If character awareness is the lock pick in the romance toolbox, then accidental nudity is the sledgehammer. There is zero subtlety when it comes to one character seeing another in a state of undress, but sometimes it’s exactly the right tool for the job.
This is one of the few tools that cannot be used for both platonic and romantic relationships. Basically, this is the tool you use when you want to be abso-frickin-lutely positive that your readers know romance will be happening soon.
Get ready for some eye candy, folks. This topic comes with visuals.
Sandra Bullock said herself that she “only does nudity in the funny,” meaning she doesn’t get naked to titillate. (Oh my god, I spelled that right on the first try without looking it up!)
It doesn’t matter if this scene was only meant to be (and actually was) funny. Their naked bodies smacking together was not sexy in the least (aside from the fact that both Reynolds and Bullock are smoking hot).
Sorry about the blurry action shot. It was the best I could grab.
But titillation isn’t the keyword here. The tool is accidental nudity. And in this case, it worked like a charm.
No sex comes from this. In fact, both characters reel away, embarrassed and grossed out (Margaret was wet from a shower, and Andrew was sweaty). But the viewer can have no doubt whatsoever what’s coming for this pair, which was the entire point of including it.
This movie is an old favorite of mine. The chemistry between the love interests is spot on throughout the movie, but that relationship got a kick start in the beginning when Declan walks in on Anna while she’s changing.
It was fairly shitty of Declan to barge in on her (twice) without knocking, but people are flawed, and so are characters. And since Anna wasn’t charmed by it, I can let it slide.
Again, this was the furthest thing from sexy. This is a simply signpost to the viewers, basically a foreshadowing of sex. (Hopefully Declan was a more respectful lover than innkeeper.)
I actually used this example in my last post on Destructive Romance, but one can never have enough shirtless Adam Driver.
Star Wars fans could have reasonably construed Rey and Ben Solo’s growing relationship as platonic — until this happened.
Can anyone be blamed for shipping the pair after the 8th episode (assuming Solo earned his redemption first)? I certainly did.
Finally! A book example!
It was kind of hard to come up with examples of accidental nudity in books. I think the purpose was always to titillate the viewer by showing them a famous actor half dressed. But the tool still works, even if you’re only getting a written description of the nudity in question.
I say it works, but the one example I found is actually quite gross: Graeme is out walking and sees his naked love interest bathing alone in a stream. At least in all my film examples, the naked person knew the incident happened. But poor Eveline is oblivious. She has zero agency, while some man sneakily watches her naked.
Unfortunately it happened again in the sequel. Bowen is out walking and sees Genevieve bathing in a stream. The first time, I could let it slide. It was a different time, I guess. But the second time, I’m starting to get the idea that the author gets a kick out of voyeurism.
I didn’t make it to book three.
Despite my distaste for this tactic, the accidental nudity tool worked as advertised. I expected to find romance to blossom between the pair, and it did.
Like all things in writing, some context is required for this tool to work properly.
Seeing Kylo Ren half dressed shocked and flustered Rey. She even asked him to put on a shirt.
Anna was thoroughly embarrassed and angry when Declan rudely barged in on her. It set the tone for the beginning of their relationship arc.
Andrew later admitted to Margaret that she was a very beautiful woman, a compliment she definitely needed to hear.
Even Graeme, who had been struggling with the idea of having an arranged marriage, was suddenly struck by the idea that he might be attracted to his wife after all.
But without the proper context, nudity is just nudity.
Anyone remember Starship Troopers? This movie was a real trip, one I suggest every movie lover take at least once.
One of the more memorable moments was the shower scene. It’s just a bunch of soldiers, both men and women, taking a communal shower and chatting. This scene doesn’t hint toward a romantic relationship between anyone in particular. It’s just a shower.
Don’t promise what you don’t plan to deliver.
Like I said in the beginning, accidental nudity is a sledgehammer. Don’t swing it if you don’t want to hit something.
If one of your characters gets caught naked, there had better be a romance coming up. Otherwise you are setting your readers up for disappointment.
When did your favorite book or movie use accidental nudity to set the stage for the relationship?