Okay, so you know how to write tension. But can you write it…sexually? If that sounded dirty to you, you’re on the right track.
Sexual tension is all about getting your reader to long for your characters to do something. And it’s a whole lot more about what they’re NOT doing than what they are doing. Which makes it hard to write, yanno? Can’t write something that’s not happening. Or can you? Have a look at this.
You just tilted your screen away from the rest of the coffee shop, didn’t you? But what does that picture really show? Knees. Knees aren’t that racy. For all you know, outside the frame that girl could be wearing a giraffe costume. But all you had to do to make that set of knees sexy was to add panties (which created an atmosphere of the illicit) and then leave them halfway pulled down (which made you think a whole lot about the implications of them being elsewhere).
That’s the key to good sexual tension–guiding the reader’s imagination to the racy, suggestive little place of wanting more without being too straightforward about it. Too often, I see the “OMG he’s so HAWT” model of establishing attraction between characters. Which has its place. Physical attraction is part of sexual tension. But it’s not the whole enchilada. It’s more like the hot sauce you dash on top when you’re nearly done.
Techniques for Creating Sexual Tension
The basis of all sexual tension is awareness. The characters are aware of each other, the way you are of the guy with brilliant green eyes who just walked past your table in the coffee shop. The characters notice things about each other. When you describe the love interest character through the eyes of your main character, calibrate your wording so they sound beautiful. So don’t say “The girl tossed colorless hair away from her face as she rode her skateboard.” Instead, you could say, “Her loose blonde waves were competing with the bottom of her shorts for who got to touch her toned thighs first; her body leaning gracefully into all the wrong angles that did all the right things.” Just by the different word choices, we know that the viewpoint character finds her beautiful, without an OMG SO HAWT in sight.
Awareness also means they notice details about each other. I remember once in a Maggie Stiefvater book, I knew one character loved another character because he recognized the habitual expressions of the other boy’s eyebrows.
Two characters with good chemistry are never neutral to one another. They may argue like crazy or get along like best friends, but they’ll always be reacting strongly to one another.