Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sexual Tension - It's Not the Sex - Part 2

Today, we'll continue with my workshop notes. As an aside, my agent sent me a rejection letter yesterday, but in a moment of synchronicity, the editor said there was some "nice sexual tension."

12 Steps to Intimacy – from Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy
by Desmond Morris (originally published in 1971)

Once again, this ties back into the hard-wiring established to enhance survival in early man. Studies have shown that relationships that don't follow these steps tend to be shorter-lived than those that progress naturally through them. In a broad generalization, women prefer to move through the steps, whether it be consciously or not. Just like a building requires a strong foundation, so does a relationship.

The steps below are given from a male to female standpoint, so we're looking at the male as instigator, although these steps will work both ways.

I'll try to discuss them in terms of yesterday's "Push-Pull" mechanisms. In this case, we're talking about the author "pushing" the characters together and "pulling them apart" to create sexual tension.

1. Eye to body
This is the sizing up of a potential mate. The woman walks into the room. The man looks at her and decides if she's someone who appears to meet his criteria. Hard wiring suggests he's looking for a mate who appears healthy and able to bear his offspring, but we've all met guys where merely having two X chromosomes is enough. However, if the female doesn't measure up, he moves away.

2. Eye to eye
Assuming the woman passed muster in step 1, the man will attempt to make eye contact. If the woman averts her eyes, that's a "pull away." The man has the choice of moving on, or perhaps accepting the challenge and trying again. Be aware that a fixed gaze can also be viewed as threat behavior, so there's more fodder for the push-pull.

3. Voice to voice
If she's accepted his gaze (and, by the way, the woman is doing the same kind of sizing up at the same time), the next step is to strike up a conversation. You want to pull them apart, perhaps your hero uses the pickup line from hell, tells a bad joke, or is a "me me me" conversationalist.

4. Hand to hand (or arm)
The very first step in physical contact. This is the step where intimacy begins. Allowing someone to touch is a measure of trust. The woman is accepting some vulnerability here. Touching signals to others that there's a 'couple' forming.

5. Arm to shoulder
Putting an arm around the woman's shoulder (what teenager in a movie theater hasn't tried that move?) Holding hands still allows keeping some distance, but an arm around the shoulder draws the couple closer on a physical level. Trust continues to build. Again, if the woman pulls away, you've created some tension. She may not be ready for this step yet.

6. Arm to waist, or back
Here, if the woman is put off by the man, she'll move away, often unconsciously. If he puts a hand at the small of her back, she may increase her pace to move out of reach. Arms around the waist show a growing familiarity and comfort in the relationship.

These first six steps are basic, and seem almost intuitive. Nothing here is out of the scope of the public arena. In a sweet romance, there might not be a whole lot more than this on the page. In an erotic romance, these first steps might take place on page one. As the author, you have to decide how to show the progression, and what kind of devices you'll use to keep them from forging ahead.

Does your heroine retreat behind dark sunglasses? Does she get a thrill when his hand brushes her arm? Using the devices mentioned yesterday, you can develop any of these with dialog, internal monologue, or plot. Add a second male to the mix and watch the territorial dogs go at it, each moving through the steps to 'claim' the woman as his. At the approach of another man, does your hero take your heroine's hand? Put his on her shoulder? Does he glare at the intruder, keeping steady eye contact?

Tomorrow, I'll finish the last six, which move us from "just friends" to "intimate."

Today's Gratitude List:

1. Finding gas was under $2 at Costco
2. A day cold enough to make soup
3. Burnt caramel almonds from Recchiuti

Also -- I'm a guest blogger at Simply Romance Reviews today, although I don't know what time they'll post it. I'm talking about some of the basics of writing, and how I started with The Wild Rose Press. I'm giving away a download, so please pop by and leave a comment there once I'm "up." I'll allow a couple of days to select the winner.

4 comments:

Katie Reus said...

Terry, you're awesome!! Thanks again for sharing these notes, now I don't feel so bummed about missing Saturday's meeting.

Sorry about your rejection but at least you got a nice compliment :)

Terry Odell said...

Yeah, I thought the 'sexual tension' comment was timely, if nothing else! Glad you're finding my notes useful. Feel free to send your friends my way.

jean hart stewart said...

Nice blog Terry... Hope the rest soon follows. Jean

Ray said...

Great blog. Sorry about the rejection.

The arm around the shoulder and the arm around the waist or on the back can either show intimacy or possessiveness.

I don't know how many young couples, usually teens, in which the female has a look that says, "I wish he wouldn't do that." The same scene with a different young woman shows pride rather than wishing she could politely move away.

Ray