The “Almost” Scene

Today I’m working on a long scene that ups the sexual tension between my characters. Anybody who reads romance knows that it’s a tightrope walk between conflict and attraction. Unless the author is really really good, I almost never believe it when two characters are bickering enemies in one paragraph and falling into bed the next. Coming together (pun alert!) is an arc.

So the arc moves forward today. I am not good at creating sexual tension. For example, I put them in bed too early, and the whole thing felt off, so now I’m pulling back and letting them have an “almost” scene first.  I love reading sexually charged scenes, so, in an effort to figure out exactly how I can become proficient in the sexual tension department, I turned to my beloved C & H. Here are my notes from Chapter 15, “Sex Scenes and Sexual Tension.”     


There’s sex, and then there’s sexual tension. I love reading sexual tension scenes. Can’t write them.

Ways to put more sexual tension in this scene:

Men are such guys. (Just think Al.) The word C & H use is “blatant.” 

Women are more emotional. They are the heart, while men are the, ahem, head.

Sensory Details: can’t keep eyes off each other, any reason to touch, smell, taste, hear…also:

  1. Thoughts: like dialogue but more honest. And for men, more blatant. For women, more emotional than they show. Sensory is good here.
  2. Mood. Sensory. Again! But also as relates to plot
  3. Dialogue: “words they wish they could take back”
  4. Character: Who they are, their quirks and habits. Gestures they make. Sexy or sweet.
  5. Doubts: Fear of emotion, fear of intimacy

So that’s what’s keeping me busy this morning, getting all or some of that sexual tension into a believable scene.

Where to Start?

My critique group has seen the first two scenes of my WIP. I wrote them as alternate first scenes, not sure which to open with. CPs said open with the first one. Craig and Hughes say the second. Ch. 9 in The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, “Why First Impressions Count” convinced me that for this ms, C&H are right. 

One of the the things C&H say to do is figure out your “intriguing premise” (What concept/conflict does your plot revolve around?) and your “precipitating event” (What action sets the conflict in motion?) Then decide which has a better hook. Then write a first line/first scene reflecting that.  

Before I wrote out my premise and my event, I thought for sure my better hook would be the premise. But no, turns out, the event won. Surprise! So from there I worked on a first line that would grab readers and start things rolling with my precipitating event. That was kind of fun. I sat in my comfy chair with a notebook and tried out a bunch of first lines. Finally, after two or three pages, I found the perfect opening.

The rest of that scene rolled pretty well, but I still used the excellent checklist on page 113 to see if I had nailed the “romance” aspect in my first five pages. Some of the things on the checklist are the usual, but there were a couple of surprises, including the idea of “white space.” After you write the scene, print it out and check for white space, as in dialogue. There should be more dialogue than narration, and little or no introspection, which can lead to the dreaded info dump.

And that’s where my CPs got it right. My early scenes have too much backstory. I cut all that to the bone and my revised chapter is better for it.