How to Write a Page-Turning Love Scene

Reprinted in the April/May/June 2012 issue #67 of Vision: A Resource for Writers

A love scene in a romance novel represents the physical culmination of emotional tension. When written right, it packs a powerful punch, leaving readers with a sense of where the hero and heroine stand. It should be passionate, but also purposeful. My advice? Make the love scene illuminate more than the act of intimacy. Treat it like a major plot point – a means to advance and solidify your story – and hook the reader.

1. A love scene must advance or hinder the courtship of your hero and heroine. Look at it this way: sex either binds them together or pushes them apart. Before you begin writing, decide which motives to instill in the hero and heroine. What are his/her goals? What’s going to happen after the scene? Doubt? A fight? Will the love scene be completed or interrupted?

Another thing to remember: a love scene at the middle of the book must be treated differently than a love scene at the end. When the hero and heroine get along too soon in the novel, it’s a passion killer.

2. Avoid purple prose. Find the delicate balance between flowery and erotic words by familiarizing yourself with love scenes in published romance novels. Check out Goodreads, go to romance groups, and see what people are saying about specific love scenes. Pay attention to which words/actions distract or entice. Think about your own turn-offs and turn-ons. Experiment with the latter until your scene feels steamy.

3. Physical intimacy between a hero and heroine should be consistent with their overall behavior in the novel. If the interaction seems out of character, the reader will sense it. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but your typical shy heroine won’t behave wildly in the bedroom. Unless you’ve provided adequate foreshadowing, this will come across as an inconsistency in characterization. It may even cause the reader to flip through the scene.

4. Page-turning love scenes don’t use formulas. Surprise your readers. Physical intimacy is more than a sequence of events in a bedroom. Try putting a spin on the typical format of kissing, then sex. Think about location, position, etc. It can be vanilla sex, but make it fresh. One new element is enough to make the scene as unique as the characters involved.

5. Understand your comfort level when writing love scenes. On the spectrum of sexual openness, everyone has preferences and limits. Don’t push beyond those to tailor your writing to the market. Your discomfort will show and the love scene will seem awkward. Instead, focus on what you find sexy, while keeping in mind that the world will be reading this. Have a partner? Experiment! It’s a great excuse for research. All in all, confidence in writing the love scene will give it a quality of realness and that is hard to resist.

6. Consider putting yourself in the mood. How would you romance your mate? Candles? Soft music? It may seem cheesy, but seducing yourself prior to writing lends a mood to the scene. Pictures this: you’re in sweats and have greasy, unwashed hair. What kinda love scene are you gonna write? Now imagine the lighting is soft, you’re wearing a silk negligee, blues music is playing in the background. Definitely sexier.

This is one occasion where you need to stroke your muse. Listen to your inspiration, focus on your characters, and write true to their passion. Even if your first attempt at writing a page-turning love scene requires revising, I’m thinking your mate might be very happy tonight. Sounds like a win-win to me!

8 thoughts on “How to Write a Page-Turning Love Scene

  1. You know what my feelings are? I don’t think that you should write about something you haven’t tried yourself. I’ve read some things that are quite clearly written by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. For those of us who DO know what we’re talking about, the difference is obvious. 😉

    1. Dangerous territory, The Wife. Husbands/boyfriends/lovers of writers will be ecstatic to hear this advice 🙂 I quite agree. Do, write, do some more(!)–experience truly is the best recipe for believability.

  2. I have absolutely no experience whatsoever when it comes to ‘adult situations’ in my real life so I do not know how to write a love scene without cliché etc. To make matters worse, I was taught very little in school because I have a learning disability and dyspraxia my guidance teacher decided I wasn’t worthy of learning much more than a handful of basic skills. My Guidance Teacher at the time decided I would not cope with studying at my true level of mental capacity because I cannot physically handwrite as fast as I can think even though I am actually reasonably competent when it comes to stringing words together meaningfully. I was very enthusiastic about writing stories I have been writing since I was 12. I have been trying to write a decent love scene for ages and I still cannot do it. Can anyone suggest anything to help?

    1. Clare, it’s wonderful that you’ve been writing for so long. I didn’t start finishing my stories until my early twenties, and can only imagine how much practice I would’ve had if I’d started early.

      My suggestion for learning any new writing technique is always the same: read books that you admire and try to figure out how they work. Then read, read, read, and write, write, write.

    2. You don’t necessarily HAVE to include a sex scene, you know. There’s nothing wrong with “closed door” romances, and there are plenty of readers who prefer that.

      If you’re intent on writing a sex scene into your stories but don’t know much beyond the basics (assuming that) — and you’re over 18 — I would honestly suggest you watch some porn. There are a lot of free sites, and the content can span the genre. Now, normally I wouldn’t suggest this, in that the way that sex is performed in movies is not an accurate representation of how sex is performed in private. For film it’s all about imagery and camera angles. It can definitely help you get a better idea of how bodies fit together, though. And some of the limits of the human body! lol

      If all else fails, ask a trusted friend. Someone you know who can give you advice and/or details.

      Beyond that, you can always write LOVE scenes as opposed to sex scenes. Make-out sessions or heavy petting certainly don’t require in-depth knowledge, and they can be extremely hot.

      1. Great suggestions, The Wife. “Closed door” romances are the way to go if one struggles or is uncomfortable with writing love and/or sex scenes. There’s definitely an audience for these types of books.

        Reading erotica might be a good way to start. And porn, well, why not? 18 years of age is a must, of course, and I would suggest shying away from any porn that is exclusively from the male point-of-view if one is writing romance (since it tends to be somewhat limited from the female point-of-view!) In sexier books, there seems to be patterns as far as what females prefer to read about. Not that they can’t be deviated from. Sex and love are, after all, specific to the persons involved.

      2. The only reason that I hesitate to suggest reading erotica is because, sadly, too many authors just plain don’t know what they’re doing! I’ve read scenes that, honestly, are just not physically possible. And don’t even get me started on the m/m erotica. Because the lack of knowledge of simple anatomy is astounding.

        Actually, that’s a really good point. Please study up on anatomy. Learn the parts of both female and male genitalia. Learn their function. Also, it definitely can’t hurt to avoid any flowery phrases and extraneous adjectives. That’s REALLY the best advice. lol

      3. An anatomy lesson would not be misguided. And purple prose is off-putting, yes. Come to think of it, your site would be super helpful in learning how not to write love scenes. The world can do without ‘quivering quims’ and ‘glistening love swords’ and whatnot. Old bodice rippers might be helpful in choosing what to leave out.

        I’d also recommend Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan’s ‘Beyond Heaving Bosoms’ as a guide to modern romances.

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