The first requirement of a love scene is that it forwards the plot and character developments in the story. Especially in a scene of real intimacy, the farther the characters go in their physical relationship, the more it affects them.
But, truth time, how can sex move a plot?
Apply it to real life: if two people have sex, kiss, even hold hands, does it change them? Heck, yes. It changes their relationship; it effects their future choices and reactions. A love scene is like a conversation, but instead of dialogue you have physical action, sensational reaction, and emotional connection as the vehicle. I breached this in Anatomy of a Love Scene: Part One. Intimacy has the potential for an even more powerful effect than dialogue.
How two characters have sex shows a lot about who they are and their relationship. Whether it’s hot or cold, fast or slow, awkward or fantastical, long or short, the choices are endless for what the outcome of a sex scene can be on a character’s journey.
Whether it’s two sentences or it fills an entire chapter (or three), the love scene can affect the plot and characters as little or as much as you like—but it must have some effect. Otherwise, it has no reason for being there and is just filler, skimmable material.
Structure the Scene
The best way to make sure a love scene is forwarding plot is to employ a scene structure, as with any other scene. I’ll use “Scene and Sequel” for this example, but you can apply any scene building technique.
In “Scene and Sequel”, there’s two parts. The first part, the scene, contains the goal, conflict and a disaster. The responding part, the sequel, contains the reaction, dilemma and decision all caused by the disaster.
Pre-Love Scene Setup
The best way to construct goals for maximum conflict is for the characters to have opposing goals. Example, character A’s attraction to character B has been growing since the beginning of the novel, and character A is ready to give in to that attraction. Character A wants to have sex with B, and bad.
Let’s make that goal specific. A has plans to see B and is trying to find a way to get B into the bedroom. Let’s say character B, though, is resisting the growing attraction to A and, conversely, has no intension of going into the bedroom with A, ever. Character B’s goal is to go home alone.
With opposing goals, a major conflict is now built between the characters. But let’s add an external conflict to their internal conflict.
Let’s give Character A one nosey neighbor who wants to chat, who thwarts A’s plans to woo B into the bedroom.
This is the wrench thrown into the plan, the added fuel to the fire. The disaster can be as funny or as traumatic as you want.
Perhaps the nosey neighbor turns out to be character B’s ex-lover.
Their reaction to the disaster is to escape from the ex-lover into the bedroom. The dilemma, now alone, they have the option to have sex or not, and the decision: character A kisses character B.
The Love Scene
Scene and sequel begins again, and here’s where it has the potential to get trickily X-rated, so forgive the vague examples.
Amidst a kiss, goals change. The characters could swap goals. Character A who first wanted to have sex, has an emotional reaction to character B’s kiss that is stronger than A anticipated. Character A feels overwhelmed, and so A’s new goal is to separate from B.
Character B, however, has the opposite reaction. Seeing the ex-lover reminded character B that the sexual experiences with the ex-lover were dissatisfying. Character B, because the kiss with A is so good, admits that having sex with A might be very satisfying, so B now wants to get in bed with A.
Again, they need an external obstacle. Let’s say, character B asks if character A has any protection, but they realize neither of them has a condom. This actually makes for a great disaster.
They have no condoms. Regardless of what either of them wants, having intercourse safely is no longer an option. This creates a very interesting sequel.
The reaction by character A is to realize, well, perhaps if they don’t go “all the way”, character A would still really like to engage in other intimate activities with B. Character B is now truly disappointed. Their dilemma: how to get physically creative in a safe way without condoms. Decision, well, here’s the X-rated part that I leave up to the author’s creativity.
Although, they could decide to go out for ice cream instead. Maybe at the convenience store they buy condoms. Who knows.
This pattern of scene and sequel repeats through the love scene. During actual intimacy, things happen. One character has preferences or comfort levels that are different from the other character’s. If the goal is satisfaction, the conflict is how can both find it at the same time. Disaster can come from miscommunication or unexpected boundaries by one character. The sequel commences with a reaction to engage in a different kind of activity or to breach the comfort zone. The dilemma, how to safely stretch the walls of a character’s inhibitions without sending the other lover screaming for the door. Decision, satisfaction found.
This is where the meat of the effects happen. The morning after—how do they react? How do the conflicts, disasters and dilemmas from last night change both the individual characters and their relationship? How do these changes affect their future decisions and therefore the novel’s external plot?
The options are endless, and remember, no two characters will ever react the same.
A Scene has the following three-part pattern:
A Sequel has the following three-part pattern:
Robin Lovett, also known as S.A. Lovett, writes contemporary romance, and her debut novel, Racing To You, will be released July of 2016. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency and has a forthcoming series releasing with SMP Swerve in the summer of 2017.
She writes romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs and housework. To feed her coffee and chocolate addictions, she loves overdosing on mochas. When not writing with her cat, you can find her somewhere in the outdoors with a laptop in her bag. Feel free to chat with her on Twitter.