Victoria Dahl goes both ways — we mean, she writes both sizzling romance novels set in both the past and present. Dahl has just released her latest historical romance, It’s Always Been You, an RT Top Pick for the month of August. And her next contemporary romance, Good Girls Don’t, will be in stores at the end of the month. So we asked the author to tell us about the differences between writing a contemporary love scene versus one a reader would find in a historical romance.
Anyone who’s read my books probably knows this, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: I adore writing love scenes. In fact, if I couldn’t write love scenes, I’m not sure I would write at all. For me, it’s the reward for all the tension and stress and torture I put the characters through. A reward for the characters, but also for me! (And, I like to hope, for the reader.) But how that reward plays out depends on what type of book I’m writing.
As an author of both contemporary and historical romances, I’ve experienced the vast differences between writing a modern scene and writing a Victorian one. It’s far different before you even get to the sex. Sexual tension in my historicals is a bit darker and more fraught. After all, there are some pretty serious consequences to consider, even for the most casual of affairs. Pregnancy, disease, reputation, and eligibility… Any mistake will have permanent consequences in the nineteenth century. So consider the absolute torture, the obsession, of feeling lust for another person. Would it be more intense? This need to touch someone you can’t stop thinking about? Would it be even more urgent when you know you absolutely mustn’t—you can’t—dare even the smallest taste?
But in contemporaries, all bets are off. Sex might be the first thing the heroine thinks of when she meets the hero. Certainly, once they’re attracted to each other, the option of sex is happily on the table. He can’t help but notice her cleavage. She’s thinking about his big hands. Oh, there are reasons they shouldn’t, but come on… We’re all adults here. Of course, that means that I have to work harder at giving them obstacles. And then I have to help them stumble right past them!
Once the characters overcome those obstacles, the biggest difference in love scenes is tone. In general, my historical love scenes are a little more serious. A little more…fraught. For all the reasons and risks I named above, but also because no matter the circumstance, it’s likely to be a less casual encounter. Oh, it might be the Victorian version of the one-night-stand, but it’s a risky endeavor, and something neither the hero nor heroine do every weekend. It’s…unfamiliar. The situation, but even the language. The heroine isn’t likely to know the names for the parts she’s working with. She’s probably not even familiar with words for what she’s feeling. So, reader, there are euphemisms. Hopefully not purpley ones, but euphemisms nonetheless. There’s lushness and mystery. And there is surprise. There are sensations she never dreamed existed, even if she’s made love before, and I have to try to capture the wonder of that experience.
But the contemporary heroine? Oh, she knows all about these sensations, even if it’s only in the sense that she’s been missing out. She knows just what an orgasm is, either because she’s been happily experiencing them since she was sixteen or because she’s painfully aware that she hasn’t. She knows the scientific name for every part of her body and his, and she knows most of the slang words too. So the contemporary love scene is less mysterious, but it can also be much more…demanding. It takes a lot of concentration on my part. And the hero’s. This is not a woman who trembles at the very idea of a man touching her down there. He needs to bring some skill and intensity. And so do I!
So each genre brings its own challenges, but for me, the rewards far overwhelm the tension and torture. And I sincerely hope that’s true for the reader, as well!
- Victoria Dahl