You’ve read that kiss. The one you’ve waited the whole book for, while the characters danced around each other. You wondered if the kiss would ever really happen. And when it finally does, it curls your toes and makes you squeal with joy. The characters you love are together, they’re kissing, and it’s perfect. When it’s over, the characters can’t stop smiling, and neither can you.
But now it’s time for your own characters to kiss. How can you capture that same joy and keep your readers riveted to the page? How do you make this kiss special, like none other? And how do you describe it without it sounding cliché or awkward?
Writing a great kiss comes down to three factors that sit at the core of writing any good scene: emotion, specific physical action, and listening to your character. Going deep within the POV character’s experience will allow you to get the character’s specific emotional and physical experience of the kiss on the page. It’s their singular experience, at this particular moment in time, with this particular person, that makes this kiss unique, interesting, and resonant.
- Where is your character emotionally?
- Do they have a backstory that impacts how they’re feeling about this kiss?
- Where are they emotionally when the scene begins?
- Do they have specific goals or fears tied up in this kiss?
- How do they feel about the person they’re about to be kissing?
- What is their previous experience with kissing?
- Is this a first kiss?
- Is this the first time they’ve kissed this person?
- If they’ve kissed or been kissed before, was it a positive experience?
- What external factors might influence how they feel or act during the kiss?
- Is the kiss forbidden in some way (societal factors, family disapproval, etc.)?
- Might they be caught in the act?
- What about the setting? Could it impact the kiss?
- What about the second party in the kiss? Ask all the same questions as for the protagonist.
- What happens before the kiss? And what happens after?
The answers to these questions should give you a sense of how your characters will act, and react—emotionally and physically—to the events of the scene, and where your points of tension are. In kissing scenes, you may have conflict, but you may also have anticipatory tension, and you can make use of both to pace your scene for greatest effect. If this is a first kiss, and it’s coming fairly late in the book, you’ve likely built up significant anticipatory tension for the reader that you can take advantage of. You can draw out the kiss, giving the reader every moment–a hand touching a face, the warmth of breath as their lips draw closer–to build that tension for the reader so that when the characters lips do touch, and all those emotions explode inside them, the explosion happens inside the reader as well. Or you can allow that steam engine of anticipatory tension to plow straight into your kiss, with a grappling of lips and tongues and hands in hair, if that’s what suits your characters.
Whether you choose a slow, heat-laden kiss or a frenzied, flailing one, or something in between, you’ll need to ground the reader in specific physical action and emotion. The physical details—what her lips taste like, if his fingers tangle in her hair—ground the reader in the action of the scene. By making those details specific to this character and situation, you deepen your reader’s connection to your characters and keep the action from feeling cliché.
But even the most sensuous of physical action will fall flat without character emotion. The reader wants to feel what the character feels, on both a physical and an emotional level. The emotion can be stated or shown through internal monologue, metaphor, objective correlative, physical reaction, or a combination of the above. Physical reaction can be a great tool for more involved kissing scenes, and can also be used to contrast a character’s emotional state if they’re conflicted about the kiss.
Let’s look at an example, from Maggie Stiefvater’s THE RAVEN KING, in which Adam kisses Ronan.
“When Adam kissed him, it was every mile per hour Ronan had ever gone over the speed limit. It was every window-down, goose-bumps-on-skin, teeth-chattering-cold night drive. It was Adam’s ribs under Ronan’s hands and Adam’s mouth on his mouth, again and again and again. It was stubble on lips and Ronan having to stop, to get his breath, to restart his heart. They were both hungry animals, but Adam had been starving for longer.”
Ronan is a car guy, so the car culture metaphor is the perfect way to convey his experience, and it puts the reader into that experience. We feel the goosebumps on our skin and the thrill of racing over the speed limit. We know where he is emotionally before we even get to the physical details of the Ronan’s hands on Adam’s ribs, or the chafing of cheek stubble. Because we’re grounded in both the physical and emotional heart of Ronan’s experience, we feel the “again and again and again” without further explanation that could become awkward or cliché. Stiefvater has melded physical action and emotional reaction into Ronan’s unique experience of this specific kiss, and the reader feels ever bit of it.
But not every great, resonant kiss needs a metaphor to get to the character’s emotional core. Here’s a second example, from AUTOBOYOGRAPHY by Christina Lauren, when Sebastian kisses Tanner:
“I turn to him, and it happens so fast. One second he’s staring at my face and the next second his mouth is on mine, warm and smooth and it feels so good. Oh my God. I make some guttural sound I can’t control. He makes it back, and the growl turns into a laugh because he pulls away with the biggest smile the sky has ever seen, and then he’s coming in to kiss me more and deeper, his hands on my neck.”
Here we know exactly what Tanner is experiencing without any metaphor at all. He tells us it feels good, but his internal monologue of “Oh my God” and his physical reaction show us just how good. We then see Sebastian’s reaction, and because of the build-up of tension previous to this scene, the reader knows the joy and relief Tanner feels at that happy reaction from Sebastian. We feel everything Tanner feels, both emotionally and physically.
Writing a squeal-worthy kiss doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. Your characters know how it’s going down, and what they love and don’t love, and what makes them feel good or awkward or turned on. To write the kiss, you need to climb inside that experience and put the emotional and physical details on the page, as your character experiences them. Do that, and your readers will feel everything your characters feel, from the lips to the hands to that squeal of joy.