Thursday, March 20, 2014

The 12 Steps to Intimacy, Part 2

Last month, our theme was sex and romance. I was talking about the 12 Steps to Intimacy which romance author Linda Howard adapted from Desmond Morris's book, Intimate Behaviour. There wasn't enough room for all 12 steps in that post, so I'm continuing them here.

If you missed that first post, you can find it here. However, if you missed that post, then you missed the link to the foundations for human sexual behavior, so you might want to start here.

A quick recap of the steps, for those who simply want a refresher without the details:

1. Eye to Body
2. Eye to Eye
3. Voice to Voice
4. Hand to Hand
5. Arm to Shoulder
6. Arm to Waist

Moving on to the last 6 steps:

7. Mouth to mouth
Kissing. The first kiss is a milestone in any romance novel. Both parties are vulnerable. Look at the romance books you've read and see how many of these 'first kiss' encounters are cut short. The author is creating tension by pulling the characters apart. How is the kiss described? Is the author pushing the characters together with their reactions to the sensations?
In an erotic romance, this might be the first step. It's also going to happen very early in the book. However, for a believable HEA ending, the couple needs to backtrack and lay the foundations for the relationship beyond the scope of sex.

8. Hand to head
This is done by both men and women. Whereas the initial kiss may have been only a touching of lips, as the relationship develops, the woman may run her fingers through the man's hair. The man may cradle the woman's face. Allowing someone to touch one's head shows a deepening trust. Does the woman allow the touch, or does she pull away?

9. Hand to body
This step moves the couple into the beginnings of foreplay. This is another area where the author is likely to use the external plot to pull the characters apart. The phone rings. Someone knocks on the door. However, it's still quite possible for the emotional pull-apart. Is the character having second thoughts? Is there too much guilt?

10. Mouth to breast
This step shows a great deal of trust. It's still possible for the woman to pull back, although this is another step along the foreplay route.

11. Hand to genitals
Most of the time, this is the point at which there's no turning back. The commitment has been made. If the woman does change her mind, it will be very frustrating for the male (a MAJOR conflict). It's also likely to label the woman as a "tease."

12. Genitals to genitals
This is the sex act. It may happen on or off the page. However by now, the reader should be at least as anxious for the relationship to be consummated as the characters are. Perhaps more.
After this point, the author is challenged with maintaining tension. Just as the ratings plunged when the stars of "Moonlighting" finally slept together, once the hero and heroine have had sex, the author is likely to be spending more page time on the plot conflicts. In non-erotic romance, further sex scenes tend to be less detailed.

I hope these two posts have helped you understand how to show a relationship develop, and how to insert that all-important tension into your scenes. Remember, it's not just in a romance novel that these stepping stones to a relationship are important. It can work in any genre where you have characters in a relationship.

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.


  1. Each individual has a comfort level with all 12 steps. I personally hate it when characters start with 12. : )

    1. I agree -- and, I also hate it when characters start out in battle or other similar action scenes before I get a chance to know them enough to care. Happens a lot in movies or on TV.

  2. Thanks, Terry! I just used your post as a checklist for my upcoming novel and I am delighted!! Tension, conflict, character development...check, check, check! I am so excited!

    1. That's great! Happy to hear it. We all love it when we get things 'right'.

  3. Good list, Terry. Sometimes there's just not enough time. Diana, I've got one couple close in the elevator, THEN they go to #12. Does that count as a no-no? :-) In all fairness to me, it's cut short before completion, and they never get to that point again, even though they end up together.

    1. Polly, that can depend a lot on the genre, because readers have expectations that have to be met. It might be having a murder, or it might be having lots of detailed sex scenes. Writers have to know their audiences. (My husband just started a mystery by a best-selling author and he said, "Hey, I'm in chapter four. Does [author name] ever get to a dead body?"

    2. Hi Polly! An elevator scene! Awesome! My upcoming novel is called Elevator Girl! My two cents: It depends on your genre. An elevator can be depicted as either a confining, claustrophobic space, or an intimate one. I have a romantic comedy/contemporary women's fiction, so I was intentional about creating a mood of smart, fun, and relatable to the reader vs. romantic fantasy, erotica. I'm basically saying the same thing as Terry, but wanted to read out as a fellow elevator-scene writer! ;)

    3. Hey, I have an elevator scene, too! Not a book opener, but a great way to increase tension when there are other people in the elevator!

    4. Maybe we should do an anthology on elevator scenes. My genre is, gee, what the hell is it? There's murder, mystery, suspense, and believe it or not, because of one character, humor. The elevator scene leads to a scene that is not humorous and yet it is. She eventually kicks him out into the hotel corridor naked and throws all his stuff out after him.

  4. Yes! It was the basis of my novel: What happens when you recognize someone from your past who really annoyed you (okay, maybe you hated) in an elevator? Egad! It was fun and an interesting challenge to use the elevator setting for several scenes in the book that had different tensions and purposes.

  5. Geez, I felt like smoking a cigarette after reading that post!

    1. Hahaha. Didn't anyone feel like going to sleep? That should be #13, but I guess only in real-life.


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