Saturday, April 6, 2013

Character Development - Day 6: Sexual Tension in romance

I do think that many authors have really missed the mark with the idea of sexual tension in romance novels. I do believe, IMHO, that much of this has come from the erotica market and books such as Fifty Shades. In other words, the only idea of sexual tension now is either the regret the next day for "doing it" or the tension of what the heck they are to do with the cream cheese and the spatula in the bedroom. This is far from the idea of sexual tension.

I did a quick surfing of the net for some defintions and many came back with the same idea. I found one that was especially on the mark: "Experts say that at its most simplistic definition, sexual tension is the awareness between two people that something is going on." Yes, there were a lot of the defintions that spoke about the actual tension of wanting to consumate the feelings, but even those articles always returned to the idea of sexual chemistry.

I have blogged about this here before and provided a few examples of great sexual tension: Kevin and Winnie from THE WONDER YEARS. Diane and Sam from CHEERS... You get the idea and I think the Kevin and Winnie example is probably the strongest. We never tuned in each week in the hopes to see Winnie and Kevin in bed and trying out the latest thing they read in Fifty Shades. We tuned in to see that natural and uncomfortable feelings they had of A) being in the same room with each other; and B) always unclear what they should say to each other when they were there.

The excitement of a great romance novel comes from watching the characters figure out those sparks and that chemistry flowing between them.

I think another example that doesn't deal with sexual tension came from Alfred Hitchcock. He was interviewed once about why his stories were so terrifying. Essentially he said this. There is a big difference between terror and shock. He explained that he could create a moment of shock by showing a picture of a guy sitting at a desk and then the desk explodes. For a few seconds, your heart races as you are "shocked" by the scene. He then went on to say he could create a sense of terror by showing you the same scene, but by also showing you a quick image of the ticking bomb under the bed. Now you have terror as the guy sits there and you know it will happen.

When you think of the sexual tension, it is the same way. It is not the excitement of the actual act of the characters in bed, it is the anticipation of that moment, if and when it happens.


  1. I agree with you. It bothers me when the characters sleep together too soon. But in romance, readers are expecting some love scenes. I struggled with that in my novel. I was posting a new chapter each week and had a weekly readership. Some people were getting upset that the characters were going to sleep together in chapter 16 but once they read it they were happy with it. It wasn't about the act of the sex, it was about the two childhood best friends finally being able to show each other how they felt. I don't know if it happened too soon. But then again,there was other tension and conflict that carries on in the rest of the book.

  2. I'm thinking of Pride and Prejudice (A & E's version). There was one kiss at the end (after the wedding) but the development of the relationship which both tried to deny to themselves was a major part of what made it such a great series (and the book it was based on, of course)