Writing Love Scenes
There aren’t that many writers who don’t like writing action scenes or descriptive scenes. But few things give writers the jitters more than having to write love scenes. They can prove troublesome even for the more experienced writers.
Buy why? Surely they’re not that difficult?
The answers to these questions depend on the writer, the story and the ever-changing writing landscape. The difficulties come in various guises.
Firstly, many writers just aren’t into writing about the love and sex and would rather bypass it than try to even string any description together. They would much rather concentrate on action or violence or something else entirely. It’s just not for them.
And more often than not, when we have zero interest in something, we have zero interest in writing about it. I fall into this category simply because love scenes bore me. I’m not interested in reading it and I don’t want to write too much about it. This is why I have zero interest in romance stories.
Unless you are specifically writing a romance story, you’ll find that love scenes aren’t really a necessity. They often serve only to titillate the reader or act as a “filler” to prop up the story and fill a page or two. Movies do exactly the same thing.
Those writers who are not interested in love scenes instead hint at what might happen between the characters, thus leaving the readers to their own imaginations. This is a preferable alternative that works well.
Other writers choose to ignore the obligatory love scene altogether and just get on with the story. Unless the story absolutely demands the scene, why bother writing one? Get on with the story.
Other writers are just too shy to write love or sex scenes because they know that their nearest and dearest may read what they’ve written, and that might prove embarrassing. What will Auntie Mildred think? What will your kids say? What will your mother say? It leaves the writer feeling uncomfortable, however the way around this is to remember that love and sex is part of life; it’s perfectly natural, so it’s just as natural to write about.
Something else to think about is that love scenes can also be annoying. And that’s because too often they sound very cheesy and cliché ridden. Love and sex scenes are always in danger of becoming caricature; something that ends up reading like a Barbara Cartland romance novel. No writer wants to be ridiculed over badly written love scenes, but many still get it totally wrong because they forget about the reality of it and fall into the trap of overblown, rose-tinted romance.
There is also a danger that any love scene can be underwritten or overwritten. There is a fine balance between keeping it real and writing it so that it doesn’t sound like a trashy romance novel.
So, how do you write love scenes that won’t sound corny, trashy or ridiculous?
I mentioned before about reality. This is when romance novels differ from other genre novels. Romance is formulaic – boy meets girl, girl dislikes boy because he’s rough around the edges/dominant/a bit of a bad boy/rich and powerful etc., then boy goes about getting the girl, girl finally melts into his arms, they live happily ever after.
Reality is very different. This is the 21st century, not the 18th century. Real men and women act and react very differently, in different situations. Think about the context of the story and how it affects your characters.
Many writers fall into the trap of having their characters fall in love half way through the novel, despite not showing any sign of attraction in the first half of the story. Unfortunately this is cliché. It happens in movies too. Readers will see it coming before the first kiss happens, so there is little impact.
Hint at what will come, show the attraction, but keep it subtle. This will help generate interest for the reader, so when your characters do finally get together, the impact is increased, not diluted. Remember, you have to tease the reader at every opportunity.
Clichés occur because writers still write some scenes like old romance novels. For example:-
She ran her hands over his taut, muscular chest and gazed into his bright blue eyes. They glittered with lust.
He pulled her close, cupped her face as he leaned in, his breath hot and needy, then…
Then the reader threw up into a bucket because it was so cheesy.
Think reality, think context of the scene and think about your characters – what would they really do?
The effectiveness of love scenes also depends on the strength of the writing and how you write it. Dare to be different. Many writers succeed at love scenes because they make it gritty, or they get to the point by avoiding clichés. Others take the literary route and render a scene with beautiful description without making it tacky.
Some of the best love scenes I’ve read don’t read like love scenes. That’s because the writers have shown them in context and they’ve shown realism; they’ve been gritty or fresh and they haven’t allowed the scene to become over-written. For example:-
Reluctance lodged between them and dusted their minds with uncertainty and yet she felt compelled to touch his hand; a subtle invitation that made his mouth twitch into a nervous smile.
He gripped her hand; saw her expression change along with the contours of her face beneath the fragile light, and at that moment he felt something; a sensation he’d never felt before.
This is description of that first contact between two lovers. It shows the context of the situation and the realism of feeling nervous and a little shy as a prelude to that first kiss. It doesn’t rely on cliché. The choice of words makes the description work.
Love scenes can and do work, but only if well written. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so if love scenes are your weakest link, either avoid them or practice writing them.
Remember the following:-
- Avoid cliché and clichéd phrasing
- Keep it in context
- Getting to the point sometimes works
- Make it different – it all depends on your descriptive skills
- Cast aside the idea that all your family will read it. Just write what you feel comfortable writing.
Most of all, ask yourself: does the story absolutely need a love scene? If not, don’t write one. If it does, then think carefully about how you construct it. Choose your words wisely.
Next week: Creating suspense and atmosphere