Mills & Boon: How to write steamy scenes

Four Mills & Boon Australian authors offer tips on how to write racy copy.
A profile of a woman. The bottom half of her is covered by steam.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mills & Boon Australia. Here are four fun facts about this specialised publishing house.

  • Mills & Boon romances were first published in Australia in 1974.
  • A Mills & Boon romance is sold somewhere in the world every two seconds.
  • Arrows from the Dark by Sophie Cole was the company’s first romance novel, published in 1909.
  • Gerald Mills and Charles Boon founded Mills & Boon in London in 1908; they didn’t just publish romance fiction, but everything from travel to craft. Some of their early authors included Gerald Mills, Jack London and P G Wodehouse.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, ArtsHub asks four Mills & Boon authors how to write hot and steamy erotic scenes.

‘The relief of a storm’

Clare Connelly has written more than 40 novels for Mills & Boon. Her latest release is The Sicilian’s Deal for ‘I Do’, published under the Modern category. 

‘I generally find these scenes some of the easiest to write because the intimacy between my characters develops organically throughout the book. A benefit to writing high-angst, high-conflict stories is that there’s always a lot of energy building between my protagonists. Keeping them apart in the book when they so obviously want to be together (but can’t for whatever reason) is a huge part of building the tension for when they do finally succumb to temptation. A great sex scene should feel like the relief of a big storm after a sultry tropical heatwave. 

Clare Connelly. Photo: Supplied.

‘When I first started writing and was less comfortable with writing steamy scenes, I would often save these for the evening, put on a swoony playlist, pour a glass of red wine and go for it. As a writer, you have to put the reader out of your mind and just let the characters talk to you.

‘One of the most important things about writing intimate scenes in a romance novel is to remember that it’s not just about a physical act. This is an emotional moment of connection. It can be funny, silly, sexy, angry… whatever emotion you’re aiming for, but the characters feel things and they say things, and afterwards, when the storm has broken and the sky begins to clear, things are different for them, even if they don’t want it to be. You can’t go back, so each steamy scene is a turning point in the characters’ lives…’

‘Steamy scenes aren’t physical scenes, they’re emotional scenes’

Amy Andrews has written 47 novels for Mills & Boon, in a variety of categories. Her most recent book, Harper and the Single Dad, was published under the Medical Romance category.  

Amy Andrews. Photo: Supplied.

‘I’m often asked questions about this process and people are usually surprised by my answer. You see, steamy scenes aren’t physical scenes, they’re emotional scenes. It’s not (just) about what’s going on physically between the couple, but the emotional intensity going on inside each person that is the key to a truly in-depth, fulfilling love scene.

‘Without being inside the head of the participants, these scenes can quickly become an anatomy lesson. But if you add in how each kiss and touch feels and what it means emotionally to be intimate with another person, that is what really connects the reader to the scene.

‘A couple are never more vulnerable than when they’re stripped bare and, in the aftermath (particularly the first time), they can never go back to the way they were. So, it ups the stakes in the relationship. It can even make things worse!’

‘A lot of what makes a scene hot and steamy is expectation’ 

Annie West has written 57 Mills & Boon novels, with her latest release, His Last-Minute Desert Queen out now, under the Modern category.

‘I love writing characters who are so attuned to each other even the touch of the other person’s breath on bare skin is arousing. Remember those heady days in a relationship when passion is a persistent undercurrent? 

‘Hot and steamy scenes have an energy all their own, but they aren’t necessarily the most explicit. There can be intense sizzle in a single kiss or a scene where characters simply talk. Conversation can be loaded with anticipation and sensual connection that make the blood beat faster. A lot of what makes a scene hot and steamy is expectation. 

Annie West. Photo. Fiona Vaughan.

‘It’s important to remember this is an emotional experience for the hero and heroine. My characters are real to me, with personalities, fears and dreams. Intimacy means something to them. Including their emotions gives sensual scenes depth and heightens their impact. 

‘There’s also extra frisson if you’re writing enemies-to-lovers – a couple at odds with each other who still can’t resist the magnetic pull between them. In His Last-Minute Desert Queen Miranda and Zamir begin as enemies (she kidnaps him to save her cousin from an arranged marriage). From the start sparks fly, but soon they find it’s not just animosity they share. The push-pull between indignation and grudging respect, between distrust and desire, means their scenes are freighted with extra spark, so when they finally get hot and steamy the intensity has reached fever pitch.’ 

I must know my characters really well

Ally Blake. Photo: Supplied

Ally Blake has written 38 Mills & Boon novels, with her latest release, Cinderella Assistant to Boss’s Bride, out now under the Forever Romance category.  

‘I usually write love scenes while sitting in my favourite café! One time, as a waiter brought me my “usual” – a hot latte and a white chocolate macadamia cookie – I felt him pause. I looked up to find his eyes on my laptop screen, on which was a stark, bold, red heading, indicating the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of the scene I was about to write. Needless to say, he was more careful from then on!

‘For me, love scenes are often the last scenes I write. (I write all out of order, so that’s OK). Mostly because I must know my characters really well – what motivates them, what they’re most afraid of, why they’ve held back till that moment, and why they can’t deny their feelings any more. For knowing that makes for a far richer, more moving reader experience. For only then can we know why and how taking that step together will change things. Forever’.

Read: Romance as BookTok feminism? Australian authors disrupting the form

Romance reader quiz

So you would like to read some romance books, but have no idea what kind of a reader you are? The categories are wide-ranging and include Modern, Historical, Intrigue, Romantic Suspense, Medical and Western. Take this quiz to find out what series best suits your appetites.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on