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Old 01-19-2013, 04:35 AM   #1
srgalactica
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Sexual Tension and romantic tension

I did a forum search (and may not know how to heck to do one, as I assumed there would already be a thread on this) but how to you handle sexual/romantic tension in a non-romance novel with a romantic subplot?
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Old 01-19-2013, 04:37 AM   #2
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Gratuitous sex scenes, of course!

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She undid her pants and submitted her womanhood to his turgid member.
"Uh."
"Yeah."
"Urgh."
"Uhhhh."
"Oooh."
"Bob."
"Marie."
"Ohhhhhh."
"Urghghgghghhhh."
"I'm close."
"Uh."
"Ah."
"Ohhhheuhuhhhhegh."
"Hrrrrrng."
"Bwwowwowaharrrhgh."
"Hrrnrnrnhrnrnrnhgnrnrrnrng."
"As you know Bob, you are currently penetrating me. We are in the missionary position and according to that clock, we have been fornicating for about five minutes. Your steely, blue-eyed gaze is making my innards rumble."
"We have sex three times a week."
"This is the second time we've done it this week."
"My penis is a bit over six inches long."
"My ex-bf's penis was almost seven."
"What?"
"Uh, uh, I bite your ear because you've told me that gets you off."
"Brwowwwwwwaaoaoaoaoaaoaoooohhh I'm ejaculating I'm ejaculating," he ejaculated.
"Phew."
"Wooh."
"Ah."
"Yes."
"Good intercourse. We will have a baby in nine months and name him Michael."
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Old 01-19-2013, 04:47 AM   #3
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The same way you'd handle it in a straightforward romance, heightened awareness, using as many of the senses as you can, fade to black of everyone/thing else during these scenes, etc. The same, only with serial killers/elves/werewolves/whatever your primary story is.

In a romance, the romance is center stage, the majority of the scenes are btw the hero and heroine, the major conflicts are all about getting to the HEA, (even the external conflicts somehow relate), if it's romantic subplot, there can be more scenes that aren't btw the H/H, there may not be a HEA,the primary conflicts aren't about their relationship.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:00 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by srgalactica View Post
I did a forum search (and may not know how to heck to do one, as I assumed there would already be a thread on this) but how to you handle sexual/romantic tension in a non-romance novel with a romantic subplot?
The same way you would in any novel. Just don't let it take over the main plot. It should be a bright little underthread woven through the tapestry of the story.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:09 AM   #5
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The same way you would in any novel. Just don't let it take over the main plot. It should be a bright little underthread woven through the tapestry of the story.
lol. I guess what I mean then, is how do you write romantic and sexual tension? I have no clue.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:20 AM   #6
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The most practical advice I can give right now is to read a ton of recent non-romance novels. Most of them have romantic/sexual tension somewhere in them.

Starting from not knowing a thing about your writing, I'm afraid I can't be more specific
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:30 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
The most practical advice I can give right now is to read a ton of recent non-romance novels. Most of them have romantic/sexual tension somewhere in them.

Starting from not knowing a thing about your writing, I'm afraid I can't be more specific
Well, I'd have to add that reading some romance might not be a bad idea, either. After all, romantic/sexual tension is one of the things romance writers do best.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:34 AM   #8
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what Jim said...also, sexual tension could be anything from the mild ("She looked at him, just a bit longer than she needed to--at least, he hoped that's what he saw...") to the very overt ("I couldn't help noticing a slip of lace on that hip when you reached the overhead compartment, and that thong looks lovely on your waist. But," he added, pausing and making full eye contact, holding her for a beat before continuing, "it would look far lovelier on those wrists of yours.")

there's millions of ways to write, so as Jim said, you may have to go a'sampling them a bit, and couple what you find with your developing voice.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:39 AM   #9
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All great advice. Thanks! I've been reading some romance and I read a ton of fantasy.

Jim, I'm hoping to polish the first scene in my novel to put up on SYW sometime this weekend. It's not a scene with sexual or romantic tension, but at least I'll finally be able to figure out where my weaknesses and strengths are.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:55 AM   #10
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Gratuitous sex scenes, of course! [etc.]
I laughed so obnoxiously I had to explain myself to a bystander. Sigh.

Ahem. Anyway, as to the OP's question, I've been dealing with the same dilemma in my WIP. It's a sort-of standard fantasy travel narrative but with a whopping big romantic sub-plot right in the middle (no pun intended) even though it's primarily about magic and dead bodies and stuff.

My main strategy is to make the subplot important to the main plot. Vitally important. It's not a romance, but as my characters develop through their struggles to accomplish their main goal, they also discover each other -- which not only amplifies what they're risking, but generates a lot of tension.

Have you ever been in love? Have you ever had a crush? The emotions that follow in the wake of those bonds tend to magnify (or even distort) whatever the desired object says or does. A look can convey volumes; or worse, the lack of a look at an otherwise appropriate time. People in the grip of adoration are constantly trying to uncover hidden motives, to suss out whether or not their prospective lover reciprocates their feelings. It can become an obsession. It feels like an obsession when you're in the throes of it.

The tension comes from "he loves me, he loves me not"; the agonizing insecurity of risking the one for the other. You don't have to stoop to melodramatic hand-wringing in order to achieve that sort of tension. You just have to get into your character's heads a little and take opportunities when you find them. Are they alone together, unexpectedly? Does a look, a word, a gesture, or a touch lead to some miscommunication? Is there a third-party who notices what's going on? What do the two characters want, if they were honest with themselves? Love? Sex? A quick fling? Romance? Commitment?

Ask them, you may be surprised by the answers. Above all, have fun with it! Humor itself can be a wonderful way to modulate the tension generated by the messy emotions of love.
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Old 01-19-2013, 05:32 PM   #11
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lol. I guess what I mean then, is how do you write romantic and sexual tension? I have no clue.
Well...like anything else. You build it slowly. You include good conflict. You don't have them jump in bed right away.

I'd suggest you start reading lots of novels with romance with an eye toward studying how it's done.
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Old 01-19-2013, 05:35 PM   #12
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what Jim said...also, sexual tension could be anything from the mild ("She looked at him, just a bit longer than she needed to--at least, he hoped that's what he saw...") to the very overt ("I couldn't help noticing a slip of lace on that hip when you reached the overhead compartment, and that thong looks lovely on your waist. But," he added, pausing and making full eye contact, holding her for a beat before continuing, "it would look far lovelier on those wrists of yours.")
At which point she takes her suitcase back down and accidentally lets it fall on the creep's head...
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Old 01-19-2013, 05:42 PM   #13
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Well...like anything else. You build it slowly. You include good conflict. You don't have them jump in bed right away.

I'd suggest you start reading lots of novels with romance with an eye toward studying how it's done.
This, and start thinking of examples from your own life.

I'm a quiet little person, only had one real boyfriend (who I married), but I know sexual tension when I see it, live it or feel it. I've seen it in friends at work, when they try to be coy - or when he likes her and she doesn't know it, etc.

I've felt it, too, when a boy came into a lecture hall and screamed my name and that he loved me and I tried to hide under the seat. Ummm, okay.

So even if you're a quiet person, a non-romantic person, whatever, there have to be examples irl all around you. You've seen it, heard about it, witnessed it in others and yourself. (I've heard stories, too, about my grandparents' courtship and how she ignored him; and my parents and how she ignored him, etc. etc.)

Draw from real life and real experience, as well as what you read or see in the movies, etc.
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Old 01-19-2013, 06:23 PM   #14
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at Beth's response!

To the OP, like any other emotional tension, romantic/sexual tension is experienced and therefore communicated in lots of ways--action, sensation, thought. It's integral to character development. How certain characters think about each other, react to each other, etc.

I do always find it annoying when such reactions seem out of place or obligatory. I can think of a few non-romance novels that include a sex scene btw hero/heroine and partner toward the end almost as an afterthought or a fill-in. Ugh.
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Old 01-19-2013, 08:33 PM   #15
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This thread.
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...=154304&page=2

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Old 01-19-2013, 08:46 PM   #16
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At which point she takes her suitcase back down and accidentally lets it fall on the creep's head...

you might be surprised...I saw a charming British gent do something quite similar at a bar and pick up a girl half his age. I knew the guy, and i think he had long experience head-picking and seducing girls, but the point is he DID find a "fit" for that line.

that brings up an entirely different discussion for the MC: you can have your characters do almost anything, however improbable, AS LONG AS THEY HAVE A GOOD REASON TO DO IT. (AND, your reader KNOWS that reason.) This comes up a lot in QLH, where there isn't room for three paragraphs (let alone chapters) of back-story, so when characters do something that makes no sense at all (assuming a mugging must be sign of a zombie invasion, moving into the home where they were held a hostage for thirteen years by a psychopath, etc.) it really sticks out, and some folks have a lot of trouble figuring a way to show in voice or suggestion why someone would do something so outwardly assinine. So, maybe the girl on the plane has daddy issues, maybe she needed a laugh and the guy said it in a more charming, Hugh Grant, less Larry The Cable Guy manner, maybe she's a bit of a predator of her own, with a bucket-list including "bang old guy." But in any seduction, romance, any ANYTHING really, you need to lay the groundwork so what the characters do and feel makes some sort of sense, and appears to be a reasonable response of their personality to their situation, rather than a vehicle to get the author through a chapter.
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Old 01-19-2013, 08:47 PM   #17
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Sexual/Romantic tension in life, or in fiction implies that something's holding them back, they're being pulled towards and away from each other at the same time. So, it's forbidden, for one reason or another. Thus the tension. One or both of them is married. They have another relationship, business, teacher/student, employer/employee, (that could be jeopardized if they act upon their impulses) or there's another factor- racial, social, religious, age, or they're in a location or an environment that's not private or appropriate, etc. I can't, I can't, I know I can't...

That's the tension, that's the conflict.

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Old 01-20-2013, 01:30 AM   #18
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Sexual/Romantic tension in life, or in fiction implies that something's holding them back, they're being pulled towards and away from each other at the same time. So, it's forbidden, for one reason or another. Thus the tension. One or both of them is married. They have another relationship, business, teacher/student, employer/employee, (that could be jeopardized if they act upon their impulses) or there's another factor- racial, social, religious, age, or they're in a location or an environment that's not private or appropriate, etc. I can't, I can't, I know I can't...

That's the tension, that's the conflict.
Or...

Character A is wildly attracted to Character B. Character B is polite, maybe even friendly, but...is he interested? Is he? What did that remark mean? Is he flirting or does he always say stuff like that? He brushed her hand...was that an accident? Argh, no, who is that gorgeous girl he just waved to?

You can ramp up a lot of tension just on the unknowns.
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Old 01-20-2013, 04:21 AM   #19
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To each their own, but I have always been a fan of romantic tension that results in an atmosphere of great style, elegance and charm. Wouldn't we all like to be in one of those circumstances where it's warm and exciting and we say just the right things to flirt and play and savor the moment? Isn't it captivating to read it and say, "awww" or "oh, wow..." But it can't happen if the characters aren't human, sensitive to the opportunity, and say just the right things in just the right way.
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:25 AM   #20
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srgalactica: I guess what I mean then, is how do you write romantic and sexual tension? I have no clue.
Imagine you notice somebody and for whatever reason, you're attracted to that person. And you're pretty sure it's mutual, but you're not in the market right now, or you don't have time, or you don't want to tempt fate or whatever. Still, a little harmless flirting never hurt anybody, right?

So you smile at the person, maybe initiate friendly banter between the two of you. Maybe one of you slips in a little sexual innuendo and the other responds--a little give and take going on, innocent flirting, nothing serious. Just messing around a little because each of you finds the other attractive, but that's as far as it's going.

And then one day, one of you says something that gives the other pause.

And to respond to that would be crossing a line, from harmless flirting to something more, taking it to the next level, a little more risque, maybe; saying a little more than you know you should, maybe.

You want to.

But you know you shouldn't.

So maybe you push that boundary in little increments. That way you can control what's happening. But every day, you push it a little more, a little more, pushing that invisible line further and further and then one day you realize you're about to cross that line for real and if you do, you'll play hell stopping that train--
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:28 AM   #21
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I had a little touch that I liked in something I wrote, where the protag was getting to know the love interest. He was sitting there while they're eating and fantasising about licking cream cheese of the li's fingers. Later, they have a scene where he's doing exactly that.
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:42 AM   #22
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To each their own, but I have always been a fan of romantic tension that results in an atmosphere of great style, elegance and charm. Wouldn't we all like to be in one of those circumstances where it's warm and exciting and we say just the right things to flirt and play and savor the moment? Isn't it captivating to read it and say, "awww" or "oh, wow..." But it can't happen if the characters aren't human, sensitive to the opportunity, and say just the right things in just the right way.

I've known of a few non-human characters who might disagree with this part.
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