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Writing a kissing scene

The thing about kissing scenes is that, in the wise words of the guys from Spinal Tap, "it's such a fine line between stupid, and clever."

I realize that there are books where the kissing scenes really let me down and there are books with kissing scenes that I absolutely adore, and I decided to embark on some investigation to see what the ones that I like had in common. The problem I have - and it really is a problem sometimes - is that I have difficulty with the whole "reading like a writer" thing. I read like a completely absorbed reader most of the time, even if I want to read "like a writer", trying to figure out technique, etc., so I can see how something was accomplished.

So I came up with a plan: I'd type the kissing scenes into a Word document, thereby isolating them from their books so I wouldn't get sucked in and read the whole book. (I cleverly arrived at this conclusion after re-reading all or more of four books, two of which aren't even represented in this post. See, in my head, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green had a great first kiss. And it kind of does, but there's NO ACTUAL MENTION OR DESCRIPTION of it in there, even though you know it happens. Not that I regret rereading 2/3 of the book, but still.)

About kissing scenes in general

Before getting to my actual point, I can tell you for a fact that the kissing scenes that let me down are just too abstemious: they simply don't have any detail, or only the bare minimum. For instance, (and I'm about to spoil the book I reviewed earlier today, The Lonely Hearts Club, so if you are the sort who minds such a thing, you will skip to the paragraph after the blocked quote below. Seriously. You've been warned.) in The Lonely Hearts Club, we wait all book for Penny to get together with nice-guy Ryan, and we finally get them under the mistletoe:

"Wait!" I called after him. I pointed at the mistletoe that was still over my head. "It would be wrong to break a holiday tradition."

Ryan smiled at me and walked over to where I stood. My heart was beating fast as he cradled my head with his hands. He leaned in, but instead of freezing or running away, I leaned in toward him as he kissed me.

We pulled our lips away and he hovered an inch from my face. "I've been waiting all year to do that," he told me.

Now, this doesn't suck - really and truly - but neither was it completely satisfying. And goodness only knows that if and when any of you ever get to read my efforts at writing a kissing scene, you might think I've completely botched it, but I followed a somewhat different route in writing mine - one that I figured out with a road map garnered from re-reading (and typing into a Word document) some of my favorite YA kissing scenes.

Here's the list of the books whose first kisses made it into my document:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which has one of the sexiest, most delicious kissing scenes out there (in my opinion). Etienne St. Clair and Anna have serious chemistry, and that scene sizzles.

The Season by Sarah Maclean, brings us the first kiss between the delicious Gavin and our heroine, young Alexandra. It is not only their first kiss as a couple, but Alex's first kiss ever, making it extra yummy.

"The Jubilee Express" by Maureen Johnson from Let It Snow by Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle, in which Jubilee initiates a kiss rather than burst into tears over an ex-boyfriend. It's a funny scene, but still quite satisfying.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, which has quite a sexy coffee-making scene as the lead-up to the actual kiss, in which Ed physically guides Piper through all the steps needed to make a latte (including a heart shape in the foam) prior to the actual kiss. YUM!

Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend by Carrie Jones, which includes banter between Tom and Belle (and flat-out babbling by Belle) beforehand, and a lovely babbling description of the kiss from Belle's p.o.v. (in a form meets function sort of way - she babbles when nervous, even to herself).

This isn't to say that these are the very best ever YA kisses that I've ever read, but they are the books that I had near at hand when I started my little research process. I meant to go find Need (also by Carrie Jones) and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, but I just didn't manage. I may still add them to my document once I pull them out of the back of my "signed book" shelf in my closet - look, it will involve cleaning up the entire floor and use of a stepstool, which is why they aren't already there. But I digress.

What I did:

I typed in the kissing scene, starting where I felt the ramp-up began (in the case of Five Flavors of Dumb, I had to start with making coffee - in the case of Anna and the French Kiss, I pretty much started with them kissing, so the amount of text I typed up varied widely.

Isolated as it was - even if there was a lot of text in the ramp-up in some cases, I was better able to analyze what the authors had done. And I found that all five of the authors did was similar, albeit carried out quite differently:

(1) Lead up to the kiss (*sings "Anticipation" by Carly Simon)

(2) Describe the mechanics of the kiss, at least a bit - soft or hard? wet or dry? slow or fast? is there tongue? Not all of these things are mentioned, but still.

(3) Describe a bit of the character's reaction - usually physically as well as emotionally.

(4) Some authors add dialogue into their kissing scenes, some not.

My conclusion:

I have determined that this (nonformulaic) formula is what makes for a satisfying kissing scene for me as a reader. I actually pulled out a handful of adult romances as well to look at first kisses in those as well, and the ones I like best are similar in giving more information than "and then he kissed me/her" or "and then we kissed," again trying to describe the properties of the kiss and the main character's (or characters') reactions to it. So when it came time to write my first-ever kissing scene for my work-in-progress (a contemporary YA romance based on an Austen novel), I at least could sort out what sorts of things to think about saying. Not that I'm sure I've got it right, but as of now, it is written . . . and I'm moving on to the next chapter.

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( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 3rd, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
tanita says:
You are AWESOME. Thank you for your academic treatise on kissing. Seriously. I am going to be writing a scene of such blandishments in my SFF novel and I am ... not ... I -- sheesh. I don't know what I'm doing. I apparently write Strong Girls Who Don't Kiss. Which is kind of funny/weird/pathetic? -- since I swear I am going to write a BLISTERING romance novel someday. (Maybe.)

So, thank you. Seriously. I will come back to this. And figure out what makes a good kiss scene for me in the same thoughtful, reasonable make-a-list manner. I can't wait to read yours.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)
Re: tanita says:
I'm sending you chapters 11 - 13, just so you can see what I got up to. And so you can tell me how tedious parts of it may be.

Meanwhile, I am still laughing at myself for my extremely scholarly way of analysing an emotional scene. *headdesk*
Re: tanita says: - (Anonymous) - Aug. 5th, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 3rd, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC)
Wow. What an incredibly thorough, technical approach. ;)

I struggled with the kissing scenes in my YA, too. The last book I wrote was a sexy UF with a LOT of detail for the intimate scenes. That SO did not work for my YA character (notice I didn't say the whole genre) so I went back and forth for a while on how far to take the kissy scenes and how much description to add in.

In any case, you've got that all-important first draft of the scene done and that's major. Congrats! :)
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
I promise that I found the entire process to be fun, even though it was very technical and probably extremely nerdy. Nerd, c'est moi.

And danke schoën for the congratulations - I'm pleased to be moving along with my novel. Now starting chapter 14 of 23 (which is actually 16 of 25, but I'm pretending to ignore that for the time being).
Mar. 3rd, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
You are so brilliant. What a great way to absorb what you love and take it on yourself.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
I love you for thinking I'm brilliant instead of thinking I'm a pathetic weirdo. It is, after all, a fine line between stupid, and clever, and I believe I may well be straddling that line.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
As a reader, you need a bit of foreplay leading up to the kissing scene to make it have impact, I think. I'm working on my first kissing scene too. (first try at a YA)
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
We can hold hands as we go, yes? It's my first YA novel, too. (The Jane project is for a YA audience, but it's not the same sort of best.)
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)
You are just determined to scandalize me.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
Well, I wasn't, but I sure am now!
Mar. 4th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
LOL this is exactly what I expect from you. <3 Breaking it down. Haha.

I, personally, love writing kissing scenes so much, I always ALWAYS put in too many and am forced by conscience and crit partners to take them out. Because the first kiss has to MATTER. <3
Mar. 4th, 2011 12:16 am (UTC)
Indeed. I am such a complete and utter nerd, am I not? Must write a kissing scene . . . perhaps a scientific study first! *headdesk*

Man, do I love that icon. Especially since Batman is squeezing Superman's man titty. *icon love*
Mar. 4th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
Now that is some (fun!) research!
Mar. 4th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC)
I thoroughly enjoyed it, nerd that I am!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 4th, 2011 02:36 am (UTC)
I know - I read your post about it, and about how you'd write something and think it was all drippy and embarrassing, only to go back and find that it didn't really convey much of what happened (not that your finished product reads that way - I'm just saying), so I worked hard not to flinch.

And then I thought . . . well, what DOES make a good kissing scene? So I set off to try to work it out as best as I could. (I am such a geek.)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Mar. 5th, 2011 04:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC)
Lovey stuff is definitely tough to compose! I hate it when a love scene makes me cringe. Blech!
Mar. 4th, 2011 02:37 am (UTC)
I am desperately hoping to avoid cringe-induction!
Mar. 4th, 2011 01:40 am (UTC)
Like you, I have a horrible time reading as a writer, but I've also attempted my own research on this -- and I'd definitely agree with a strong build-up and a good description of both feelings and physical reactions (and actions) during the kiss -- very nice!
Mar. 4th, 2011 02:39 am (UTC)
Having all those kiss scenes in a single document, where I can read and compare them, proved to be invaluable. There was something to be said for typing them out, as well. Not exactly the creation of muscle memory, but hey - if my fingers can type out the steamy kiss between Etienne & Anna in Perkins's book, then the actual scene I typed seems tame by comparison, and I was far less embarrassed about writing it than I might otherwise have been!
Mar. 4th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
Great post, Kelly. I was revising my own kissing scene this afternoon, trying to do pretty much what you describe. Now that I've read your post, I'm going to go back and check the emotional and physical reaction to make sure they're what they need to be.
Mar. 4th, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
I found that when it came time to write the kissing scene, I felt rather overwhelmed - it was like being at a Greek diner, the kind with a ginormous menu where everything sounds really good, and I couldn't decide what to do - who should touch who, and should I cut to thoughts or interrupt with dialogue or describe things in more detail or . . .

So I decided to think about kissing scenes that worked for me, and the rest (as they say) is history. Also, I am a giant nerd. But you knew this already. :)
Mar. 4th, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
Ooh, this was great fun. Only you, Ms. Kelly, would dissect a kissing scene in such a thorough manner.

And now I want to go kiss my fella.
Mar. 4th, 2011 04:24 am (UTC)
It takes a certain kind of crazy, I'll admit. But it did help me craft something that doesn't make me cringe and that I kinda like, so I think it was worth doing. And since I did it, I figured I'd share my nerdiness my exercise with others.

I hope you applied some lip balm after - I'd hate for you to end up chapped on my account! ;)
(no subject) - tracyworld - Mar. 4th, 2011 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)

Most excellent.
Mar. 5th, 2011 04:43 am (UTC)
I am glad to be of assistance in some small way!
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
I am bookmarking this, too!! *G*

I loved this post. I think the kiss in The Iron Witch could've been... I dunno... more. More, what? you may ask. I don't know, but this post might help me to figure it out! Heh. There's a lot more kissing in the sequel, and I'm determined to get better at writing those scenes.

Like in real life, it's all about practice. ;)
Mar. 5th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
I am certain that you're correct, and that it's all about practice. Oh - and I luuurve your icon!
Mar. 6th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, what an awesome surprise! I followed a link from Gwenda Bond's blog and was so startled and flattered to find Anna here. Merci!! I learned how to write kissing scenes much in the way you did — by studying the ones I enjoyed (and the ones I didn't). ;)

Best wishes!
Mar. 6th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
I luuurved Anna, with a love that is epic and true. Thank you very much for the good wishes, and thanks even more for writing the story of Anna and Etienne!

P.S. - Nerdfighters!
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )

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