10 tips for creating sexual, romantic tension…

bigstock-Ballroom-Dancer-Pair-Dance-Low-23670206I’m dedicating this blog to writer Amanda Buxton who asked me for tips on how to develop “romantic chemistry” between two characters. Here are 10 suggestions:

1. Build attraction gradually over time. If your characters are bowled over by each other at the start—where can you go from there? Nowhere. Start small, ramp it up, and end large.

2. Begin with awareness. The hero/heroine may not attracted when they meet, but they notice the other person. They notice that they notice.

3. Involve all the senses, not just sight. Scent, sound, taste (their first kiss) and tactile sensations.

She curled her fingers into Luc’s crisp hair. It crackled with fire under her hands. Amazingly, something else to ponder another time, she could smell and almost taste its myriad of colorful strands like individual spices: cinnamon for umber, anise for ebony, and his ever-present nutmeg-allspice. – A Scent of Longing

4. Focus on small details or less common traits. Sure he’s packing a large package, and she has big boobs and nice eyes. But think about hands, forearms, the slope of the neck, her laugh, his cowlick, the endearing way her shirt slips off her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” The Commander frowned.

She recoiled. “I-I am smelling a leaf.”

He cocked his head. “Why?”

Because she hadn’t been outside the BCF walls in a year. Because she hadn’t danced in a meadow, raised her face to the rain, woven a garland of flowers, or watched fallen leaves soar on the wind. Before she could devise a response, he asked, “What does it smell like?”

“Pungent. Fresh.” Emboldened by his question, she held up the compound leaf by its petiole. “Do you wish to smell?”

An indefinable emotion flickered before he shuttered his gaze and shifted the reins. She expected him to take the leaf, but he grabbed her hand and raised it to his nose. Her breath caught in her throat, and a flutter of whisperflies circled inside her stomach. He could have crushed her fingers, so mighty was his strength, but he merely held her securely as he sniffed. His breath breezed across her skin. “I would agree with your assessment.” – Breeder

5. Apply thoughts and emotions to physical descriptions and actions. She notices he’s a tall man. But how does that made her feel? Protected? Threatened? Competitive?

Her temperature spiked when he brushed his lips over her skin, and she could have sworn he’d licked her, though she immediately dashed the notion as silly. But, no man had ever kissed her hand, and her heart fluttered. The hard, frozen knot forged by Phillip’s betrayal started to melt. – A Scent of Longing

6. They doth protest too much! Use conflict to maximize tension. He’s the big bad developer wanting to take her land, and she hates him. Or he has women falling at his feet, and she’s determined she won’t be one of them. She’s hell bent on marriage, and he’ll go to hell before he succumbs.

“Men aren’t the enemy, Bethany.” Stephanie resisted the urge to pound the table. Men were as trapped by culture and upbringing as women were.

Mark didn’t appear trapped. He was domineering, cocky, forceful. “Easy. Easy, kitten.” Condescending. Of all the men she could have chosen, why him? Actually she didn’t pick him. Elizabeth had, and in a weak moment fueled by hormones, Stephanie had availed herself of the opportunity to get laid. Biology may have won the battle, but it wouldn’t win the war.

“We need to reeducate men for the betterment of women.” Stephanie directed her thoughts away from Mark and back to the important issue. “Most women aren’t going to give up men even if they are sexist.” Unfortunately she was living proof. “As much as you’d like to, you can’t pretend half the population doesn’t exist.” She’d like to pretend one particular man didn’t exist. – Body Politics

7. Have your characters engage in good old-fashioned flirting. Bring in the snappy, witty dialogue. Author Karla Doyle is a master at this!

8. Choose as your H/h two characters who are opposite to begin with. In Body Poltics, I pitted a feminist against a Dom who spanks. In Terran, I pair an Alpha Commander who loathes Terrans with…a Terran.

9. Tie the chemistry to the nature of your story. I write spanking romance. Not surprisingly, butts play a part in the story.

Taking a shortcut to his office after a meeting at the Rod and Cane Society, Dan Tanner spotted the blonde. He noticed her ass first. Tight and shaped like a perfect heart. With an enticing wiggle, she filled out her jeans like nobody’s business.

Except his.

He had to meet the woman the ass belonged to. Slowing the SUV to her purposeful pace, he pulled up alongside and lowered his window. – False Pretenses

10. Keep the attraction secret from the characters themselves, but show it to the reader.

“I’ve got the drinks.” His voice rumbled, far too close for comfort. He made no move to tighten his grip, but his brown eyes darkened, transmitting his message loud and clear: he would brook no disagreement.

Stephanie was trained in self-defense. In the early days of WAN, she’d taught it. He might appear formidable, but she could take him out with a blow to the eyes, the nose, the throat, the groin. But she suspected the police would fail to understand why she’d blinded a man for buying her a drink, and not any man—the deputy chief. That was why she’d tolerated his touch this long. The warm tingles shooting up her arm had nothing to do with it.

“Fine!” She wrenched her wrist out of his grasp. – Body Politics

If you’re an author, what means do you use to create sexual tension? As a reader, what techniques particularly grab you? What books have you read that you thought had great sexual tension?

This entry was posted in Romance writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to 10 tips for creating sexual, romantic tension…

  1. Karla Doyle says:

    Hey, Cara! I clicked your Facebook link to read your post and imagine my surprise when I saw #7. Thanks so much for the incredible compliment!

    Great suggestions in this post. Aside from #7, I tend to use 2, 3, 4 & 5 the most.

    Thanks again for the shout-out. You made my day. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You’re welcome, Karla. I think I was reading Cup of Sugar when I wrote this, and so enjoyed your witty, flirty dialog.

  2. Thanks for the tips, Cara. Your little snippets of writing here might do more to sell your books than any other type of promotion.

  3. These are great tips! I use the flirting one a lot, because there’s nothing sexier than a witty, incorrigible man who flatters. 😀 Well, maybe one who’s well-read. But I digress.

    I also use “gradually over time” and “awareness” and “small details” methods, in combination with not-quite-touching. I like to build anticipation (will they, won’t they) with having them get really close to talk, but without touching. Close enough that breath may caress the skin, but no contact otherwise. Two of my favorite books (different authors, both historical romance) don’t allow the characters to touch for 200 pages!! But believe me, when they finally do…WOW.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I love flirting in books. Romance novels should be romantic. And flirting contributes to that heady feeling in the early stages of a relationship.

  4. Lisa Wells says:


    This is so helpful. I’m going to print it off and add it to my writing bible. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thank you! Glad you found it so helpful. Amanda had asked me how to create romantic tension, and I had to sit down and think, how do I do that? It was helpful to me to figure it out.

  5. S.J. Maylee says:

    Fabulous list, Cara. I love them all, especially 6, 7, 8. This post is a keeper. TY! 🙂

  6. Sue Lyndon says:

    Love this post, Cara. Great tips! Bookmarking it…

  7. A wealth of ideas and techniques you have painted here Cara… Thank you for your insightful and inspirational ideas…

  8. Tara Finnegan says:

    Some brilliant tips here, Cara. Thanks so much for sharing. One to be read a few times over.

  9. Blondie says:

    Great tips you have shared. This is a list that every couple should have framed and put where they can see it daily.

  10. AMBuxton says:

    You’re advice is even better the second time around. Thanks for sharing again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.