Have you ever wondered how authors create those steamy, swoon-worthy scenes we love so much? The ones that make you go:
There’s nothing I love more than two characters with that perfect connection, meeting in secret, whispering sweet nothings. It’s fantastic, I say! But how does an author become puppeteer to our FEELS, stringing our hearts along? How do they create these character and make us connect so strongly to the romance?
In my mind, I’ve always imagined an author hunched over old parchment, scribbling away fervently. Manic laughter ensues whenever they’ve thought of something particularly swoony. Their cauldrons ablaze in the background, brewing a potion to ensnare our delicate feels. An old-school, 90s boom box, blasting Berry White. Realistically, this probably is just my imagination getting the best of me, as one’s does.
Jessa Holbrook is no stranger to steamy romance. Her newest novel, While You’re Away, features steamy scenes, secret meetings and, of course, lots of kissing. She’s agreed to let us in on how she gets in the zone to create these moments.
Six Steps to a Steamy Romance (Hopefully!)
Hi, my name is Jessa Holbrook and I’m the author of the serial novel, WHILE YOU’RE AWAY. It’s a book about a girl named Sarah who makes some bad choices, some good choices, and ends up tangled up with Will Spencer, king of the bad reputations.
When creating these characters, I knew two things: I wanted a new take on the good girl/bad boy dynamic, and I wanted it to be hot! So here are my six behind-the-scenes steps to making both of those things happen. (I hope!)
6) Music. Not only does music play a big part in the story, it played a big part in helping me write the story. You can follow Sarah’s emotional state through the songs she plays—those songs also provide a rhythm that runs throughout the book. On days when I wrote super-sexy scenes, I had a go-to playlist that included Concrete Blonde’s “Mexican Moon” and The Stroke 9’s “Do It Again.”
5) Contrast. Traditionally, when a good girl goes for a bad boy, he likes her because he’s ruining her, and she likes him because he’s dangerous. She reforms him, and he remakes her. I thought it would be more fun to find out what would happen if Sarah and Will were attracted to each other for who they are. Will is supportive of Sarah’s ambition; Sarah loves Will’s smarts and sense of humor.
They make each other comfortable—which in turn, makes both of them more daring. Because they feel safe with each other, that means they can get vulnerable. Who better to share your secret, sexy desire with, than someone you trust?
4) Consent. This is where the fantasy element of a book comes into play. I love, love, love aggressive courtship—Will appearing out of nowhere to kiss Sarah hard backstage, Sarah planning her garden seduction, and Dave… well, I can’t say yet because of spoilers!
But that rough, sexy edge only works if everybody’s enthusiastically on board and in synch. When writing Sarah, I made it clear that she’s not a little innocent flower: she gets turned on and she’s not ashamed of that– and she also has no problem saying no.
The fantasy part is that consent is always clear. Sarah never feels unsafe, and the reader can be confident that Dave and Will never push beyond a no. Because it’s fiction, the guys have the luxury of knowing exactly how far is okay. Which means even when the characters get rough and tumble and dangerous with each other, the consent is clear. It’s built right into the narrative.
3) Fun. Probably the most important tip—I tried to have fun with it! I thought about scenes that I had particularly liked in other books and in movies. I spent a lot of time mentally scripting my mental actors into scenes. How would he play this? What would she do if he said that? Just imagining how a certain actor would deliver a certain line would set off all kinds of fireworks. Definitely, I spent a lot of time daydreaming and having fun with the ideas before I committed them to the page.
2) Research. Now, to most people, my “research” probably looked a lot like reading really great novels for hours at a time. Because it was! There are some authors who can just bring the steamy or the sexy or the romantic. I didn’t want to copy any of them, but I did want to really look at how they accomplished some of my favorite scenes. For example, there’s nobody better than Sarah MacLean if you want to figure out how to make a shy but ambitious girl decide to grab for the brass ring. Seriously, her books are masterpieces when it comes to empowered wallflowers!
1) Courage. I know, right? Courage? But when I decided to write this book, I had goals. Because of the tricky subject matter, it would have been easy to make Sarah a dishrag. A poor little victim of fate, with the story happening to her. I could have skipped over all the hard parts, and pretended that nothing had consequences. But I thought it would make a much more compelling story if this was a book about Sarah making her choices. Sarah deciding to be sensual. Sarah deciding how to handle the fall out, Sarah taking responsibility and charting her own course.
And that meant being really honest with the cheating storyline—but it also meant being really honest about Sarah’s desires and her pleasure. It would have been so easy to go with yep, Will ravishes her, she likes it, the end. But I think it makes the book sexier and more exciting with Sarah enthusiastically leading the way. My motto for Sarah throughout was, “Go ahead girl, get yours!”
Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty good life motto, too!
Once a cheater, always a cheater?
From the moment Will and Sarah first set eyes upon each other, they know that what they have is special.
There’s just one little problem . . . each of them already has a significant other.
After flirting with danger, it becomes clear their passion is too strong to be denied. But even if they make their relationship official, there are plenty of challenges in store. Will leaves for college at the end of the summer, while Sarah faces her senior year of high school in their small suburban town. Long-distance relationships always come with their fair share of troubles—mismatched schedules, jealousy, and temptation are only the beginning.
Can cheaters ever change?
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY is a steamy story about a love triangle, a long-distance relationship, and learning the true meaning of commitment.
Check out each part of the serialized novel!