So you’re a lover of romance and you’re thinking of taking that next big leap: writing about your dream romance. It can be a scary step. Well-written romance is a work of art that can take a reader’s breath away. However, one wrong move and you’ve inadvertently written an awkward comedy. (And while awkward comedy certainly has its place, if it’s not your intention to write one, the results can be heartbreaking.)
I’ve been writing romance for a few years now. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I’d like to think I have a pretty good handle on some general rules of what works and what doesn’t work. Thanks to all the editors, fellow authors, and reviewers I’ve worked with, I was able to compile this handy-dandy list of what NOT to do when writing a steamy romance.
DON’T forget to give your characters depth. I’ll freely admit that I can be impatient and I just want to get to the good parts, but I want there to be more than Character A meets Character B and they fall into a bed. We don’t need to know their entire life stories, but give us something we can relate to.
DON’T neglect the emotional component in your sex scenes. Readers don’t just want to know how your characters’ bodies are feeling; they want to know about their heads and hearts as well.
DON’T lose track of body parts. The vast majority of humans have two hands, one set of lips, etc. Suddenly sprouting more is jarring to the reader. They will notice if you write the man has one hand in his partner’s hair, one on her breast, and one on her hip without specifying any movement.
DON’T go crazy with exotic positions. Most characters are not contortionists with the Cirque du Soleil. (And if they are, I want to read that book.) Sure, there may be a finite number of positions regular people can get into without throwing their backs out, but hey, they’re old favorites for a reason. You can make them exciting!
DON’T leave out the dialogue. Communication is key when striving for a mind-blowing intimate encounter. Not to mention “dirty talk” is a fine way to warm up and keep the tension simmering.
DON’T overdo the onomatopoeia. Yes, I’m sure that many people do sound like “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” and “Ooooooooooooooh!” when they climax, but reading it that way? Not sexy. There are better ways to accomplish those noises in writing. If you have more than three identical vowels in a row, that’s too many. Find another method of conveying the character’s unbridled ecstasy.
DON’T be afraid to mix things up. Sex is so much more than “Insert Tab A into Slot B”. Bodies are wonderful creations that should be explored in great detail. We all know what the end result is likely to be, but let’s have fun getting there!
DON’T abandon safe sex practices. Dr. Landen is going to put on her lecturing glasses for a moment here. If something goes into a certain orifice, that something should be cleaned before going anywhere else (or just use a different something). In a contemporary setting, unwanted pregnancy and the spread of disease are very real concerns. Getting caught up in the heat of the moment is understandable, but if your characters aren’t taking care of themselves, the reader is going to be distracted by wondering why.
Obviously this list doesn’t cover every single aspect of romance writing. Also, let’s not forget that romance is highly subjective. What turns one reader on and leaves them yearning for more simply may not be another reader’s cup of tea. There’s only one way to find out what works for you, though—keep reading and writing!
Thea Landen lives in New York with her husband and a variety of houseplants. Though she reads and writes in nearly all genres, she has a special fondness for science fiction, fantasy, and adventure and anything that pushes the imagination beyond its usual limits. When she’s not writing, or thinking about writing, her hands and mind are occupied by either yarn crafts or role-playing games. She blogs at www.thealanden.com, and her latest release, Second Skin, is available at all major online retailers. (Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Second-1Night-Stand-Contemporary-Romance-ebook/dp/B00J434NAM/)