by Deborah Nemeth, Carina Press Freelance Developmental Editor. You can follow Deborah on Twitter @DebNemeth.
I have a great appreciation for subtlety in prose. For authors who can convey slight shifts in attitudes with understated writing. For authors who use small details to show the reader what a character is feeling rather than explaining what is going on. And I enjoy it when authors apply this technique to building sexual tension.
There’s a place in romance for the coup de foudre, but if every story opens that way, it starts to feel tired and predicable, especially for editors reading manuscript submissions. Erotic romance readers expect the hero and heroine’s emotional relationship to develop via their physical one, so instalust is entirely appropriate in a story focused on sexual attraction. But in regular romance, women’s fiction, and fiction with romantic elements, I love a slow build.
I admire the fine brushwork of a relationship arc that progresses from a second glance to flirting. It makes a refreshing change from a steady diet of the bold, broad brushstrokes of immediate, full-on hots that saturate so many stories. There’s a sameness to these reactions in every h/h encounter—the dry mouths, pounding pulses, peaking nipples and moistening privates. Instant arousal can also be hard to believe in some situations, such as when the hero has just kidnapped the heroine.
I’m putting in a plea for more stories in which, instead of lusting after the hero’s bod the instant she lays eyes on him, the heroine might be indifferent or simply be struck by something in his expression, his face, his demeanor. For more stories in which the heroine—even while frustrated with the hero’s arrogance or intransigence or misguided thinking or interference or whatever is driving the conflict between them—begins noticing some admirable qualities. His strength, competence and intelligence. The way he goes out of his way to help or defend someone in need.
Likewise, I appreciate stories in which the same goes for the hero’s reactions to the heroine, his attraction to her increasing along with his growing admiration of her qualities, so the focus is not solely the physical.
If reactions to a significant glance are sketched subtly, with more ambiguity, in understated little details that accrue, page by page and scene by scene, the author can then construct a solid foundation on which attraction can develop. This gives the relationship scope to build, so the intensity of sexual tension can steadily mount, and every encounter between your protagonists won’t feel the same.
Don’t get me wrong. I also enjoy stories in which the h/h experience strong attraction from early in the story, but sometimes it’s nice to see this desire be depicted with a light hand in the early scenes—avoiding the same old, same old physical responses—so we can get that sense of increasing attraction, in scenes of constantly growing intensity.
So if you’ve written a romance or story with romantic elements, and it’s not erotic, don’t feel that the sexual attraction always needs to go from 0-90 mph in the first encounter. Consider deferring the responses of nether regions until later in the story. Instead, give your couple’s relationship a slower arc with more subtlety in the details. And if you’ve written a romance about a captive falling in love with her captor, it will be much easier for editors and readers to believe…
What about you? Any other readers enjoy the slower build?