How do I orchestrate my own love scenes?
How to write sex with style, Part 5: The practice!
Making a love scene come alive
Yesterday I explained the theoretical thoughts for my actual writing of a love scene. This is not THE recipe or sheet music for everyone, but it’s what I ask myself and try to do when I need to get two people into bed for the story — and make it really hot!
In order to flesh out my musings and become concrete, I’ll give you extracts from a recent short story I wrote as a historical romance/erotica piece. I don’t like calling it either “romance” nor “erotica”, because I don’t like pigeonholing and don’t feel comfortable with what these genres postulate. I do my own versions anyway and ignore unwritten rules.
Let’s just call Ingrid’s and Rikard’s story a steamy story with style, shall we?
So here’s what I ask myself and how I use the answers to create a narration:
- What do I want the love scene for and which instruments do I use?
Basics: I wanted an erotic short story that is historical, realistic, set in the Viking age, and tells the story of an unhappy housewife who secretly falls for a fascinating warrior who is very different from her often absent husband. I wanted to show her confusion about her feelings, her slow admitting of them, his observations of them and acting upon them, gently forcing both lovers into a decision. Their love-making is what everything leads up to and what takes up the same room as the buildup, the prelude. Finally, they open up to each other and admit their mutual feelings, they lose inhibitions and give each other what they most desire. This forces them into making a life-changing decision and is their happy end (very rough outline).
We can visualise the story arc with different kinds of flames for the various emotions in such a story, just as the story’s “hotness” changes from prelude to climax and aftermath: At first, the woman’s feelings are central and trigger her confusion and flight from her love interest, as she tries to fight her turmoil and subdues her emotions as she is expected to do. But she can’t quite put out that small flame that has ignited inside her: When they meet, his actions first tease out small and then bigger confessions about the quality of her love for him, her passion is burning higher and she acts more spontaneous, glimpsing what they could be, together. This climaxes in their encounter in her house, where the lovers finally give in to each other, get rid of all doubts and let their desires run wild in a passionate union of bodies and minds, finally blazing up like an unrestrained fire: And in the afterglow they realise that their lives have changed in that they can’t put that fire out anymore and will have to live with the passion they ignited, forcing the heroine to make a decision about how she’ll respond to the glow within her. She knows that fire will stay within her heart and body and continue to burn for the man she loves, glowing and sizzling steadily and persistently, making her feel warm and alive from that day on:
I wanted a straightforward village setting, a small community, an unhappy housewife constantly waiting for her raiding and unfortunately boring husband, without children of her own or a prospect for her life, and an independent but left-behind warrior (injured, he couldn’t join the latest raid).
In the complete version, we also have some minor characters like a pig’s cuteness, a slave’s restlessness, a brooch’s glitter and the lashing rain. But you’ll see how I utilised my former theories with these selected parts (the full story will soon be available, make sure to sign up for my Book Alert-only newsletter here).
Let’s dive straight in with a look at the heroine Ingrid, and her state of heart and mind at the return of her husband Havarth:
Her husband shuffled after her and put the bag down in the light of the hearth. “I made sure to get you something shiny, too. It’s here …” He bent to awkwardly rummage in the bag.
Ingrid sighed. Her husband always thought valuables were what she craved. The ultimate gift should make her happy in his company and also span the time when he was away.
“Here!” He beamed, holding out a glittering brooch. “How d’ya like that? Good husband?”
She never got across to him that another piece of jewellery would not make them happier, would not make her desire him more. Instead of pinning the brooch to her dress, she let it slip into her pocket, wiping away a silent tear.
Ingrid’s secret love interest is injured and equally frustrated:
Ingrid stared numbly back at the tall warrior. “I thought you were … with the others …” she croaked.
Rikard slowly shook his head, frustration clouding the sparkle in his gaze. “I couldn’t, not this time at least.”
Just then, Ingrid noticed the unusual thickness of his right upper arm under his black tunic. He was obviously wearing a bandage.
Her inner turmoil and outer world-obstacles are clear. She is married and can’t just follow her instincts. She tried to fight her feelings for that fascinating other man, but deliciously loses, because he notices her struggle and sets out to slowly breach her defence:
Rikard’s palms radiated badly needed warmth into her fingers. He gently massaged her hands with his calloused fingers, while keeping his eyes steadily on the fire. Being an able warrior, he secretly must have scanned the room for onlookers before reaching out. He knew they were safe doing what they did.
“What brought you here?” he asked softly, his head not moving.
Ingrid was still trying to regain her composure. “I … ahem …” His hands were burning marks onto her skin, and she knew she’d be staring at them later, when she was alone.
Slowly and steadily I add more of what fascinates her, more of his advances, which are subtle but bold at the same time, which leads her to a point where she has to make a decision as to what to do about her feelings and her the life she leads. He gently corners her more and more:
“Think about what I asked you. Please.” His breath touched her face for a second, or was it the wind from outside? Then he stepped back.
Ingrid stood still, waiting for her heart to slow down. She inhaled, slowly raised her head, and braced herself for his gaze.
As usual, it was unflinching, confident, but now also a tiny bit vulnerable. He stood motionless, briefly looking over her shoulder for onlookers, then locked eyes with her again.
She bit her lip and gave a small nod, thinking her chest might burst. Rikard’s eyes widened slightly, then a smile appeared in the corner of his mouth.
Ingrid plucked up all her courage at his softened look, then whispered breathlessly, “I already did.”
In this little story, there are several little twists that add a quirk, a surprise, or depth. A little piglet plays a role, a shy slave who can’t sleep, a drunken husband who boasted too much, and an unlocked door at the wrong moment. After her husband’s sudden return, Ingrid does her marital duty as she is expected to and used to doing, but she gives it a twist for herself by conjuring up images of that other man, until she is suddenly disrupted:
She conjured up an image of Rikard in the same position, held down by her small hands that he could so easily have shaken off. The thought of a playful submission from that mighty warrior brought her body into gear.
She moaned and felt Havarth tense under her, heard his panting, listened to him inhale sharply. She slowly opened her eyes. That ecstatic look on her husband’s face was something she liked. She watched his expression change, saw the flames dance on the wall behind his head and on their sweating bodies.
When Havarth gave that moan she had secretly named a ‘war cry’, she was suddenly alarmed. There was something else. A minimal movement in the corner of her eye, a moving shadow on the wicker partition at the end of the room that didn’t belong there. She caught her breath, her arousal numbed by alert. Her ears caught something that confused her even more.
- Orchestration of the love scene:
I use a surprise encounter, Ingrid’s shock and Rikard’s explanations, and he plays with her reactions to his advances, giving her room, then closing in again, until she gives in to her desire:
Suddenly she stopped fighting, her arms fell to her sides, her head resting back against the intruder’s chest. She went numb with recognition.
The grip around her waist loosened and the hand left her lips.
Ingrid closed her eyes, panting heavily, her mind spinning. “I know you.”
She wanted to turn around, but instead the man held her, bent over her shoulder, and whispered, “I’m glad you noticed. Hush now. Don’t scream the house down.”
Her mouth curved into a smile, and her heartbeat increased instead of slowed. It was indeed Rikard, and never before had she been so close to him.
I try to turn up the heat slowly but steadily, to heighten the anticipation and clear away Ingrid’s inner obstacles that may be still left. She has to consider her husband, their situation, and the results of her decisions, and Rikard is wise enough to give her time and space:
When she faltered too long, he dropped his hands and stepped back, leaving her unsteady and cold.
“No, Rikard, please, don’t …” The words were out before she knew what they meant.
He stood motionless, watching her.
She clutched her apron in confusion. “I don’t want you …”
“… to … to think … I can’t think with you standing there — like that.”
“Like what?” There was an amused twinkle in his eye.
“Say it,” he whispered, urgent. “Send me home. I’ll be gone at once. Never to bother you again. But if you don’t …” His look darkened, and it gave her a shiver of relish. “I want you, Ingrid. You don’t know how much.”
She felt her knees must give way. Swallowing against a lump in her throat, she tried to gather her thoughts. He had come to her. As if her imagination had called him. He felt the same! She saw his quickened breathing, the look of yearning and vulnerability on his face. He was determined.
It was either yes or no.
Of course there’s a natural point at which I have to let them loose, go with their instincts and do what they desire. Once they start, I watch them pleasure each other almost like a secret onlooker, describing what I see, hear and sense between them. There is little to no planning of these parts of the sex scene, I just have a general idea of how they’ll treat each other and let myself be swept away by the couple’s actions and reactions. This is possible because I keep in mind where they stand, emotionally and practically, and zoom into the scene on a micro-level: Does she reject his advances or encourage them? Does a movement or sentence make sense at that point of the story? What do they want at that very moment, taking into account their prelude together? How would they act/react right then? Does she take over, does he allow it, encourage it? Do they need to clarify something or step back rather than giving in to each other right there?
In this case, the married Ingrid has to consult her head first, and Rikard gives her the space she needs to do so. Knowing of her desire, he can be patient enough until she admits her feelings. He is the forceful partner, gently pushing her into the direction she secretly wants to go. He plays with her confusion and lust in that he corners her when she needs to make up her mind, and steps back whenever she is in turmoil:
Another cry poured from her mouth. He covered it with his hand. “Ingrid,” he panted, holding both of them still, making her writhe. She urged him on, deeper into her, but he just chuckled, holding her in place, until she gave in. When she was motionless, throbbing with lust, he rasped throatily, “Did you think of me?”
She chortled and tried to free herself.
But he effortlessly held her in place, silenced as she was, waiting. “Tell me now. Admit it. I saw that fire in your eyes. It was the same I was burning with, in that corner. Was it us you imagined? Say it.” His lips grazed her earlobe, and it sent hot waves down her spine, directly to where he was pinning her. “Was it me on your mind?”
She managed a slow nod, bursting with the ineffable truth it gave away.
A slow, sly smirk spread on his glowing face. His black eyes crinkled around the edges in the most beautiful way. “I knew it. You gave it all away. With just a shy glance – you dared me to come to you.”
Their choreography is not only about making love in a way that is hot to read and feels right for them at this point in the story, their intimacy also means emotions in abundance. The writer has to capture those and transfer them to the page, make the reader understand what’s going on inside their heads and hearts, just as she sees what they’re doing to each other. Ultimately, they’ll change the course of the story together, and their new emotions will influence its direction.
It amazed Ingrid that he could speak in their current state. “You read me,” she whispered.
“Yes I did.”
For a moment, he halted, held them both still, his breath rasping, a line of sweat trickling down his neck. “Alright, Ingrid,” he growled. To her aching dismay, he released her and stepped back, leaving her empty and cold, burning with the last, unfulfilled stage of her lust.
He staggered to the sleeping platform, flexing his right arm as if testing to see what he’d done to it. He sat opposite the fire, in the same way he had done when they met at Liv’s house. Like they did then, the flames danced on his perfectly sculpted body, but this time caressed so much more of his caramel skin.
Ingrid couldn’t tear her eyes away, she stared at him, dumbfounded.
Rikard slowly raised his head, his smouldering eyes black with the effort to rein in the passion. His scarred chest heaving, he murmured, “You take what you want then, woman.”
From this point, she takes over and quenches both their thirsts, but most of all her own, as for her it was much harder to get to this decisive point. She wants this man too much to turn back now, and despises the predictable life she led so far, so it’s only natural (everything in a story should feel natural!) and satisfying for the reader that she plucks up the courage to be with her lover and leave her old life behind. Therefore, Rikard’s gentle but forceful insistence changes the course of their lives and the story, making them both finally complete.
Ingrid felt something catching in the back of her throat, and realised it was her own choked breath turning into crying, accompanied by abrupt tears that cooled her hot cheeks. She heard her own sobs, as if from a distance, and felt her shoulders twitch.
Rikard tensed and tilted her chin up with his finger to see her expression. “What’s that?”
She raised her head, locking eyes with him. “What on earth are we gonna do now?”
“Now?” He smirked, tracing the line from her ear to her neck with a finger. “Run. As far as we manage in what is left of this night.”
Her eyes widened, and a range of emotions flickered over her face in rapid succession.
At that point her heart makes the decision for her head and she goes to slip off her ring and leave it with her sleeping, drunk husband, while Rikard patiently waits without pushing her:
Rikard gave a surprised chuckle and dropped her hand. “You divorce him? Like that?”
“Yes. I only have this one chance.”
He threw back his head in astonishment, then cradled her in his arms, almost shyly. He held her for a moment, before he whispered, “So let’s run?”
Ingrid nodded wildly and with a new sensation of excitement and fear she curled her fingers around his. “I’m ready.”All parts are taken from a longer short story-novella that is being released soon and under my own copyright. You can sign up for my Book release-alert here and will be the first to learn about any new story that comes out!
In my mind, the orchestration of a love story and, as its essence, a love scene, should always be like an enchanting duet, or a dance. A dance of two hearts, minds and souls, with changing rhythm and pacing, holding on to each other, then giving each other space, with the baggage of their past and the promise of their future, and all this CAN be rolled into one and played with in the delicate orchestration that is the sex scene …
No porn vocabulary, no fetish, no kama sutra and no dirty talk needed (well, maybe a little of the last does no harm if your character’s up to it … ;-)) I truly believe that “romance/erotica” can be so much more than what we often see and it’s underestimated!
I hope I could shed some light on how and why I orchestrate love scenes the way I do, and why it can be essential or even the goal of a story. It is not “just sex”, it can be a life-changing, dramatic event for the protagonists, which either gives them a strength and courage they lacked before, or which makes them regret and panic. It all depends on your protagonists and what YOU want YOUR story to be.
I’m always grateful for comments below or in an email.