It’s All About Chemistry

. Kiss DayIf I’d had time and not left this post to the day before, I might’ve asked my friend from my writer’s group (we’ll call her E) to write a guest post for us today.

E, you see, writes the most amazing love scenes. And lust scenes. And romp scenes. And just really satisfying sex scenes. My friends and I have been known to joke that we often look over our shoulder if we’re reading E’s writing in public. It’s odd to be having that much fun in your head when you’re sitting a child’s swim meet, or on a train full of strangers.

But I digress…

We’ve read and devoured countless of E’s characters getting together in countless positions, countless places, countless ways. So it’s clear there’s no real formula to it. The only thing her scenes all have in common is chemistry. The spark. The urgency. The panic of not getting what you want, need and crave, and the intense sense of relief and satisfaction when you do.

Yes, it’s sexy and delicious, but more than anything, it’s gratifying. And the reason it works is because of the characters. It always starts with them: their desires, their needs, what will happen to them now that they’ve stripped each other bare. So much of what makes E’s scenes great is in the foreplay: what tension (internal and external) exists between them? What will happen if they do get together? What will happen if they don’t? What, aside from all the pleasures of the flesh, do they most desire? And will you, as the writer, give it to them, or will you give them only a taste, a tease, and leave them unfulfilled?

My personal motto when I write sex scenes is “What would E do?” but if you don’t have an E in your life or in writer’s group, I leave you with this advice I once got at a workshop: It’s no different than any other scene; it needs to serve a purpose. From my notes: “Your characters may think it’s the best thing that could happen to them, but in some ways it has to be the worst thing that could happen…[it has to] move the plot along.”

Which writers do you think are doing it right? And why?


Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at

6 Replies to “It’s All About Chemistry”

  1. I agree too. Subtlety and fully using the senses. One of pet peeves is when the scene is too drawn out. The tension beforehand is great, the foreplay — but the actually sex itself? Less is more, for sure!

  2. For some reason this made think of Pret-a-Porter, a minor (very minor) film by Robert Altman, my favorite director. The only part of the movie that I remember is Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins, who play (as far as I can remember) reporters who come to Paris to cover a fashion show, and who almost immediately end up in bed together.

    And stay there for the rest of the movie. The movie covers all sorts of actors playing all sorts of characters doing all sorts of things over several days, but periodically it goes back to the two reporters, who are having an absolutely wonderful time while entirely shirking their professional responsibilities. One or both of them are married, so this is no romance — it’s just two people having a great time with each other for a few days (certainly more fun than anybody else in the movie is having, as far as I can remember).

    At one point the movie cuts back to their hotel room and they’re standing on the bed, wrapped together in a sheet so that no part of either of them is visible, jumping up and down like kids. It’s a wonderful image.

    As it says in The Big Lebowski, it’s a natural, zesty enterprise. Definitely, as you say, a romp scene. 🙂

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