I love writing flirting scenes in my romances. There’s something sensual and erotic about two people engaging in teasing and verbal jousting when they feel that initial spark and decide they’d like to know each other better. Sometimes you can radiate more heat with a few lines of suggestive dialogue than with a paragraph of in-your-face eroticism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Flirting is all part of creating sexual tension with your characters. I think it’s safe to assume that most of us write something more substantial than “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” in our romances, whether the encounters are erotic or sweet. It should be everything leading up to a fulfilling, mutually satisfying encounter. Full-on intercourse implies emotional intimacy, and commitment. Erotic foreplay is building up to the ultimate “deed,” and it can range from sensual to scorching.
It all has to do with conflict, both internal and external, and creating barriers to the characters having sex. Internal conflict arises from beliefs or an emotional wound that prevents a character from consummating the relationship, such as fear of rejection or a deep-seated moral quandary. External conflict comes from parameters outside the character and could be any number of things, like environment, bad timing, or family/peer pressure.
When does this sexual tension begin? Immediately when the characters first meet, begin talking, and start getting acquainted. The dance of sexual tension should be a metaphor for the act of sex itself. Start slow, gradually build, then eventually end in orgasmic climax, while teasing your readers along the way. Here’s an example from one of my sexy private eye thrillers, “Lido Key.” If this doesn’t put you in mind of “Body Heat” or “Double Indemnity,” you probably aren’t a fan of film noir:
When Vic locked eyes with Ariel Weston across the bar, there was no escape. He moved to the stool next to hers, drawn in like a marlin hooked by a determined fisherman. “Excuse me, Miss, but I’m new in town. Could you please direct me to your house?”
She began with a chuckle that escalated into full-blown laughter, then she playfully smacked Vic’s forearm. “That’s so lame, it’s cute!”
Her eyes scanned him up and down. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before, have I?” she asked in a low, smoky voice.
“No. Do I need a reservation to sit here?”
She laughed again. “A smart-ass. I like that quality in a man. Where are you from, smart-ass?”
“A whole other world. Would you like me to provide references before we go any further?”
She placed her hand on his on top of the bar. Her gaze radiated more sensual intensity. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary, but since we’re going to be friends, I think I should call you something more formal than smart-ass.”
“Are we going to be friends?”
“Unless you think you already have enough of them.”
“You can never have too many friends. Why don’t you call me Blake?”
“Is that your real name?”
“No, my real name is Vic. I just use Blake to fool people. What should I call you besides totally hot?”
“I like that, but let’s go with Ariel.”
“Thank you. I’m rather attached to it.” She massaged his hand. “I should tell you something, Vic. I’m married to a rich older man, we don’t have any kids and we’ve always had separate bedrooms. He doesn’t really notice if I’m not home, since he’s only there long enough to change clothes before he meets his latest girlfriend. He doesn’t ask me any questions and I don’t grill him about where he drops his pants. Does that bother you?”
“One man’s ignorance is another man’s bliss.”
“Ooh, a clever smart-ass. That’s another quality I like.”
“And we’re just getting started.”
As you can see from that example, the key is using language to build erotic tension. It’s metaphorical sex play to introduce sexual talk into mundane conversations. Make it more fluid, lyrical, and sensual than regular dialogue. Grammar rules typically go out the window in the throes of passion when you’re trying to convey feelings. Establish a cadence and a rhythmic pacing, be more lyrical, and note the sound of the words.
It’s important to pay attention to connotations, and be aware of what a word means to a given group. As an example, there’s a slang word used in erotic literature that refers to a part of the female anatomy (begins with “c,” rhymes with “hunt”). A lot of American readers find it offensive, but in some European cultures, it’s considered commonplace and used in everyday language. The lesson here is research your market. You want to use words that will arouse pleasure while conveying something about the characters, but you don’t want to alienate people, either.
By way of a parting example, here’s a brief passage from the romantic comedy, “The Sweet Distraction”:
“I should probably go,” George said. “I’m cutting into your tanning time.”
“Why do you have to run off?” Cookie teased.
“Because I’m working.”
“You know what they say about all work and no play.”
“I always make time to play.”
“Poker, blackjack, the ponies once in a while…”
“Are you good at picking winners?”
“I find it depends on who’s holding the riding crop.”
“Ooh, is that a kinky side coming out of hiding?”
He winked. “I’ll never tell.”
“I like to play, too.”
“What games do you like to play, little girl?”
“Pass-out, strip dominoes, escaped convict and the Warden’s wife…”
“Those are a little out of my league.”
“Maybe you should move up from Little League to the majors. That’s where they play night games.”
“Is this where you ask me if I know how to whistle, then tell me to just put my lips together and blow?”
She raised her sunglasses and looked at him. “I can think of a much better use for your lips.”