a blog on the craft of writing
I’m very excited to have Helen Hardt as my guest today. Helen is a fellow CRW member, and not only is she an author extraordinaire, she is also an editor. Today she combines her expertise to help use sensory detail in love scenes. Helen has just released her Daughters of the Prairie Series, you can find all her contact information as well as links for her books at the bottom of this post. Welcome Helen.
Ever read a love scene that absolutely did not turn your crank?
I’m not talking solely about consummation scenes. A love scene, to me, is any scene where the hero and heroine are showing their love for one another (even if they aren’t aware they’re in love yet.) It can be a simple brush of a finger across a cheek. A first kiss (this is a big one.) Maybe third base. And of course, total consummation.
Back to the love scene that didn’t work for you. Why? Writing is subjective, and it could be that you just didn’t enjoy that particular author’s style, even if it was flawlessly written. That’s happened to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. But more often than not, when a love scene doesn’t do it for me, it lacks sensory detail.
Sensory detail is extremely important in romance writing. The reader wants to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel (and I’m not just talking sense of touch here, I mean inner feelings, as well) everything the hero and heroine do. These details immerse the reader into the character’s head and heart. When a reader becomes a character, you’ve done your job well.
Not to get too technical on you, but “sensory,” as defined, means “conveying nerve impulses from the sense organs to the nerve centers.” As writers, we need to go beyond labeling feelings and emotion, even beyond describing them. We need to become our POV character, feel what he or she feels, see what he or she sees, etc. Then we translate those feelings – those nerve impulses – into words. When you master sensory detail, your love scenes will be urgent, in the moment, and very powerful.
Easier said than done, right? Actually, it’s not that difficult, and with a little practice, your love scenes will shine with new color and vibrancy. First, get a good Thesaurus. This is your best tool for sensory detail. Make sure you use lots of descriptive action verbs. No passive voice allowed! Keep adverbs to a minimum, but don’t be afraid to use them if they work for the scene. Adjectives are essential, especially for describing scents. While description is a good start, use other tools – action, dialogue, imagery, similes/metaphors, to name a few – to convey feelings through words.
When you create each love scene, ask yourself what each character is feeling. What does she see? Hear? Taste? Smell? What does she feel beneath her fingers? Against her body? What is she thinking? How is her body physically reacting to the hero? How is she emotionally reacting? Answer these questions, then work the answers into the scene in the most vivid way possible. Don’t forget your non-POV character. Work his senses into the scene through dialogue and actions.
Be careful not to overdo it. Sometimes a scene lends itself more to one sense than another. In my example below, you’ll see I only use the sense of smell once. I’ve written many other scenes where I focus more on that sense. Be true to your characters and your story, and the senses will fall into place.
Looking into Naomi’s glaring eyes, Bobby lost all rational thought. He seized her upper arms, pulled her to him, and crushed his mouth to hers.
Her full red lips were as sweet as he’d imagined. He nibbled across the upper, then the lower, tasting the remnants of the raspberries she’d eaten with her supper. Sweet, tangy, and oh so perfect. He cherished each second of the kiss, knowing she’d break away at any time. Probably slap him across the face. It’d be no less than he deserved.
Instead, her arms wove around his neck, and she whispered against his mouth, her voice a sensual caress.
His name. How sweet the sound from her innocent lips. He was a goner now. His cock woke in his britches, and he pulled her against his arousal.
“Open, angel,” he said against her rosebud mouth. “Open your lips, and let me in.”
“I don’t know how…” She broke away, and spoke into his chin. At the same time her fingers entwined in his hair. “Bobby. This isn’t…proper.”
“To hell with proper, darlin’. Kiss me back. Please. I’m aching for you.” He found her mouth again and drank from her raspberry lips. “Open. Please.”
A soft sigh escaped her throat as she parted her lips, just a touch, and he slipped his tongue between them. Every nerve in his body screamed for him to thrust into her mouth, to mimic what he wanted to do with another part of his body. But he held himself in check. Likely, she’d never kissed a man before, and even if she had, she was otherwise untouched. As much as he wanted her, he didn’t want to scare her away.
But when the tip of her sweet tongue touched his, he shattered. He pulled her closer, and reached behind her with one hand and began plucking out those dratted hairpins. His other hand held her back at the waist, pulling her against the throbbing in his groin. Soon his fingers were tunneling through the thick sable waves; they were softer than he’d imagined, like fine oriental silk. A throaty groan rumbled from her chest, and like the waters through a damn breaking, he rushed forward, thrusting into her satiny mouth with urgent, yet tender, kisses. His tongue tangled with hers, and when she moaned again, he deepened the kiss, tasting every crevice of her soft, sweet mouth.
The kiss went on and on, and when she finally broke away, her breath came in rapid puffs against his cheek.
“Angel,” he whispered, “you’re so beautiful. So perfect.” He rained kisses across her cheek, her jaw line, to the tender spot below her earlobe. Her lavender fragrance ensnared him, and he inhaled deeply. Still she panted against him, and he waited for her to stop him, almost wanted her to stop him, because if he didn’t stop soon, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to.
“Bobby.” Desire thickened her voice.
His cock responded. How he longed to set it free from its constraints, to watch her wrap her ruby lips around it and pleasure him. Then he’d bury his face between her creamy thighs and return the favor, before plunging his hardness into her virgin depths.
But he couldn’t do this.
She was too good for the likes of him. To soil her would be to bastardize perfection.
Once more, though. Just one more taste of those honeyed lips, and then he’d stop. He nibbled at her neck, breathing in her lavender essence, then trailed to her lips again.
“Naomi,” he said, and bent to touch his mouth to hers.
She gasped, but before he could thrust his tongue into her, she broke away from him, turned, and ran toward the creek.
Who’d he been trying to kid? If he’d tasted her again, he wouldn’t have been able to stop.
I did something different with this scene. The first kiss is in the hero’s point of view. That’s not the norm for me, but it allowed me to focus on different details.
Let’s take a look at the sensory detail:
First, the sense of sight. What is Bobby seeing during the kiss? Well, not a lot. Most people close their eyes when they kiss. But first, he sees Naomi’s glaring eyes. Later, he imagines her ruby lips, her creamy thighs. Using the sense of sight for images in the mind is a great way to bring it into a kiss.
Let’s move to smell. Mostly just her lavender fragrance.
How about hearing? Lots to work with there. The sound of his name from her innocent lips. Her soft sigh, her throaty groan. He hears desire thickening her voice. Can you hear it? I can.
Taste? This is a good one for kissing. Bobby tastes the remnants of the raspberries Naomi ate with her supper. It’s a sweet and tangy flavor. He refers to her lips as “honeyed.” Again, sweetness.
Last, but not least, the sense of touch, which includes inner feeling. This is the biggie, folks. Most of your sensory detail will come from this sense. What does your character feel as he’s caressing the other character? What does he feel inside, both physically and emotionally? Let’s look to Bobby:
First, he seizes her and crushes his mouth to hers. This shows more emotion that just saying he pulled her into his embrace and kissed her, doesn’t it? He cherishes the kiss, because he expects her to stop him. When Naomi whispers against his neck, her voice is a sensual caress. He gets an erection and pulls her against it. He tangles his hands in her silky hair, and it feels like soft Oriental silk. He feels her puffs of breath against his cheek. Inside, his body is screaming for him to thrust into her, to mimic the sex act. He knows she’s inexperienced, so he holds himself in check for as long as he can. Can you feel his need? His desire? His conscience gets to him, but just one more kiss, he thinks. When she flees, he knows the truth. He wouldn’t have been able to stop at one more kiss.
Can you feel the urgency? Not just for Bobby, but for Naomi as well? Her actions and words help impart her own emotions into the scene.
Thank you, Jessica, for having me at your blog! It’s always fun to visit you. I have an ecopy of The Outlaw’s Angel to send to one lucky commenter. So comment away! I’ll be back throughout the day to answer questions.
Helen Hardt is an attorney and stay-at-home mom turned award-winning romance author and freelance fiction editor. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal, and erotic romance from her home in Colorado. Visit Helen at: www.helenhardt.com, www.helenhardt.blogspot.com, and www.fiction-editor.blogspot.com