Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Should They Do It?

So, you're writing a romance and plan on making it steamy. Heck, you've heard time and time again that the sexier you make the story, the better the chances at selling. Right?

Well, first of all, that is not the key selling point with editors and agents. Despite rumors out there, it is not all about what goes on behind the closed doors. Still, I often have conversations with writers about when their characters should finally get to it. And, like all other elements of the publishing industry, there is not easy way to answer this question.

I am a firm believer in really building up the sexual tension between the characters. No, this is not about engorged body parts and uncomfortable feelings. I am talking pure relationship level here. I love to see the stories where there readers can really see the uncomfortable (and yet pleasurable) feelings of two characters falling in love. I love the stories that keep holding us off and just when we think something will happen, the characters change their minds and head off in another direction.

O.K. I may date myself on this one, but I love to use the examples of Sam and Diane from CHEERS and Kevin and Winnie from THE WONDER YEARS. The writers of these shows held these characters apart for the longest time, and it was great. We would tune in each week to see if Sam and Diane would finally get that kiss (remember the 2 -part sail boat episode?). We couldn't wait for Kevin and Winnie to finally figure out, in their adolescent way, that they were meant to be together. This is tension.

So, when someone asks me when they should spice up the relationship between their hero and heroine, the answer is always the same - "When they are ready."

We need to remember that we want to see the characters grow together over time. If they rush things too quickly, they have nothing to work toward.

And I know what some of you are saying. "But the tension is whether they should have done it or not. My characters struggle with this and that is the tension." No, that is the same guilty feeling someone has when they are now faced with wondering if they wanted a relationship at all. In these cases, the deed happened far too soon.

I am reminded of a comment that Faith Black said when she was with Avalon Books. If you are familiar with this line, they keep it really clean. Anything sexual that happens, according to Faith, happens between the chapters and not on the pages. But here was the key thing she would push for. Writing a story that really had the passion and the heat, but no sex. That was good writing.

So, my word of warning. No, you don't have to start off with the action in the first pages. Heck, it might not happen until way into the book. But please, work on building that tension and building those relationships.



  1. Thanks for this post Scott, it reaffirms my idea that not everybody needs to have sex in Regency England to make a good story.

  2. You get major thumbs up from me! I prefer when sex happens between the chapters or is very subtle. I think too often sex = love, it's a straight jump without all the in-between. The in-between stuff is the beautiful and uncertain heart of every relationship.