20 Authors Share Tips for Writing Love Scenes

By Maryann Yin 

book heartAre you spending Valentine’s Day at your writing desk? For those who are crafting fictional romance stories, we’ve collected 20 tips on how to write love scenes. The various authors who contributed advice specialize in the young adult and adult fiction genres. (Photo CreditJudy Van Der Velden)

Of Neptune author Anna Banks: “Layer the tension, build the anticipation of a kiss with pointed dialogue and small subtle changes in body language until even you want to push their faces together and say, ‘Kiss already!'”

Vitro author Jessica Khoury: “It’s important to keep your romantic scenes real by throwing in a little awkwardness, a few innocent mistakes–especially between teen characters. The awkwardness of a first kiss can be sweet and special and will heighten the believability of the scene. It reveals a vulnerability in characters that’s endearing and relatable.”

Landry Park author Bethany Hagen: “Have your characters challenge each other. John and Jane met and never changed again…is a love story that happens all the time in the real world but would be an extremely boring love story to read. Two people in love should cause friction, should agitate change in one another; the characters should be radically different by the end of the story because of their time spent together.”

Rebel Belle author Rachel Hawkins: “The romance in Rebel Belle was a tricky one since when the book opens, my two main characters, Harper and David, don’t like each other very much. As the story unfolds, though, they learn to work together and to respect one another, and as I wrote those scenes, I added more and more descriptions of David’s face, his hair, his (truly atrocious) wardrobe to show that Harper is becoming aware of him in a very new way.”

Road Rash author Mark Huntley Parsons: “Don’t over think. In real life—sometimes against all logic—relationships have a life of their own. Allow your characters the freedom to surprise you, and you will surprise us.”

The Tragedy Paper author Elizabeth LaBan: “I think my favorite love scene in The Tragedy Paper is really the least classically romantic one, though I would argue that it is quite romantic– it is when Vanessa is sick and not at all at her best, and Tim takes care of her in his tender, thoughtful way and then ends up falling asleep in her room. When I write a love scene, it is all about the intimacy and not about the sex. I try to conjure up the feelings I had for my high school boyfriend (my husband is totally okay with that!), and remember that intense longing for someone that was so hard to grasp.”

Love Me author Rachel Shukert: “For me, what’s sexy about a love scene is lead-up to it. The building tension wondering if it will happen, when it will happening, imagining as the reader what it will be like, how the characters will feel about it. That’s where all the excitement is for me, in the longing, the anticipation. The anticipation is the foreplay, the actual scene is the release. Not so different from real life, maybe!”

This Song Will Save Your Life author Leila Sales: “If you’re writing YA, or pretty much any genre that’s not outright erotica, do not ever have anybody ‘groan’ while they are making out. A little moaning is fine. Groaning is gross. Also, in any given novel, there is a limit on the number of times a love interest can brush the hair out of the protagonist’s face, and that number is ‘once.'”

On the Road to Find Out author Rachel Toor: “I think love scenes are better with farts—or fear of farts, worries about bad breath, wondering about the state of one’s underthings, concerns about parts left too long ungroomed. On The Bachelor it’s all roses and swoons, but in life getting jiggy entails the incredible and terrifying act of coming this close to another person, a reality that can be messy, smelly, and often, pretty darned funny. I like fiction that’s more like life.”

Ruin & Rising author Leigh Bardugo: “Read great love scenes. Read romance authors like Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Lisa Kleypas, Laura Kinsale, Kresley Cole. They write with varying degrees of ‘heat,’ but what they all have in common are the high emotional stakes their characters bring to a scene. Even if they’re just bantering, there’s always something more happening beneath the surface, there’s always something to lose.”

Unremembered trilogy author Jessica Brody: “Reel us in and make us wait for it (but not to long): There’s nothing more disappointing than a love scene that happens too quickly or not quick enough! There’s a fine balance between playing hard to get with your readers and being too easy. Don’t give away your characters’ affections for each other for free! Make us wait for it. Tease us. Throw in 1-2 close calls before the real kiss. But too many close call and you run the risk of reader fatigue. (This is starting to sound eerily like a dating book!)”

Subway Love author Nora Raleigh Baskin: “For me, writing a love scene is not any different than writing any other type of sensory moment. I poise my hands over the keyboard and pull up from my memory a very specific time in my life, as close to the one my character is having as possible. I allow myself to ‘remember it’ in every part of my body, my mind, my skin, my insides, my outsides, skin, fingers, belly, blood, eyes, ears. I add to that how I ‘wish’ I remembered it. Then I begin typing, as if no one is ever going to read it.”

The Kiss of Deception author Mary E. Pearson: “While actual body encounters might be the endgame, there’s a lot of sexiness in talk. Without the build, there is no relationship, and without a relationship, there is no payoff. Let your lovers experience the range of talk–angry, sad, and playful. They have to know what they are getting into after all–and want it all the more!”

Second Star author Alyssa Sheinmel: “Write the slightest of pauses before your two characters actually kiss. Let your protagonist savor that moment – especially if it’s someone she’s been waiting to kiss for a whole bunch of chapters.”

Grave Mercy author Robin LaFevers: “For the kind of stories I write (YA historical fantasy) the romance, and therefore the love scenes, are the characters’ grace note, their reward, for having done all the hard work and endured the oftentimes painful growth and transformation the events of the book have forced upon them.”

Enchanted author Alethea Kontis: “At its heart, writing is all about manipulating your reader. When writing love scenes, you are seducing your reader. First, your reader must fall in love with your characters. This way, when your characters fall in love with each other, the reader will feel a double dose of infatuation. Then, revel in that infatuation. Write yourself into the scene, body and soul. How did you feel when you first fell in love? What do you wish he had done? What do you wish she had said? Don’t complicate it — infatuation’s beauty is its innocent simplicity. It’s the first words spoken, that first blush, the first caress, the look that lingers too long. It’s the hero saving a baby from a runaway horse. It’s the heroine running barefoot through the rain. It’s the moment he asks the question. It’s the moment she says yes. Tease your reader. Tempt them. And then leave them wanting more.”

The Weekday Bride series author Catherine Bybee: “Don’t forget to let your reader feel the emotions of the scene. If you get all tied up with the mechanics of where the hero’s hands are and not about how they make the heroine feel, then the scene will read flat.”

Sideline Scandals author Pat Tucker: “Paint a picture with your words: Describe the type of love you envision for your characters. Once identified, and described, the words should provoke the feeling of love, for some that’s the sweaty palms, the racing heartbeat, or the butterflies that won’t settle down in the pit of one’s stomach. Regardless of whether you’re describing pure love, ‘true love,’ or a soul-mate kind of love, once identified, your words should paint a picture and convey those thoughts.”

Unbreakable author William Frederick Cooper: “In short, if you want the reader to feel the flames coming from the love scene as opposed to merely reading it, turn yourself on to turn the characters and the reader on. Put on music, have a glass of wine, listen to slow music to establish a rhythm with the words you’re about to write, then fantasize.”

Jane’s Melody author Ryan Winfield: “The only tip I can provide for writing love scenes is to do lots and lots of research.”