Sunday, February 26, 2006


by Rosanne Boettiger

Mary Gillgannon is an interesting, informative speaker with lots of
spunk. Author of nine historical romances, Mary knows her stuff about
writing love scenes.
At the starting point in her speech, she surveyed the room, and
promptly asked a surprise question. "How many people love to write
love scenes?"

Of course, no one raised a hand, to which Mary had to laugh.
According to her, convention has dictated that women be discrete
about sex. Up until about ten years ago, it was something we never
even discussed in public.
Since we all felt somewhat inhibited, Mary listed her 10 Tips to
Writing Love Scenes.

1. Push your comfort level, but don't write to someone else's
standards. Mary suggests that the focus should be on the romance
and not just sex. She also states that it is not true that you won't
sell a book if you don't put a love scene in it.

2. Remember you are not writing about yourself. You are writing
about your characters! You get inside the character's head in a love
scene, but you are not writing about yourself. She pointed out that
in murder mysteries we don't imagine the author to be a serial killer
because of what they write.

3. Sexual tension is more important than sex itself. The buildup,
the desire, the longing; these are the elements that build the book,
so that when the love scene finally does happen, it's more meaningful
and exciting. Mary stated at this point that conflict leads to
sexual tension. The characters are physically drawn to each other,
but the fact that they are enemies, or feuding, or in competition,
keeps them apart. Social constraints are another form of conflict to
create sexual tension. The stronger the conflict, the higher the
sexual tension. Whatever you use as a conflict to build sexual
tension, Mary warns, make sure it is part of the plot. And make it

4. Don't follow a formula. Mary says you never put in a love
scene unless it is vital to the plot. Love scenes don't just show up
on page 50, or in the third chapter. The characters must maintain
their integrity. Granted, certain lines have different levels of sex,
but the story still has to fit the sexual relationship.

5A. Don't follow the "rules" or instructions when writing the love
scene. Mary explained what she meant using the baseball euphemism.
First base is holding hands, second is…. etc. We all know that adage.
It follows a pattern. She urges us to break out of the mold. Have
your characters do things their way; perhaps its out of "order", but
it will be more interesting and unique.

5B. In a romance, sexual experiences should be part of the plot.
People just don't make love out of desire. Sometimes there are
life-threatening situations that push the characters together. Or
perhaps she wants to loose her virginity. The characters have an
entire psychological world to draw from to put into a sex scene. What
they are feeling emotionally is far more powerful than just the
physical. The love scene is like any other scene in a story, it
should be there for a reason, and should advance the plot.

6. Writing about sex is the equivalent of mental juggling. The
left side of our brain is logical. The right side, creative. As a
writer, you must bounce back and forth between left and right brain
while writing the love scene in order to make it profound and make it

7. Use all the senses. Visual, scent, touch, sounds, taste - by
using them all you can pull the reader into what the characters are
feeling. Romance = atmosphere.

Mary grinned at us before introducing the next point.

8. What do we call "IT"?
Clinical terms: can be very cold and unappealing.
Four letter words: very precise, but in our society they are
considered derogatory.
Implied terms: Sort of euphemisms - very subtle, not flowery. These
are what most writers deal with.
Real Euphemisms: also known as "purple prose". These can pull the
reader from the story.

9. Develop and use your own unique voice. You may tend to copy
other writers you've read, but the more you write love scenes, the
more you will be comfortable with your own voice.

10. There are exceptions to all the previous rules! Genre fiction
entertains. Romance in particular deals with relationships, and some
readers don't like to deal with that.

Mary summed it up with, "It takes all kinds. There are readers who
look for the love scenes, and those who want romance without the sex."

Romance, happily enough comes in many forms to satisfy everyone.


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