How to Write Romance: Getting Naked
Writing good romance is hard (actual fact). Getting that perfect blend of conflict, character and oh-so-delicious chemistry is a challenge—but if writing was easy, everyone would do it, right?
One of the things we talk about a lot with our clients is getting our characters naked. Now, this doesn’t have to mean stripping them out of their tighty-whities and letting them get all up close and personal with each other (although if it suits your book, why the heck not?).
But in this instance, I want your characters to get nekkid emotionally. Think about it—when you’re naked, you’re at your most vulnerable. You don’t have layers of protection to hide behind. You’re stripped bare, leaving you open to judgment as all the parts of you are on display.
But when your lover not only accepts your naked body, but celebrates it?
Halle-freaking-lujah. It’s a huge high because, after all those nerves, and all the potential for problems, you’re closer together than ever.
We can recreate this with emotional nudity. If your lovers show each other the emotional equivalent of them being stripped bare, we’ll have that same glorious ‘we’re closer together’ moment without even having sex.
Sounds pretty good, right? So what's the catch?
How can you get your lovers emotionally naked?
There are several ways we can get our characters emotionally naked. We can:
-reveal parts of them no one else sees. Is there a side of your protagonist's personality he or she saves for their love interest? Let's see that on the page and demonstrate emotional intimacy.
We don't show everyone our naked body. It's the same with our personalities. Not every facet is on display all the time. By having your protagonist be more lighthearted with their love interest, or perhaps more serious, we're demonstrating a level of comfortability that they feel around each other which is a sign of true closeness.
-display a part of themselves they may be less than proud of. Some of our characters are body confident—and that is fabulous. Yet some have insecurities. It's a rare person who loves every single part of their body, and those bits we hide under our clothes? They're often some of our least fave parts (shoutout to all the cake we baked and ate during lockdown. You get full credit for this one).
But your characters can showcase a part of their personality they may be less proud of too—and that will help them achieve that emotional nudity we're after. Perhaps it's a streak of jealousy when another person approaches their love interest. Maybe it's a sense of self-confidence they feel is unsexy. There are lots of aspects of self our characters can feel insecure about and by sharing them with a love interest? It demonstrates a level of trust and emotional intimacy.
-share a secret. They say a secret shared is ... well, it's gossip! But if your protagonist shares a secret with their love interest, it's a great demonstration of emotional nudity. Again, picture them shedding their clothes to display something no one usually sees. This can help bring your characters closer together—just like they would be physically if they were naked right now.
-put your character's heart in their love interest's hands. Nothing makes us quite as vulnerable as laying it all on the line. Whether it's those three little words (I love you, not let's have sex) or a simple declaration of affection, putting our feelings out there for someone else to either accept or reject, or worse? Thank you for is a big demonstration of emotional nudity.
So when should we get emotionally naked?
Ideally, your characters should be stripping layers throughout the book as they grow closer and closer together. I like to aim for complete emotional nudity to hit right before the black moment or the dramatic climax of your novel, at around the 90 percent mark. This way, your protagonist has much more to lose as they face their final battle. Not only are they pitted against whatever darkness lurks in the shadows, but they risk losing their love interest—and they've given them their all. They've shown them their most vulnerable parts.
But what about ... you know ... the *bow-chica-wow-wow*?
Getting emotionally naked doesn't mean you can't have your characters get physically naked too. The two events don't even need to coincide. For some protagonists, sexual intimacy will occur before emotional intimacy. In fact, in today's society, sexual intimacy often seems to come first (no pun intended).
Ideally, though? I like to place the scene of utmost emotional nudity, when your protagonist has stripped bare and is showing it all, around about the time when the couple make love for the first time. If you're showing the sex scene on the page, it can then be amplified by extra eye contact, slower movements, and more emotion shown throughout the scene.
Tell me more about your protagonists. How do your characters get emotionally naked?