Monday, March 05, 2007

The Construction Zone - 9. Sexual Tension

Ah, sexual tension. A huge contributor to PTQ and what we all wait for with breathless anticipation. Those moments where your stomach lifts and your heart pounds as the hero and heroine discover each other.

Sexual tension can have very little to do with actual sex. I'm writing for the Romance line, which means the bedroom door is closed at all times. But that doesn't mean my characters aren't attracted. It doesn't mean they don't WANT each other. Of course they do!

Sometimes this is easy to accomplish and sometimes much more difficult. It depends on your characters and their situation, when all is said and done. If I look at my characters in Marriage at Circle M, it was a snap. Grace and Mike already knew each other. They'd even dated as teens. She'd always had a thing for him, so it was no problem injecting tension. Besides, Mike is hot. LOL. Mike will be a favorite hero of mine for a long time to come, I think.

If you look at my current WIP, though, it's different. Nate and Maggie have never met before page one. They are complete strangers. So not only do I have to do the "getting to know you" stuff, I have to also be thinking of their romance right away. It's proving to be a bit tricky when all is said and done.

Sexual tension can be words said, looks exchanged, meaningless touches that are suddenly meaningful. I read Barb Hannay's "Claiming the Cattleman's Heart" on the weekend and I'm going to give you an example:

The pads of his thumbs touched the bare skin of her collarbone, and every cell in her strained for more.

"Your hands are beautiful, Daniel," she told him in a heated, husky whisper. "And I want them. I want them all over me."

Whooooeeeee! For a non-sex series, this really says it all, doesn't it!

Sexual tension is also seeing your characters through the other character's eyes. I'm thinking of a section of Hired By The Cowboy, where Connor is annoying the living hell out of Alex. She's pregnant and alone and trying to do what's best for her baby, and he's come back to find her because he wants to discuss "something." She doesn't want another complication...

"When his eyes met hers across the hazy room she knew she was right. He smiled, a lazy, melting smile, and she braced herself. Men who smiled like that were deadly. And the last thing she needed was a distraction as lethal as Connor Madsen."

Bear in mind these examples are from the first 1/3 of the book...when my characters hardly really know each other. Before it even makes sense, they are attracted to each other. And it's a complication (isn't it always??? :-) ) Take a scene from a chapter later:

"Maybe we'll drive each other crazy and you'll be glad to be rid of me." She tried a cocky smile, but faltered at the look in his eyes as they stopped at the edge of the dirt road.

He turned to face her, his warm gaze delving into hers, drawing her in and making her thoughts drift away on the evening breeze. His hand lifted to her cheek. "I think there's a very good chance you're going to drive me crazy," he murmured, his thumb stroking her cheek tenderly.

She stepped back in alarm, her face burning from the intimate touch and the clear meaning of his words. She left his hand hanging in thin air. A truck approached and spun past them, stirring up loose gravel and clouds of dust.

When the air cleared they said nothing, but crossed the road and made their way up the lane.

One other thing to note while writing sexual tension. Look at the words used. Depending on the tone of the book, they might be more direct (explicit books will sound different than ones with a less-explicit tone) but I think most of the time you'll notice words like warm, hot, soft, lazy, silky, urgent...seduction is warm. Even if "cold" type words are used I'd be willing to bet that they are in juxtaposition to hot ones.

And lastly, don't be shy with using it. Even in a line like Romance, I try to have some level of sexual tension on every page. Whether it's my heroine's reaction to his voice on the answering machine or they way he looks at her; the way they are thrown together and her lips are close enough to kiss...the accidental brushing of their fingertips as they reach for the remote at the same time...if these things sound cliche, they probably are. But cliches do happen for a reason. Think back to when you first started dating your significant other. Looks and touches, all amplified by the newness of discovering each other.

What are some of your favorite books, and how did that author develop the sexual tension?


  1. Anonymous10:54 a.m.

    CarolC said...

    Hi Donna. I just wanted to let you know how much I've been enjoying your construction zone series and how so much of it has really 'spoken' to me. There are so many bits I'm taking as guidance in my ever day writing, ie. I love savoring scenes like they're several courses on a menu rather than rushing through them.

    Thanks for sharing such helpful tips and I can't wait to read your novels when they're released in the UK, I know they're going to be as brilliant as everything I've heard about them.

  2. Aw, Carol, how sweet and I'm really glad you're enjoying it and finding it helpful! That's the idea! I think sometimes we tend to make things very complicated, so I'm hoping this breaks it up and keeps it simple and clear.

    We're coming up to sagging middles next....especially as I'm nearly done my partial and I find that chapters 4-8 are sometimes the very toughest to write.

  3. Donna, I hopped over from The Pink Heart. This is great craft advice! You have a straightforward and easy to understand way of explaining things that others require whole books for. The specific examples really bring the concepts to life. Thanks so much.

  4. Patricia, I hope you come back and visit again! Thanks for the lovely compliment.