Talia likes to tease me about something I said early on in our friendship. I was bemoaning the stigma of historical fiction—that it is often either associated with history and outmoded language (school work and Shakespeare) or with the bodice-ripper romance.
“I don’t write romance!” I told her. “I don’t know how!”
At that point, GILT was still in an early draft. William (Kitty’s romantic interest) didn’t exist. My book was about a dysfunctional friendship. There was no room for kissing scenes.
What I didn’t tell Talia was that I was scared. I was afraid that I would write cookie-cutter romance. Stilted dialogue and cardboard passion. I was terrified that I would be a candidate to win one of those, “Worst Love Scene in a Novel” awards. It’s not that I don’t like romance. I’m happy to say I’m a hopeless romantic. I gush over movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and An Affair to Remember. And I believe wholeheartedly in the reality of it, too. I’ve been told that the story of how I met my husband—and how we finally ended up together—should be a novel in itself. I just didn’t know if I could write romance and kissing—and make them as magical and mysterious and hypnotic and frightening as they can be in real life.
The romance in GILT remained in the background. Kitty’s relationship with William is always secondary to her relationship with Cat—both in the novel and in Kitty’s real life (I’m sorry to say). But I discovered that I enjoyed writing the scenes between Kitty and William. (All right. I’ll admit. I loved writing them.) I wanted to write more. More dialogue. More romantic tension.
More kissing. TARNISH has a lot more kissing.
Why is kissing such an important part of the romantic plot or subplot?
I think it’s because of the intimacy. As Bret pointed out a couple of weeks ago, it is the intimacy of a sense that bears weight. Touch. Smell. Taste. We very rarely get that close to anyone. Touching strangers can be uncomfortable. Even with acquaintances, a hug can feel awkward. With your friends, you can squeeze a shoulder, pat a back, hug in greeting and departure and in sympathy. Some of us kiss our parents on the cheek. A few people kiss their children on the lips. If anyone else enters that space of intimacy, it’s either embarrassing or clinical. Possibly both.
It is only in romantic relationships that we bring our faces together for longer than a second or two. Intentionally. Passionately. And imbuing a kissing scene with that intimacy—that intention, that passion—can bring our readers into the moment.
Kissing is all about senses and emotions. Putting yourself in your POV character’s shoes (or in her lips as the case may be) can help you to write a great kissing scene—one that feels “real”.
You have to imagine how your POV character feels about the person opposite her. Her physical reactions will differ depending on their relationship. Is she in love with him? Is he an enemy? A stranger? Is he good-looking? Charismatic?
And you have to imagine (or remember) the sensations of kissing someone. What is it like to kiss for the first time? How do you learn what you’re doing? What is it like to kiss someone new for the first time? How is it different from the last person kissed? What do the lips feel like—Warm? Soft? Dry? Strong? Thin? Pillowy? (blergh. Also avoid writing any descriptions that you personally find difficult to stomach. Not everyone flinches at the idea of “pillowy” lips, but I do—I have no idea why). Is there tongue? What’s that like? Wet? Penetrating? Invasive? Sexy?
And then you get to the most intimate senses of all—those weighty ones that you have to use sparingly. What does the love interest smell like? Roses? Cinnamon? Dust? Sweat? And what does she taste like? Peppermint? Pop-Tarts? Pomegranate tea?
And then there’s all the rest. Other things touch during a kiss, too. Where do your hands go? Are you close enough to bump knees? Is the kiss intimate enough to feel the whole length of someone? Embarrassing aside: I was so driven with schoolwork and acting as a teen that I didn’t have a lot of time for boys. (It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, I just didn’t have a lot of energy to spare for pursuit. Plus I was shy.) So I was taught about kissing by a director. “Put your bodies together!” she shouted while my acting partner and I shuffled and blushed. “You’re not two chickens pecking each other’s beaks! There’s more to kissing than just lips!”
A good thing to remember while writing, too.