How to ramp up tension in a clean romance

I just uploaded Her Billionaire Sheikh, book number 9 of my clean billionaire romance series which launches May 29. My editor said it was “different.” My best book yet. Was I in a different frame of mind writing it?

As I applied her edits and re-read the story, I did notice that it is one of the strongest romances I have written so far. So I thought about distilling the elements that built romantic tension throughout the story and breaking it down in a blog post. I would love to duplicate or improve on it someday. Here are some things I did:

1.Make your protagonists interesting individuals. I started out with a woman con-artist and the billionaire sheikh she is assigned to fleece. Strong, imperfect personalities make for interesting romances.

2.Make the couple super attractive to each other. Not just because they are beautiful, but because they carry themselves with confidence. They look each other in the eyes. Have your protagonists note the things they find attractive. Use metaphors to enhance their attractiveness. What does the color of their eyes remind them of? What is their fragrance like? And why do those details jump out to your protagonists?

3.Back it up with emotion. Physical attractiveness is empty without the backing of love. Give your couple an emotional connection. Allow them to be vulnerable even if they hate to be. A well-placed heart to heart can establish their relationship emotionally, which makes for a more satisfying romance you can root for.

4.Give them a good reason to fight their attraction. In my story, she knows she needs him to fall in love with her, but she feels sorry for him and doesn’t want to hurt him. It’s a constant struggle that gives her a good reason to push him away.

5.Give him a heart. Give him a dog. Have him mourn the passing of someone close to him. Make him human but not too much of a jerk.

6.Make her strong but vulnerable. No one wants a whiny heroine who doesn’t try to help herself. But she also needs to show a chink in her armor to make her likeable to the reader.

7.Have the characters go on romantic dates. This is obvious, but unless you do this purposefully, your characters will do boring things. You want to avoid boring and predictable. You know they will fall in love and go from a to b. Might as well make it fun and romantic. Make the reader fall in love alongside them.

8.Use the setting to deepen their relationship. My story is set in Morocco. So I picked a few settings there that would not only be a great backdrop for a romance, but also have the reader associate the wonder of the setting with falling in love: the moon rising over the Sahara Desert, swimming along the North African coast, tajine dinners and coffee visits with his former nanny.

9.Build up to the first kiss. My characters in this book do not kiss for 70-something pages. I did this on purpose, to see if they could build their relationship first before they have their first kiss. The anticipation was delicious.

10.Make that first kiss worth it. You have drawn it out, now luxuriate in that first kiss. Focus on the emotion and make their body language convey that. What are they doing with their hands (for a clean audience), how do they feel as the kiss draws them in deeper?

11.Give them a forbidden kiss or two. A novel is a long investment for a reader. Give them a few rewards along the way. Put your characters in situations with heightened emotions where they don’t really want to kiss the other because of an emotional barrier, but very much want to because of an attraction they can’t deny. Let them slip up and kiss and regret it (but not entirely).

12.Put the characters in forced proximity. It helps if you bring them close, literally. A road trip, a marriage of convenience, working on a project together, a bodyguard protecting his charge. Oh my, those are the funnest situations for a couple fighting their attraction to each other.

13.Keep pulling them apart. Lob a little obstacle at first, then keep growing the stakes. Yes, you will need to be mean. You will give them an HEA later so let them work for it.

14.Really pull them apart. Give them a huge break-up that seems insurmountable. Tie it into each characters’ greatest fear and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that will rip them apart…

15….so you can make their reunion even the sweeter. Give them a good make-up scene where they bare their souls. And of course, give them that HEA kiss you’ve been building all throughout the book.

Got any to add to my list? What has worked for you?

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