Thursday, April 26, 2012


By Lisa Dale

I love a good love scene. But since my romantic novels share many of the same concerns as women’s fiction, it simply wouldn’t be appropriate for me to write eight-page sex scenes in a book whose primary emotional concerns are outside of the bedroom.

For that reason I—and many other authors—have learned to write sex scenes that are highly erotic, and yet not explicit. In other words, we have to bring the sexy without the gritty details of the actual sex! It’s no easy task. Here are some tips that may help!

1.  Balancing sexual tension with actual sex. If your characters are having explicit phone sex, then at some point they’re going to have to get it on in real time—explicitly. But if your sexual tension isn’t so blunt—with the tug of war happening via intense innuendo—then you’re in a good position to write your sex scenes with equal innuendo. Be sure you’re consistent.

2.  Don’t be shy. Sometimes, a writer will avoid a sex scene altogether. In movies, you’ll see this as the old “cut to the bedside lamp” shot. Or the “couple falls breathless on the floor and smiles at each other” shot. But writing a novel that has understated sex scenes is different than writing a novel that avoids sex altogether. And that means you may need to skip the old, “afterward, they were in bed cuddling” bit and just go for the sex scene, albeit in a suggestive way.

3.  Suggest, imply, and hint. IMHO, it can be more difficult to gently imply “he bent her over the table and screwed her brains out” then it is to bluntly describe the physical act of what’s happening. So implying and hinting may take a little extra work, but it can be worth it.

In SLOW DANCING ON PRICE'S PIER, the main characters have sex in a kitchen. But my description is spare. I’m using language along the lines of “He turned her around so her palms were pressed flat on the table, the wooden edge biting into the bones of her hips. His hands brushed the base of her spine as he loosed his zipper.” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to read between the lines!

4.  Think outside the box. Certain erogenous zones feature repeatedly in highly detailed sex scenes. Readers come to expect language like penis, breast, buttock, etc. But if you want to craft a moment of sexual tension that is erotic but subtle, think: inside of wrist, back of knee, belly button, etc. Sometimes, these less frequently mentioned parts can be very attention-grabbing, even shocking and provocative, since they are not so frequently used.

5.  Break your book’s “rules.” If you’re writing an understated but sexy book, you’re in a great position to really knock your reader’s socks off. A reader who has been cruising along, comfortable with the suggestive, evocative tone of sex scenes will be more profoundly affected by the occasional “I want to make you come” than a reader who has been made comfortable with that kind of shocking language all along. Dialogue is an especially good place for the occasional bit of explicit sexiness. But beware: this can backfire if not done carefully, making the language look clumsy and out-of-control. ♥

Lisa Dale’s most recent novel, A PROMISE OF SAFEKEEPING, was released in January with Berkley. Her 2011 book, SLOW DANCING ON PRICE'S PIER, was nominated for a RITA in contemporary single title romance. Visit her at

1 comment:

  1. I agree dialogue can be a way to spice things up. Just finished reading Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, wonderful story. Your other books are on my reading list.