Of Kissing and Romance

13 Apr

by Susan Dennard



There’s a reason everyone does it. And there’s a reason stories will build it up to it, increasing the tension until that first kiss finally opens the gates and lets the reader sigh with satisfaction.

The reason is that kissing is kind of, sort of, no-doubt-about-it amazing.

“There was such an incredible logic to kissing, such a metal-to-magnet pull between two people that it was a wonder that they found the strength to prevent themselves from succumbing every second. Rightfully, the world should be a whirlpool of kissing into which we sank and never found the strength to rise up again.”

-Ann Patchet, Bel Canto

And that’s why kissing in fiction needs to be As Amazing As Possible. The culmination of pages and pages of building anticipation. The final movement after episodes and hours of rising attraction.

Personally, I prefer for my heroine and hero to hold off on the lip-locking for as long as possible–or, they may share a kiss, but forces must keep them apart until the last possible moment!

If the hero and heroine are pretty much “official” by the end of chapter one, I won’t keep reading. I want to constantly question whether or not they’ll wind up together–I want to have to keep rooting. When the hero steps on the page or the stage, I want my heart to beat with doubt and desperation just as much as the heroine’s does.

Take the mini-series North & South (based on the fabulous novel of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell). Hero and Heroine have moved from hating each other to attraction and back to hate–but never at the same time. When she loves him, he loathes her, and vice versa. We are on the edge of our seats wondering when the heck they’re gonna finally like each other AT THE SAME TIME.

Oh boy, and when they do… Can we say “collective sigh of relief”?

In the TV show Veronica Mars (a GREAT teen noir that I highly recommend to YA writers out there. It should be required viewing.), we spend most of the first season hating a certain Very Bad Boy. Never in a million years do we think Veronica would EVER go out with a guy as horrible as him… Except, in the little corners of our heart, we kinda like that Very Bad Boy. We’re kinda hoping Veronica and he might be able to see past their differences.

Man oh man… When for a brief moment they’re suddenly working together instead of against each other–my how everything suddenly changes!

But there’s something else you have to remember when you write your kiss-scenes: they must add to the story. Both characters must come out from the kiss a different person.

Maybe it’s an act that forces the couple to finally accept how they feel for each other. Or maybe it takes one character by surprise, cluing them into feelings they didn’t know the other person harbored.

Whatever the reason for the kiss, it must cause the story to shift gears and move in a different direction. There must be consequences (good, bad, whatever) from the kiss.

Like in the Korean TV show Coffee Prince, the hero finally realizes that he wants to be with the heroine no matter what. She’s been in love with him from pretty early on, but he’s been holding off and holding off (for very complicated reasons I won’t share here. WATCH THE SHOW! It’s amazing.) until…he finally can’t hold off anymore. He throws consequences to the wind–and trust me there are some really unsavory consequences–and kisses her with all the passion he’s been building up episode after episode.

(To watch the kiss scene, you’ll have to click through.Β  Sorry! I couldn’t embed it here.)

And we, the viewers, love it. We’ve been waiting for his acknowledgment of attraction, but we also know that when it finally comes, the trouble is just beginning.

A kiss (or love scene of any sort) in the middle of a story builds the tension. We are now more anxious about the lovers because consequences from the kiss change the plot’s direction.

Maybe they know the love each other now (a seemingly good consequence), and they can’t live apart. Now we know that if these two don’t wind up together, they’re hearts will before forever shattered.

You, the writer, build the tension by keeping them apart.

Like maybe they weren’t supposed to kiss because their families are feuding. If anyone learns they’ve shared a loving embrace, then their lives will be forfeit (a decidedy bad consequence). It’s pretty clear where the tension will stem from in the rest of the story!

A kiss (or love scene) at the end, releases the tension.

Like in North & South, the lovers spend a whole novel (or series!) before they finally acknowledge their feelings. We can set aside the book/show/movie, happy that they wound up together for a nice Happily Ever After.

In this situation, you build the tension by showing their mutual attraction, showing them resisting it (for whatever story-related reason), and then finally joining them in the final pages.

I’d love to hear your own thoughts on kissing and romance. How do you build the tension? And super wonderful kiss scenes you recommend?


61 Responses to “Of Kissing and Romance”

  1. Kerrie April 13, 2011 at 2:57 AM #

    Romeo & Juliet vs. Pride & Prejudice. > D
    Yaaay, classic romance plots!

    But what do you think about stories that have relationship plots~ That are about the relationship as a relationship, and not the relationship as it builds (even in genre, not just contemps)? They aren’t common, I think cuz they’re harder (lack of newness for the charas to play with), but I think they can be just as fun. : )

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 6:01 AM #

      Interesting question! I think that that in a “relationship” plot, you’re dealing with a whole different set of goals. Whereas in a romance plot or subplot, the goal is for them to finally be together, in a “relationship” plot, the goal could be “to accept my husband for who is” or “to deal with my girlfriend’s cancer” or “to make Aragorn flipping king of Middle Earth”. The tension and conflict stems from different places–though there can still be plenty of romantic tension developed between them, like if they’re kept apart unwillingly, if their romance needs rekindling, etc.

  2. sparklinga April 13, 2011 at 3:11 AM #

    North & South!! That movie makes me so so giddy. Ah, RIchard Armitage *swoons*. I remember watching that movie/mini-series the first time and pretty much bitting my lip off everything the two main characters were together on screen–so much tension! So much unresolved attraction! And the hands! Ok, I’m going to sound really strange, but I think anybody who has seen this movie will understand: this has the hottest hand-touching scenes EVER. Seriously.

    Anyway, I think regarding kisses I like them at any point after the middle of the book, as long as the romantic conflict is NOT resolved because they kiss once. I hate those books that go, “Oh, they kissed, so now everything will be alright because true love blah blah blah” on page 50. It deflates my mind. And I can think of one recent YA book that did exactly this, but I rather not mention titles.

    I really like when, after the kiss, the attitude of the characters change to the opposite of what we’d expect. Particularly when one of them starts ignoring the other but no reason is given. Lol. Conflict, yay! I remember M. K. Hobson did this in The Native Star ❀

    Also, the type of kiss has to fit the scene and characters. Is you character prone to describe things more through vision or touch? Smell? Is the kiss occurring in a living room? At the beach? In the middle of the battle field? Things like that… πŸ™‚

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 6:05 AM #

      Great points, Adriana! You’re so right that how the character describes the kiss must fit with who the character is. I totally failed on this with my first version of SS&D, and my editor was like, “Er, Sooz…this is a super passionate kiss, but for 300 pages before this, Eleanor has been pretty chaste and prudish. Sorry, but I’m not convinced. Can we have a gentle kiss instead, please?”

      And YES to M.K. Hobson — Dreadnought was who I wanted from page 1, but I had no idea if he was going to be the love interest or not. And YEEESSS to Richard Armitage and hand-scenes. Dude…that series kinda fails at expressing the full depth of Gaskell’s plot (in my opinion), but what it lacks there, it makes up for tenfold in romance!!!

      • sparklinga April 13, 2011 at 2:57 PM #

        I now feel that I need to read North & South :C I’ve only ever seen the movie/mini-series, which I LOVE, but I’ve heard from somebody else besides you that the plot lacks in comparison. Although the movie is quite endearing, imo πŸ™‚ ❀ I think with books made into movies I'm generally ok with the plot changing a little as long as it makes sense. I love Howl's Moving Castle, both the movie and the book, but they are two very different plot lines, I think. The movie doesn't go quite as in depth as the book does, but it's still entirely awesome in its own right… But this has nothing to do with the original topic lol

        You know, every time I read/see/heard your new title, it sounds to me like one of the Gemma Doyle books. It just has that ring to it. πŸ™‚

        • Susan April 13, 2011 at 3:33 PM #

          Um, that’s great. About SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY reminding you of the Gemma Doyle trilogy. ::swoons from compliment::

          And I LOVE Howl’s Moving Castle (movie and book), but it’s the romance in the book that really satisfies me the most. ::swoons over Howl::

  3. Holly April 13, 2011 at 7:06 AM #

    Great post, Susan! This is so true…a kiss can change everything about a story. There really is power there that has to be wielded with care. πŸ˜‰

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 10:41 AM #

      Have you read (or seen) THE PRINCESS BRIDE? Your comment made me think of the kiss in that story. A kiss can definitely be powerful!

      • Holly April 14, 2011 at 8:33 AM #

        THE PRINCESS BRIDE is only my all time favorite movie/book, like, ever!! πŸ˜‰

  4. Maya April 13, 2011 at 8:55 AM #

    Great post, thank you! I think so long as a kiss scene is done well, it doesn’t really matter when it happens (although the ones where the kiss is in the middle and then they are kept apart are heart-wrenching). Any time it makes the reader (and writer) wriggle with glee when it FINALLY happens is ok in my book. πŸ™‚

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 10:42 AM #

      Definitely true–if I’m wriggling with glee, the writer did a good job with the kiss!

      • Maya April 21, 2011 at 11:04 AM #

        Any other teen shows/movies you recommend for this? I just finished Veronica Mars and LOVED it so now I’m looking for another good one. (Thanks for the tip!)

        • Susan April 22, 2011 at 1:53 PM #

          Um…I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, so teen shows/movies, I’m kinda clueless. I can tell you my other favorite shows and movies, though. πŸ˜‰ And I always ALWAYS recommend K-dramas!! Start with Coffee Prince (you can watch it on Hulu).

  5. Dawn Brazil April 13, 2011 at 10:51 AM #

    LOL This is the second blog post I’ve read today that talked about kissing. Both done in different ways. This was a great post! I didn’t like to write the romantic scenes in my stories originally, but I love them now. I like to build the tension with a kiss in the middle of the story. But my protagonist has doubts still. The readers are trying to figure out if she’ll come around. Well, it’s only a subplot but it’s juicy.

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 12:57 PM #

      It sounds juicy! I too used to dislike the romance scenes but now…oohlala, they’re some of my favorites to write!

  6. Beth April 13, 2011 at 10:51 AM #

    Thank you for reminding me of the fabulousness of Vernoica Mars. I’m going to have to rewatch all of it now.

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 12:58 PM #

      Heck yeah! VM is amazing. πŸ˜€

  7. Juni Case April 13, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

    Veronica Mars was such an awesome show I can’t believe I waited so long to watch it. Thank goodness for Netflix Instant Play!

    Also, I love how you used Coffee Prince as an example. Korean dramas in general are really good at building the tension leading up to the kiss scene (I’ve watched too many to count.) Have you seen “My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox”? The romance is absolutely adorable and well-paced. I highly recommend it: http://www.dramafever.com/drama/721/1/My_Girlfriend_is_a_Nine-Tailed_Fox/

    Here’s a kiss scene from the drama: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amk7Lr4Oi2g

    At the end, she asks: “What’s a girlfriend?” And that’s when he kiss her to show her. I love surprise kisses as well as ones that have been a long time in waiting! =D

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      K-dramas are the BEST at the tension! Though the shows can be somewhat ridiculous…and there tends to be an overabundance of alpha males (not that I’m complaining!). I haven’t seen My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox, so thanks for sharing!!!

      • Juni Case April 13, 2011 at 1:32 PM #

        Yes, once you’ve seen on k-drama you kind of seen them all. My parents can even predict what the characters even say because they’ve watched so many. XD

        And there are a lot of alpha males but they are just so handsome!

        • Susan April 13, 2011 at 1:43 PM #

          Okay, so I don’t speak Korean (though I HAVE picked up a few words!), so I can’t predict what they’ll say, but I DO predict the story! It’s pretty obvious, and yet I still love it every time!!

  8. Aurora Blackguard April 13, 2011 at 12:13 PM #

    I absolutely LOVE it when the character are forever and ever and ever changed by that kiss. Like, in my favourite romance novel ever, Romancing Mr Bridgerton, the main character as to ask her hero for a kiss and when they do, Quinn (the author) describes it with such clarity but with a nice tinge of pink to remind you of the sweetness of the moment, and its so full of wonderment and discovery for a girl who has always loved the boy or the boy who’s just found his girl! I even love it when a kiss changes how you forever see a character – the lack of a connection bringing about your true feelings. LORD I love kisses πŸ™‚ Kissing should be written into every country’s constitution

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      Wow, I’ve never heard of that novel, but your praise makes it sounds super enticing!! And yeah, I pretty much love kisses too. πŸ˜‰

  9. Vanessa Di Gregorio April 13, 2011 at 1:19 PM #

    I LOVED COFFEE PRINCE!!!!!! I have a secret soft spot for Korean dramas. Seriously. I have never admitted it to anyone until now!

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 1:42 PM #

      Dude, K-drama is the BEST. No shame in lovin’ it. There seem to be a lot of us around LTWF that ❀ it too!

      And the lead in Coffee Prince? Gong Yoo? He's totally the inspiration behind the male lead in SCREECHERS. He's beautiful.

  10. Rowenna April 13, 2011 at 1:47 PM #

    Kisses are just so…symbolic! They’re beginnings and culminations and right-in-the-moment all rolled into one. Why else do we end weddings with a kiss? (And cake…cake is a lot like kissing–sweet, filling, a perfect ending.)

    I love the little physical precursors to the kiss as much as the kiss itself–the hands touching, moving a piece of hair out of the eyes. Each little triumph and setback until…the big kiss!

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 2:12 PM #

      So true! And what a good point! All the little caresses and glances before the kiss are just as wonderful as the kiss itself–possibly even more so!

  11. Leah Scrimshaw April 13, 2011 at 2:22 PM #

    I can’t read posts like this about kissing without thinking about The Princess Bride. Ah, you’ve just had me searching all through my copy for the paragraphs on kissing. I love the film so much, but I adore the book too, which most people I know think is weird…

    I did love the mini-series of North and South. I can’t rate it against the book (which I really should read) but it was great.

    *Spoilers for Crown Duel* Crown Duel is one book that springs to mind as an example of the lovers only getting together right at the end of the book and you’ve been waiting for it since very early on. I couldn’t wait for that one to happen, and got through the book so fast!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio April 13, 2011 at 3:09 PM #

      YES! That kiss in Crown Duel is quite possibly my all-time favourite kiss between characters!

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

      I LOVE the book–more than the movie, even. I love the movie too, though… πŸ˜€

      ACK, CROWN DUEL!!!! SO WONDERFUL. OMG, you just inspired me to re-read it.

    • Caitlin Vanasse April 27, 2011 at 10:56 PM #

      oh my goodness, for me the moment that does it in Court Duel is when the pen-pal’s identity is revealed a la the ring she gave him. I re-read the duet this January precisely for that reason.

  12. Tracey Neithercott April 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM #

    The best part of a romance for me is the tension before the kiss, so I love it when that’s drawn out over the course of the book. (Also, I feel like it’s more realistic.) That’s why I loved Anna and the French Kiss so much. You know going into it they’re going to kiss, but most of the book she’s thinking, Does he notice me? Does he like me? Did he look at me on purpose or am I just making that up? And so on.

    When the characters get together too early–unless the book is about their relationship–it’s a letdown. The fifteenth kiss isn’t like the first.

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 3:32 PM #

      I too love it to be drawn out as long as possible. I can enjoy when they are together and then pulled apart, but it’s a different satisfaction from that “FINALLY! YAY!” feeling. πŸ™‚

  13. Meredith April 13, 2011 at 3:07 PM #

    I’m definitely a sucker for some good romantic tension all the way through to the end, so my favorite stories are those where the kisses or love scenes come at the end. It’s all about the building … building … building … release!

    That’s not to say I don’t like stories where it happens in the middle, and then the characters are parted and have to find their way back to each other. If it’s done right (read: the characters don’t spend the second half of the book whining about it), I’m a fan.

    Have you read The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson? That book is the best of both worlds. Romantic tension and release in the middle AND end!

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 3:36 PM #

      I haven’t read that yet! I want to, though I think I need some emotional prep beforehand–just because I’ve heard it’s sad.

      And yeah, I’m in agreement about the release at the end. Soooo satisfying.

  14. Emy Shin April 13, 2011 at 3:14 PM #

    Yes, yes, yes to this entire post.

    Half of the tension in a romance lies in whether or not — and how — the two characters will end up together. Keeping the tension high when they are already together is so much more difficult.

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 3:36 PM #

      Agreed! If you’ve seen Veronica Mars, you’ll know that once VM & Very Bad Boy are together, they have to quickly pull them apart in season 2 because the tension is just gone otherwise!

  15. Jane April 13, 2011 at 3:41 PM #

    Sooz, Vanessa, you two are both so cool for mentioning k dramas. πŸ˜€

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 4:03 PM #

      YES. Just…yes. Oh, and K-Drama = EPIC WIN.

      That is all.

  16. Laura April 13, 2011 at 4:41 PM #

    Yeah, I prefer the mid-point kiss. Think that’s why I love Romeo and Juliet so much. The drama created when they are torn apart for whatever reason is always my favourite part of any romantic (sub-)plot. We’re truly drawn in that way, and that’s the type of structure I tend to use for my own romantic sub-plots. β™₯

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 4:56 PM #

      You make an interesting point about being truly drawn in. When (like in a romance novel) the romance is the main plot, the lovers are solidly together by the midpoint and then kept apart for some reason. We’re really drawn in then–as we should be because it’s the main plot! The same would apply to big romance subplots…

      Lots of food for thought–thanks! πŸ˜€

  17. Brandi April 13, 2011 at 4:55 PM #

    Romance is hard for me because usually it’s the most frustrating aspect of the book I’m reading. I am NOT a fan of them waiting till the end of the book because seriously??? I need kissing now, not at the end lol! I get that tension is needed but when obvious soul mates wait till the last few pages of a book to get their romance on it drives me crazy! Thanks for posting this, Susan. I’m very intrigued by Korean Dramas now…

    • Susan April 13, 2011 at 5:08 PM #

      Hahaha–like I said to Laura, if you’re reading for primarily romance (like it’s the main plot) then having the hero and heroine together and torn apart is much more entertaining! And yes, do try K-Dramas–though you might not like how long they drag out the first kiss! πŸ˜‰

  18. Yahong April 13, 2011 at 8:02 PM #

    I DEFINITELY prefer the kiss to be held off — the whole purpose of a kiss is to build the romance, you know? I think a lot of times things get tangled up in the actual physicality, the physical pleasure of a kiss (and I’ve never kissed, so I can’t really say anything about it), but for me the whole point of the experience is the love. Or the like. (‘Cause I don’t believe in love when you’re under 20, so sue me. :P)

    • Susan April 14, 2011 at 3:12 AM #

      Hahaha, you’re right it’s probably only like…and I really loathe pretty much any story (though not all!) where the premise is True Love–just too unrealistic for my tastes. But yes, you’re right the kiss is meant to be about the love, and think that’s why, when writing a kiss, so much of it needs to be the character’s thoughts and reactions to the physical parts. Otherwise, the kiss will just feel mechanical and fall flat. (The same is true in real life! Gotta have the love/like!)

  19. Christina April 13, 2011 at 10:08 PM #

    OMG! I didn’t know that anyone else had seen the Coffee Prince!! By far, one of the most excellent tv shows ever. It took me maybe 2-3 days to watch it, I was obsessed!! haha and its funny that you mentioned Veronica Mars, because I literally started that series this weekend and am loving. Actually watching it right now as I read your post, which by the way I LOVE because kissing really is a HUMONGOUS deal πŸ™‚

    • Susan April 14, 2011 at 3:13 AM #

      Um, yeah, I totally watched Coffee Prince in a few days too. I was just SO worried they wouldn’t get together!

      And yay! I hope you like Veronica Mars–sorry if I spoiled the romance for you. πŸ˜›

      • Christina April 15, 2011 at 10:38 AM #

        You didnt πŸ™‚ Already on the second season and hoping Logan and Veronica get back together.

  20. Nicole April 13, 2011 at 11:03 PM #

    I have read a lot of kiss/romance scenes in books. But I have found few of them that actually feel real to me because to often they are the SOURCE of the tension. Especially first kisses. But when they work, man, they work. (I prefer the the kiss as a release of tension.)

    First kisses are AWKWARD. So so awkward. They are slobbery and your nervous and while doing it your mind is screaming “WHAT-WAIT-I’M I DOING IT RIGHT?!” And then you get those butter flies for hours afterward.

    What I need is a book where the whole romance is awkward, because that, my friends, is YA romance and it’s not easy.

    • Susan April 14, 2011 at 3:14 AM #

      It’s true that first kisses–especially very, very first virginal kisses–are kinda bad. But not always! I’ve had a few first kisses that were shockingly stellar. πŸ™‚

      But if you ever find a book that has an awkward first kiss that still manages to make it entertaining, lemme know! I’d love to read it!! πŸ˜€

  21. Clematis14 April 14, 2011 at 3:13 AM #

    I ❀ Korean Drama! I'm watching 49 Days right now…so good, so much tension!

    • Susan April 14, 2011 at 3:15 AM #

      Oooh, I don’t know 49 days! I’ll have to look into that one… πŸ˜€

  22. Choppy April 14, 2011 at 1:34 PM #

    You guys are into kdramas!? I’m so hyped now that I know. lol. I’ve been into it since forever, and it’s true. Things tend to become predicatable, but the tension is always high and there’s so many pretty. lol.

    Check out “Dream High.” It’s a great drama. Good romance, high tension, and really inspirational. πŸ™‚

    • Susan April 14, 2011 at 2:10 PM #

      Ooooh, thanks for the rec! I’m gonna be so backed up with K-Dramas, I’m not gonna get any work done…but, you know, you gotta have priorities. πŸ˜‰

  23. Mac_V April 14, 2011 at 8:59 PM #

    Read this yesterday and finally have time to respond! First of all, I SO agree. A kiss needs to have a build-up no matter how badly I’m waiting for it to happen! That’s what keeps me reading or watching. You have to have the build-up for it to be worth the wait.

    I must look into this North and South now. That clip gave me butterflies and so many happy feelings and I DON’T EVEN KNOW THE WHOLE STORY! All I know is I WANT to know the whole story to see that kind of resolve. It looks fantastic!

    Also, I’m re-watching Veronica Mars (for the eleventy-bajillionth time) and can’t WAIT for Veronica and Logan to get together… again. And still, through the whole first season, he’s such a character that you just don’t think would ever wind up even FRIENDS with her, let alone her boyfriend. But I love him so much. He is forever one of my favorite characters, especially because he’s so complex. And he deserves a little love. πŸ˜›

    Great advice. It might be hard to hold off writing that scene when you really want to, but it’s so worth it!

    Mer ❀

    • Susan April 15, 2011 at 5:03 AM #

      I totally look at the kiss scenes in my novels now as “cookie scenes”. They are the MOST fun to write, and so I have to write and write and write and then reward myself! It’s just as much a release of tension for the author as it is for the reader, I think!

      (My other “cookie scenes” include chase scenes and romance-building, stomach-twisting scenes. Oh, excitement and romance–doesn’t get much better than that. ;))

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