Writing About LOVE—Ditch the Cliches & Turn Up the Heat in Your Romance

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Today, we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us once again. I’d already recruited Alex to do some guest posts for me because I just love his wit and style and he’s being a huge help because yes, I am seriously sick. I’m pretty sure Hubby tried to assassinate me with Ebola and make it look like “the flu”. I think I have Swine flu…NO! LAMB FLU!

I see a rainbow bridge and a light! No! I can’t go to the light! Not yet, Grandma! I am doing NaNoWriMo and I and on par for word count!

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Actually, I don’t know if my husband is really trying to kill me, I think the Mucinex is making me paranoid. I called the White House though and told them that Lincoln totally shot first and that if the Secret Service would just return my probiotic gummy bears I will stop ordering pizza delivery.

Anyway…of course what else would you think about when you are dying from the flu? Duh. Love scenes! Hellooo?

I totally just lied about that.

But Alex wrote this really freaking amazing post and I’m glad about that because I was born and raised in the bible belt, which means I can only write love scenes in my books when all of my family is dead. That and in Texas, romance involves a gun show or ammo sale.

To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you with creating intriguing novels and shorts. And this time, he is here to melt your hearts and minds with a fresh outlook at romance in fiction. Please cheer for him once again!

Yay, Alex!


Texans *rolls eyes*. If you are a gal, let me ask you one question about romance.

Imagine a guy is courting you. Which one of the following two scenarios do you find more romantic?

  1. He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
  1. He invites you to the movies and to dinner

Take a moment to post your answer in the comments below. I’m not going to pompously prescribe you a “correct” answer, but instead have a second question for you (this post is getting worse than “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” right?).

Tell me, what do you think about the following love scene:

Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.

“Wait, wait,” he suddenly shouted from behind, running after her. “You forgot something…”

Under her umbrella, she turned around surprised, with an expectant look on her face: “What is it?”

Panting he stood before her: “You forgot to give me a chance to tell you that I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone!”

“Oh, Mike!” She fell round his neck. Suddenly teardrops were mixing with the pouring rain: “I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity.” She sighed. “Being with you is… like magic.”

They kissed passionately under the open sky, lost in a bubble of time and space, not even noticing the heavy waterfalls pouring down on them and getting them soaking wet.

Did this scene touch you deeply? Did it really get to you?

To me, it did nothing.

What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!

Cliched setting? Check (“Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.”)

Cliched expressions? Check (“I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity”)

Cliched feelings? Check (“…I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone”)

Cliched comparisons and similes? Check (“Being with you is… like magic.”)

In short, the snippet above contains too many cliches and relies way too much on what the author thinks romance should be.

Fiction needs to speak truth, it needs to be raw and bold and unconditional, it has to touch our inner beings– like love. It should’t be a preformed template.

Here is the problem though: No feeling in fiction is harder to convey than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that escapes any description– it’s too exciting; too strange; too magnetic; too rare. Pain, joy, disappointment, anxiousness are all easier to describe than love. They are more one-dimensional, more common and most of the time not as overwhelming as love.

Because love is so difficult to describe, many writers circle around it. Instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for you, they give you placeholders you recognize from movies: “Ah, they are saying they will love each other forever! That’s how it works in romance novels, so that must mean it’s real love.”

So how can you do it better?

This post aims to show you a couple of ways to craft more authentic love scenes, drawing from deep inside. Also, because I know stereotypes can be hard to detect, you can find a free, downloadable goodie here to help you check your story for cliches and any other imaginable problem (it uses test questions).

Let’s take a look at refreshing ways to craft love scenes.

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1. Use Commonalities

There is one thing all romances share in real life, and that’s definitely not a cliche: It’s the lovers’ commonalities.

The type of these commonalities might be completely different from romance to romance: One couple could be very similar in character, but very different in lifestyle; another one could have the same hobbies, but sport very divergent world views.

Common features and differences are what makes romance exciting; use the tension between the opposites and the attraction of the same to craft an emotional rhythm in your scene– or maybe it’s the tension between the same and the attraction of the opposites…?

One great ingredient of a love scene is two people “discovering” each other. Discovering commonalities is an exciting process and often lets love grow, so play with it. Let them be like magnets: Repelling when approaching each other from the wrong side, but attracting each other strongly when approaching from the right side.

2. Less Is Often More

The finest notes in good love scenes are often spoken without words, or they are articulated in a delayed or shortened way. It’s because we are operating on emotionally delicate ground: A lot of desires, reservations, suspicions and fears play into our notion of romance.

Don’t just let your characters plainly say what they are about! This rule holds true for all dialogues, but the difference in a love scene is that you have very believable reasons to not let your figures talk, be it awkwardness or reservation. Operate with unspoken words, silence, a sentence much too short at the right time.

You can let body language speak for itself.

This technique should force your reader to read between the lines; to turn on her own imagination, which is the most amazing thing you can do for her: Let your reader watch her very own movie.

Here is a quick example:

“Sometimes I feel like there is nobody to turn to,” Joe said. “Like… like the world is an empty place. Do you know what I mean?”

Scarlet just stared at her shoes.

“Nobody,” he said.

3. Draw from Your Very Private Experiences

Draw from your private treasure trove of experience instead of from experiences movies and TV shows have pre-canned for you.

Don’t commit the error we were just talking about and sidestep the challenge. Don’t fall back on cliches because you feel like you don’t have the ability to describe something on your own terms, following your own laws.

In other words: Risk something!

Anger, hurt, attraction, admiration, enthusiasm, guilt: Let your characters experience, express and withhold a broad range of emotions, a variety of complex feelings– love is complicated.

Think of all the emotions you could send your characters through. Try to express things the way they felt to you personally when you were there, not in the way you have seen others describe them.

The word “love” is so overused it has become one giant cliche in itself. You can find it everywhere, be it in movies, novels or song lyrics, not to speak of oversized ads or everyday language. So try not to use it. Instead, it makes much more impact to just describe what love does to your characters.

Using your private experiences also means that you will have to get naked and expose bits and pieces of your private feelings for everybody to see.

Luckily, nobody knows which parts stem from you personally and which parts are just made up. And contrary to an actor, you don’t have to pour out your soul directly in front of an audience, but have the laptop screen between you and your readers to protect you.


4. Let Men and Women Talk Differently

There is a big misconception about men and women.

Maybe it’s just a misconception of language, because when somebody says, “Men and women are equal,” this person is only half right: We are equal in value, but not equal in nature.

We don’t feel alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t talk alike.

For example, can you quickly tell if the following phrase likely comes from a man or from a woman?

“Do you think he/she looks better than me?”

How about the following one, man or woman?

“If he does this again, I will teach him some manners!”

You might call this a cliche, but I can’t remember ever overhearing a woman saying the second sentence. I have heard men uttering similar statements though– we just have big egos…

So keep in mind to lend different voices to your guy and your gal. In other words, let the differences between men and women get into your scene and make sure the romance in your story becomes as complicated and as awesome as romance is in real life…

Use the Power of Authenticity

When you write your next love scene, keep these four signposts in mind, and your scene will make a powerful impact and touch your readers deeply; for sure more deeply than a cliched movie and dinner date.

You can see so much phony fiction around, a fresh approach will make you stand out like Johnny Depp amongst a stage full of cheap Elvis impersonators.

Take a risk and indulge in the power of truth– your readers will feel so strongly for your story, they will be ready to dive deeply into it and to love and suffer with you.

Alex Limberg is blogging on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Hey, it’s Kristen again and now it’s your turn: What are your own secrets for love scenes? Have you found a trick that works really well? Did you ever use a very personal experience in a romantic scene and did it feel awkward to “expose” yourself? Do you love love scenes? Hate them? Are you like me and can’t write love scenes until every living member of your family dies? Gotta love goring up in the bible belt.

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.



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  1. I don’t do romance and don’t watch romantic films if not forced but I bookmarked this page in case…

    1. Actually the tips here work for any type of antagonistic relationship in fiction even enemies becoming allies. Tactics for love and romance aren’t just for sexual love. If you study the relationship of Frodo and Samwise, it is a love relationship. It is a friendship love, a love of deep and profound sacrifice but much of the story is patterned the way “romance” would be.

      1. That’s why I feel a bit uneasy watching them together. Just kidding. Thanks for the tip Kristen. Storing it in my head for future reference.

    • Jed Diamond on November 13, 2015 at 7:53 pm
    • Reply

    I hate to say it, knowing how you feel, but you are hilarious when you’re sick and miserable. Still, I hope you feel better. As a non-fiction writer to writes books about sex, love, betrayal, and doing it all over again, I can tell you that real life is not cliche and the words that capture these strong emotions are subtle and sublime. Thanks for giving us some possibilities to be able to capture what we’ve all experienced, yet have difficulty putting into words.

  2. It’s that number three that the tricky one. Instinctively I know that has to happen, but it’s difficult. I don’t write romance novels but there is romance in the novels write. So, I thank you for the tips!

  3. Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

  4. First: My husband once took a full dosage of Musinex and he was REALLY loopy, so loopy that he told me to drive, and trust me, that NEVER happens lol. Second, love scenes wow…how to make them authentic! Great post and I love all the free resources links, thank you for that! I actually incorporate dates that I’ve had or wish that I’d taken into my scenes. Even dates that weren’t technically ‘dates’, anything that I remember doing with a guy I liked, I tend to incorporate into my stories. But the feelings themselves come from the characters for me. I have found that if I have strong characters, then their emotional responses will be stronger, more authentic, and not as cliche. It’s a bit easier coming from a female perspective as I am female. I tried to ask my husband questions about how he ‘felt’ about specific things while we were dating and it’s like he zoned in on the fact that I would be using his answers in my stories and he refuses to enlighten me from a male perspective. LOL I think it’s humerous. Is it awkward using my own experiences? No way 🙂

    • lzltcy on November 13, 2015 at 10:17 pm
    • Reply

    thank you for the tips.. I should give myself a try in writing a novel 🙂

  5. Great post! I’ve always thought that I’m terrible at romantic scenes because my characters are always awkward and have no idea how to express themselves, but maybe that just means I’m really good at drawing on real-world experiences for my novels. 🙂 Lots of great tips. I’ll have to refer back to when the next romantic scene rolls around.

  6. Romantic scenes are the bane of my existence. I type. I mentally vomit! Ugh!!

  7. Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
    I learn so much from this blog. ^_^

    • Mais on November 14, 2015 at 12:57 am
    • Reply

    Thank you Alex for sharing your advice! I downloaded your free ebook as well. I’m still in the research-gathering and plot-forming stage of my very first novel, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about writing in the meantime. It’s an amazing learning experienced and posts like these are what I need to help me on my journey 🙂
    Thank you both!

  8. What a great post. Thank you!

    • Beth on November 14, 2015 at 2:32 am
    • Reply

    I love love scenes but find them difficult to write, so this post was really helpful – thanks. I write YA and sometimes feel awkward as a forty-something woman writing about an attraction to a teenage boy. That’s when I realize I’m not in my characters head enough and need to remind myself what it felt like when I was a teenager. Or I pick up a book from my favorite writers to remind myself what it looks like when its done well.

  9. Fabulous post! Great advice

  10. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  11. Writing the romance/love scene is not in my comfort zone, so your tips are appreciated. I’m looking forward to checking out the e-book too. Since I’m wrapping up my last chapter of a paranormal (it has a Civil War ghost) mystery romance, it’s perfect timing. Thanks!

  12. Reblogged this on s a gibson.

    • Loretta on November 14, 2015 at 9:23 am
    • Reply

    I swear, I don’t know whether to comment on the Mucinex scenario or answer the question Alex asked…which scene did we prefer or find more romantic? I guess I’ll answer Alex first. I selected the first scenario::
    1.He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
    Now, I realize, that’s even a clichéd concept 🙂 But, maybe we’ve been told things so often, we finally swallow them, hook, line and sinker.
    I loved all the tips and am going to have a look at the two articles/books (not sure, not enough coffee yet) he posted links to. I really enjoyed the post and am having a second look at my love scenes.
    Now, back to Mucinex, and the south. I’m from the Bible belt also, Kristen, and yes, writing love scenes takes a whole different mind set. I’ve been able to handle it pretty well a few times, but I understand the war that goes on inside you. You want to wear a paper bag over your head after it’s “out there”. 🙂
    As for Mucinex…my nickname for it is hairball medicine.
    Yep. There’s a lovely visual for you as you pop the next dose! 🙂
    Hope you’re better soon, gal…but, you’ve done a bang-up job selecting your guests…keep ’em comin’! 🙂


    • Kessie on November 14, 2015 at 9:33 am
    • Reply

    Jami Gold has a bunch of blog posts (and beat sheets) about the nuts and bolts of how to write romantic stories. I refer to them all the time, especially the ones about mask and essence.

    I’m writing paranormal romance, and a love scene doesn’t have to be sexual to excite the reader. I’m a fan of doomed romance, myself, so the more doomed my protagonists, the more desperate and heartwarming the love. I personally don’t find bed scenes to be romantic. Romance is all about the longing–check out the Song of Solomon. They’re longing for and missing each other, and screwing up the relationship. Then making things right.

    • Gerri Brousseau on November 14, 2015 at 10:07 am
    • Reply

    Kristen, I hope you get well soon. Thank you, Alex, for coming to her rescue. To answer your question, I certainly would much rather have a man write a song and sing it to me from below my window. For me, that congures an image of Romeo standing beneath Juilette’s balcony professing his love for her. As an author, I am painting a picture for my readers giving them a glimps into a portion of the lives of my characters, and after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of an author it’s thousands of words.

  13. I once tried to write a love scene about a woman slowly waking up in the morning and becoming aware of her lover’s arm reaching round her from behind with his hand caressing her breast. My critique partners said it read like a horror scene – the disembodied hand appearing from nowhere. They still joke about it.

  14. My answer to the two scenario question?

    Neither of the above. Both strike me as cliche. I don’t mind romance, as such, but so often the scenes I read make me want to scream or gag. Do real people do that? Let’s see something different.

    Thanks for really good pointers to getting inside the character and telling the story through their senses, and I agree with others that less is more. I’m currently writing a story in which two inexperienced young adults strike up a hesitant romance. It’s not the focus of the book at all, but it seemed to be a natural progression of their relationship. I will keep the points above in mind as I mine my memories for material that might fit here. And I think that it is the fear of being seen on the page that keeps us from writing with authenticity, no matter which emotion is involved.

    • Meghan Skye on November 14, 2015 at 3:40 pm
    • Reply

    I’d rather go to a gun show, by far, than have to write a love scene. A well aimed allusion and the imagination are the best advantage. Let a reader fill in the details to fit their sexual type. Realism while hard is also be the ally; it rings true and is relatable. I’ve also been stunned by reactions to sensual, perceived as kinky even compared to a rape.

    Waiting until relatives are all dead also plays a part because one does, in attempting to catch the real, draw from self or others and relatives will all read: Oh, my gosh, disinherit and scratch your name from the family bible. It gets worse from there. Love is a hard thing to write I’m all for ripping the box to pieces but a lot of people find comfort within its known walls; there’s a balance. My opinion and I could be wrong.

    Speaking of cliché, maybe they’re out to get you. Be well and thanks for the humor.

  15. I was initially confused as to why you would use two female example sentences to show how the genders are different. There’s the problem. I definitely have heard women say the second sentence about “teaching him manners” and it was usually about someone they live with. I can’t imagine a man using the word “manners” that much. But maybe it’s a dialect thing. In any event, the issue of making men and women characters different is real. I have noticed that I was doing it subconsciously and I was a bit worried that I was stereotyping but it is subtle and not stereotypical. It isn’t that all my women are simpering and delicate (quite the opposite) and all my men are macho (again definitely not). But there are attitudes that I find fit with one gender more than another. I appear to like internally intense, externally reserved men and even though my MCs are usually women these specific male characters always win the “reader’s choice” awards for favorite character by a landslide.

  16. Mucinex does awful things to me, can’t take the stuff! Ugh!

    Nothing kills the motivation to write romance faster than discovering your 70 year old father is reading it. I have been posting my most recent novel as a serial on-line and out of the blue, dad let me know he had seen the link and started reading it. From there on out, every chapter I wrote felt like I had him watching over my shoulder. Toughest Romance novel I’ve written to date!

  17. Reblogged this on American Writers Exposed and commented:
    I am so cliché …

  18. Love this. Many thanks for the ebook, too. I’m working on getting into the deep POV and this really helps me move that along.

  19. I love the “draw from your very private experiences” tip. That’s what I do every time I write a love scene, and yes, it makes me blush a bit. But the crap they have in the majority of movies and books makes me wonder if these people have actually ever had a good time in bed in real life. 😉

  20. I agree thanks for this, and the free ebook. I’m not going to apply the 44 questions right now, but when I get finished with my outline and first draft (of my 8th revision) you can bet every single one is going to be asked. 🙂

  21. Reblogged this on page pennington and commented:
    Great advice.

  22. Hope you get better soon! For me, I find it easier to write love scenes if I imagine no one will ever read them except for me. I have drawn from my own experiences, but the only person who knows that is me (and maybe my husband). And finally, I find that you have to pitch them to the audience – my YA characters do have sex (because you give two teenagers who are hot for each other their own room and minimal supervision, what else is going to happen?), but I describe it in a way that you know what is happening, but not every move. Whereas my writing for a more mature audience can be a bit more explicit (though not totally – even I can’t block out the idea that other people, people I might know, will be reading it). And yes, spare me the cliches – love can be messy and complicated and unrequited, so it’s fun as a writer to explore all of that rather than falling back on tired ideas.

  23. I am now back at work on my paranormal romance novel. ***please – no eyerolls 😉 *** I love and cringe at writing the love scenes, but I really love how it pushes me to develop my writing skills and not let them sound trite or cliched. It’s why the dog training book is published and the novel isn’t. But I’m getting closer. Next six months is my goal.

  24. Great post, thank you for the useful tips, but I have to say; if someone was under my window with a mandolin, I’d be hunting up my granny’s chamberpot. And re: running after me with an umbrella, I’d seriously worry about stalker-ish tendencies, but, hey; that’s just me.

  25. Let man and women talk different – Kristen, they are different. Grrr can we change topic and don’t talk about man any more. Thanks Kristen for this article and Congrat’s for your top position in blogging as announced in the latest article.

  26. Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author and commented:
    Love scenes… what could possibly go wrong?

    • Leah on November 30, 2015 at 6:51 am
    • Reply

    Number four(about men and women talking differently) was the most horrible advice I’ve ever read. This is exactly what’s wrong with romance novels and it just reinforce gender stereotyping. It’s the very opposite of fresh writing. I have never heard this kind of talk in real life, just in very cheesy movies. If I read any of this in a book I would toss it over my shoulder and put a gypsy curse on the author. What I have heard/experienced in real life: men being outspoken about their insecurities and women definitely teaching someone manners in a pretty aggressive way. Men and women are not that different, unless they’re hopelessly insecure and trying to desperately “act” like what they think men and women are by vomiting out every bad gender cliché from the last century. Let your characters speak from their personalities, regardless of gender. I hope you get well soon, Kristen. I miss your posts.

    1. I will be posting today. I think there is a fine balance between being cliche and also not being authentic. As writers we are always in a fine balancing act. Follow the rules but break the rules. It is always a tightrope. But I have read characters before (as an editor) that you just go, NO! A woman would never say/do that. Something that was SO clearly written by a man “trying” to be a woman but it was obvious he hadn’t taken any time to get into the “head” of a woman.

      For instance, years ago we had this middle aged man who brought this AWFUL piece to our critique group and it was all preachy about women and women’s issues and from a female POV (when it was utterly chauvinistic) and it was really about the worst stuff I have ever seen put to paper. Anyway, there is a scene where the woman (his heroine) is being attacked and she is 9 months pregnant. She is making NO effort to protect her belly, but rather her looks. That PISSED me off SO deeply because it would have to be a fairly horrible female for her not to instinctively protect the baby.

      BUT, because the writer hadn’t bothered to take a MOMENT to THINK like a VERY pregnant female…he totally missed it. The same can happen in dialogue. And I get what you are saying. We also must make sure all dialogue comes organically FROM THAT character, but we are also wise to appreciate gender, gender roles, and even gender expectations. That can add A LOT of tension.

      For instance, I am ALWAYS in trouble because I am blunt. I talk like a man. Females (who are tomboys) usually love me, others find me to be a bitch because I don’t hint and couch. So even then, using GENDER adds depth to the fiction. Thanks for the comment. We always appreciate the dialogue. Makes us all better for SURE!

      • indianninja on January 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm
      • Reply

      I do definitely support this as I feel its going to be following cliches and stereotypes if we have to divide the character into men and women first and then think what they would do. The characters, each are unique; at least should be. The moment we have to consider hey this is a man so he must talk like this, this is a woman so even if the character seems like she should say this, being a woman she shouldn’t. ..I do not see if this helps or actually harms the process. To each its own I guess. But this is the worst piece of advice indeed.
      What does the word : let your character talk like men and women mean?
      Answer: Let you first take a stereotype and then follow it and then assume its not stereotype or cliche since its also seen in real life to some extent.
      When this would work?
      ans: When the characters are stereotypical too. As much as they are stereotypical it would fit.
      I think best way to what one should say or shouldn’t be; should be based on the character and character only. Its a person! Humans do talk more alike in lot of times, more times than less men and women can and do talk alike, act alike and think alike.
      Imagine if a person is being chased by a mob . If its a teenager, its approproate to try to flee or hide. If they its a battle demon, its appropriate that it fight the mob, if its a ninja the person can just vanish, and if it was an alien, it may just fly away.
      I do not find the forced stereotyping first before writing a scene too appetizing. Why should I write what I do not read?

  1. […] Source: Writing About LOVE—Ditch the Cliches & Turn Up the Heat in Your Romance […]

  2. […] just read an excellent post on writing about romance on Kristen Lamb’s blog, written by Alex Limberg. It got me thinking […]

  3. […] Writing About LOVE – Ditch the Cliches and Turn Up the Heat In Your Romance, from Kristen Lamb’s Blog: Writing romance, as you may know, is one of my downfalls. Luckily, this post has given me some good tips to work from. Excerpt: “What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!” […]

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