Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chemistry & the Psychology of Love Scenes in Your Novel

Many writers express difficulty when writing a love scene. How do we manage to write a realistic scene without sounding like a Hallmark card and boring our readers? How do we maintain tension yet show the love between our characters?
First of all, during the action of your love scene - from the first gaze into each other’s eyes to the final consummation - what matters most is the WHY. Why are these two people (characters) attracted to each other? What motivates them to take the risk and be vulnerable enough to open up to intimacy and ultimately fall in love?
During the dating period people will be drawn to each other by the pleasure principal. What gives your character pleasure? Do the enjoy quietly reading a book or the thrill of bunjee jumping? What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What do they pursue as passions? Even in the midst of the tortures you put your characters through, they may miss their normal life. They’d love to return to the easy days when they had time to paint a picture, garden or go to a car race.
Couples may get together because of their common interests, but more often the deep connection comes when a potential partner has something to teach them. They may not be aware of this, according to psychologists, who explain much of our attraction, that intangible called “chemistry,” is subconscious.
So love scenes are a good place to go into your characters' heads – even in the midst of the action, don’t worry, it won’t slow your scene down - as they try to figure out WHY. At first they’ll base it on surface things: common interests, a smile, physical appearance, a sense of humor. But as time goes on, they discover how their “perfect” partner is someone who unsettles their life, as opposed to making it easier. Psychologists, like Carl Jung, believe our choice in partners is often not to make life easy and happy – but as a catalyst for the necessary change. The relationship can enable both people need to develop into the fully authentic people they’re meant to be.
Not an easy road but one which makes for good reading.
Chemistry is unexplainable simply because the majority of the reasons people fall in love is buried deep beneath the surface of their psyches. So as you write your love scenes pay attention to the small details – the particulars, not just physical descriptions, but those subconscious clues which lead to chemistry.
One psychological study found that women unknowingly fall for men on a subconscious level on the timber of their voice. They may have thought it was the man's distinctive eyes, shoulders, hair, hands, or even bank account - when all along it was their voice. When you think of it, women are listeners and communicators, so the voice is a natural for them to pay attention to. The timber of their lover’s voice reminds them of someone they loved in the past:  father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, family friend.
While men are drawn more to the visual and physical appearance in addition to smell. Remember the whole musk research?
Jung believed peak chemistry occurs when the partner ignites a buried side of our personality. The sides we neglected because they didn’t work with the way we learned live in society. - the side we pushed away when we put on our social mask. These partners inspire or taunt us to remove the mask and become the fully authentic individual we are meant to be.
So what do you think are the subconscious triggers which motivate your characters to fall in love?  Do they figure out such triggers in the course of your novel or are they left in the dark about why they are "smitten" with either the right or the seemingly wrong person?  How do these triggers create tension in your love scenes?
Next blog post: I’ll discuss creating tension and the power of your character's sense orientation in love scenes.


  1. Gail, delighted you stopped by for a visit this morning. Your blog will provide immense support as my story edges to the page. Enjoy your weekend ... and definitely pop over to the salon for a demi-styling. You'll feel refreshed and more vibrant. Now if I could only shed those extra ten pounds ;-) ~Allie

  2. I think you touched upon most of the reasons people fall in love. Sometimes it's just out of need, too. And I always remember that with men, physical attraction is a strong factor.

  3. Wonderful post! You've given me some great food for thought. Thanks for this entry, Gail! Been missing your blogs. :)

  4. Gail, great topic! I am not very nice to romantic hopefuls... I tend to have them drawn to each other 'in spite of themselves'--motivated physically, but fighting it emotionally--or else one attracted and the other oblivious... like real life. I am mean and rotten. (then again I write suspense and (newly) mystery)--I DO have a few established couples, and I am equally rotten to THEM. I think it's so true that we often don't know why we're drawn to somebody, and it makes it so tricky to write about. I think my most interesting romance is between a pair of teens, and she (a runaway) makes friends with younger siblings.. the older boy (the romantic pair) resents her intruding, but she is helpful and pretty, and so he is attracted, but then MAD AT HER about what he feels (how dare she be irresistible to him, eh?)... this seems to ring truer than a lot of what I read.

    I have a psych background too, and it helps so much!

  5. Hmmm. I respectfully beg to differ.

    Biological science is rapidly proving that attraction is often just as biological as psychological. We find ourselves struck with sudden attraction to potential mates who have physical genetic markers that will produce stronger and smarter offspring.

    Things like the pheromones exuded in their sweat triggers lots of reactions in our brains and the ideal combination of of such triggers will produce an overwhelming response.

    Okay that's good for activating dopamine and other feelgood 'rewards' for mating with someone who would create the optimal children but in reality those attractions only last between 5 and 7 years.

    What about longer lasting "true" love that doesn't fade? Neuroscience has discovered that very different parts of the brain light up and go into overdrive in people who are experiencing true love as opposed to just affection and attraction.

    These lucky people also experience a different set of chemical reactions in the brain.

    Stuff that goes way beyond the instant gratification of the dopamine response that science used to proclaim was love itself.

    With every new discovery we find out how little we really know as yet.

    One thing science seems to be illustrating, at least it seems so to me, is that shorter term loves (the ones with offspring as the goal) tend to draw us to people who have qualities that we ourselves do not. Then the child gets a bit of the best of both parents.

    But in the lifelong romances, people who are still in love after decades together like traits seem to be matched together.

    So opposites attract, but eventually part. And duplicates join for good.

    Of course you know me and know I think there is MUCH more going on in relationships involving love than simple biology. The mind and soul have their own agendas, but the mind is difficult to know, and the soul rarely gives us a clue what it is really up to. So we have to use the way that mind and body react to guess at the soul's intent. They all reflect upon each other illuminating what is important. We just have to learn how to interpret what we see and feel better, without dismissing ANY of it as irrelevant.

    I wish I could know what Jung would say if he were here to see some of these recent advances in biology and neuroscience. I bet it would clarify everything.

    When I get through annotating my copy of "Eyes of Sophia" I think I will mail it out to you. It's a true story and illustrates synchronicity and soul marriage beautifully. I think it will blow your mind a bit. ;)


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