Saturday, August 13, 2011

Feeling the Heat by Grace Burrowes

Editors focus on ‘em and readers love ‘em, but hot scenes are not my favorite parts of a book to write.

Oh, now, you ask, how can I not enjoy the portrayal of passion between two enthusiastically consenting adults?

It’s mighty hard work, that’s how. Every scene in the book is supposed to advance plot, character or both—there’s hard work right there. Every scene is supposed to include tension at least, and outright conflict if the author can manage it—how does one have conflict while consummating 150 pages of erotic tension? Neither character is saying no to anything on the steamy pages—except to holding back. Throw in the fact that the hot scenes are about experiences practically every reader has some familiarity with—unlike stopping a runaway team of horses, catching the Hail Mary pass, or say, popping out of a cake—and the going just gets tougher.

Now add in the consideration that these are the scenes that will appear in some form in most romance novels, usually three to a book, and the challenges multiply.

Then too, however the characters heat up the sheets, they must do so in character, and in ways appropriate for their time period…. But not too appropriate. Cassanova advocated the use of half a lemon over his partner’s cervix as birth control, for example. Historical accuracy suggests that would be an interesting detail to include, most assuredly, but my heroines would have choice suggestions for what I ought to do with the other half of the lemon did I write Cassnova’s recommendation into a steamy scene.

And yet, given the choice, I do include fairly steamy pages in my books and I intend to keep following that precedent.

Why make my life more difficult this way?

One of my heroines said it best: When she is physically unclothed in private circumstances, it’s very difficult not to be emotionally exposed as well. THAT is the payoff for me as an author. In bed (or in a hammock or on a picnic blanket), my characters can challenge and make impressions on each other in ways they can’t under less intimate circumstances. Erotic moments are pressure cookers for character growth and pacing—they amp up heat and intensity, and oh, by the way, they keep the readers and editors happy.

And though they are beastly hard work—a great deal has to go right for the scene to carry the load assigned to it—if all the stars do align, the steamy scenes can yield the most memorable lines, the best writing, and the most convincing displays of character growth.

What about you? Easy, tough, in between? And readers, tell us the truth: Do you ever skip the hot scenes because they just don’t rivet your attention? What would keep you reading those pages before you turn them?

And oh, by the way, my heroes and heroines are all monitoring today’s blog, so we might hear from some of them in the comments.


  1. Primarily popping in to comment 'cause I wanted to say how much I loved your book, The Soldier. It was awesome, and thanks for being a fantastic writer, Ms. Burrowes!

    And re the lemon - eep. Yeah, I couldn't see using a lemon without some comment about it in a steamy scene.

  2. Excellent post, Grace! Making those special scenes unique for the characters is definitely something to strive for! And not the easiest thing to do!

  3. Tory, thanks so much for the kind regards. If you drop me an email at I can send you some excerpts of upcoming books.

    And yeah.... that lemon made me wonder how old Cassanova got his reputation, but then, we don't hear about a lot of Cass Jrs. so maybe his method had merit.

  4. Terry--And in YOUR hot scenes, you also have to deal with the whole paranormal angle. Talk about a challenge!

  5. And that's why men invented lemonade and didn't gritch when their women sat on the porch and gossiped all afternoon. The smell of lemons put them in the mood for later...
    I was the guest at a book club meeting in Dallas and one of the readers mentioned the five page rule. When she was too young to read hot romance she told her father it was all the five page rule..."and then they kissed. One, two three four five," and on with the plot.
    I'm wondering how many readers do that?

  6. Skip over the love scenes? Never! Well written love scenes are as important to me as the characters and the plot. (P.S. I am really looking forward to a few steamy scenes from "The Virtuoso." Can he give me an inkling of what I can expect?)

  7. I wrote erotic romance for years and to be honest, my mainstream isn't much different. I love the natural progression and culmination of falling in love...but you're right Grace, it isn't always easy to make it different and more exciting each time.

    Sometime I make a note to add the scene later and skip over it to go on with the plot. I guess it's like the five page rule for authors. LOL Later, when I'm in the mood to write that scene, I go back and fit it in.

  8. Don't read the hot scenes???? Woman are you mad???? For me, that's what helps make the story and does add to their chemistry. Ans I'm looking forward to Valentine as well- can you write a little faster please?

  9. Great blog! I was writing a love scene Friday and struggled with every aspect you mention. Glad it's not just me. I never skip the love scenes.

  10. Carolyn, Gayle Windham, the Earl of Westhaven, responds to your comment as follows:

    Any fellow suffering the pangs of true love ought reasonably be expected to kiss his lady for ten pages, at least. If more passionate endeavors are under consideration, a man worthy of the term romantic hero needs at least an entire chapter. Three chapters in the course of the book, and many books in the course of his lifetime. My countess assures me it so and I intend to live up to her expectations.

  11. Ashlyn, Devlin, Earl of Rosecroft had this to say in reply to your comment:
    Miss Chase,
    I labored under the impression that it was an ardent swain's responsibility to make each interlude with his lady different and more exciting. While I am happy to dedicate myself to this end repeatedly and to the limit of my strength, my dear Emmie says I have it all wrong, "as usual." According to her, the burden or blessing of novelty and excitement is to be shared equally. I would expound on the topic at greater... length, but my countess is threatening to haul me by the hair above stairs, where I can only hope she continues exhorting me on the same topic, preferably while I divest her of her clothes...

  12. Bonnie, You will be pleased to know that Valentine Windham has sauntered by, and your comment left him with a devilish grin. He offered the following observation:

    My Dearest Miss Blue:
    Because I am the worthiest among the extant Windham males, Ms. Burrowes has, as it were, saved the best for last, and the best would be my dear Ellen whom she saved for me. Ellen save me, come to that, and I return the favor. I return it on a blanket by the stream, in a hammock, on the lovely soft expanse of Ellen's bed, and in a sense, on a piano bench--as virtuosi go, I am nothing if not versatile. Should you desire an excerpt from our little tale, please contact Ms. Burrowes at

    Ever your servant,

  13. I pass along this reply to Sheila, from Ellen Markham, the dear lady who finds herself besotted with Valentine:

    One entirely comprehends your yearning for greater haste on the part of his lordship and myself in conveying our story to the reading public. I myself was beset with a similar inclination toward speed when it came to Lord Valentine's amorous advances. He was determined to pursue matters at an ADAGIO pace while I was rather more inclined to MOLTO VIVACE. He informed me that genius could not be rushed. By the time he'd completed a little homily to that effect, I had divested him of his clothes. Genius cannot be rushed, but it can be inspired. If you'd like an ARC of The Virtuoso, contact Ms. Burrowes.

  14. To Miss Tory, M,
    Madam, may I compliment you on your excellent taste in romantic literature? Such a discerning mind should be appreciated, and should you pass along to Ms. Burrowes your direction, she will undoubtedly send you a signed copy of my little tale by post. That you would join us today when the topic deals in part with my amorous abilities suggests you appreciate a fellow who has his priorities in correct alignment. May your own story end as happily as my own.
    Devlin, Earl of Rosecroft

    PS. You can't have him, Winnie and I saw him first and put up with all his dratted nonsense to get to our happily ever afters--but do enjoy the books!
    Emmaline, Countess of Rosecroft

  15. To Miss Galen:

    One concludes that skipping the content you allude to ought to qualify for admission to Bedlam. St. Just claims there's a Kissing Vicar on the loose whose tale has yet to end happily, one Hadrian Bothwell, heir to the Viscount Landover. You might consider enlisting his aid should next Friday night find you in a similar struggle.


  16. Like you, I think writing romance would be easier if I didn't have to do love scenes...and yet, as you say, nothing reveals character in quite the same way.

    For my WIP, I recently thought of a way to approach the first sex scene that will uncover a new layer of conflict for the heroine. Which will give me somewhere to go for the next sex scene.

    The WIP has languished over the last three-four months as I dealt with my own challenges of the heart. Finding that piece of the heroine's character arc makes me eager to get back to work. I'm kinda looking forward to writing those sex scenes.

  17. Mary Margaret, there were a bunch of Windhams around here a little earlier, but they've disappeared, it being what Westhaven has termed The Napping Hour.

    It has to be a good sign that you look forward to those scenes. Once I figure out what contribution they'll make to plot and character, they go a little easier for me too.

  18. I do believe that the virtuoso's comments have caused me to swoon! Oh, lucky Ellen........

  19. Grace, I always love your thoughtful posts. And now I love the earls, too... thought they express themselves quite differently from my cowboys!

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  21. Grace, I'm sure the love scenes flow effortlessly from the minds to the fingertips of some writers, but not for me. I write them and then rewrite them several times. And if I'm reading a romance, I would never skip a love scene.

  22. Amelia--I like the term love scene better than hot scene. Thanks for the reminder!

  23. Oh my, the Windham brothers were in the house and I missed it! I've been preparing sales conference slides for 4 straight days and am just coming up for air.

    What I love about Grace's love scenes is how adult and natural they are, while she creates the ultimate lovers. Men who are sensitive, very attentive, ready to give and receive pleasure and, wait for it... take their time. (Sometimes it's the lady telling him to hurry up!) The heroines are period-appropriate but open to experimentation and when introduced to the world of pleasure... (Wham! And Me-yow!)

    My test for 'hotness' is when I am reading on the train. Does the scene make me blush and look over my shoulder to see if anyone's looking, and do I scrunch down in my seat a little perhaps craving a bit of privacy? THAT'S a good, hot love scene.

    PS: The scent of lemons has been forever changed... not sure if I should thank you. I'll just think about Anna and Westhaven drinking lemonade. Ahhh.

  24. Cat, If I'd told the fellows you would be joining us, then they'd likely have stuck around longer. And yeah--that bit about the lemon... How did Cassanova earn the reputation he did with suggestions like that up his sleeve?