1. Pippy May
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    Pippy May New Member

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    Writing sexual tension

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Pippy May, Aug 18, 2015.

    One of the aspects of characters and their interactions that I struggle the most with writing, and that I see other writers struggling with, is the progression of sexual and romantic feelings between two characters.

    I see a lot of people trying to write it the way it is in movies, and that just doesn’t come across as believable in writing, the whole ‘they’re arguing but slowly moving closer together without noticing’ thing and, in first person, the “wait, what? I did NOT just think _____ is attractive, I hate him!” Emotions are so complex and subtle that it’s hard to describe or show them without being too obnoxious, or, well, TOO subtle.

    This is affecting a few of the characters I’m writing right now, but one pair more so than the rest. If I have two characters with a difficult relationship -half friendship, half resent, half completely confused- an aspect of which is sometimes-belligerent-but-always-unresolved sexual tension, how do I make those scenes between the two of them believable? How do you write the thoughts and feelings of a character who is slowly falling in love with someone and even more slowly realizing it?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes people fall in love without knowing it. This usually means a big moment when the realisation dawns on them, which is a big moment in a book, if your readers have been waiting for this to happen.

    I don't know if you've been in love yourself, but if you have, think about how it felt. Did you notice the 'other' person right away, or did the other person single you out for attention? Or, conversely, a lack of attention. Some people get confused when somebody suddenly shakes their world—especially if this other person is somebody they would normally not think of 'that way.' I suppose this confusion can feel like hatred, but it's not. True hatred is something that feels entirely different, and is very unpleasant. This kind of confusion feels disturbing—but kind of energising as well. This person disturbs your equilibrium, and you don't know why. You find yourself unable to keep your mind fully on other things when they are around. You are abnormally aware of them, where they are standing, what they are saying to somebody else. Perhaps you deliberately spend time talking to every other person in the room, just so you don't reveal your interest in this other person. And perhaps they do the same to you.

    However, real indifference, doesn't feel like that. A truly indifferent person will probably speak to you, no bother, but you sense his/her attention is elsewhere. It's when they ignore you completely (at least at first) that you know you're on their radar.

    Sometimes little breakthroughs happen, before the realisation hits. You drop something on the floor, and suddenly the other person is there to pick it up and hand it to you. You didn't know they were watching you, but apparently they were. Sometimes something happens that you both witness, and you both react the same way. Or you start working together on a project and discover lots in common. And you feel totally comfortable around that person. Suddenly, instead of ignoring each other, you gravitate towards each other.

    Eventually something will happen that makes you realise how you feel. Maybe the other person gets there first, or maybe you need to wait until they also have an epiphany moment. One of you can declare your feelings, or show your feelings ...all sorts of ways to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.

    I'd say make this as realistic as possible, and try to avoid the melodramatic heart-fluttering, swooning stuff. At the same time, don't overdue the "I really hate him" schtick either. Both of these reactions are cliched and will detract from the 'real' relationship you are hoping to build. Good luck. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than a 'good' romantic element to a story. I don't read 'romances,' but a believable love story that is part of a bigger story. THAT I really do enjoy!
     
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  3. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I second everything Jannert said, as that was almost exactly how my relationship with my husband transpired in the beginning.

    Also, I would add that small moments will be the key to subtlety. A moment of mutual agreement (perhaps they both find themselves on the same side of an argument with someone else) or briefly wondering how the other person would react to something that was said or would happen. An inside joke. Distractedness. Basically a slow, but systematic appropriation of the mind. They might even catch themselves thinking too much about something annoying the other person just said. They might mistake their procupation as just strengthening friendship, if they become conscious of it. Perhaps consciously or unconsciously seeking out opportunities to be around the other person. But all of this brief, in passing, without too much rumination or analyzation from your character.
     
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  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Great advice already given.

    One thing I like to do is show them noticing little movements the other makes, or particular (non sexual) parts of their body. If you're watching someone speak and your eyes keep getting drawn to their lips, or their hands, or the little scar on their forearm that you almost didn't see... you're probably attracted to them.
     
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  5. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I agree with everyone, especially Tenderiser.

    I will admit, though, that the things I notice about people I'm finding myself attracted to are odd little things which I do find very attractive. Lips, or the exact shade of their eyes (which then goes on to show eye contact, which is a major marker of interest), or the muscles in a man's forearm (muscular forearms are very sexy - in men) or the curve of a woman's waist. Nice skin is another little thing - I see it mentioned too little. A person's smile is a major make or break. "She smiled like I was her favourite person, and briefly, I forgot that *insert problem here*. Hers was the kind of smile that made everyone around her happy."
     
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  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is one of the bits my female character keeps noticing. :D
     
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  7. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Oh @jannert , you hit that nail on the head so precisely that I'm now thoroughly miserable about my past being where it is :superwhew:

    The others have made great points. I'll bring to the table:
    - Remembering little details you usually wouldn't (the kind of things that might be embarassing to reveal you remember... or that allow you to think of a good birthday present suspiciously easily)
    - Seeing them outside the status quo can make things clearer (e.g. at a party instead of work/school)
    - On the 'little breakthroughs' front, at some point you consciously notice how a minor opinion has changed with time (I used to hate when he cracked his knuckles, but... gee, that's actually a pretty impressive pop!)

    And now to find a block of chocolate.
     
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  8. JaimeL
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    JaimeL Member

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    Ah now I feel sorry for you, I'd love to drink away my problems with you, we could lean on each other :p

    If you're writing from their perspectives (and you probably are), have them think about each other a lot, or reference each other inside their heads, say you have a Ymir and a Historia, Ymir could think "Eren was cutting the wood like Historia did, except more ferociously", even though comparing Eren and Historia in this situation mightn't be the best image to convey the action, it would show that Historia was on Ymir's mind, you could probably write something much better than that, it's not subtle but that's the whole point of it really. Another thing is having them appear in each other's dreams, but that can be a lot more clichéd/eye-roll inducing.
     
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  9. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    "
    This is affecting a few of the characters I’m writing right now, but one pair more so than the rest. If I have two characters with a difficult relationship -half friendship, half resent, half completely confused- an aspect of which is sometimes-belligerent-but-always-unresolved sexual tension, how do I make those scenes between the two of them believable? How do you write the thoughts and feelings of a character who is slowly falling in love with someone and even more slowly realizing it?
    "

    I think Jannert has done more to expand the male mind writing a woman character in this single post than all the other posts I've read. :)

    All I can suggest beyond her wisdom is that you ask the board members in a separate post: "Research; Have you ever become emotionally/sexually involved with someone you originally detested and why/how?" You'll get a ton of responses that are real...

    Some of the answers will involve ---- (wait for it) ----- alcohol,
    Other's will be from women, who suddenly found some redeeming quality in the person that they once couldn't stand,
    A few more answers will be ---- (wait for it) ----- alcohol,
    Other's will be from men, who suddenly found some redeeming quality in the person (usually big boobs because she's wearing a push-up),
    Those who are too young, will point to the effects of ---- (wait for it) ----- alcohol, kush, peer pressure,
    Those too old, will point to the effect of ---- (wait for it) ----- Viagra..

    What do I do in my books to establish deep relationships?

    I cheat like a mo-fo.... I always lead in with MC 1 and MC 2, had some past (un-detailed) 'steamy' relationship that went to shit. Now (present) the tension is 100% believable...

    Like this (you don't even know the characters, but it comes off as 100% real):

    Outside in the hallway, Mark lightly grabbed Susan at her elbow and pulled her aside. “You look great Susan, but then again you always have.” He pointed to her boots. “Knee-high riding boots?”

    Susan pulled her arm away. “Yes. Why?”

    Mark smiled with all thirty-two teeth, “Is there a new stallion? Have you mounted and broken him? Did he ..buck.. the hell out of you? No pun intended. . .”

    “You’re such a PIG, Mark,” Susan replied.

    “I still have a little bronco left in me, you know.” Mark continued as he turned and walked toward the elevator.

    “I wonder what I ever saw in you, Mark. Tell me, what happened to all the gentlemen in the world?”

    “In our world, they failed to procreate. I’m the cream of the crop.”

    Mark stepped onto the elevator and held the door. “Going .. down .. Susan?”

    “No!”

    “Are you sure? FBI wants access to our surveillance room. Might prove helpful to have an FBI name or two to pass to The Office of Congressional Affairs.”

    “Are you going to give them access?”

    “Of course not.” Mark hesitated. “Well, not yet. I’ll be giving them the standard buffet of legal bullshit instead. You know, client confidentiality, propriety information, and lawyerly shit. Start dropping some connected names. It will hold them off for a day or two.”

    “Okay." Susan agreed. "I’m sure you can email or text me the names of the agents, right Mark? That is, if you’re ape like fingers will allow you to type.”

    Mark, purposely, looked at his thick fingers and flashed Susan the 'okay' sign. “They were popular in high school?”

    “PIG. Always nice chatting with you Mark.” Susan said as she turned and walked away.

    The elevator’s arrival bell dinged and Mark rode down alone. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last. But what kept him going were those times when he wasn't alone and 'the elevator shaft' took on a whole different meaning.​

    Good Luck
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2015
  10. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    It may be a combination of lack of context and being unsure what point you were making with the example (so grain of salt for this 'critique'), but to me that reads less like sexual tension, more like sexual harassment (presumably in the workplace?). Although I agree that it seemed 100% real...

    Having said that, one could argue that the only difference between flirting and harassment is how the recipient feels, so perhaps I just didn't find enough insight into Susan's thoughts.

    This has raised another point though: how overt can the sexual element be without killing the tension? Until now, I'd rolled with the subonscious idea that tension would only be there if the sexual/romantic side of things was subliminal, but I suppose that's not entirely right, like if both discuss sex/attraction but deny that they feel anything for the other. Harassment aside, I felt less tension with Mark/Susan because Mark clearly seemed up for it, so Susan knew exactly where she stood. What do others think?
     
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  11. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Exactly.. It was sexually harassment between ex-lovers. Mark is without a doubt a PIG. But reading between the lines, Susan isn't that upset.. I take it you're not a Lee Child fan?
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't read tension from that particular passage either. For me, there's tension when people are either not voicing their feelings or not acting on them even though they really want to. In that passage, both of them are voicing their feelings and both seem to be acting on them... if Susan is actually attracted to Mark and is trying to deny it, I didn't get that impression from this excerpt.
     
  13. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    There were about a million possibilites to read between those lines (a function of lack of context/characterisation), so I based my conclusion on the lines themselves. I've not read Lee Child, I'm afraid.

    I guess you can create sexual tension from apparent harassment, but I think actual harassment will preclude it (in favour of various other tensions...), so the writer needs to make the distinction clear IMO. Shaky ground, but if it fits the plot/characters and you can pull it off, more power to you. (Just to reiterate, not a criticism of your work, as I'm only seeing a brief excerpt.)
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is such a great observation, and so true! And I think this is definitely something the OP can use.

    I'm also wondering if there'd be differences between the aversion the two feel towards each other. One of them might already be sexually attracted to the other person, so they could act in a semi-flirty manner, thinking at least they could be friends with benefits while the other is more reluctant and expresses his/her aversion more strongly, although s/he might recognize that there's something about the other person that intrigues him/her. One of them might also act in a forbidding manner to protect him/herself if s/he's been hurt before in a relationship or thinks s/he's not worth this other person (the selling-yourself-short "syndrome") rather than out of true, rational dislike.
     
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  15. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Of course, I can't post the entire detail here. But that excerpt was inclusive enough to let you know several things:

    1) They had some past experience with each other,
    2) Even with that past experience they are Forced to work with each other,
    AND, 3) Mark is a PIG. Susan only puts up with it because she's been with him..

    I'm curious what some female pos
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    In fact, I'm not reading sexual tension in that at all. Mark is treating Susan with contempt, and she's certainly not buying it and obviously doesn't like it or feel attracted by it. I'm reading genuine dislike between the pair. Not sure what the previous history is, but that's not sexual tension. That's just sexism at work. Different thing altogether.

    By the way, I don't think there is anything sexy in somebody so obviously panting for it that they'll try it on with anybody who comes down the pike. Often accompanied by innuendo and Benny Hill level 'humour.' That kind of approach feels more like desperation, and desperation is not an attractive quality. A selfie-hand job is more sexy than that. At least both people are 100% involved.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2015
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  17. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I did get all that from it but none of that translated into sexual tension, for me.
     
  18. crowtv
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    crowtv New Member

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    everyone's making great points, but my particular favorite was the subtle moment of accord, agreeing on something small is one of those very small things that can be a portent of attraction which i dont see used enough
     
  19. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Oh, you giant flirt, you ;)
     
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  20. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    Very good question, and I think this is something every writer struggles with.

    My rule of thumb is to avoid any words, or phrases, that point directly to the tension, but instead hide cues everywhere for the reader to deduce it themselves. Instead of stating actions, only mention what each character notices -- that way we live through the characters (and notice their tensions) instead of an omnipresence that isn't emotionally feeling in.

    Maybe instead of mentioning that they are inching closer together, write how each character begins to notice something about each other (that you can only notice in closer distance).

    "He noticed a bead of sweat gathering at the tip of her brow. She sensed a faint hint of cologne under her nose. His eyes had a golden ring around the pupil..."
     
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  21. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    I read back through this post and I thought the OP was asking about 'tension' not 'initial attraction'. That's why I gave out my little cheat: "I cheat like a mo-fo.... I always lead in with MC 1 and MC 2, had some past (un-detailed) 'steamy' relationship that went to shit."

    Since Pippy never answered back, I guess we'll never know what the outcome was.
     

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