As a new romance writer, I am naturally interested in all opinions of what makes a pleasurable read. While there are numerous ingredients in a successful romance, the one that seems to draw interest from my critics is pace; not pace of the plot or pace of the romance, but pace of physical attraction. Specifically, how soon should the female and male main characters (FMC & MMC) get that um…twinge for each other?

Most would say it depends on the circumstances.

I agree, so let’s take an example.

If our MMC, a fireman, is traipsing through a burning building hanging onto his hose, his fire hose, and he spots a scantily clothed woman faint with smoke inhalation lying on the floor, he doesn’t get a twinge does he? I mean…he doesn’t, right? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know.

We all hope he doesn’t, at least for the woman’s sake. But what if he does? What if for one insane second before he scoops her up and dutifully delivers her to safety, a little voice in his head unpremeditatedly asks, I wonder if those are real?

And what about the victim? As she’s being carried, nauseated, gasping for one tiny breathe of fresh air, recognizing her near loss of life, does she squint open an eye and think, God firemen really are sexy. Just put me down anywhere, that mattress over there will do?—that last part, as she fades into oblivion, is simply an unconscious yet conditioned response to having had so many twinges in her life—at least according to critics.

Regardless of real life thought processes, as writers we can have our characters think anything we want whenever we want, and hopefully their thoughts will be reasonably realistic.

Realism is the first part of the issue: Could the fireman have actually had that thought followed by an ever so slight electrical impulse sent to his libido? The same question goes for the female victim.

And the second part of the issue: If they did have those instantaneous thoughts, should we really tell the reader?

In an attempt to address both parts, here is a more specific example:

When our FMC and MMC meet, they both recognize the constraints and conflict in their situation: ethically they should not get involved in any way outside of their main purpose for being together.

This is the Romance genre—they are going to end up together. It’s the law of the land.

The question is when does each think the other is attractive in a sexual way; so not just faces; they’re ogling body parts. This kind of thing:

He thinks:

God she’s got a great butt. And she was showing just enough cleavage today to make it interesting.

She thinks:

I’m glad he’s removed his jacket; I can see the definition of his pecs. I bet he’s got a six-pack to match.

All pretty tame, right? Sounds realistic enough, in our current day.

So let’s look more closely at the setting:  A hostile takeover; the MMC is an attorney for the aggressor company; the FMC is Chief Financial Officer of the swallowed up company—her father’s company. The two characters will be working together for perhaps weeks (though not every day) in her company’s boardroom where documents will be reviewed and meetings with company principles will be held. Is the environment clear to you?

Keeping realism in mind, at what point, after how many days of interaction, do the characters have their randy thoughts? after 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? 

Everyone’s different, right?

One couple, after three months of working together could bid each other a very formal “nice working with you” goodbye, sans any sexual impulses, conscious or otherwise; while another couple might feverishly shove board books, spreadsheets, and laptops off the conference table and share a little “afternoon delight” by lunchtime on the first day.

But I’m asking for some sanity here. What’s normal? What’s believable? What’s realistic? Probably somewhere in between.

So, in the above setting, how long would it take for the average woman to forget about the very serious task at hand and focus on the guy’s physical appeal? According to some of my critiques, within the hour. What companies, what offices, what hospitals, where in the world are all these twinges occurring? And more importantly, is any work getting done?

Regarding the second part of the issue, once you’ve decided when the guy and girl realistically get that first sexual impulse, when do you tell the reader about it? Seriously. If the fireman plausibly had that sexy little thought, would you rat him out to the reader? I once had an MMC who had bad breath, but I didn’t tell the reader about it.

We want readers to love our characters, so how much do we really want to tell them? Does knowing that the fireman and the victim had these thoughts, elevate your opinion of them…your caring for them?

And there it is. That’s what I don’t know.

Does the reader really want to know that in the middle of a board meeting a man noticed a woman’s blouse gap as he was introduced to her? Maybe in real life, the pig…I’m sorry, the idiot…I’m sorry, the guy, actually did notice it, but do we really want to tell the reader that about our MMC, our Hero? He’s a guy. He noticed if she had a panty line before she got two steps into the room. 

Make no mistake, my MMC‘s are very virile men. Don’t think for one minute they don’t get twinges by page two; I just don’t tell anyone about them until page thirty.

But seriously, remember, there’s no liquor involved, just two sober, rational, non-sex addict adults who are faced with some type of ethical conflict or constraint. She’s not a nun, but she also didn’t just get out of prison.

Realism and character likability:  When it comes to twinges, what timing sounds real to you, and does being told about them make characters more, or less, likable? Just how much interaction should there be before characters experience these sensual thoughts? Please—I’d like to know.