Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sex scenes in romance novels: what I like

Sex scenes in romance novels, I feel, need to move the plot along by encompassing some sort of character change or modulation. But what else makes a sex scene a success? Clearly, it's one of those questions in which individual mileage can vary. Here's a list of what I think makes a great sex scene, though I don't think all of these things necessarily need to be in the same scene.

1. At least one character with an emotional stake in the proceedings, who needs/wants something from the sex or from the relationship.

2. A character who is hiding something. This may be emotional, physical, or plot-related, but I think it adds a level of tension to the scene.

3. Intense focus from at least one of the characters. If at least one of the characters is deeply involved in what's going on, I as a reader am usually going to be involved, too.

4. Something new is revealed about at least one of the characters, preferably a thing that implies many other things. The relationship and the characterizations can thus grow and deepen after the scene is over.

5. Economy of action: only the actions essential to the scene are described, i.e., those actions that underline the scene's emotional or thematic arc, or explicate character, or both. This is mainly because I love tidiness.

What do you like to see in romance novel sex scenes?


  1. Wow, interesting -- and ambitious!

    I think the main thing I look for in a sex scene is that it has meaning for the relationship -- it should mark a change in the development of the relationship. Deepen the connection, raise the stakes for the plot.

    Sometimes, like real life, a sex scene can resolve the tension in a story arc, so you can start up another one.

    It's nice too, if an intimate scene reveals a little something unexpected about either or both of the characters. A humorous penchant, a surprising insecurity. Not necessarily something kinky, unless that fits the direction the author is trying to take the character, yanno? But getting naked with a character ought to be... revealing, doncha think?

  2. it should mark a change in the development of the relationship

    Definitely. I like the unexpected reveal, as well. And dialogue; I forgot to mention dialogue!