By Helena Halme
If you are a romance writer like me, being able to write sizzling first love scenes is a must. Depending on the sub-genre of your story, these romantic encounters should be gripping, sexy or heartfelt–or all three! The first meeting between your two characters is the most important one. You need to describe to the reader the significance of the moment, to convince them that these two people (or beings if you are writing fantasy romance) are meant to be together.
1. Point of view
The first decision when writing a romantic story is to decide on the point of view and tense. If you are writing a sweet romance saga, for example, a third person past tense point of view is quite suitable. It’s a good way to tell a story, and it allows some distance between the writer and the prose. I used this perspective when I wrote my third novel, The English Heart. This story is based on my own life and started off as a set of blog posts where I used the first-person point of view. But because it is a fictionalized account of how I met and fell head over heels in love with a British Naval Officer, it felt more natural to use a third-person perspective. I felt a first-person narrative would make the novel sound autobiographical, which it isn’t.
You could also try an omniscient all-knowing perspective. It can be very effective in painting a saga-like picture. Jane Austen used this type of point of view very efficiently, but beware, an omniscient viewpoint is very tricky to pull off. You need to make sure from the very beginning that the reader knows that they are not inside any of the characters’ heads.
For contemporary romance, a present-tense in either first or third person gives the reader a sense of immediacy. This viewpoint affords the story a certain immediacy, which brilliantly conveys excitement, intensity and passion. Love scenes become more urgent and the characters’ emotions more pressing. In my latest series, Love on the island, I use third person present tense, just for these reasons.
Next decision you need to make, when writing the first love scene, is the setting. Where are the lovers going to meet? Is it at work, holiday, party, school or do they share a hobby of some kind, like drawing class, running club or dancing?
In real life, most people meet their partners at work, yet many companies forbid workplace romances! This is a good reason as any to set work as the place where your characters meet–there is nothing more compulsive than a forbidden relationship, is there? An illicit affair in an office has been the subject of many a romance novel, as well as film and TV Drama, but its popularity isn’t waning.
Same can be said for holiday romances. Research shows that when we are on holiday, we are more relaxed, happier and willing to take more risks. We are more disposed to trying out new things and meeting new people. For a romance writer, setting the first meeting in an exotic or popular holiday destination gives you a chance to make the characters do something they normally wouldn’t dare; they may wear clothes they wouldn’t dream of at home, dance the night away, become attracted to someone they’d never normally consider. What could be a better place than a sizzling Caribbean Island, or an Alpine winter wonderland to meet the man or woman of your dreams?
In my ‘love in later life’ holiday romance, The Christmas Heart, Kaisa meets an old flame, Tom, on a skiing holiday in the Swedish Alps. Now older and wiser, Tom is skeptical about the blind date their friends have arranged for him, while Kaisa is completely unaware of the ploy. But when they meet for the first time in almost thirty years, they cannot take their eyes off each other and are both suddenly nervous instead of annoyed at their friends. It’s clear they still have feelings for each other. The festive atmosphere and the holiday mood in the winter resort enable Kaisa and Tom to take a leap of faith and let themselves fall in love.
Setting the first romantic encounter at a party or on some activity also allows the author to take the characters out of their everyday norms of behaviour. Often in a large group of people, those with a similar attitude to life, seek each other out and sparks fly.
3. The trigger
In order to get your readers swept up in the first moments of your characters’ love affair, ask yourself, ‘What makes us fall in love?’ Is it the eyes, the mouth, the smile, the first words uttered by our object of sudden desire? Is it a sudden forced physical contact, like accidentally bumping into each other on a street?
Perhaps your characters have got themselves into some kind of danger? Much like the holiday mood, being in fear of your life makes people react in an unconventional way. Being caught in a storm, wildfire, or just sheltering under the same umbrella in the rain could make your characters fall suddenly–deeply–in love.
Or perhaps your character becomes infatuated with the rescuer–who doesn’t like strong arms bulging inside a uniform? Or perhaps it’s the gentle care of a nurse or the spiritual concern of a priest that attracts them? A hugely popular British TV Show, Fleabag, had a priest as the main romantic interest. Perhaps controversial, but very effective.
Deciding on what triggers the hormone rush that we call love in your characters sets the scene for the whole of your book. Concentrate on the senses, smell, sight, taste. What are the physical manifestations; what is happening inside the character’s body when they fall for someone?
Do you remember those butterflies in your tummy when you met someone knew? When writing about a first encounter, there has to be the same excitement, the same doubt whether the other person feels the same way as you do. Are they genuine? Perhaps they are already attached and just playing with your character’s emotions? Perhaps the characters are from completely different backgrounds, or they shouldn’t be together for whatever reason. Or there is a time limit–two travelers at an airport flying to opposite ends of the world? Perhaps the would-be-lovers have wildly different beliefs–a climate activist falling for a shopaholic? Building up tension between the characters is vital for the first love scene to appear authentic and keep the reader’s interest alive.
It may be obvious to you as the author why your characters are falling in love, but you must also let the reader know. Describe the sexual allure, with imagery of physical attributes of the object of desire, but also the mental attraction. There’s been research into how women and men’s brains function differently to sexual stimuli. Men respond automatically to attractive body parts, while women’s desire tends to be more dependent on the context. So, if you are writing from a man’s point of view, you could focus on the attractiveness of the figure, while when inside a woman’s mind, take into account the surroundings, the words being uttered and the characters’ backstories.
6. Don’t overdo it
While you need to write a sizzling first love scene, don’t overdo it. The best love scenes are those with the fewest sentences. Be understated in the descriptions, let the reader use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. Limit the amount of dialogue for the first encounter. When thinking back to your own experiences of love, do you remember how little you said to each other before your heart started to flutter?
Naturally, writing less to describe such a monumental scene in your novel isn’t easy, which is why love scenes are so difficult for all authors. But don’t be discouraged, you can always cut words out. If you have nothing on paper (or in a file), there’s nothing to edit.
I hope I’ve been able to inspire you to write engaging first love scenes for your next romance title. Or did I leave something out? Comment below to let me know and get the conversation going!
An Island Christmas
On the windswept Scandinavian Åland Islands, the festive season is snowy and chilly—yet breathtakingly beautiful.
It’s time for Alicia to enjoy her first winter back on her beloved Islands with her family. But her estranged husband, Liam, springs an unwelcome and devastating surprise and her ex-lover, Patrick, temps her with an altogether different kind of future, making Alicia face an impossible choice. With her world crashing around her, can Alicia create the idyllic Island Christmas she’s always dreamt about?
Meanwhile, Brit, Alicia’s best friend, returns to the Islands to lick her wounds after a particularly bloody break-up with an Italian chef. When she meets her new boss, the Captain of a Baltic cruise liner, sparks fly. Brit can’t help but fall quickly in love with Jukka, but when she discovers his murky past, she fears her heart is about to be broken yet again. Are the rumors about Jukka true, or just typical small island gossip?
Join this quirky Scandinavian island community for a Christmas you’ll never forget!
Prize-winning author, former BBC journalist, bookseller and magazine editor, Helena Halme holds an MSc in Marketing and an MA in Creative Writing. Full-time author and self-publishing coach, Helena also acts as Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors and has published nine Nordic fiction titles and two nonfiction books.Apart from writing love stories set in her native Finland, Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.