What`s Sexual Tension Got to Do with It? - Kerri

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WHAT’S SEXUAL TENSION GOT TO DO
WITH IT?
HOW SEXUAL TENSION GIVES YOUR NOVEL
SELL APPEAL
Kerri-Leigh Grady
and
Candy Lyons
SIX TOPICS RELATED TO SEXUAL
TENSION

What is Sexual Tension?

Dialogue, Body Language, and Push & Pull

Internal Dialogue, Emotional Barriers, and Internal
Conflict

Steps to Intimacy

How to Apply Sexual Tension in Your Genre

The Language of Love
WHAT IS SEXUAL TENSION?

“If I had to define sexual tension, I’d say . . . ”

“Sexual tension looks like . . . ”
WHAT’S SEXUAL TENSION GOT TO DO WITH IT?
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Think about your favorite books, movies, and
television shows.
How many of them contain at least a hint of a
romance or attraction between two characters?
What does this attraction do for the plot?
SEXUAL TENSION ISN’T JUST A ROMANCE
WRITER’S DEVICE.

Other genres use sexual tension all the time
SEXUAL TENSION: A WORKING DEFINITION

sexual tension
- noun (idiomatic) Physically induced libidinal
unrest arising between two individuals when
aware of each other's presence.
• Allwords.com - English Dictionary
SEXUAL TENSION: A WORKING DEFINITION

Sexual tension is a phenomenon that occurs
when two people interact and one or both feel
sexual desire, but the consummation is postponed
or never happens. It is a common feature of plot
and characterization in works of fiction.
• wikipedia
SEXUAL TENSION: A WORKING DEFINITION

“Sexual tension is the unsatisfied attraction of
the hero and heroine for each other. The key
word here is unsatisfied. . . . Sexual tension
begins at the moment the main characters meet,
with their first awareness of each other. They
might be angry, interested, wary, or tense, but
their heightened sense of awareness of the other
person provides the first stirrings of sexual
tension.”

Leigh Michaels, “Creating Sexual Tension and Love Scenes”
from On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells.
SEXUAL TENSION: A WORKING DEFINITION

“Sexual tension is the inevitable result of making
your hero and heroine physically attracted to
each other but unable to act on that attraction.
They want to act, but they can’t.”

~ Leslie Wainger, Harlequin editor-at-large
THE UGLY TRUTH
SHERLOCK HOLMES
HARRY POTTER
BUILDING SEXUAL TENSION
The External: Push and Pull, Dialogue, and Body
Language
PUSH/PULL
Create a sense of distance and attraction between
the characters
 Create a rhythm of movement and perception
that makes the reader sense friction

Set this up through:
 Body language
 Symbolic action
 Physical distance
 Emotional/mental distance
SYMBOLIC ACTION

Push
Stabbing food
 Slamming a door
 Pushing away an object that was of interest


Pull
Savoring food or drink
 Leaning against a door (the exit)
 Tracing the edge of something with a finger

MENTAL/EMOTIONAL DISTANCE

Push
Negative emotions
 Misunderstanding
 Lack of coordination in plan/action


Pull
Positive emotions
 On the same page
 Working as a team

PHYSICAL DISTANCE
Unintentional
 Intentional is a component of body language

How might you use physical distance in a scene
to heighten sexual tension?
DIALOGUE
Conveys sexual tension through:
 Frank discussion of attraction or sex
 Innuendo
 Subtext
Use the dialogue itself to convey the tension:
 Fast exchanges with short words
 Drawn-out conversations
DIALOGUE EXAMPLE - MANHUNTING
How does Crusie’s dialogue guide the sexual
tension?
DIALOGUE EXAMPLE – AIN’T SHE SWEET
“Is this bothering you?” The erotic peep show continued,
one button giving way to another, his eyes watching her.
“Only because I saw that book you’ve been reading.”
His shirt fell open. “Which book would that be?”
“The Erotic Life of a Victorian Gentleman. Some
gentleman. All-around dog is more like it. There are entire
chapters devoted to masters and servant girls.”
He slipped a thumb into the waistband of his slacks,
looking arrogant and dangerous. “You think I might be
getting ideas, do you?”
“I know you’re getting ideas. You were using a Hi-Liter.”
How does Phillips use dialogue here to convey
sexual tension?
BODY LANGUAGE
Use to show attraction and to support escalating
intimacy
 The most obvious cue to push and pull

Small Group Discussion (3-5 minutes)

How might you convey the following through
body language:





Curiosity
Frustration
Irritation
Longing
Predatory attraction
WRITING EXERCISE
Write dialogue between two
characters. Use it to establish sexual
tension for the first time. You may
support the sexual tension through
character body language and other
push-pull techniques.
BUILDING SEXUAL TENSION
The Internal: Emotional Barriers, Internal Dialogue,
and Internal Conflict
INTERNAL DIALOGUE



Build sexual tension by layering external factors
with the internal dynamics.
Sexual tension is heightened when the external
(body language, dialogue, action) doesn’t match
the internal (thoughts or feelings).
Cluing readers in to the true thoughts and
emotions of a character increases tension.
INTERNAL DIALOGUE AT WORK

He stood there without moving. The scent of
her—spice, sex, obstinacy—lingered in the air
even after the front door shut. That ugly kiss
should have put an end to it. Instead, it had
started things up all over again.
• Colin in Ain’t She Sweet?
EMOTIONAL BARRIERS



What’s really keeping your characters apart?
The stronger the inner turmoil or conflict a
character experiences, the more intense your
sexual tension.
Leslie Wainger says: “The reasons why they can’t
act are limited only by your imagination--you can
place physical, circumstantial, or (best of all)
emotional barriers between them. They want to
act, but they can’t.”
HOW DO YOU CREATE EMOTIONAL
TENSION?




Use internal dialogue to show the awareness.
Create a source of emotional conflict and tension
for your hero and heroine.
Twist this emotional conflict and complicate it.
Manipulating emotional tension makes readers
hold their breath and worry about the outcome.
INTERNAL

Sugar Beth and Colin in Ain’t She Sweet? romance


& EXTERNAL AT CONFLICT
pp. 30 - 32 (handout)
Edward and Bella in Twilight - YA
pp. 138 - 140 (handout)
 pp.186 – 192 (handout)


Patrick and Angie in Dennis LeHane’s Drink
Before the War (book one of a series) - mystery

pp. 26 - 28 (handout)
EMOTIONAL BARRIER – AIN’T SHE SWEET?


Look at Ain’t She Sweet? What was the emotional
barrier that kept Colin and Sugar Beth from
acting on their attraction, initially? Then after
they have sex? What are the emotional barriers
that pop up later?
Emotional barriers can be overcome, but newer,
bigger ones need to emerge as the story
progresses to keep the sexual tension high.
WRITING EXERCISE
 Write
a scene where a character’s
dialogue (external) is totally opposite of
his/her internal (thoughts and feelings).
Show the tension that builds in the scene
because of the disparity—the tug of war
between the attraction and the obstacle
that stands between them.
BUILDING SEXUAL TENSION
Through Escalating Intimacy
FIVE CARDINAL RULES OF BUILDING
SEXUAL TENSION

Make the Attraction Obvious but Forbidden

Always on My Mind

Prolong the Agony

Delay Gratification

Leave Them Wanting More
LINDA HOWARD’S 12 STEPS TO INTIMACY
1. Eye to Body
2. Eye to Eye
3. Voice to Voice
4. Hand to Hand
5. Arm to Shoulder
6. Arm to Waist
7. Mouth to Mouth
8. Hand to Head
9. Hand to Body
10. Mouth to Breast
11. Hand to Genitals
12. Genitals to Genitals
INVITATIONS TO INTIMACY

We constantly give out signals

Some signals invite intimacy, others repel it



We’re always assessing social situations to
determine these signs
Shaking hands and smiling are basic invitations
Begin to look at some of the other signs of
attraction
INVITATIONS TO INTIMACY

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







The hair
The face
The mouth
The eyebrows
The eyes
Eye movements
The cheeks
The jaw
Skin
The breasts









Shoulders
Knees
The belly
The waist
The legs
The feet
Buttocks
The naval
The crotch
MAGIC TO THE BONE

Allie Beckstrom and Zayvion Jones
pp. 8 – 10 (handout)
 pp. 60 – 61 (handout)

WRITING EXERCISE

Take a couple in your work in progress . . .

Put them in a scene where they need to work
together on something, but they are fighting
attraction . . .

Escalate the physical intimacy or have them
interpret an invitation to intimacy from this
other character.
APPLYING SEXUAL TENSION IN YOUR
GENRE
HEY, YOU GOT MYSTERY ON MY HEAVING
BOSOMS!

Romance has a huge market, and sexual tension
is a major component of romance novels

Increase your readership

Add layers of conflict

Increase character depth through emotion

Make Donald Maass cry tears of joy from the
rampant and varied tension in your novel
IN FANTASY
Excerpt from Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer
Stevenson
How can sexual tension help fantasy writers?
IN SUSPENSE/MYSTERY
Excerpt from Tess Gerritsen’s The Mephisto Club.
How can sexual tension add to a mystery/suspense
plot?
IN HORROR
Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.
How can sexual tension add to a horror story?
SCIENCE FICTION
Excerpt from John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.
How can sexual tension add to a science fiction
plot?
YOUNG ADULT
Excerpt from Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely.
How can sexual tension add to a YA book?
THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE
Considering Word Choice
WHAT CAN KILL SEXUAL TENSION?

What kills any kind of tension?
Loss of focus
 Plodding prose
 Inconsistent or boring tone


Purple prose

Euphemisms

The Love Scene
THE WORDS YOU CHOOSE

Decide on the feel of the sexual tension
Fiery, with sparks and high-paced excitement
 Long, slow, smoldering burn


Check your word choice as it fits the tone

Watch for purple prose
PURPLE PROSE AND BULWER-LYTTON

Adventure Winner, 2009, Joe Wyatt:
“How best to pluck the exquisite Toothpick of
Ramses from between a pair of acrimonious
vipers before the demonic Guards of Nicobar
returned should have held Indy's full attention,
but in the back of his mind he still wondered why
all the others who had agreed to take part in his
wife's holiday scavenger hunt had been assigned
to find stuff like a Phillips screwdriver or blue
masking tape.”
http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2009.htm
SEX KILLS TENSION



Introduce a new complication or obstacle –
emotional or physical – to push them apart
Make the reader question whether the characters
will have another opportunity to hook up
Continue to use push/pull in your scenes
WRITING THE SEX SCENE

Make a few decisions ahead of time:
What’s the point of the scene (besides the obvious)?
 Whose point of view will you use?
 How much will you show?
 Vocabulary

Know your comfort level!
Know your audience!
Death to
Euphemisms!
GROUP EXERCISE
What are your favorite euphemisms for body
parts/sex?
A few to get you started:
Purple tulip
 Aching buds
 Manroot/Manhood

SEXUAL TENSION OVERVIEW
Defining and Identifying Sexual Tension
 External Sexual Tension: Dialogue and Push/Pull
 Internal Sexual Tension: Emotion and Conflict
 Building Intimacy
 Sexual Tension for All Genres
 Writing Sex Like an Adult

QUESTIONS?
WHAT’S SEXUAL TENSION GOT TO DO
WITH IT?
HOW SEXUAL TENSION GIVES YOUR SELL APPEAL
Kerri-Leigh Grady
and
Candy Lyons

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