Bottom line: human beings are hard-wired to establish relationships, because without them, child-rearing probably wouldn’t happen. Unlike most other animals that can fend for themselves early on, human infants require a lot of time, effort, and teaching before they can survive on their own. There had to be a strong mechanism in place to bond a man and a woman so that they’d stick around to raise their offspring. For those of you who'd like to know more about how the survival of our species revolves around sex, you can find more in a post I wrote for my own blog.
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.
When writing (or reading) a romance, it’s important to consider these steps. They don’t have to happen in order (in erotica, they normally start way down the line), but they will create a bond between hero and heroine, and if steps are missing and not filled in, it’s likely there won’t be a believable relationship. Also, when writing romance, it's as much about the sexual tension as the sex. That means you're going to be pushing your characters together, then pulling them apart. Before there’s sex, there needs to be sexual tension, and knowing these steps will help you build it.
I’ll go through the first six steps with this post, and when it’s my turn again, I’ll post the last six. The steps are given from a male to female standpoint, so we're looking at the male as instigator, although these steps will work both ways
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.
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. One of the challenges of erotica, where you want the hero and heroine to have their happily ever after, is going back and filling in the missing steps.
As a writer, how do you show these first six steps? Does your heroine retreat behind dark sunglasses? Does she get a thrill when his hand brushes her arm? 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? Have you noticed a closer connection to characters when the author develops the relationship using these steps?
|Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.|