Before your characters can get to 'happily ever after,' they have to get together. This almost invariably involves at least one kissing scene - and that is a scene you have to get right. If the kiss is a fail, so is the romance.
A Kiss Is Still a Kiss
You may have impeccable real life credentials when it comes to kissing, but writing about it? Whole different story. There is nothing clunkier than a kissing scene blundered into and floundered out of - no fun for you or your romantically challenged characters. And your readers, who have read toward this catharsis with breathless anticipation, will send you hate mail and blacken your name for letting them down with such a ham-handed thud. So, park an heirloom rose in a vase on the corner of your desk, light a scented candle, put on the soundtrack from Pride and Prejudice and scribble some sex into that joyride through the fictional hearts of your couple.
Writing is as much muscle memory as mind trick, so stretch and strengthen that muscle for kissing scenes by playing with words and images. Collect material to inspire and inform you next time you sit down with a purple plumed pen and a blank mind.
Mine your own memory. No cringing allowed. Surely you can recall one or two times when you didn't lock braces or swallow your gum. Scribble every sensation and recollection, however insignificant, in a notebook - just brain-dump all the details.
Open a good thesaurus and look up every possible word related to kissing and romance. Make a list of the juicy ones. Use them as writing prompts and to fill in the blanks when you get stuck.
Read as many of your favorite kind of romance novels as you can - and highlight the kissing scenes. Research is a tough job but somebody's got to do it. Real-time research with your amour du jour is good, too.
With Bated Breath…
You've assembled your arsenal and written your hero and heroine right up to the moment of truth. Best practices to bear in mind as this love story unfolds will help you to get it right - and avoid endless rewrites. Make sure your kissing scene hits all the marks.
The kiss exists for a reason. It advances the plot, reveals hidden emotion, heightens the tension, resolves a misunderstanding. Continuity and context are important here. No random smooching or you risk killing the pace of your romance. The lead-up to the moment is everything. Weave those kisses into the plot so it is impossible to imagine the story without them.
Determine whose point of view (POV) the kiss is seen through. Is it hers and is she stunned at her own response? Is it his and does he give into a tenderness he has been avoiding? If we see through the lens of an omniscient narrator, your kiss risks being, well … dry. If you're not in one of the lover's heads relating the experience, find something external and symbolic to describe that enhances or colors the moment. Just don't head-hop between the two of them. Pick a POV and stick with it or you confuse the reader and weaken the impact of the scene.
'Tell' us this kiss from the inside out. If his hand brushes her hair, you need an adjective or an adverb - 'silky' hair, brushes 'gently.' Don't overdo it, but hint at the internal experience of the characters. Describe their actions evocatively, not clinically. The reader wants a vicarious experience here, not an anatomy lesson, so don't hold back on feelings and emotions.
"His hands slipped down the smooth curve of her sides to rest on her hips as he drew her in."
"Her heart was beating so wildly she could only take little sips of breath."
"Neither of them noticed the snowflakes melting like tears on their burning skin."
"His face bent down into hers in slow motion, like a dream, blurred, and then disappeared as she felt his hot mouth close over hers."
The senses are your secret weapons. Use them. All of them. How does she taste? What's the scent of the hot sun on his salty skin? How green are his eyes close-up? Are her lips soft and full? Is a car alarm blasting away in the background? Try for at least three senses in every kissing scene.
Setting is almost a character. An unlikely setting makes the kiss more poignant or thrilling. A romantic setting is full of sensual details to add to the ambience. You're writing a movie in your reader's head. For that you need location, location, location.
A romance is first an emotional ride. The physical attraction is critical - and you want to set it up from the first encounter - but a strictly sexual coupling is erotica, not romance. So, bookend your kissing scene with the emotions of your POV character. That kiss colors his or her relationship; it really matters. A kiss with that kind of power is unforgettable, and a writer who remembers this delivers the literary goods every time.
Romance novels range from warm and fuzzy to scalding. The sex determines the heat level, and the heat level sets the parameters for your kissing scene.
Sweet - All about the romance, this level is intimate and tender but not explicit or sexual. Any sex is behind closed doors. All kissing is thrilling but never edgy or graphic. The hero respects the heroine's virtue, even when they are at odds and practically hate each other. The couple's kisses are yummy but not very detailed or daring.
Sensual - The happy couple gets it on in a sensual book but you don't get the play-by-play. There is usually one big sex scene that is part of the conflict - lots of sexual tension, lots of emotion, but not lots of graphic detail. The kissing can get very passionate to advance the sexual tension in the plot, but it takes a back seat to relationship concerns in general and doesn't hog the page.
Sizzling - Very sexy and steamy, although the sex is not the point - the romance is the main game. You have time for long drawn-out kissing scenes here and they may lead straight to the bedroom - or any convenient surface. This couple kisses well and often so you'll get to use all your newly acquired expertise.
Erotic Romance - Non-stop sex, very graphic, but always the classic romantic plot and the HEA (happily ever after). These kissing scenes can be erotic events in themselves - think props, sensual settings, boundary-pushing and no big build-up to the first kissing episode. It might even open the book.
Erotica - All about the consensual sex, in every possible incarnation, minus the complication of romance. If you choose erotica over romance, your kissing scenes will be explicit, beyond steamy, maybe even kinky - and they won't stop at kissing.
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Example Kissing Scene
Real life kisses aren't separate events that start and stop at clearly defined points. They are a progression of intensity, and the sensations experienced and thoughts that arise are particular to the players. Because of that, a kissing scene should be deeply revealing, without stating every last thing about the couple. Use both senses and spaces to invoke tension.
Consider this steamy example of a kissing scene:
"She stood, legs braced to counter the pitch of the hill, the frigid air swirling around her, the sky black as anthracite, each star a hard chip of broken glass ablaze in white light. They were crowded against each other on their small outcropping, the heavy telescope on its tripod shared between them, their arms protected by thick parkas, touching from shoulder to elbow.
Her arm, where it pressed against his, burned. She shivered, cold penetrating all the rest of her. She thought about the stars - the ones shooting across the night trailing arcs of light, the ones too far or too dark to see.
"Your turn." He shifted slightly and for a moment she wavered off-balance. Then his arm went around her, drawing her back from the edge, and his face bent to meet hers as she looked up, startled. Two eyes, black as night, glinting with reflected stars, full lips a heartbeat away, no distance at all.
Those lips met hers and her world exploded into shards of molten light. His grip tightened across her shoulders, pulling her into him, pressing himself into her. She knew his other hand steadied the scope, knew the pull of his constellations, his star world. She didn't care. Her hungry mouth melded into his, the arctic chill forgotten. The tip of his tongue brushed her lips, insisted, and she opened to let him in, welcomed the urgent thrusting that sent a wildfire of searing flames racing through her body.
She clung to him in some alternative universe of longing.
Held on for her life.
A wave of darkness washed over her and she shuddered and pushed him away.
There were inches between them on their precarious perch. There may as well have been worlds.
"We're going to miss something." For the space of a held breath there was silence. Then his voice floated over to her from a distant galaxy.
"We already have."
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice writing, that is. What you do on your own time is your business. The more romantic kissing scenes you write, the better you get at writing re-read-it-25-times lip-locks that will send your palpitating fans into a buying frenzy. Have some fun with this!
Take two characters from a favorite book who don't go all hot and heavy and invent a kissing scene for them.
Recall a beloved movie and describe the kissing scenes in your own words, as if you were writing the novelization.
Pick a couple of characters an author failed to connect and write some fan fiction in which you fix that oversight.
Take your own hero and heroine - or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine - and have them mashing mouths at key moments in your story when that doesn't actually happen.
Pretty soon, knocking out a convincing kissing scene will be no big deal. So pucker up and type on. You got this.