The hero and heroine in my work-in-progress are not cooperating. Not only are they not getting along (after all, we expect some of that in a romance, even a science fiction romance), they don’t seem to find each other interesting. Their eyes don’t meet across a crowded room. Their hearts don’t thud in their chests. They don’t breathe hard when they’re together.
They have no passion. I’m considering sending them to chemistry class.
Creating sexual tension between your hero and heroine is no easy task. It’s not a matter of having them bicker for a hundred pages or so, then putting them in a room (or a spaceship cabin) together for a few hours to let nature take its course. (You think I’m kidding. I can’t tell you how many dozens of books I’ve read where that is exactly how the author thought it was supposed to work.)
Just like there has to be science behind a chemical reaction in a lab, there have to be good reasons for the chemistry that happens between your couple. Only then will the sexual tension you create be believable. And if you're clever with the catalysts you use in their relationship, the reaction will heat up on its own.
First, there has to be a reason they will be attracted to each other. What qualities does he have that she is looking for—not just in a man, but in the man? What is it about her that makes her special to him? What makes them irresistible to each other? Why can’t they walk away?
Second, there should be equally powerful reasons why it’s maybe not impossible, but certainly life-altering, for them to be together. Maybe they have to defy their families, or their crew, or their governments. Maybe one has to leave a past life behind and go with the other into a new one. Maybe both have to jettison old ways of thinking or behaving or simply have to overcome emotional old wounds. In any case, love should shatter their old lives and recreate a new one in its place. This is not without risk and/or danger.
Of course, you can’t come up with these reasons without answering the most basic question about your hero and heroine—what are their goals? What do they want, in the context of your story? That question gives you their motivation—everything they do is because they want X. We all know the good guys and the bad guys in your story want different things. But in the best of all story worlds, even your hero and heroine should want different things. That leads to conflict, which leads to sexual tension.
How does this differ from the bickering-into-bed scenario I mentioned earlier? Let’s look at Rayna Carver, the Rescue agent heroine of Fools Rush In, the third book in my Interstellar Rescue series, and Captain Sam Murphy of the pirate ship Shadowhawk, the book’s hero.
At the outset of the book, Rayna wants only to get to the spaceport at LinHo so she can continue her mission to infiltrate the slave labor factory of Kinz. Murphy, who has intercepted the slave ship on which she was embedded undercover, wants only to get the rescued slaves to safety. He thinks she’s crazy for wanting to complete her mission; she thinks he’s arrogant for trying to stop her. Yet they’re both intensely attracted to each other because she can’t resist his compassion and he can’t resist her brave determination (ironically, the very things that push them apart).
Over time, they realize they have more in common—a hatred of slavers born of personal experience, a shared code of ethics—and passion grows between them. Yet as circumstances make it more inevitable that Rayna will have to complete her dangerous mission, a new source of conflict emerges. Sam’s protectiveness clashes with Rayna’s independent spirit.
All of the sexual tension in Fools Rush In, arises naturally out of who Sam and Rayna are as people, out of what they want and how they go about getting it in the course of the story.
As we speak, I’m asking my WIP characters some tough questions about what the hell they really want and what they plan to do about it. “What is it you see in him, girl? And if she’s not all that and a bag of chips, why don’t you just leave her?”
I’m expecting some lively discussions in my head over the next few days. And some combustible chemistry on the page to follow.
Fools Rush In, Book 3 in the Interstellar Rescue series, launches October 18. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon NOW!