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Top 10 Tips On Writing Sizzling Sexual Tension In Your Novel Or Screenplay

What is Sexual Tension?

Sexual tension is a key ingredient in many successful published novels and produced screenplays. Whilst sexual tension turns up most in romance stories, it can be part of ANY story in any genre. For example, I wrote sexual tension in my crime novel, The Other Twin.

Sexual tension is that feeling of excitement and anticipation you get when something hot and heavy is happening between the characters, but they haven’t yet acted on their desires.

Done well, sexual tension can be incredibly addictive for readers and viewers. It keeps them turning pages late into the night, or bingeing episode after episode, eager to see what will happen next.

If you’re hoping to create some sexual tension in your own novel or screenplay, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Ready? Let’s go!

i) First, don’t rush it

Take your time building up the attraction between your characters. Let them flirt with each other, or exchange longing looks. Maybe they even engage in some light physical contact before they finally give in to their desires.

ii) Make sure the stakes are high

If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no real tension. Will giving in to their feelings ruin their friendship? Threaten their careers? Put them in danger? The more at stake, the higher the tension can be. This works particularly well in novels, since we can access characters’ thought patterns.

Sometimes we see characters in movies and television utilising their sexuality in damaging ways that in turn feed the plot. In Bosch, Julia Brasher is a patrol officer involved in a sexual relationship with our protagonist, Harry.

When she gets into trouble at work in an unrelated matter, Julia’s superior, Captain Pounds, makes an unethical suggestion. He tells Julia she can get herself out of it by launching a propriety complaint against Harry.

Pounds is an A Grade asshole, using systems designed to protect women and marginalised people, for his own ends. This in turn makes us worried Harry will lose his job when there was no real inappropriateness. (Bosch is technically Julia’s superior, but he is NOT in her chain of command, theirs is a ‘workplace romance’).

It should also be noted that in the post #MeToo era, sleazy movie characters frequently get their comeuppance in the 2020s. We even saw this in Zak Snyder’s Army of Dead, in which a sleazy character taking advantage of refugees ends up eaten by zombies. It’s a moment designed to make audiences cheer. Sadly, sleazy people in real life don’t always get their just desserts like this, so it is cathartic for us.

iii) Establish what each character wants

What are their goals? What do they want? Why do they want it? This will help create conflict and tension between your characters as they try to achieve their goals while also dealing with their attraction to one another.

iv) Build up the sexual chemistry between your characters gradually

Don’t let them fall into bed together too quickly. Let the reader see the simmering desire between them, the little looks and touches that build up the anticipation.

v) Use body language

A lot of communication is non-verbal. Use this to your advantage by having your characters give each other smouldering looks, brush up against each other accidentally, or engage in subtle flirtation.

When writing sexual tension between your characters, it is important to consider the body language you use. The way your characters stand, sit, or move can amplify the attraction and tension between them.

For example, if two characters are standing close together, their bodies may be angled toward each other in a way that suggests they are eager to be close. Or, if they are sitting next to each other on a couch, their legs may be intertwined in a way that suggests they cannot keep their hands off each other.

vi) Build up the anticipation

Don’t let your characters act on their desires too soon. Make them yearn for each other, or wonder what it would be like to touch or be touched by the other person. The longer you can drag this out, the greater the pay-off will be when they finally give in to temptation.

By building up that sense of anticipation, you build up the sexual tension between characters. This means you can create a scene that is truly sizzling with sexual tension.

vii) Establish boundaries early on

Make it clear from the outset that there are certain things your characters will not do. This will heighten the sexual tension as they work around these boundaries.

For example, in the TV series The Rookie, there was sexual tension between Officer Bradford and his rookie Chen from the offset. However, he is her superior and a stand-up guy, so he would never act on this.

Similarly, when Chen graduates and becomes an officer herself, she will not act on her feelings and cheat on her boyfriend with Bradford.

When the officers DO finally get together, Bradford has been promoted to sergeant. This prompts him to take a demotion so he can drop out of Chen’s line of command.

vii) Make sure your characters have flaws

No one is perfect, so by giving your characters believable flaws and vulnerabilities, you’ll make them more relatable—and increase the sexual tension as they try to hide those imperfections from each other.

viii) Write sexually charged dialogue

Sexually charged dialogue can be a great way to build sexual tension between characters in a novel or screenplay. By writing dialogue that is flirty, suggestive, or even graphic, you can create a scene that is full of sexual tension. Erotica novels often do this, but you can utilise this technique in any story you choose.

ix) Don’t forget about the little things

Sexual tension is often created as much by what is NOT said or done. A charged silence, a stolen glance, an accidental touch … These are all things that can ratchet up the tension and leave readers desperate for more.

Last Points …

Sexual tension can be a key ingredient in making your novel or screenplay sizzle. When it comes to writing romance into ANY story, one of the most important elements is sexual tension. This is what will keep your readers turning the pages, desperate to find out what happens next.

Remember to pay attention to the characters’ emotional states and body language. This will make all the difference between writing a mundane scene or a passionate encounter. If used correctly, creating this type of atmosphere can help readers get deeply invested in your book and its characters. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Sex Scenes 

Good Luck!

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8 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips On Writing Sizzling Sexual Tension In Your Novel Or Screenplay”

  1. Sexual tension in movies and tv shows are some of my favorite scenes; you don’t know if the characters will give in or just don’t act on their feelings- which can be even sexier. The X-Files’ Fox and Mulder did it for 9 SEASONS! The sexual tension between the two of them was their from episode 1.
    Bridgerton Season 2 is one of the best examples of sexual tension not only advancing the plot but also pushing delayed gratification to its sensuous edge. Some of the best romances are when you don’t have a gratuitous sex scene but the characters just kiss. I remember watching Age of Innocence with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day Lewis where sexual tension was the main theme and the payoff was a Day Lewis’ character taking off Michelle’s glove kissing her hand and then her face; that type of sensuality and pent up sexual feelings are great to explore in a novel but I wish more modern day films would do a lot more of it. Netflix’s Heartstopper is another great show where sexual tension is the subplot- S.1 was will they or won’t the two male leads make love but it’s a full on romance. So many other examples but I’ll stop here.

  2. I find myself thinking about this quite alot, being gay and consuming many LGBTQ films.

    Sex is handled differently in LGBTQ movies compared to main stream or sis film in general. Sex in LGBTQ cinema tends to osiliate between being right out there one way and right out there another. It might throw in taboo or the contentious as the ‘should i mention this too’ fault line on top of all of that. Curiously LGBTQ emergence in mainstream story telling tends to be the opposite, asserting a ‘we’re integrating/ed’ banner which is more under-hand, focusing on coming of age or adult affair conflict rather than confident sexual self expression or parallel sexual worlds.

    In terms of sexual tension; i see sexual tension as the socio-political-culutral power fault line. It’s the speed and pace of the explosiveness of sexual meaning. I’m put in mind of the sex scenes of ‘Butch cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid’ as well as ‘Don’t Look Now’ which tap into a sex for sex sake celebration which the sexual revolution of their times encourgaed and which i think Lucy might refer to when she points out how this became over time, unfashionable and regarded as pointless to plot. But they’re actually really interesting time-capsule scenes of unabashed break-out eroticism which paved the way for the future.

    In terms of the confusion of our current times, with alot of reviewing of the sexual image in story telling going on, i agree i’s important to understand how reforming orientation and gender-power representation can occur by revisiting the say-show-tell of the erotic dramatic storyline. An eg might be ‘And Just Like That’ , as the current tv series shows alot of all the above in that it’s very self conciously reviewing it’s past as a sex related dramedy entertainment show and sometimes it’s being too on the nose, too agenda aware and other times it;s showing the diffiuclty of being sexual in our times with it’s ever diversifying emergences whilst also taking on the still under-represented depcition of sex as it might occur in mid and late life.

    So there’s a lot of different sexual ‘tensions’ so to speak, to tap into, additional to the tension Lucy is mapping out above which to me reads more like the rudiments of revisitng the erotic tension of 1-1 romantic courtship.
    It also reads to me quite sis in it’s pacing. LGBTQ work tends to be over wordy and self examining when it comes to romantic courtship, to the point of being considerably dull, but that does reflect something about reality.
    The dangerous excitiment of represented LGBTQ courtship tends to come from attempts at seducing the wrong orientation, age or gender but in today’s reality much of what was not allowed is now permitted. It’s curious we can only show much of that as libertine depcitions of the past not of the present.
    So the diffiuclty is working out how to show and set choices from this menu of new permissions in an exciting non-theraputic thrusting manner and keep focus on the sexual explosiveness. The timeless universal seems to be that we most probably will always need the fireworks …. and there’s alot of different types in the box ….

    1. Yes, that’s fair – the vast majority of storytelling is heteronormative, because society is heteronormative. What’s more, we’re only just beginning to leave behind toxic tropes like ‘Bury your gays’ where lesbian lovers in particular were nearly always separated by death, the subtext being LGBTQ relationships will be punished. You make a great point about 1960s sex scenes being there as expression-only due to society finally getting fewer hang-ups in that decade.

      1. I’m quite sensitive to the history of the LGBTQ negative stero-type – though more tuned to the GBTQ , less the L – Generally LGBTQ cinema and some emersive tv started to throw-over a lot of the negative troupes from the 80s on. So i guess i’m talking about festival fayre most of which never gets to the mainstream arena and prgressive tv progrmming here which contrairly does.
        The mainstream for me is still stuck juggling coming out, homophobia, phobic-violence and fem/sissy-acceptance narratives whilst still involved in ongoing ‘inclusion’ based narratives in various ways. Yet still blatently unnaturally excluding such as a total absence in Stranger Things which was oddly erotically queer. So ‘affection-gesture basics’ can still be radical. Also the sis content maker demonising queerness or producing evil with bad outcomes still continues to rear it’s head at times, again implied in the Stranger Things antagonist. I’m not sure i’m happy with the dychotomy of implied or additionally evil vs aware and discussive. The all out heroic exists in comics and anime but not film or tv so much. Cheers for the discussion outlet btw …

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