“…designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”
I love writing love scenes. They can be challenging to choreograph so they don’t come across as false or schmaltzy or even gross (unless the scene calls for false, schmaltzy, or gross, of course). But if a writer lets the characters and the situations take charge, a kiss can tell so much about the fictional people involved…and it can add a surge of conflict to a plot.
After all, even in real life, a kiss can change the course of a person’s story.
When I wrote In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I admittedly spent a great deal of time getting a kissing scene at the beginning of the book just right. The love story in the novel involves just one brief physical moment between my protagonist and her first love/childhood friend, so I felt it important to make that moment count. I pulled out my box of writer tools. I added sensory details and worked on developing the characters through their actions. In the end, though, it was my characters’ dire situation that made the scene come to life for me. One of the characters was about to leave for war. The two of them had been close friends since they were in grammar school, but they had never once kissed before. The world seemed to be falling apart around them. Once I threw all those obstacles at them and really felt the urgency of their encounter, the kissing scene fell easily into place.
Before I could say anything awkward to break the spell, he pulled my face toward his and kissed me. I lost my balance at first, but then I closed my eyes and held his smooth neck and enjoyed the warmth and hunger of his mouth. His hand moved to the small of my back and brought me closer. Our stomachs touched. Our chests pinned the photograph between us. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight against him, as if he were kissing life itself good-bye.
—In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Chapter Three
My Fall 2014 release, The Cure for Dreaming, also entails some kissing scenes, although I can’t yet discuss in detail who is doing the kissing. I will say that the kisses lead to conflict, alter relationships, and throw the characters’ worlds a little off-kilter.
Love scenes are a delightful way to hurl curveballs at characters. How the characters react in the aftermath of intimate situations can tell so much about their personalities and their situations. If you’re a writer and you dread the thought of sitting down and describing two people kissing, I recommend concentrating more on what happens after their lips part. How will your characters react? What will they say? Does one character feel more confident than the other? Do they want to talk about the kiss, or do they part without a mention of it? How does that newfound intimacy change their relationship? Will it help or hinder their greater goals in the book?
If you’re undaunted by the idea of getting up close and personal with your characters when they experience a love scene, then simply let go of inhibitions and allow your characters to react to the moment in ways that are either expected or deliciously unexpected. I always imagine my kissing characters becoming suddenly tipsy when they’re in the heat of the moment, and what they say and do is often a little bolder than their normal selves, especially in the case of my early-twentieth-century female characters.
In short, let go of your fears and enjoy tossing your characters into moments that might throw their worlds and the plot off-balance. Conflict is a must in fiction, and there’s no better way to add tension and confusion than to have two characters suddenly find themselves entwined.
For a little added inspiration, I’ll leave you with this lovely collection of kissing scenes involving silent film star Rudolph Valentino. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Cat Winters‘s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS (Amulet Books), was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her upcoming books include THE CURE FOR DREAMING (Amulet Books/Fall 2014) and THE UNINVITED (William Morrow/Publication date TBA). She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com.