Writing Chemistry in Romance

How to Write chemistry in romance novels

While love at first sight, exists, as well as long-time unrequited love, often the initial meeting doesn’t involve love.

Stages of Chemistry

Physical Attraction: This probably needs no explanation, but it’s basically lust. Two people who find the other sexually appealing. In many romances, the connection between the characters starts at this.

Personal Attraction: This attraction is something that evolves as the characters get to know each other on a deeper level. In Drawn to Her, Lexie learns that her first impression of Drake isn’t who he really is. As she learns that he has compassion for those wh0 work for him, her personal attraction and respect for him grows.

Emotional Attraction: Essentially this is love, but it speaks to a connection that is soul deep.

By the end of your book, your characters should have all three. At the beginning, they usually have one or two. If there are all three, it’s generally thought to be one-sided, such as a man who’s in love with his neighbor but believes she just sees him as a friend. She of course can think the same about him. Or not.

Writing Chemistry

This is where things get tricky in a romance because chemistry is a bit like porn; you can’t easily explain it, but you know it when you see it.

Many novice writers tend to use telling to describe chemistry. “He was hot and she wanted him.”

Successful chemistry though is shown through the senses.

When Lexie first meets Drake, she immediately notices that he’s attractive, yet dark and broody. But when she confronts him, there’s an extra little zing.

“You have some nerve.” She poked him in the chest with her index finger, ignoring the jolt of heat zapping her each time she felt the hard, firm muscle underneath his starched white shirt.

Here we have a hint of physical attraction.

Here is Drake’s side of their encounter:

Having to ask her permission didn’t annoy him as much as the way he’d been caught off guard by her brazenness and how her emerald eyes stared into the depths of his soul when she challenged him.

You’ll note that in both cases, neither is thinking about getting naked, but there is something there that unsettles them both.

But just after this, when Drake has to talk to Lexie about having time with his grandfather, this happens:

Lexie turned her back to him again to reach into the top cupboard for glasses. As she did, her white sleeveless blouse rose to reveal soft-looking skin along her lower back, making Drake think of peaches and cream.

She turned back to him, with glasses in hand, her brows lifting. “You look a little warm, so I’ll take that as a yes.”

He was warm. He rubbed the back of his neck and rolled the tension from his shoulders. It must be the heat and humidity. His mind told him that was a lie.

In this exchange, we see that he’s having a physical response. You’ll also note that a physical response isn’t just arousal.

Here is the meeting scene between Mitch McKenna and Dr. Sydney Preston in Meant to Be. This is a second chance at love in which the first time they didn’t end well.

All of a sudden, the air around Mitch changed, causing the hair on his arms to stand. It wasn’t the type of sensation that triggered danger, but it was definitely a warning…

The warning grew more intense until Mitch couldn’t help but turn around and stare right into the beautiful hazel eyes of Sydney Preston.

His heart stuttered in his chest as a wave of conflicting emotions; anger, love, bitterness, joy crashed through him. His first instinct was to leave, which only pissed him off. He’d stared down insurgents in the Middle East. He could survive seeing Sydney Preston. Another, equally strong, part of him wanted to touch her, to hold her close and see if she felt as soft, smelled just as sweet as he remembered. But he wouldn’t succumb to her charm again. Like a steel gate, everything inside Mitch closed.

The Trick to Writing Chemistry 

When it comes to writing chemistry or even just emotion, I always ask:

What does that look like and feel like?

For example, what does lust look and feel like (beyond arousal)? Flushed cheeks? Hot skin?

What does pain and heartache look and feel like?

What does love look and feel like?

When stuck, this is where the romance phrasing books can help. I also write down words and phrases that I like from the books I read. Note, I’m not saying to plagiarize. Instead, write down just the word or short phrase.

For example, I once read a book that used the word shimmer to describe a sensation. I added shimmer to my list of sensual words, but I didn’t use the entire sentence that the word was used in.


Do you like this quick and dirty overview of writing chemistry. You can get more tips like this to help you write a swoonworthy romance in the Write a Romance in 30 Days Challenge. It’s free! Sign up here!

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