How to Write a Love Scene and…

…not sound like an idiot or a bodice-ripping romance novel.  Unless you’re writing a bodice ripper, and then my guidelines could still be relevant.  (smile)  Last week, I touched on writing these scenes but focused more on the character and love as motivation.  I realized later that I needed to return to love to clarify the way I approach writing love scenes.

The 3 Rules of Writing Love Scenes: 

  1. Emotion
  2. Emotion
  3. Emotion

By focusing on the emotion rather than the physical responses, it’s more likely that the emotion will affect the reader.  Which is not to say some physical description isn’t helpful, such as the five senses — touch, smell, sound, sight and taste.  But how does the character feel about it?  Which brings me back to the tip I mentioned last week — stay in one point of view and never omniscient third unless its focus is on a specific character.  I wrote Perceval in omniscient third focused on Evan Quinn for most of the book so that I could go inside his head whenever I needed to reveal his thinking.  Omniscient third POV without a character focus is far too distancing for an emotion-packed love scene; with a character focus, the reader can experience the scene through that character’s thoughts and feelings.

5 Steps for writing a love scene: 

  1. What is the purpose of the scene?  If you answer this question “to add sex and spice” to your story, then your scene has no business being included.  It’s gratuitous.  Write it for yourself, absolutely, develop it into a separate erotica short story, but leave it out of the novel.  There are two purposes for every scene in a story: to move the story forward and/or reveal character.  If the scene does neither, then stop writing.  Cut it. 
  2. If the scene moves the story forward and/or reveals character, how does it do these things?  It’s important for the writer to understand this in order to write the scene and to follow through on what’s revealed in the scene. 
  3. What does each lover want in this situation?  Is it love or manipulation?  What is each character’s motivation?  And sometimes the most interesting love scenes are those involving more than love.
  4. Are the lovers new to each other or old and familiar?  The scene of lovers coming together for the first time can be quite different than one between lovers who know each other well which can be quite different from one involving lovers who have been separated by many years. 
  5. How well do you know the lovers?  In other words, know thy characters.  Are they essentially private people who wouldn’t want the world watching them in their intimate moment?  Or don’t they care? Character personalities should determine how much is made public and explicit in the telling.  Respect and write true to your characters.  Readers do sense when something is forced or untrue to a character.

I have found it helpful to think in terms of scenes when I’m writing, and to limit the number of scenes in a chapter.  This prevents me from digressing and rambling (D&R).  So, a love scene might be one of two or three scenes in a chapter.  And what about the language of love?  Avoid poetic metaphors and similes.  Sometimes simple and sensual is better.  And I also have a preference against profane language, finding it distracting and vulgar.  The only time profanities have worked for me is when the character (a male, usually) is profane and vulgar himself.  Or when the language is used to reveal hate.

If a love scene doesn’t pass “go” in each of the five steps, I find another way to convey what’s important between two people.  Love can be expressed in so many ways….


One response to “How to Write a Love Scene and…

  1. Pingback: Writing Sex | Anatomy of Perceval

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