Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unresolved Sexual (or Romantic) Tension

You might remember my post awhile back about Unrelenting Teenage Angst (UTA) and my hatred for it. Well, I mentioned in the comments on that post that there's also a concept called Unresolved Sexual Tension, or UST. You can also call it Unresolved Romantic Tension if it's more audience-appropriate.

The difference between UTA and UST is that sexual tension, when included properly, can add flavor to an otherwise flat story. The key phrase here is, of course, "included properly." There are some works (i.e. certain romance novels) which are all about the will they/won't they vacillation, and become overwhelmed with the question from dwelling too much on it.

The kinds of works I prefer (and attempt to write) are the ones where the sexual tension is strong but not the overwhelming driving force behind the story. Does that mean all romance novels are sappy, overwrought vehicles for bored housewives? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Granted, I've read precisely one romance novel in my lifetime (I Thee Wed by Amanda Quick if you're interested), so my knowledge is woefully inadequate.

For my money, UST is best when you can sense it between two characters every time they're "on stage." Think Willie and Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom or Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. Particularly with Ron and Hermione in the later stories, you can sense the depth of feeling between those two characters that leaves you simultaneously joyous and relieved when Hermione up and kisses Ron in the middle of Book 7.

How about your own works? Is there a pair of characters that argue like cats and dogs but have a bond no one can break? Or is romance something you don't really concern yourself with in your writing?


Susan R. Mills said...

Great post! My MC's don't necessarily argue, but they have some tension between them (I hope I've included properly). I think reader's will be excited when they finally get together. That's my goal, anyway.

Al Gore said...


I'm a sucker for romance and unresolved sexual tension is something that definitely keeps me reading. But you're right, Matt, it has to be done right.

I've tried to do that in HATSHEPSUT and am working on it with the second novel currently in progress. I find it's one of the more difficult, but most satisfying parts of writing my stories.

Stephanie Thornton said...

ACK! The above comment was from Stephanie, not Amy.

Note to self: Remind students to sign out of my computer at work.


L. T. Host said...

Romance is there, in my books. My characters always come with a romantic foil. In WIND FURY, the romance was not the driving point of the plot, but the plot happened because they loved each other. In my new one, again, the romance isn't the focus of the story but it's still important (though a bit watered down, so as not to be gag-inducing. I hope.)

Renee Pinner said...

Romance, sexual tension (though I don't know if it'll stay unresolved), etc. will be/is there.
That's why girls buy books...hadn't you heard?

Joshua McCune said...

Another nice entry in your catalog... I definitely steer from too much romantic interplay, partially b/c I don't want it to be the driving factor and partially b/c I'm not as comfortable writing it (which is probably why I trend more toward MG than YA). Perhaps I could do a caveman romance... that's probably at my comfort level :)

LT - I'll second your romance interpretation of your recent one (and not gag-inducing, for sure ;).

Renee, nail hit smack dab on the crushed head...

PS -- loved your examples, particularly IJ... seems like Harrison Ford was really good at those roles back then... what was that other little film he was in?... something in space, I think ;)

Matthew Delman said...

Stephanie --

*points and laughs* That is all.

Renee --

Really? Is that why the Vampire Book That Must Not Be Named did so well?

Bane --

Yeah, I don't really recall what that movie was ... except there was something about laser swords and crazy old men played by Sir Alec Guiness

Renee Pinner said...

Bane...wow, hit her over the head and drag her into the cave = romance. I might could see it.

Matthew...that's exactly why the Vampire Book That Shall Not Be Named did so well. In my esteemed and educated opinion, if not expert.

Adam Heine said...

I don't write a lot of romance. I expect I'll grow into it eventually.

The best and worst example of unresolved sexual tension, that I can think of, is Smallville. The whole thing between Clark and Lana was one of the things I liked about the show. At first. But after a while it went on so long that I got frustrated with them for never saying what they both knew they felt.

So unresolved tension is good, but it must eventually be resolved or I'll get mad.

Natalie said...

Well, since I write MG I don't dabble too much in sexual tension, :) but I my girl and boy MC to have a fun together (good, clean fun mind you). I am a believer that every book written for anyone over 8 should have some sort of love story in it--like Renee said: "That's why girls buy books."