Your characters are headed to bed, and it’s time to panic. How do you write this, exactly? More importantly, how can you bear to look your parents in the eye at Thanksgiving? The good news is, you don’t have to think about other people when you write. You only have to think about your characters. As unnerving as love scenes may be to write, they feature the same critical building blocks the rest of your story stands on.
Remember Your Plot, Characters, and Setting
The most important thing to consider when approaching a love scene is that this scene is part of your larger story. It must serve the plot and build your characters. Begin with your plot. How will the scene propel your story? What future action does this scene lead to, foreshadow, or resolve? Make sure dialogue and action play a role, not just private thoughts about how the other person looks.
Ensure your scene fits your characters. Would your highborn lady really be happy to lift her skirts for a bout in broom closet a mere day after meeting your harp-strumming rogue? What kind of lover is each character? How does this scene advance the reader’s understanding of this person? Carefully analyze how this interaction supports character’s goals and objects as well. Remember, a character’s goals are the driving force behind your plot. Subverting them for such an intense scene could derail your entire plot if you aren’t careful. Conversely, that scene could be the lynchpin of your novel.
Don’t forget the third element of this segment: setting. Where the scene takes place sets the mood, adds subtle meanings, and much more. Is this a proper bedroom scene? Can your characters hear horses stomping on the cobblestones outside as they try to be quiet? Is the room illuminated by periodic sweeps of passing headlights from the road just outside the cheap motel? Bring all your characters’ senses into play, and expand them beyond the basic act of lovemaking.
Write Romance Like You Write Suspense
A romantic scene is the mirror image of a battle. It’s the opposite of people dying, but it plays a very similar role in prose. You build tension throughout the story. Readers wonder whether your characters will or won’t get together. There have been several near misses, and someone’s ready to scream about it. You’ve been working that way for a while, and it’s a climactic moment.
This is the same way great horror stories build fear. Granted, you are building a very different emotion, but it follows the same principles. You can start sparks off early, but leave them to smolder while you advance the plot. Whether circumstances intervene or you just have really stubborn characters, you should find a reason to delay your first – or only – love scene. Build up to it like a jump-scare or the unmasking in a horror film. It will leave a far more lasting impression.
Don’t Hide Behind Clichés and Purple Prose
Writing romance can be awkward, even if you’re sitting alone in an empty house in the dead of night. It’s easy to giggle, blush, and just fall back into the comfortable form of things you’ve seen/read/heard before. You don’t really want to describe male genitalia, so you call it something else. Frankly, unless your story heavily revolves around emoji, you shouldn’t compare genitals to eggplants. Really, it’s best to keep vegetables out of the scene entirely unless you’re using a food fetish of some nature.
You don’t need to be graphic. If you don’t want to call reproductive parts by their clinical names, then maybe you shouldn’t directly refer to them at all. Or you could make a joke out of it – if it fits the plot, characters, and scene. Remember, sex can be funny. When in doubt, pull from your own experience. Bedroom fantasies are great, but a touch of reality may be exactly what your story needs.
You can blush while you write, but remember to keep writing! If your voice doesn’t pair with graphic descriptions, then don’t feel pressured to add them. Also feel free to follow your characters wherever they lead. You can do it.