Romance Writing Simplified: Writing Sexual Tension

If you write romance with heat, sexual tension is an essential story element for creating suspense and excitement in the reader.

To create sexual tension, for each point-of-view character, you must

  1. give that character desire for their love interest, and
  2. “postpone” the resolution of that desire.

In the second point, “postpone” is in quotes because it’s not necessary to actually postpone intimate scenes; you don’t have to wait until certain points through the story to let your characters have sex. Instead, you must create the feeling that the sex has been postponed.

For example, you might have characters who have sex on the first page. But perhaps this is an encounter the point-of-view character has been waiting desperately for. You can convey this through their thoughts and emotions.

Of course, sexual tension will ratchet up the further into the story your characters don’t have sex while at least one of them desires it. This is essentially the basis of the “slow burn” trope.

But you can keep sexual tension going even when your characters have a lot of on-page sex.

An important caveat: Characters who both want to have sex and have decided to have sex but get interrupted by some external event such as someone walking into the room is the weakest way to create sexual tension. (As a reader, I tend to put down books that use this tactic.) What works better is if your characters are working around conflict. For example, they could both desperately want each other but be resisting being intimate for relatable, believable reasons such as the fear of being emotionally vulnerable. See this post for more on conflict.

Each Romance Writing Simplified post features a few hundred words on one aspect of romance writing. The goal is to present these complex ideas in the simplest terms possible.

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