logo logo Menu Bar

Writer's Library


Sex vs Sensuality: The Art of Layering Your Love Scenes

From the workshop by Karen Drogin aka Carly Phillips, Janelle Denison, Julie Elizabeth Leto, and Harlequin Editor, Brenda Chin presented at the Arizona Desert Rose Conference, 2000

Elements of a Strong Love Scene

POINT OF VIEW... Decide who has the most at stake emotionally during this scene, who has the most to gain or lose, and who will be most moved or changed by the outcome.

EMOTION AND DEPTH THROUGH CHARACTERIZATION... Emotional responses are more important than physical reactions. The emotion that your hero and heroine experience during lovemaking heightens the conflict between them, and it most certainly builds character.

SENSES... Readers want to feel, taste, smell, hear and touch what your characters do. The senses build layers of sensuality to your story and love scene. Sensual impressions pull readers into the story and create sexual tension.

CONFLICT... How is the conflict changed, altered or advanced when the afterglow fades? Making love must advance the story. Each character must have something at stake or what is holding the hero and heroine back from the happily ever after? Just as they take that intimate step closer, something else must hold them back from commitment or the book is over.

PACING... A love scene is the point where the reader can exhale and say-- FINALLY! Build up to this point with increasing sexual tension and emotional pull so now the characters can let down their barriers to falling in love.

DIALOGUE... Dialogue tells the reader what the hero or heroine is willing to let their lover know-step to intimacy. Internalization leaves the reader privy to information the other character may not yet possess.

Levels of Sensuality

SWEET... Sweet books have an air of innocence to them. The hero and heroine, whether the author explores this or not, realize that their relationship may culminate with sex, but it won't happen until after marriage, or definitely after some concrete sign of commitment. If marriage occurs in the sweet book, the love scenes can either be handled in a .and they shut the door. manner, or the sex is described with broad, generalized strokes using metaphorical or generalized terms that don't make the reader uncomfortable.

SIMMERING... Books that simmer introduce the idea of lust to romance. While sex may not be of primary concern to the hero and heroine-physical attraction is a topic they will have to deal with at one point or another. There may or may not be a love scene in a simmering book, but if it occurs, it may happen near the end of the book and will be described with generalized or metaphorical terms, with only a sprinkling of language that will make a reader squirm.

STEAMY... Most romances probably fit in this category. Characters in steamy books spend a little more time thinking about sex. Lust is acknowledged earlier and a little more blatantly. One or both of the characters may be reluctant to acknowledge--at least, out loud--the sexual attraction drawing them together. The kiss and sex scenes may occur earlier in the novel, and with a bit more frequency. The love scenes are a little less general and metaphorical, but they still retain that quality of mystery that keeps the book from falling into the next level, Sizzling.

SIZZLING... Sizzling books knock down barriers. The characters are sexual in many aspects of their personality and their relationship. Sparks fly from the moment these two people meet. The kiss happens earlier and the love scenes may be more frequent and/or more detailed. The language and description become more realistic, at times, nearly raw-or at least, what is considered raw in a romance novel.

SCORCHING... Sizzling books knock down barriers, but scorching books bulldoze those barriers out of the way. Lust between the hero and heroine is immediate, acknowledged and intense. The kiss and love scenes happen sooner. The love scenes don't necessarily represent the fruition of love, but may be the path to love. Characters tend to be comfortable with their sexuality and the overall tone of the language is more erotic, raw and hard-hitting. The "kink" factor may be introduced. These books aren't for the feint-hearted reader or writer.

About Carly Phillips

Carly Phillips

Carly Phillips started her writing career with the Harlequin Temptation line in 1999 with Brazen and she’s never strayed far from home!

Carly has since published more than 21 books and hit the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today bestseller lists. Her famous “Reading with Ripa” pick, THE BACHELOR was the first romance ever chosen for a nationally televised book club.

Carly currently publishes with Harlequin (HQN) and Warner Books in both hardcover and paperback. Carly lives in Purchase, New York with her husband, two young daughters and frisky Wheaton Terrier. Her favorite pastime is reading and she’s an avid ABC Soap Opera and Alias fan. Carly loves to hear from readers so feel free to drop her a line, email or snail mail at: P.O. Box 483, Purchase, NY 10577.