Thursday, March 03, 2011

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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