Do you want your characters to come across as close or connected? Do you want it to seem as if they care for each other, or love one another, or are in love with each other? That's exactly what we're talking about today!
A quick disclaimer: these tips will be phrased for romantic intimacy, which is intimacy within a romantic relationship. However, many of them–if not all of them–can also apply to platonic intimacy, like intimacy within a family or intimacy within a friendship. Intimacy doesn't inherently mean romance, at least not in all ideations. So just remove the romantic element of these tips and they can fit into any form of intimacy. Additionally, I will be referencing couples within this video. However, these tips can also apply to polyamory.
I'm breaking down my 10 tips for writing amazing, heartwarming, squeal-inducing intimacy so that your readers get wrapped up in the relationships you're writing and don't want to put the book down! Now, on to the tips!
This video is sponsored by Skillshare. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Know the Definition!
A lot of people hear the word ‘intimacy’ and think ‘sex.’ And while there is a definition of intimacy that equates to sex, it's like seventh on the list. The main definition of intimacy is closeness and familiarity. It means an affectionate or loving personal relationship, or some act or expression of affection. The key words here are ‘closeness’ and ‘affection,’ so that's what you should be focused on when building intimacy.
Number 2: Intimacy Doesn't HAVE to Equal Sex
I've heard the advice that if you're writing romance or romantic intimacy, there absolutely has to be sex. That's some dumb, incorrect shit. While sex and intimacy are often linked, they are not dependent on one another. You can experience romantic intimacy without sex just like you can experience sex without romantic intimacy. The reliance on sex to equate romantic intimacy is actually a really huge mistake in fiction, because sexual attraction is not romance. You're just horny! Calm down. It may be hot, but heart-wrenching or swoon-worthy? Not so much....
This isn't to say you shouldn't write sex. You absolutely can, just don't assume that this is the key to creating intimacy. And definitely don't assume that you have to write sex. There are plenty of reasons a ship can abstain: asexuality, personal preference, comfort levels, age. Maybe it's way too soon. Maybe it's inappropriate for the target audience. Maybe it's not at all relevant to the story. Basically, sex is fine, but intimacy doesn't have to be sexual, and it's not intimate if all you've got is sex.
Number 3: Create a Bond
Intimacy is impossible without connection, and connection relies on a strong bond. This means it's not enough for your characters to simply know one another or share long glances across the room. A bond goes deeper than that. It relies on shared experiences and feelings. It relies on a sense of common ground. The easiest way to create a close emotional bond between characters is to have them share vulnerabilities or vulnerable moments. You see this a lot in fiction because it's effective.
Maybe they're sharing life or death situations. They're both running from the same guy and having to save one another's lives. But it doesn't have to be life or death stakes; it can be as simple as them sharing their trauma from their past or their tragic backstories. Sometimes they bond over a shared insecurity. Maybe they're both being bullied at school or they're struggling at work. Without moments where all parties share an unguarded version of themselves, there is no sense of closeness, and that is pivotal for creating a bond. Focus on powerful bonding moments and the intimacy will be much easier to write.
Number 4: Understand Your Characters
Everyone expresses and receives intimacy differently. There are many people who consider sharing deep, personal stories intimate. However, I personally don't mind sharing personal stories of my own volition. It's not an intimate expression for me. On the flip side, some people are super touchy. They don't mind hugging and cuddling people. To them, it's not a big deal. I, on the other hand, find physical touch very intimate and I am only comfortable sharing it with certain people. Like Butters!
Your characters should be the same way. They should be just as varied as the real world. As you create your characters, you should get an idea of what they would consider intimate and how they would react to certain forms of intimacy. Is sharing personal information a form of intimacy to that character? Why or why not? What about physical touch? What about flirtation? What about sex? Everyone is different based on nature and nurture, so figure out where your character exists on the spectrum that is human individuality.
Number 5: Show, Don't Tell
Telling absolutely has its place, but when you're trying to build emotion, show...don't tell. Intimacy is an area where it's imperative to show, because your content will only come across as intimate if the readers can feel the intimacy. You can't tell the readers, "their relationship was intimate," and have it automatically translate into warm fuzzies. If anything, they're gonna feel ripped off.
If you're ever at a loss on how to show intimacy, think about how intimacy is shown in real life: through words of affection, body language, and of course, physical touch. Something as simple as an embrace or tucking a strand of hair behind someone's ear can get the job done. And of course, kind gestures, or displays, or even facial expressions can go a long way in expressing intimacy. Never underestimate the power of a soft smile, or flushed cheeks, or a grand display of affection to show emotion.
Number 6: Avoid 'Felt'
One of the easiest ways to show as opposed to tell is to avoid writing the word 'feel' or 'felt.' That's not to say you should never use it; it absolutely has its moments. But if you are constantly telling the reader how a character feels, you are destroying the sense of intimacy.
If you catch yourself writing, "she felt so close to her girlfriend," you are telling, and there are a handful of superior ways you could show this moment instead. For example, maybe she could reach out and hold her girlfriend's hand. Maybe you can describe the weight of uncertainty being lifted from her shoulders, or the ease of being in her girlfriend's company. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity for their first kiss.
"She felt so attracted to her." "She felt a bond to her." "She felt desperate to be with her."
All of this is telling, and all of it sucks.
Number 7: Use Your Five Senses
Using your five senses makes readers feel transported into the scene, and that is very important for intimacy. If your character is involved in a particularly intimate exchange–again, this does not have to be sexual–think about what their senses are tuning in to.
We're familiar with comforting smells; smells that make you feel safe, smells that remind you of something or someone you love. Maybe your character is cuddling with their partner and smelling the coconut scent of their hair.
Taste is great, especially if they're kissing.
Sight is always relevant. You can use it to describe their partner's body language or facial expressions.
For hearing, obviously, you can use dialogue. But you can also describe the way the character is talking. Is it breathy or excited? Is it soft or tender? Or, they could simply be lulled by the rhythm of their heartbeat or their steady breathing.
And of course, touch is so important to building intimacy, as is the reaction to touch. Goosebumps, shivers, relaxation, ease.
All of this matters! Tap into your five senses and bring those intimate moments to life.
Number 8: Get Inside Your Body
This is another tip I give often when it comes to writing emotional content, and it is especially relevant for intimacy. Think about how intimacy physically manifests itself in your body. How you physically feel when you're with someone that you share a close, personal bond with. And understand these feelings are going to be different for specific people and for specific levels of intimacy.
Maybe when a relationship is new, the character's heart is pounding, their face is hot, their breathing is short and quick. But in an older, lived-in relationship, maybe being with their partner creates a sense of peace and ease. When they see their partner, all the tension and stress in their body releases. These sort of descriptions not only illustrate the intimacy between the characters, it also creates a visceral and immersive experience for the reader.
Illustrate the intimacy between the characters to create a visceral and immersive experience for the reader.
Number 9: Pay Attention to Dialogue
Intimacy, whether it's platonic or romantic, will change the way characters relate to one another and especially how they speak with each other. I speak to my fiancé completely differently than how I speak with my family or my friends, and I speak to all of them in a totally different way than I speak with people I have zero connection with.
Different kinds of intimacy create different forms of communication, and I'm not just talking about terms of endearment or flirting. Obviously, I don't call my friends 'baby.' Obviously, I don't flirt with my mom. But there are some things I feel comfortable talking about with Cliff, but I don't feel comfortable sharing it with other people. There are some things I go to my mom for specifically, and there are some jokes I only make with my friends.
This is the same in fiction; every intimate relationship is unique. Using The Savior's Sister as an example, Tobias is very protective by nature, but he's a lot more willing to be soft and vulnerable with Leila. He's also goofier and more sarcastic with his friends, which is something a lot of people can relate to. Think about how intimacy affects your character's personality, and thus, how it will translate into the dialogue of your scene.
Number 10: Know When to Turn It Off
Intimate relationships are not all heart flutters all the time. Sometimes couples, friends, and family fight. Sometimes they disagree. Sometimes they've got shit to do. That's not to say that intimacy completely disappears, but sometimes I really need to work. So, I tell Cliff, "Hey baby, I'm sorry, but I gotta write this scene." And then I ignore him for an hour.
The point is if it's all walking on sunshine all the time, no one's gonna buy it. That's not to say you gotta throw in abuse or gaslighting to keep things interesting. Please don't do that! Don't get it twisted, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying if the character is dealing with the death of their mom or the impending doom of the universe, this may not be the time for them to be twitterpated or horny. Save the intimacy for times when the intimacy makes sense. Your readers will thank you.
So that's all I've got for you today!
A lot of writers struggle with making their characters’ relationships authentic and believable. These tips give you all the info you need to make sure your readers are so in love with your OTP, or BrOTP, that they can’t put the book down.
What’s your favorite way of showing intimacy between characters? I love reading your ideas!
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