Sexual Tension, Heightening Your Readers' Satisfaction by Sarah Kades
I gave a workshop for ARWA on writing sexual tension. Enjoy and Happy Writing!
I love writing sexual tension. It’s fun, it’s dynamic, and you get to create a storm of feeling within your characters. Your characters dance around each other and their feelings for each other and wrestle with darn near everything under the sun trying to ignore the burning heat that is threatening to scorch them if they don't give in to the passion exploding through their system.
But they can’t give in. Not yet. Something is stopping them from grabbing that other person and rocking their core. And not just any something. Nope. It has to be a big enough deal to stop this rocking attraction. And sexual tension isn’t soft and fuzzy. Soft and fuzzy has a place, mind you, but it is not when the stakes and the passion are so high somethings got to give and your characters have no idea what they are going to do because they can’t act on the attraction (insert plot element here where acting on it would be the dumbest thing in the world, internal or external conflict) and they can’t not act on the attraction (because the attraction and passion are so real, so intense, so burning that not acting on it is the most unnatural and dumbest thing in the world).
Sexual tension has very little (sometimes nothing) to do with the actual act of sex. Sexual tension is passion unsatisfied. It is emotion and conflict, both internal and external, with anticipation and frustration thrown in the mix.
It is that passion, that attraction that makes your characters’ life impossible because they cannot stop feeling their beloved (or be-lusted) everywhere. It’s distracting and oh-so-fun to write your characters going through it. It is up to you how you put it in there.
Sexual tension scenes grip your reader. I want my reader to feel what my characters are feeling, feel the sexual tension, feel the sexual frustration, feel the heat that is the no holds bar, intense, crazy attraction that can exist between two people.
The core of writing believable, charged sexual tension, is to feel it. Feel that fire and translate it to your reader. Have you ever met someone and were rocked to your absolute core? Have you ever felt completely consumed by passion? Have you been floored that you could feel that much?
Write it. Make your characters feel that.
And if you haven’t experienced, no worries. As writers we create. Create that feeling, that passion, with so much clarity that your readers are caught up in the maelstrom of emotions and conflict, both internal and external, the anticipation and frustration, that they are squirming in their seats desperate for release, too.
We write sexual tension by overstimulating our characters’ senses with each other. We have (at least) five senses to work with. Go play and have fun working your characters into a frenzy over each other. Remember, sensuality trumps sexuality in the sexual tension game, so work with your characters’ senses!
Love (or lust) amplifies everything, it takes ordinary situations and experiences and blitzes the system with feeling. Everything is more intense because there is an underlying feeling that is inexplicable, and impactseverything, it amplifies everything. Sexual tension is part of that. Write it.
A few things to note: Direct the sexual tension where you want it to go, not where you don’t. Don’t ‘conflict’ your characters into a corner they cannot get out of. Or a corner where your reader looses interest.
Throw your readers enough bones. Teasing your readers and characters is one thing, but they need something to tide them through. Sexual tension ebbs and flows. Heightening satisfaction includes the sensual dance of push and pull. Keep your reader actively engaged in this drama by keeping it rolling. Too much pushing with no pull will disengage your reader. Keep them engaged and wanting more.
Check otherwise “non-sexy” scenes and see if there is opportunity to heighten your hero and heroine’s awareness of each other. Sexual tension builds. Utilize the opportunities for it to build in your story.
Condom are sexy. Romance novels now include responsible, safe sex. Have fun writing condoms into your sizzling scenes.
Exquisitely craft your sexual tension scenes. Your characters, and your readers, will thank you.
I love to smile, chuckle or laugh out loud when I am reading a story or writing it. When done well, humor in fiction is perfection. It is an incredible writing tool and essential to me as a reader and writer.
Most people in the world respond positively to laughter. It is fun to laugh, it feels good. It brings joy and release. Humor also lightens us up. That’s a good thing. We do too good a job of winding ourselves up to the point of snapping, breaking or erupting. Booo. Humor diffuses our self-sabotage and grounds us. Humor has a way of putting life in perspective and laughter is called the best medicine for a reason. Next time you feel like crap, laugh. Find something that makes you laugh in that happy, silly, SO FUNNY way. And then stop and take the time to enjoy it.
Now let’s talk about how to use humor in your writing, how to use humor as a writing tool. I like to entertain readers not only with my story, but with my characters, too. It is important to me that my characters are fun, interesting, someone I would want to have a beer or coffee with or be stuck in an elevator with, like what Sarah Duncan wrote about in her blog*. Writing humor into your characters can give them depth and make them more real, more believable. Who do you like to hang out with? People who are fun and make you laugh? Write characters like that. Even if they are tasked with saving the world with a toothpick or have had so much trauma you can’t imagine what they would laugh about, find something. Give your characters a sense of humor. Your reader will be attracted to them just like we are to people with a sense of humor in real life.
I include humor in emotionally- or action-charged scenes. This works for me as a writer and my readers in a few ways. It changes emotional gears for the reader, which is entertaining, but also creates an dynamic emotional roller coaster for when the other shoe falls. It gives readers a temporary respite from the adrenaline of the scene, so the action or conflict can jack them again later. The reader has a place to go emotionally, there is a change. For me, static emotion in a story does not hold my interest. I want the roller coaster. I want an emotionally dynamic story. Humor heightens the highs that enhance the lows, making them feel even lower. I want my readers to be emotionally exhausted and satisfied after reading my books because they have felt what my characters went through.
Humor should enhance your story, not run roughshod over it. Following are a few flags to note:
Be aware of what is considered appropriate and good taste for your story and the humor you include. This will be relative to genre, author and your audience, but just be mindful of the type of humor you include and how you use it. It is a good thing to have humor that grosses out your audience and they love it and want more, but not so good if it inspires your readers to run screaming, appalled, never to buy your work again. Do you use humor to push the line a bit? That can be very cool or leave some readers queasy. Who is your audience? Who do you want your audience to be?
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There is a saturation point, a threshold of too many zingers where they start to detract from the story and/or they loose there punch. Remember that there is always that perfect word? Same goes for humor. Having beta readers can help identify when you have too much, or not enough.
Readers are smart. Write authentically. What do you think is funny? Write that. It will come out sounding real and authentic because it is. Yes, people have different senses of humor, but don’t get stuck on that. If you think it is funny there will be others who do, too.