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. 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?