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I'm working on one of the final scenes of my novel. The President is a kind, intelligent, fatherly man. Sara is a high-ranking NSA official and has been through months of intense pressure that has finally been released. The President took some political risk to rescue one of her assets because he believed it was the right thing to do. She breaks down and hugs the man. In this bit of dialog, I want to make it plain that this is in no way sexual. My attempt is bolded but feels unsatisfying. What strategies can I use to prevent the reader from misinterpreting the hug?

The corners of Sara’s mouth turned up. She pressed her lips tight but it was no use. She broke into a delighted smile. Her cheeks pressed up and her eyes watered. Months of weariness gave way to overwhelming joy. Warm drops rolled over her cheeks. She thrust her arms out and pulled the President toward her, one human being sharing a powerful moment with another.

Sara Wells, level-headed Deputy Director of the National Intelligence Agency, had just hugged the President of the United States.

And he hugged her back.

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    Don't use "thrust." It has sexual connotations no matter what you do. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Dec 20 '16 at 11:08
  • The approach, not just 'thrust', is sexual. The answer below should suffice. – user6035379 Dec 20 '16 at 13:17
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I think you are going about this a little wrong, rather than trying to stress how nuh-uh not sexual the hug is (and the high schooler in all of us knows how well that strategy works) just let it be a plain if emotionally ladened bit of contact and readers won't dive too deep into it.

If your readers have been paying any attention they should have already an understanding of the relation between these characters and will be willing to accept the relationship continuing to be nonsexual without the author having to draw any attention to the fact

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    I fully agree. And I think the reader should not be underestimated and be given everything ten times assured and cleared up. – Teddy Markov Dec 20 '16 at 12:38
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As always in literature, it is all about the setup. In literature as in life, we interpret actions as our previous experience has led us to interpret them. If you want a reader to react to something in a particular way, you set up their expectations such that when the event occurs, they naturally interpret it in the way that you intend. In the case of this hug, therefore, the reader will interpret it based on all the previous interactions they have seen between these two characters. If there have been signs of building sexual tension, they will see it as sexual. If there have been signs of mutual respect and friendship, they will interpret it that way.

But it will also depend on how both these characters have interacted with other people in the story, all of which tells us how they typically behave and what their behavior means.

This is a climactic moment in your story, and so it must be the moment to which the whole story has been leading in some way. It is not in how you write this scene, but in how you write the entire novel. Indeed, if you wrote this scene in a way that is inconsistent with the whole of the novel preceding it, people would not believe the scene, not matter how you told it.

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