The Dance of Romance

Choreographing a Love Scene

Copyright © 2003 by Deborah M. Hale

The act of lovemaking has often been likened to a dance. As metaphors go, it's not a bad one. Both involve partners, movement and a certain rhythm. Some primitive forms of dance were meant to mimic lovemaking. Over the centuries, social dance has remained an important part of the courtship ritual.

In real life, lovemaking is a spontaneous give and take between partners, but when it takes place in the pages of a romance novel, the dance of love needs to be choreographed by the writer. If you've ever seen a choreographer at work, you know it can be a laborious, sometimes painful process. When done well, however, the result will appear flowing, effortless and beautiful.

Here are a few suggestions to help you choreograph a passionate pas de deux that will stir and touch your readers.

Sensuality is All in the Senses

Seems obvious, doesn't it? Yet sometimes in the scramble to fit all the body parts together, and the dilemma of what to call them, a writer can forget those important senses. Sensory perception puts the reader inside your character's head (and body). Never is that reader/character bond more crucial than during a love scene. You want your reader vicariously taking part in the lovemaking, not sitting in the corner like a reluctant voyeur, squirming with embarrassment.

Describe the setting for the love scene, with specific, telling details. Think about the temperature and the light level, and keep them consistent throughout the scene. If it's hot, make sure your character's skin and hair are damp with sweat. If it's very dark, have your heroine focus on the hero's voice and touch rather than subtle nuances of expression she should not be able to see. Awaken the senses between the hero and heroine.

This may be the first time they're seeing certain parts of each other's bodies. More than you would in other types of scene, concentrate on the intimate senses of touch, taste and smell. Pull your POV in close and deep, right into the characters skin and nerve endings. Experience what's going on in the character's body as he or she reacts to a kiss or a touch.

The Heart as a Sexual Organ

Don't forget the emotional impact of lovemaking. This is a huge step in a relationship, and one fraught with emotional danger. The hero and heroine are becoming more intimate on a number of levels. Lovemaking may be a new experience for one or both of them, charged with the heady mixture of excitement and fear that goes with exploring the unknown. Show your reader what the characters are feeling in response to each action. Better yet, make the reader experience those emotions for herself.

The Art of Striptease

Just like the real thing, your fictional lovemaking will benefit from extended foreplay, rousing the characters and your reader to an exquisite pitch of desire. Few actions serve this purpose better than the gradual, provocative removal of clothing to the accompaniment of touching, kissing, nuzzling, etc. The act of undressing is rich with possibilities for sexual banter that can enliven a love scene. For a writer of historical romance, disrobing can also provide an opportunity to ground the reader in the time period on a very intimate level as the heroine unties the hero's cravat or he loosens the stays of her corset.

Nobody's Love Scene But Theirs

Some readers don't mind the odd gratuitous love scene, but few will forgive a generic love scene, where characters simply become a couple of anonymous bodies going through the usual motions. Bring the sum total of each of your characters to this love scene and make it one that no two other people could share in quite the same way. Imagery can help here. In Eileen Wilks's The Virgin and the Outlaw , the heroine is a pilot, so Wilks infuses their love scene with images of flight. In my reverse-Pygmalion story The Wedding Wager , the hero tutors the heroine in the ways of desire, after she has taught him to pose as a gentleman.

If a story has multiple love scenes, make each memorable by heightening the contrast between them. In her Temptation debut Learning Curves , Joanne Rock has her hero and heroine first make love in the traditionally masculine domain of a car wash, while a later love scene takes place in the heroine's home during a sensuous brunch. The author provides a further unique twist by having the heroine initiate the first encounter, while the hero takes charge of the second.

How Did We Get Here?

A love scene shouldn't take place in a vacuum. It is pivotal part of the overall story. Make sure to treat it as such. The interaction and growing intimacy between the hero and heroine should lead, logically and inevitably to this moment. They will each approach the scene with the expectations, goals and internal conflict that have grown out of previous scenes and even from the their back stories. This will help make the love scene unique to this particular story and memorable for the reader.

In Wedding at White Sands , by RITA winner Catherine Mann, Jake Larson and Allie St. James make love in a beach cabana, after taking fake marriage vows that are part of a cover for a top secret investigation. The tidal wave of attraction that has built between the guarded ex-Intelligence officer and the free-spirited, but vulnerable, P.I. overwhelms their uncertainty as they pretend to embark upon a life together…wishing it could be true.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Just as a love scene needs to grow from the unfolding events of the story, it should also impact future events, advancing the plot and moving the story forward. What are the emotional consequences of their lovemaking? Prairie Bride by best-selling author Julianne MacLean features an early love scene where the hero and his mail order bride consummate their marriage in a Dodge City hotel room.

When he discovers that his new wife is not a virgin, Briggs feels betrayed and vows never to let his guard down with her again. This provides powerful conflict for the rest of the story as Sarah slowly wins his respect and trust. A later tender love scene in their own snug sod house on the prairie demonstrates the true intimacy and affection that has grown between them since their wedding night. A well-crafted love scene should leave both the hero and heroine changed in some significant way that will impact the remainder of the story.

Cue the Music!

Think of language as the music to which your hero and heroine will perform their love dance. You wouldn't do the tango to a polka tune. Make sure the cadence of your language fits with the type of romance you're writing. The lush suggestive prose that may provide a perfect accompaniment to a historical love scene might sound silly for a spicy contemporary.

Places Please!

Keeping these suggestions in mind, set your love scene in motion with steps of action, introspection, reaction and bits of dialogue all woven together with sensory detail and emotion. Let the rhythm ebb and flow, becoming increasingly intense and urgent, finally culminating in a finalé that will leave your characters and your reader uniquely satisfied and basking in the afterglow.


Cover art copyright © by Harlequin Enterprises Limited ® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher.
All text within this site is © Deborah Hale. Reprinting without permission is prohibited.


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