So what is strange creature "Emotional Tension" It is the No 1 essential ingredient. It's what hooks your readers...and keeps them turning the page. In romance...it equates to sexual tension.
So how do you create it?
The first thing a writer should do, and this applies to most books, is familiarise yourself with the ten stages of intimacy. There are many definitions with varying degrees of emphasis as to the physical implications. Here is a simplified version I use as a rough guide...according to the plot of my book.
- Eye contact --the first meeting where strangers look at each other
- Deeper eye contact---the soulful looks poets talk about
- Hand touches hand---contact usually light but lingering
- Hand to shoulder --- This is within socially acceptable boundaries. Up until this point either side can withdraw without loss of face.
- Arm circles waist ---this signifies a greater degree of intimacy, both given and accepted. Once it is accepted things progress at a rapid pace.
- Mouth touches mouth ---Once a kiss is exchanged, chemical information is passed from partner to partner. Kissing adds more senses to the intimacy mix. Smell, Taste and body temperature.
- Hand caresses head. Women tend to reach for the head before men. Hand caressing head indicates increasing trust...heads are vulnerable. And touching is something we share only with people we feel comfortable being around.
- Hand to body. Either through clothes or exploring under them. Often happens with eyes closed so participants can concentrate more on heat and smell. Maintaining eyes contact is even more powerful.
- Mouth to body---when this stage is reached both parties have demonstrated trust in each other and sexual intercourse is a likely outcome---given the right circumstances.
- Hand to genitals and genital to genital. This is the final and most potent stage of intimacy. And when it is reached each party should, in an ideal world, completely trust each other.
A writer should never labour these points but if you have them in the back of your mind you can up the emotional tension in your book by incorporating these stages. Your readers may not know them, but they will very quickly sense something is off between your characters if you skip them.
When a critique partner pointed out that it was too soon for my hero to touch my heroine...I went back to this list and sure enough, I had skipped several vital stages.
One last comment, Sexual or Emotional tension is not about a guy or a gal, having sexual thoughts...it's about building the tension between your characters by developing a growing sense of intimacy. This grows out of increased intimacy...not racy thoughts.
If you harbour doubts about the veracity of this, sit in a cafe and watch customers interact. Watch how they look at each other, holding hands, a man with his hand on a woman's back...those stages are all there.
Conversely watch two people quarrelling...their body language is very revealing.
And skipping steps can add a huge friction between your characters. By having a good understanding of these steps a writer can utilise them to her advantage to up the tempo in both good and bad ways between her characters. We've all seen the peeved heroine in a movie turns her head aside to prevent the hero kissing her...she's exercising her displeasure a his expectation of intimacy.