Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Make Sure They ALL Like It Hot by Grace Burrowes

The Rockville 8 welcomes steller historical author Grace Burrowes! She shares some excellent confidence-building advice on how to approach writing your loves scenes and make them memorable time after time. One lucky commenter will receive an advanced reading copy of her November release, "The Virtuoso, " book three in The Duke's Obsession trilogy!

Let me start by saying that I write traditional historical romances—not erotica, not romantica—so my approach to intimate scenes is predicated on certain assumptions. First my characters are going to grow as people from the beginning to the end of the book, and second, their intimate encounters will take place in the context of a mutually caring relationship.

The third assumption I make about the steamy scenes is that they are going to be some of the toughest for me to write. Now why is that?

Plenty of reasons. For starters, readers may not have ever driven a race car, they might not have trekked in the Mojave Dessert (or whatever your protagonists are up to), but erotic intimacy is a fairly universal adult experience. Readers will catch us if we stumble logistically in these scenes.

Then too, as authors, we’re going to have to write several steamy scenes per book, book after book. Considering that I’m on the seventh book in an eight-sibling series, the twentieth hot scene to flow from my pen is a tad more challenging to make novel and riveting than the first three were. Consider too, that my readers have probably buzzed through at least a thousand hot scenes before opening my book, and you begin to see the magnitude of the problem.

But before you decide writing thrillers is your true calling, here are a few tricks to tuck under your romance writing pillow.

First, make SURE your intimate scenes advance plot or character, and preferably both. There has to be something admitted between the characters, a purloined letter spied across the room, a little bruise revealed, that makes the scene valuable to the dramatic or character arcs. If you can advance both, then chances are your scene will be “uncuttable” and that’s what you want.

Second, do not focus on the usual sequence of actions in an erotic encounter. Yes, of course, you will describe foreplay, coitus and afterglow, (or the absence of same), but these are the scenes where using the senses and dribbling in the telling details really come into play. Except, don’t dwell on the erotic details. If she’s staring at the canopy, make her wonder why all the Cupids are boys, and what they’re doing grinning like idiots when there are no girl Cupids. You will of course add in that hero’s beard stubble scratches her neck, but the Cupid issue is unexpected and will pull the reader into your heroine’s heart, not just her bed.

Strut your ability to use show writing rather than tell. Don’t tell us his iron self-discipline is slipping. Have him, for once in his miserable life, toss his boots half way across the room and leave his cravat draped willy nilly over the escritoire. His waistcoat goes on the floor, and then—while she watches, fascinated—his shirt and breeches are flung onto two different chairs.

Show, show, show.

And finally, do not focus on desire, arousal and the predictable biological agenda at the expense of the emotional landscape unique to your characters. This is the secret handshake, friends. It isn’t just the sensation of penetration that can make your scene sing, it’s also the impatience that crashes through her when he’s trying to be so dratted considerate. It’s the last minute insecurity she feels because the portrait hanging across the room confirms that his first wife was beautiful. It’s the cat sitting on the nightstand, whose inscrutable gaze accuses the hero of taking advantage of a lonely woman.

Move your camera around to the non-erotic details, make your characters ‘fess up to what feelings lurk under their desire, and make the scene advance plot and character arcs. Tough to do, but pull it off and your steamy scenes will turn into some of your best writing.

I heard a rumor that the Earl of Westhaven, Lord Valentine Windham, the Earl of Rosecroft and perhaps even their respective ladies will be joining us for the comment portion of the blog… assuming they can take their eyes off each other long enough to read our questions and comments.


  1. Grace, welcome and thank you! Sorry about the glitch in when your post went live. Frustrating!

    I *love* your advice - and so agree - that those "non-erotic" details can make all the difference in creating a memorable scene. It's not the slots and the tabs that are important so much as the emotion surrounding those slots and tabs, and sometimes that means a heroine becoming sidetracked by canopy or a hero thinking baseball stats to keep that, uh, final moment at bay.

  2. AND, the predictable emotions--desire, lust, etc.--aren't what will keep the reader riveted, though those feelings will be some of what presented. It's up to us to spot and highlight the more interesting counter-currents swirling in the emotional waters.

    And this is true in any "pattern" scene--a fight, an argument, a big black moment. There are the predicable emotions, but then there are the ones the writer reveals for the reader's delectation.

  3. It's all in the details :) Great post, Grace, and a good subject. I'm not yet published, but when I began writing I dreaded the love scenes, but once I got to know my characters and wrote a few I got more comfortable with them. Now, I like writing them because of the character changes and experiences. I look forward to them now :)

  4. Super post, Grace. I absolutely do struggle with making my love scenes believable and fresh. Your advice is very helpful. One thing I try to do is find somewhat of a unique circumstance or setting for my steamy scenes. I certainly don't mean outlandish or bizarre but a place other than the traditional bedroom--if it works with the story. In one book the scene is outside beside a campfire at an unexpected time. In my WIP it's on a windswept island overlooking a walrus colony. LOL - okay, maybe that's a little bizarre -- but it honestly does fit the story :-) Anyhow, thanks for the fabulous advice, your post is a keeper for me!

  5. Jennifer, I think the readers look forward to them too, not just for the steam, but also because as you say, once an author gets the potential such a scene has, they can be some of the best in the book.

    Liz--A walrus colony? I must read this story! Good for you for exploiting setting as a source of novelty. I think of setting like "lighting" on a stage. You can do tons with something as simple as whether you create long, low shadows, or short, multiple overlapping shadows.

    I do hope your characters were upwind of that walrus colony though.

  6. Great post Grace! I love writing the sex scenes in my books because it is my all-time favorite way to get under their skin and into their heart. I find that I write my scene and look back and am amazed sometimes at what they were up to - I get so involved in their emotions that I get lost as well.

    Thanks for your great advice!

  7. Thanks for the great advice about how to make a love scene about more than just the physical act itself. Your very specific examples are very helpful and instructive.

    I can't wait to read Valentine's story. He's been one of my favorite characters in the series so far. When I read The Heir, I assumed you were going to hook him up with the sister of Anna Seaton, that book's heroine. Now I'm not so sure, but it will be fun to find out!

  8. Robin, I was all set to reply to your comment when the Earl of Westhaven strolled by (his cravat suspiciously missing) and snatched the figurative pen from my hand:

    Miss Covington: No doubt your enthusiam for the scenes under discussion--and tell me, ladies, is one truly limited to three per book and if so, my countess would like to know why?--come from your characters' enthusiasm for each other. It was ever thus with my countess and me, and I commend you authors to ensure it is ever thus with your characters.

  9. To the fair Diana, Goddess of the Hunt (and thus of the successful capture),
    Greetings, dear lady, and know that your sentiments are treasured by the undersigned. While Morgan will be ever dear to me, I am confounded to report that she has pronounced my focus on music to be a form of myopia. Further, in her estimatation I am too tall to waltz with her properly, and--one must make allowances for her youth--I am "set in my ways." A fixity of purpose will appear thus to the young, don't you agree?
    In any case, my dear baroness views me in a more charitable light (particularly when I an in want of clothing), and I can assure you Morgan will find marital bliss in the company of a cheeky fellow by the name of Archer Portmaine. If he can stop pestering her long enough, he and Morgan will get their story to the readers in some form by next summer.

    I remain your adoring servant,
    Lord Valentine Windham

  10. Great post! Thanks for sharing the How to!


  11. Sigh. Too bad Valentine's taken. And I'm sure she's younger, skinnier and smarter than me, too.

  12. Grace, I love your insight, I feel like I repeating myself from the other day. LOL I agree with you. The subtle details make the final culmination of a love tryst much more intriguing. It also ties the reader to the character. You have an emotional investment that brings the story full circle and keeps the reader identifying with the characters time and again.

  13. Leanne, Thanks for stopping by--sometimes I think How Not Too (see mention of tab and slot above) is more important than how to.

    Miss Quincy,
    To the eyes of a man in love, youth, shape and intellectual proclivities matter little. Judging by your books, you are abundantly endowed with heart, the quality any dashing swain worth his Scenes will look to first in a lady who grabs his... fancy.
    Your Valentine

    My lord, turn loose of the blighted pen before I write a postscript you will not enjoy!

    Thank you. Now where was I....

    Lizzie, I think when the macro emotion is in one direction, and the micro emotions go the other way, then you have tension, and that's a precious gift. The details give you a place to hang that tension.

  14. My Lord Valentine,

    You maketh me swoon!

    Gratefully yours,

  15. And I, dear lady, must account myself en-Thralled.
    Valentine Windham

  16. Welcome to The Rockville 8, Grace! Thank you for joining us. I loved your post, especially that intimate scenes should advance plot. I think we've all seen stories where the sex scene seemed to be dropped in rather than threaded into the story.

    Dear Lord Valentine - We extend the invitation to visit us any time. I don't remember the last time I saw Keely swoon. And where is my fan when I need it...

  17. Grace,

    Such an, um, PLEASURE to have you and the gentlemen of your acquaintance join us at the Rockville 8, today!

    And such excellent advice! I confess when a love scene reads like a biology textbook, I often skip over it. Love your suggestions for crafting a truly engaging scene. That's what I love to read. And that's what I hope to write!

    Thanks for visiting us,

  18. Hi Grace!
    Great post and I totally agree...its those little subtle details that make all the difference! If the scene is too cookie cutter like, I admit, I will too just sort of skim over it and who likes to do that? ;)
    Can't wait for the rest of this series :)

  19. Nichole, think "emotional subtext" and you're on your way.

    Lisa, I was surprised at the number of readers who commented something along the lines of "I don't even skip your hot scenes." Huh? Editors are convinced the hot scenes are the go-to part of the read, and for some readers they might be--but apparently not for all.

  20. Sometimes I wonder about editors, lol :) Yes I love hot scenes in my books but I don't like them just thrown in for spice factor, I like them to work with the story and be a bit fresh like you said. It makes them much more enjoyable and readable, like yours!

  21. This is great advice, Grace. Keeping love scenes fresh and customized to each couple is tricky. Lucky for us readers, you do it so well.

  22. Lynne, thanks, but I look at the Loretta Chases, Mary Balogh's, and Judith Ivory's of the world (well, there's only one of each), and observe what they can pull off book after book, and I see that their examples have set the bar very high for the rest of us. Joanna Bourne is another one, as is Julie Ann Long, Meredith Duran, Carolyn Jewel.... and those are just some of the historical luminaries among us.