As readers, we root for a kiss to happen between the characters who we know are just meant to be together in a novel. When it finally happens, we inwardly cheer (okay, sometimes outwardly as well) and then move on.
As writers, it seems like such a simple matter to write a scene in which two characters kiss. We show that the characters belong together, Character A looks at Character B, and then Character B swoops in for a smooch to end all smooches. Simple, right? Well, not so much. While researching for my young adult novel, I discovered that there’s quite a bit more to characters kissing than I had originally thought. Here’s a list of some interesting findings that apply to most genres of writing when creating a kissing scene.
1. Don’t emphasize the mouth unless you want a bit of an ick factor. You would think that since you’re writing a kissing scene that you would focus on the star of the show—the mouth. Apparently, that’s not the case. Author Malinda Lo in “Writing About Kissing” says that describing a mouth leads to more of a vampire-esque route than to a sweet, romantic kissing scene.
2. Engage the body. The same article advises writers to explore the body, such as the arms and hands during a kissing scene.
3. Get into specifics. I’ve read that you want to get detailed in a kissing scene, but you need to avoid being clinical. This is where the adverbs and adjectives (ex. “gently,” “softly,” “quickly,” “cinnamon red”) come into play. Each word should add something to the picture that you are painting. Sensory details are key. Also, don’t forget about the setting. However, sometimes less is more. There’s a balance between specific description and letting the reader have his/her own imagination do some of the work.
4. Build up the buildup. In other words, play up the tension (particularly before the kiss) between the characters through body language and dialogue. Anticipation makes the reader excited and rooting for the kiss to happen. This tip speaks to the episode in How I Met Your Mother when Ted and Victoria continually almost kiss but don’t touch lips (until the very end of the episode—sorry for the spoiler) because Victoria believes that the best part of a kiss is the part before the kiss. She’s got a point, and this leads us to . . .
5. Pauses can be lucrative moments. Don’t forget to describe all the swirling emotions that happen during that moment of tension before the kiss.
6. There should be some reason why your characters haven’t kissed before. The reason/obstacle should be pushing the characters apart, which will allow you to explore their longings for one another. This also adds to the anticipation of a kiss.
7. The characters shouldn’t groan. Groaning and gushy sounds make the scene feel more erotica than young adult. Good to know.
8. The characters should be putting something on the line. Leigh Bardugo, who wrote Ruin & Rising, states in “20 Authors Share Tips for Writing Love Scenes” that characters should have “high emotional stakes” and that there should always be something for the characters “to lose.”
9. Show what the kiss means to the characters. I think this is where the internal dialog comes in. What are they thinking? Why is this kiss special? Or maybe why is it sub-par?
10. Don’t forget about the characters’ emotions. You’re not smooshing two dolls’ lips together. You’re meshing two thinking, feeling characters. The reader wants to know what your characters are feeling inside. Are they scared, relieved, nervous, relaxed, or disappointed?
11. Watch out for the scene beginning to feel weird. A kissing scene can be awkward, but not weird. Well, unless you want it to be a bad kiss. Then, I guess it could be weird.
12. The kiss should be earned. This means that a kissing scene should be set up by . . . well, the rest of the book before the scene. Geez, no pressure.
Image and guest post contributed by Elizabeth Preston. She graduated with a M.A. in English writing and is currently working on a YA novel. If you’d like to check out more of her posts, visit her blog: At the Foot of the Sierras.