Thursday, May 23, 2013

Putting Sizzle on the Page--Sexual Tension

Every writer out there knows what keeps readers turning pages is conflict and tension. But what exactly is sexual tension and what are some effective ways to make it work?
Sexual tension is the unwanted sexual attraction between the hero and heroine. Even if the hero and heroine are in a sexual relationship, sexual tension can still play an important part in building that ever-important page-turning conflict. Examples are: He’s thinking of stripping her when he should be focusing on his job. Or they are in a crowded room and the only thing she can think of is getting him naked.

But how does a writer put sexual tension on the page? I believe this is something a writer has to do without trying too hard. If the tension is forced, it comes off unnatural and more awkward than sexy. However, that being said, I’m going to offer some things I do to make sure the pages sizzle.

First of all, your hero and heroine’s goals, motivations and conflicts have to be clearly recognized. What do they want? Why do they want it? And what will keep them from it? If the last thing a hero wants is to settle down and get married for whatever his reasons (a bad breakup, a new job that doesn’t have room for a woman, a past run-in with the heroine), ideas of riding off in the sunset with the heroine because he’s never been this attracted to a woman before will drive his internal conflict. This in itself is great tension in the making. He wants her (not just sexually), but he’s afraid of what will happen when he has her (might admit he loves her). So, the last thing he wants is to be near her, but he can’t stay away from her for whatever plot reason the writer throws at them.
Now, if the heroine’s goals are the complete opposite of the hero’s… Ah, you see where this is going, especially if the commitment-phobic hero and the husband-hunting heroine are thrown together and can’t keep either their thoughts or hands or both off each other.

So, what happens while they are together? No matter what the plot pertains, whether they are running for their lives from the bad guys, forced into an arranged marriage, or just trying to babysit his precocious nephew, the hero and heroine have to be building toward their happy-ever-after. Their attraction and desire to be more than just what they are now (even if they don’t know it or won’t admit it themselves), has to be on the page.
I use all five senses to do this. How do they look at each other? What does she/he smell like? Taste like? What happens when they touch? What are their emotions when they are together and when they are apart? Now use the answers to build that tension by having them experiencing these things when it’s the most inappropriate (external conflict) or when they don’t want them because of their internal conflict.

For example, in my contemporary western romance Heartstrings, my hero, Seth Kendall, and heroine, Abby Ritter, meet in Chapter 1 at his father’s funeral, but despite being at a somber event and surrounded by people, Seth remembers exactly what Abby looked, tasted and smelled like the first time he’d made love to her—fifteen years before. This emotional response wars with his internal conflict when he thinks of her marriage to his best friend and the daughter he has never met.

I do have one warning, however. Be careful of falling into using clichés to describe what the characters are experiencing. The hardest part of building sexual tension for me is coming up with new ways of saying old things—like the over-used “electric spark”, “butterflies in the tummy”, etc. You know the ones. They usually make you roll your eyes every time you read them.

He’s determined to set things right, no matter the cost.

The last person Abby Crawford wants to face down is country music superstar Seth Kendall. Last time she did, she flat-out lied so he’d go to Nashville without her. She’s never understood why their mutual best friend proposed, but she went with it so her baby wouldn’t be fatherless. Now she’s a divorced mother of a teenager, and secretly Seth’s biggest fan.
Seth is home in McAllister, Texas for his father’s funeral…and a chance to meet the daughter he’s never known. He’s willing to face the music of his own making and admit he’s known about his little girl all along. For fifteen years he’s kept his distance because Abby told him to follow his dreams without her, insisting she didn’t love him. But now he won’t leave until he knows his daughter and she knows him, even if it means facing the woman who broke his heart for good.

Confessing she’s lied about her daughter’s paternity all these years won’t be easy for Abby, especially with her ex blackmailing her to keep the secret. And Seth doesn’t know the hardest truth of all: Every love song he plays on his guitar still plucks her heartstrings.

Seth leaned in. His lips were close enough to kiss, and his scent of sandalwood and something exotic enveloped her, taking her back to that night on the beach. His eyes flashed with the dangerous fire of his temper. It was similar to the flame of the passion she’d once seen in the green depths. Abby didn’t expect or want the heat curling in her belly, and shivered with a sudden and fierce desire.

“I’m her father, Abigail. I wanted to be her father after she was born. It was you and Mike who insisted I had no business messing things up.”
“I never said any such thing. You never tried. You just left.”

He pounded a fist on the counter top so hard she jumped. “Yes, I left! I wasn’t welcome at home. Dad ran me off with a shotgun. Mike wouldn’t even let me see my daughter. He made it quite clear you and he were happily married, and I had no place in your life. I was under contract to be in Nashville to start recording my first album.”
What did he mean, Mike wouldn’t let him see Emily?

Before she had a chance to voice her question, his eyes darkened as the pupils dilated, obscuring the stormy green. “But I’m no longer nineteen and scared shitless. I could make things very rough for you and this fantasy you’ve got working.”
A cold lump quickly replaced the tangle of heat in her belly. “What-what do you mean?”

He backed off and tapped the countertop. “I’m talking a custody battle. I could have a judge order a paternity test. I think we both know the media hoopla the results would cause.”
Her heart slammed into her chest wall. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Try me. Now that I’ve met Emily, I want to get to know her.” He walked over to look out the kitchen window. The hard line of his jaw melted, and he swallowed so hard his throat moved up and down. “I was a fool when I let Mike talk me out of being in her life after she was born.”
“What do you mean?”

He glanced at her. “Don’t pretend you don’t know.”
The strings of guitar music provided a soft counterpoint to the hard tension in the kitchen. Emily was outside on the patio playing around with her guitar, waiting for them to finish with the dishes she and Seth had insisted on doing.

“All I want is to have some time with my daughter. That’s all I’m asking for.” When he looked over his shoulder at her, sadness replaced the anger in his eyes. “I’ll keep your little secret. I’ll just be her favorite singer. The family friend who made it big in Nashville. I don’t want to hurt her. As much as it galls the hell out of me, I see what Mike means to her.”
He moved toward her and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Besides, I don’t want to hurt Carolann or Frank any more than you do.” He glanced outside again, his voice husky as he spoke. “But I’ll sue you if I have to.”

A part of her wanted to give in to him, but a larger part wanted to punish him. Let him take her to court; she’d make sure the world knew what kind of jerk Seth Kendall really was.
She gritted her teeth and fisted her hands by her sides. “I’ll let you have tonight, Seth. But don’t ask for more.”

She turned away and strode through the French doors.

Meet Sara:

Sara Walter Ellwood is an award winning author whose novel Gambling On A Secret was named by bestselling author Carolyn Brown in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today as one of her favorite romances of 2012. Although Sara has long ago left the farm for the glamour of the big town, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her stories. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for nearly 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia.
She also writes paranormal romantic suspense under the pen name of Cera duBois.

Author Links:
Buy Links:
Lyrical Press | Amazon | Barns and Noble | iTunes


What People Are Saying About Heartstrings:

"Its well written and...a great story that’s more than just a gentle romance but has angst and emotions in and lots of twists to keep reader wondering what’s going to come out next. All the endings tie in neatly – I hate books where I’m left wondering “yes, but what happened about ….” Sara doesn’t do that – she lets all the plots merge and become part of the whole with us learning what was behind the deceptions and motives of the major players..."
Read the rest of this 4 Star review at Jeannie Zelos Book Reviews

"This was indeed a well written, well edited book. In the end, it was worth all the anxiety, the surprises, The pleasure, the sadness, the joy, the disappointment and the anger I felt as I read. This is not just a book for cowboy lovers like me. This is a book for anyone who has loved someone and hoped and prayed for a second chance to be the person they want to be. What else can I tell you but you need to read this book and let it play on your heartstrings. ;) 5/5 Stars (I'd give it more if I could!) and 4/5 Flames!..."
Read the entire review at Sniffer Walk Books

"Great Scandal...Great Romance...GREAT "Ahem" ....and a whole lot more to enjoy. HEARTSTRINGS is like your favorite TV just want more more more! I encourage you all to give it a read...especially my NASHVILLE Fans out there!!"
Read this 4 Star review at A Tasty Read Book Reviews

“It is all about trust and repair. It will reveal so many darn secrets you will actually gasp out loud! I pretty much guarantee it! Aside from the family secrets and his Mom, who he never really knew, committing suicide, Seth has more in store. The confessions and scandalous behavior involving Mike, the sheriff will blow you away. I really mean it is a big must read!”
Read this 5 Star review at Reading Renee

“I really enjoyed this book and have always been a closet rockstar reader! Seth is complicated. I liked him but at the same time I hated him. Life is never easy and he took the coward’s way out for a very long time. 
Abby has always felt the pain of not fitting in and she made some touch choices at a young age. You can’t fault her for following her heart and doing what she thought was right. I have to say that I had no idea the twists and turns this story was going to take! Mike was not the man that we all thought he was going to be.
Love a good rockstar story and this one is a keeper!”
This 4 Star review posted on Romancebookworm’s Reviews

This was a great second chance love story. It had all the makings of a good heart touching, soul redeeming story. Then the author makes your toes curl and your knees go weak. Damn this book is sexy! Add all that up plus add one hellish twist and crazy suspense turn. Wow! Honestly, jaw drop type of moment. Good guys aren’t always good! Things you think are true are all lies! 
Sometimes things can work out, but damn it’s one sad country song in the making getting there. Take the time to read this book. It will make you hot under the collar and believe in love all at once...”
Read this great review at Fab, Fun and Tantalizing Reads

Another new-to-me author with the skill to transport me into her world and transfer me into one of her characters. Heartstrings was a great romance. I loved it!”
This short review posted on Readaholic’s Reviews

When Seth comes back for his father’s funeral, sparks fly. Anger, hurt, resentfulness, jealousy, love, and lust rear their heads as the two former loves meet again fourteen years later. Seth knows who Emily’s father is and it isn’t Mike as everyone in town believes. Seth wants to get to know his daughter. Mike and Abby fear that Seth will tell Emily along with the world the truth. The tangle of lies finally unravel as Seth and Abby discover there is more behind their estrangement then they thought. The reader knows that something is driving Mike to make sure the secret is kept. I was shocked at what was really going on. It was an interesting twist and a great ending to the book...”
Read this review at Toot’s Book Reviews

“The love story between these two was phenomenal. They had chemistry, sexual attraction, and a troubled past. It has all the basic ingredients for a good read. Then you throw in a blackmailing ex-husband, a superstar ex-girlfriend, and more lies and secrets than you can count and you have yourself a 4 star book! I loved every second of this read. Yes at times I was frustrated and mad. But I love when an author is able to pull that kind of emotion out of me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a book that has humor, drama, lies, love, betrayal and really hot sex!...”
Read this 4 Star review at The Little Black Book Blog

“Seth, Abby and Emily pulled me in. I was happy the author jumped on most of the secrets right away. No one wants to read a book that draws everything out. Now saying that doesn't mean the author gave you everything, leaving nothing for the ending, because she didn't. She keeps her story moving from page to page, ending with a bang. This is a very easy, well written story that is well worth your time...”
This review posted on Romancing the Readers.

“What a great, quick read Heartstrings is!! I read this book in one sitting and could not put it down. We have read our share of bad boy rockers, but how many stories have a super sexy country superstar as the town bad boy? Heartstrings does exactly what its title suggests... it pulls on your heart strings and makes you feel for the characters and understand why they make the decisions that they make.....Heartstrings is an incredible story about first love, making dreams come true, and healing. I give this story 4 stars on the knock my socks off scale! I loved Seth from the get go and was hoping like crazy that him and Abby would reunite and make a family with their daughter...”
Read the rest of this 4 Star review at Reading Is My Time Out
“Heartstrings is full of emotion, heartbreak, lies, and deception. The characters were well rounded and I fell in love with Seth, Abby, and Emily. I laughed, I cried, I got angry, and this story took me on a wild ride that tugged on my own heartsrings. I couldn't put it down! 
Heartsrings is highly recommended from this reviewer! Who doesn't love a good second chance story filled with music, laughter, and love?...”
Read this 5 Star review at Storm Goddess Book Reviews and More


I'm giving away a ebook copy of Heartstrings!   ***Please leave your email address to be eligible***


Margaret Taylor said...

Hey Ms. Sara! Love the post and the excerpt. So tasty is Seth! Too bad he's taken. I'd make him my fictional BF any day of the week!

Anyway, if you ever want to visit a farm/ranch, I live in San Antonio, TX. I could make up the guest room for you and would be happy to show you around the area!

Sharon Cullen said...

What a great post. I always have to go back and add the sexual tension for some reason.

Liza O'Connor said...

Great use of your reviews.

When my characters are stressed (by anything) they tend to make jokes.

Sara Walter Ellwood said...

Margaret-- Thanks for stopping by. Seth is yummy. He's one of my favorite heroes. I'd love to visit you if/when I ever make it to Texas.

Sharon--Thanks.. Sexual tension is something that comes very easily for me... Guess I'm lucky.

Liza--That's acutally one of my weaknesses. Lighthearted banter. I never feel that it's right. I'm better with angst.