“I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing,” author and satirist Jonathan Swift once remarked. After several failed attempts at writing romantic scenes in the Montana Gold western historical romance series, I could relate.
For something most of us do naturally, kissing is challenging to describe in writing.
“Quite vivid,” my editor noted in reference to one of the kisses in Hills of Nevermore. This was not meant as a compliment. She was correctly pointing out that the hero plundering the heroine’s mouth “with all the zeal of a starving man given food” was over-the-top wording for my sweet romance audience. Sigh. I’d worked so hard to infuse the scene with passion while staying within bounds.
Fast forward to edits on Cheyenne Sunrise, the next book in the Montana Gold series, and one of the kisses received quite a different comment. “I want more, and I know readers will too.”
Another sigh. I clearly had a lot to learn.
It took me all the way to Stagecoach to Liberty, book three, to figure out how to write a kiss that was both tasteful and passionate.
Writing a Sweet Romance Kiss
A kiss isn’t just a kiss. It’s about so much more than lips touching. It is an event that takes place on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. A kiss has three stages: initiation, reaction, and aftermath. A sweet romance novel typically contains three kisses that each fulfills a different purpose. (Points for remembering how often I used the number ‘three’ in this paragraph.)
Levels of a Kiss
Where is the couple? It can be fun to contrast your heroine’s background, for example, with the setting. If she’s an heiress falling in love with a cowboy, stage the kiss by a woodpile. Or if she’s a cleaned-up street urchin, make her deal with a kiss on the veranda at a fancy party. How much privacy do the lovebirds have? Are they alone, with others, or in a crowd? Is the weather hot or are they standing in the rain? Is the kiss itself soft, more possessive, or rough? See if you can come up with original ways to describe the sensations your viewpoint character experiences.
Do your hero and heroine engage in gentle conversation, flirt, or glare at one another before kissing? What is the resulting emotional outcome? A kiss can move your couple closer or farther away from one another, depending on whether emotional needs are fulfilled or denied. Explore this emotional voyage.
Does your couple’s spiritual condition match or is one in better shape than the other? Is there a journey the kiss takes them on? Will connecting with one another in this way result in an epiphany for one or both?
Stages of a Kiss
A kiss often begins with a prelude. Prolonged glances, flirtatiousness, lingering touches, and other signs of attraction communicate desire. In a sweet romance, the hero usually begins and leads the kiss. However, there are times a feisty heroine might turn the tables. Or both could simultaneously decide that a kiss is in order. Another fun option is the ‘accidental’ kiss. This is where the force of emotion overwhelms a couple who unexpectedly come into contact.
A kiss involves all five senses. You don’t have to invoke each one, but do feature those your viewpoint would most notice. A sweet romance kiss touches on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your characters. This is all very logical. The physical sensation of kissing evokes emotions that transport your viewpoint character on a spiritual level.
The physical sensation of kissing begins with the initial contact. This might be a caress of the lips, eyelids, or neck. If the kiss is tentative, it may end there. If you want it to continue, changing the angle and increasing the pressure and duration of the kiss are ways to signal that it is deepening. Both parties will experience pleasure. This can lead to soft moans and quickened breathing. Your viewpoint character might feel a flush of warmth, butterflies, or other physical sensations. Veer away from this detail, and the kiss might seem flat to readers. The key to writing a good kiss in a sweet romance is not to avoid describing this reaction, but to keep it within the bounds of your genre.
The physical experience of kissing serves as a jumping-off-place for a character’s emotional journey. You can show this most effectively through the viewpoint character, so it’s important to choose that person well. You could also split the event into two scenes to allow the reader insight into each character.
People are complex, and kissing summons a wide variety of emotions, including but not limited to:
The emotions your characters would feel at the point in the story where they kiss should guide their reactions. Use of metaphor and simile is common in love scenes. Many heroines find themselves swept by tides of emotion, flames of desire, or floating on clouds of love. Avoid hackneyed phrases and brainstorm for new ways to describe what your character experiences. Emotion determines the intensity and duration of a kiss, how your characters respond, and who breaks the contact.
A kiss takes flight into the spiritual realm, powered by emotion. A kiss should accomplish something within the story, or else it is extraneous. The outcome can be bonding or rejection, healing or harm, the breaking down of barriers or putting up of walls. The spiritual level of a kiss is like a blank canvas that you, the author, paint with word-pictures that relate to the theme of your story.
The kiss ends, and your characters stand apart. What happens now? As before, approach this on all three levels. Perhaps they are panting. The hero gazes at the heroine with shining eyes as she blushes and stumbles backward.
Example of a Sweet Romance Kiss
These are difficult concepts to grasp, so I’ve provided an example from my own work. I’ll provide an analysis below the excerpt from Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1).
[Shane] gazed at her across the flower, his hands caressing hers. The sweet scent of the blossom, the warmth of the sun, and the simple joy of living melded into a breathless moment. His smile faded, replaced by an unmistakable look of desire that awoke a wild longing within her to be comforted and cherished in his arms.
He lowered his lips to hers and caressed her mouth in a lingering kiss.
America submitted herself to every heady sensation, forgetting that she shouldn’t allow him to kiss her. Only here, now, this instant of delight mattered.
He led her in the kiss, and she yielded in an age-old dance that ended too soon. He rested his forehead against hers. “I’ve wanted to do that for some time.”
“I have too.” Saying those words was playing with fire. America knew it but didn’t care. Perhaps she even reveled a bit in her power to unsettle him. She stepped into his arms, and they folded around her. He claimed her mouth in a kiss that carried her into storm-tossed waters. She could only cling to him as wild emotions surged within her and every defense washed away.
He broke from her with a moan, lurched backward, and pushed a hand through his hair. “That shouldn’t have happened. Forgive me.”
America’s conscience smote her. “No, it’s my fault.” She’d taken delight in tempting him, but it had backfired on her.
With the hero taking the lead in this example, the kiss begins with physical sensation, then moves into emotion. Note how the metaphor communicates the heroine’s feelings in a few words. The kiss removes the heroine’s defenses, a necessary step in her character development. America feels unworthy of love. Despite her feelings for Shane, she wants to avoid falling in love. It is necessary that she do so in order to prove the theme of unconditional love and acceptance in this redemptive love story. In the aftermath, Shane apologizes and America ponders the fact that she got more than she bargained for when she flirted with Shane (earlier in the story).
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Know the bounds of your genre and stay within them in the kisses you write. Remember to include the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels to make the kisses you write more realistic. Don’t neglect any of the three stages of a kiss: initiation, engagement, and aftermath. The result will be a sweet romance kiss that is both tasteful and compelling.
Over to You
What are your thoughts on the method I’ve developed for writing sweet romance kisses? Do you use a different writing technique? Let me know in the comments.
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