GUEST POST by Indie Author,
Concluding Character Module 1 with this epic guide on Character Development via Sexual Tension and Relationship.
How To Boil Water (And Other Things)
"Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait." -Charles Dickens
Heat. Chemistry. VavaVoom. Sexual tension has fascinated us since we first started walking upright. Look at our art, our literature, our music. The ones that grab you, the ones with staying power, are the ones that illustrate the delicate dance of desire. Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. Any of the works of William Shakespeare. The violin solo from "Scheherazade."
You'll hear plenty of people say you don't need sexual tension in your writing. They're right. Technically speaking, you don't need it. Certain genres- young adult, mysteries, thrillers- can do perfectly well without it.
But that doesn't mean you should rule out incorporating sexual tension into your story. Why? Sexual tension can be a valuable and powerful writing tool. The way two (or more) people fall in love has the potential to show you more about them than almost anything else.
And as writers, we're all about "show."
So what is sexual tension? And perhaps more importantly, how do you get it?
Simply put, sexual tension is the awareness that flares between two (or more) people when they find each other attractive.
As with certain other things I can think of, when writing about sexual tension, technique is everything. You want to use a fine hand so it doesn't seem obvious, but not so light a touch the page goes cold. That said, here are a few techniques I've found to be particularly helpful:
1) Begin at the beginning.
Duh, right? But bear with me. As a romance writer, nothing makes me crazier than when I hear people say, "Romances are just a bunch of sex scenes strung together, with some fluff in between." Um, no. If that's what you've come away believing, something has gone very wrong. Because sex scenes don't start with, well, sex. They start from the moment the hero and heroine (traditional gender pairs used solely for brevity) first lay eyes on each other.
Even if you have no intention of writing a sex scene, from the moment your characters meet, they should be aware of each other. Maybe not attracted. Hell, they could hate each other. But they should definitely know the other person exists.
2) Make them wait.
You've heard the old cliché, "everything worth having, is worth waiting for." Well, it's a cliché because it's true. Have your characters throw themselves at each other too soon or too often, and your sizzle will rapidly turn to fizzle. Put up roadblocks. Interrupt them. Tease. Let them marinate in their own juices for a while. Then, when you- and they- can't wait anymore, turn them loose.
3) Introduce them to each other.
"But they already know each other..." Do they? Do they really? Does your hero know the heroine has a soft spot in her heart for pit bulls rescued from dogfighting? Does your heroine know the hero takes care of his sick mother with selfless attentiveness? No?
These "getting-to-know-you" scenes are gold for writers. Not only to they help your characters worm their way into each other's hearts, they are also an opportunity to give the reader information about them without it turning into a lecture. Show the hero meeting the heroine at the kennel. Have the heroine run into the hero at the drugstore while he's picking up his mother's prescription. Seriously. Use this.
4) Put them in a bad situation, then make them work together to get out of it.
Nothing has the potential to make or break a relationship like adversity. Again, this is a great opportunity to work in some information about your characters. How do they respond to a crisis? Do they shut down? Take charge? Take orders? How well do they work with each other? And once the situation is resolved, hey, why not let them blow off a little steam? You know? Together?
5) Touch is powerful.
Let's get one thing straight: touch does not equal sex. Touch does not equal groping. Touch does not even equal kissing. Don't get me wrong, all those things are lovely, and personally I employ them often, but they are not the end-all-be-all of romantic touches.
Touch should always convey emotion. Period. It should never appear in your book for its own sake. And don't think just because you're writing a PG-rated book, touch is off-limits. It's not. A well-placed brush of the wrist or touch of the jaw can be just as hot as a full-frontal, no-holds-barred fuck-fest.
6) But emotions are sexy as hell.
There used to be two distinct types of stories: character-driven and plot-driven. Character-driven focused on the characters, their feelings and motivations, sometimes at the expense of a good storyline. Plot-driven focused on the storyline, even if it meant reducing the characters to little more than Monopoly pieces.
I believe these are stale distinctions. Today's readers want a balance of both, which means even if you don't plan on writing a character-saga, you should still spend some time developing your characters' emotional lives. Especially because emotions are depth-charge weaponry when it comes to sexual tension.
Have you ever read a sex scene where the emotions were left out, or not paid enough attention to? You can have all the naked body parts you want, it still reads like an instruction manual for a piece of Ikea furniture. Real people have feelings, even if they try to convince you otherwise. If you use none of the above techniques, don't forget this one. Engage your characters' emotions- engage your readers' emotions- and sexual tension is a natural byproduct.
I wasn't just being cute when I described desire as a "dance". Like dancing, it takes practice and a fine touch to get the rhythm right. Don't let that scare you off! Used well, sexual tension can add more to your story than almost any other plot device. Give it a shot! Play around with it!
Because more than anything else, a little healthy sexual tension is a hell of a lot of fun.
When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering clotheshorse. She discovered her love of storytelling as a child, after successfully blaming a broken vase on her younger brother. A functioning cynic, she writes tender love stories about tough people.
Follow Laura Oliva on Twitter @writermama for clever quips and insipration.
Her blogs are:
This concludes Character Module 1. To see the rest of the Character Development posts, click on the links below:
Character 1: The 5x5. Creating a go-to, one page reference to hone your revisions regarding Character Development.
Characters 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Fugly, Quirky, Snarky. How unique is your super spesh Protagonist?
Characters 3: The First Date. Three ways to start your story with a bad first impression.
Characters 4: The Promise. Promises you and your characters make to the reader, and two ways you break them.
Coming Up! I'll be on vacation for two weeks, then: