“Why should I be ashamed to describe what nature was not ashamed to create?” -Pietro Aretino
Have you ever read a love scene that just didn’t work?
What did you notice most about it? Did it read like an electrician’s manual? Did the characters suddenly morph into completely different people? Was the prose stilted, or conversely, so flowery and over-the-top it made you snort? Do you live in mortal fear of making these mistakes in your own writing?
Love scenes are scary to write. There’s so much that can go wrong, a lot of people choose to bypass them altogether. Well, I’m here to tell you: you can write a love scene. Hell, with a little work, you can even write a good one.
Before we get into this, let’s dispense with a common misconception. “Love scene” is not a euphemism for “sex scene”. There are all kinds of love scenes. Most of them don’t involve naughty bits or bodily fluids at all (okay, at least not much). Love scenes refer to any of the scenes in which your hero/heroine (or hero/hero, or heroine/heroine, or any of a zillion other possible combinations) interact with each other. They are any scene that advances their relationship.
Clear as mud? Let’s continue.
Love scenes are crafted using equal parts passion and technique. The passion is already inside you. Odds are, you’re not a monk. You probably have some experience with love, relationships, sex, etc. Think back to those experiences. What do you still remember about them? Passion? Anger? Fear? Shame? Mind-blowing sex?
Note that most of the things on that list are emotions. That’s Technical Tip #1 in writing a love scene: Emotion is powerful.
But emotion is only part of the equation. Unless you’re planning on shutting the door in your reader’s face (a tactic I don’t personally recommend or enjoy), you’re going to have to describe what’s going on.
This is the place where so many writers get tripped up and fall into either of the two traps I previously mentioned. Either their writing sounds dusty and dull, or it spills into ridiculousness. Neither is good, which brings us to Technical Tip #2: The writing in your love scenes should still sound like your writing. You have a style. You have a voice. Don’t lose either of those things just because the clothes came off.
So how do you describe a love scene?
Consider the five senses. Drawing a blank? I’ll remind you: touch, taste, sight, smell, sound. In real life, all five senses flow together seamlessly. You probably can’t even distinguish between them in the moment.
In our writing, things aren’t quite that easy. We might know what our characters are feeling- we might even be feeling it ourselves as we write. But if we don’t describe those feelings to the reader, they won’t know what’s going on. They’ll feel left out. And that’s not a good way to keep them invested in your story.
So let’s break things down. I present as a case study one of the love scenes from my new book, All That Glitters:
Ava hesitated. She could already taste him. When had she moved so close? Her brain screamed at her to back away. She would regret this. She already regretted this.
He was even more gorgeous at this distance. Fine, reddish stubble dusted the sharp angle of his jaw. Ava traced the line of it, her fingertips exploring to the small dent in his chin. His breath caught. A thrill rippled through her. The warning voice in her brain faded. What was wrong with just one kiss? Just to see what it was like? Just to pretend, for a little while, that she wasn’t alone?
She cupped his face in one hand. He sat frozen, his gray eyes focused and intense. Ava stared into them. Suddenly, she couldn’t pull away if she tried.
She leaned in and brushed her lips against his. He was warm, firm. She moaned, came back for more. How long had it been since kissing someone felt this good? She let her hand fall from his face to his chest. His heart hammered against her palm. She slid her hand lower, slipped her fingers under the hem of his shirt. His skin was blazing hot, smooth, yet somehow rough at the same time.
Ethan hauled her into his lap. Her light, teasing touches were driving him out of his mind. Her lips parted on a gasp, and he flicked his tongue in for a taste. He groaned into her mouth. Christ, she was sweeter than he’d expected.
What the hell had taken him so long?
She stroked his tongue with hers. His last thread of control snapped. He sank into her mouth with a growl and gathered a fistful of her hair in his hand. It slid through his fingers like quicksilver. He’d never felt such primitive urgency before. He wanted to lose himself in her, so deep and so far he couldn’t find his way out.
Please, hold your applause. So let’s go through this, sense-by-sense.
Touch: warm; firm; His heart hammered against her palm; blazing hot; smooth; rough; light; teasing; slid through his fingers like quicksilver
This is crucial in a love scene, though not always in the way you may think: for example, sometimes withholding touch packs as much as, if not more of, a punch.
Taste: She could already taste him; she was sweeter than he’d expected
Have your characters taste the whiskey on each other’s lips, the sweat on their skin, tears, wine, berries, the lingering remnants of a good meal. Not to mention other, naughtier things.
Sight: Fine, reddish stubble dusted the sharp angle of his jaw; the small dent in his chin; gray eyes focused and intense
Don’t just describe how your characters look. Describe how they see each other. Describe how they see themselves. What are they wearing? Are they in shadow? There’s a lot to unpack here.
Smell: This passage doesn’t use smell- you don’t necessarily need to describe every sense in every scene. Here’s a line from a previous scene:
The cab of the truck was permeated with his scent: woodsy, spicy. Male.
Smell hits below the belt- literally. Think pheromones. Smell affects us in ways we still don’t fully understand. Take advantage of this.
Sound: moaned; gasp; groaned; growl
Sound is an important aspect of arousal. The sounds we make in the heat of passion serve as both a form of release, and fuel for the fire. Let your characters express themselves in whatever way feels natural for them. Grunts, growls, snarls, talking dirty. The possibilities are endless.
Emotion: hesitated; regret; thrill; out of his mind; primitive urgency
The sixth sense. It adds the impact to your love scene. If all the other senses help your reader picturethe love scene, adding emotion makes them feelit. Skimp on the emotion, and watch your love scene deflate.
Love scenes are doable. Love scenes are fun. Love scenes are well within your capabilities as a writer.
And considering the benefits they can give to your story, they are certainly worth the effort.
When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering clotheshorse. Laura lives in Northern California with her young son and her remarkably patient husband.
Laura’s first book, All That Glitters
, is available for purchase on Amazon
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Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling.
Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun.
Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.
Laura, you’re my favorite. <3
Jessie, you rock!