymore, we’re thinking and feeling about them, too. We’re interpreting the emotion behind his smile and reacting to the light on his skin. This is about more than the way he looks. It’s about how he makes us feel.
And, most importantly, we are communicating these thoughts and feelings to the reader.
How word choice creates romantic tension
As you can see, the more we react to our love interest, the more descriptors we use. We’re breathing life into the character by noticing the small details, and we’re being specific, too—it’s not just a smile, it’s a smirk, and his eyes aren’t simply green, they’re emeralds. Sometimes a smile is just a smile, but the language you use to describe your love interest can create romantic tension.
This is because words have connotation; they invoke ideas or feelings in addition to their literal meaning. A smirk is not just a type of smile. A smirk connotes an idea—in this case, a secret, and one we would very much like to know.
Back to our leprechaun example. We didn’t simply use adjectives, like playful or polished, to describe our red-haired hero. We used strong verbs, too: burning, throwing, dancing, stroking. These are words full of movement, and that movement carries the reader along with it. The effect is that our leprechaun is dynamic, poised on the edge of sharing his secret, even though he is just sitting on a pot of gold. We’re waiting for something to happen, and we’re eager to turn the page and find out. What is his secret?
The more tension you can create through your use of strong word choices and emotionally connotative language, the sexier your love interest will become. We want our readers to yearn right alongside our protagonists. We want them to want the love interest, too.
Language is powerful. He’s not just tall, he towers. She isn’t just warm, she radiates. Our leprechaun isn’t just secretive, he’s conspiratorial.
You don’t have to look up synonyms for every word, but it does help to think about the way your word choices create tension. Pepper some highly connotative and meaningful words in here and there and watch the tension in your scene ratchet up by degrees as you make your love interest sexy.
Strong language in action
Here’s one more example of how noticing and interpreting, and then using word choice to convey meaning, can create sexual tension. In the opening scene of the GALATEA hit, The Millennium Wolves, the author uses strong verbs straightaway:
Everywhere I turned, there were bodies shuddering. Limbs shifting. Mouths moaning.
I ran through a forest, panting, trying to escape the carnal phantoms around me, which seemed to be summoning me. Saying, join us…
Then, when our heroine, Sienna, sees Aiden, she uses descriptive language to make us swoon:
Towering at six feet five, with disheveled jet black hair and golden-green eyes that seemed to change color every time he turned his head, Aiden was the definition of mouth-watering.
Together, these highly charged words—shuddering, moaning, towering, mouth-watering—create a picture of a scene, and sexy hero, we can’t wait to read more about.
Try it yourself
Choose a scene from your work-in-progress and think about what your protagonist would notice in the love interest. Next, think about the way this makes your protagonist feel or the comparisons it conjures up. And then use emotional language to communicate all this tension. After all, strong verbs are like lucky charms; they’re magical.
You can make any love interest sexy. What matters is how you present them to the reader.