Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The First of a Million Kisses

I've been looking back through my old files again, to share some articles that my visitors have enjoyed before. This article, about writing love scenes, originally appeared in The New Writer magazine.

The First of a Million Kisses

As a writer of romantic novellas, one thing I always have a problem with is getting my hero and heroine to kiss. In my thirty thousand word western romance, Bella’s Vineyard (My Weekly Pocket Novels, issue 1735) it took thirteen thousand of those words to get my loved up twosome into a position where they kissed. After all, the first kiss in any romance has to be something special. It has to be momentous. It has to convince the reader that this is going to be the first of a million kisses between the couple. So it probably can't take place in the back seat of a Ford Escort. Not in 1880s America at least.

In a modern romance, your hero and heroine can probably kiss much quicker. On the first night they meet perhaps. Depending on the market, they could probably make love on the first night too, though I'm of the mind that fictional lovers have to earn each step of their relationship, by overcoming some difficulty. So that when they finally do kiss or make love, sparks really fly. Not that I'm totally against a sudden burst of lust in chapter one that may go on to cause more problems than it solves. But it has to be realistic to the place, time and conventions of the era you happen to be writing about, not to mention the market.

In a historical romance, the rules are different, because the morality was different, and it’s a brave writer who doesn’t keep those morals in mind. Some Mills and Boon authors are challenging that by including very sexy scenes in novels that cover everything from Vikings to World War II settings.

It’s fair to say, however, that for someone who worries about getting such things right, Jane Austen had it easier in the kissing department.  Her fictional lovers never kissed.  Austen just went on about felicity and the like when we all knew that Lizzie Bennett couldn’t wait to rip off Darcy’s wet breeches. In Regency romances being written today, even though there may be stronger sex scenes, there are still certain conventions based on the mores of the time, and one of those is that if the hero and heroine are seen kissing by others, then they must get married. It can be a good device for getting the couple into a marriage that neither admits to wanting.

In my western romance, the first kiss took place on the back of a horse after a moonlit ride through the Sierra Nevada. It sounds very romantic, but it was setting that scene I had trouble with. All the conditions have to be right. A hero and heroine have to reach a situation where things change. It has to be romantic, it has to be compelling, and it preferably has to be whilst they're alone. My problem is that other characters keep turning up in the story to stick their oar in. In Bella’s Vineyard, it was the heroine's troublesome brother who, whilst he likes the hero doesn't want a man who's part Cherokee making love to his sister - don't worry, I found a way to deal with that bigoted fool. So I had to find a way for them to be alone.

Once they were alone, in which the wayward brother inadvertently helped by leaving the poor girl at a party with no way of getting home, the next question was how to make this kiss different from every other kiss in fiction. There are only so many ways two people can kiss, and it generally involves the lips (at least in the early stages of their relationship). So I have to come up with various ways to describe those kisses. Unfortunately, 'lips', 'mouth' and 'tongue' are about all I've got in my repertoire at the moment (I really must start using my thesaurus more).

Then there was the question of just how hot the kiss could be. Can my hero, in a romance set in the 1880s, use his tongue or trace the curve of the heroine's breast whilst he kisses her? I decided that he could, never mind the conventions of the time. Because the hero is different to the other men she's met and has to be shown to be different. He's not afraid to touch her for a start, whereas the young men in her life so far had hesitated to even give her a chaste kiss on the cheek. It was with some amusement that pocket novel editor told me that they had to have a discussion about whether to leave the ‘breast stroking’ scene in (they did).

Now we come to the tricky subject of choreography. To begin with my western hero couldn't kiss the heroine on the horse on which he took her home, because in the first scene I wrote, she was sitting behind him. It seemed more romantic that way, with her arms around his waist and her head pressed against his muscular back. Unfortunately this meant that in order to kiss her he had to get off the horse. Then he had to pull her off after him, and get her into a position where he could kiss her without breaking her nose or damaging any other part of her body as she landed. It was a real headache, mainly because I could imagine all the things that could go wrong. He could kick her in the head as he's dismounting, then she could trap her foot in the stirrup or catch her dress on the bobbly thing on the saddle (you can see just how much I researched this, can't you?) then twist or break her ankle as she landed on the floor. She’d hardly be in the mood for a kiss. So she ended up sitting side saddle in front of him, and then, when the kiss ended and they both remembered he was engaged to another woman, he was able to get off the horse without causing her any bodily harm.

It takes me back to when I was a teenager and had never been kissed. It all seemed to be really hard work then, and something I obsessed over until it finally happened, but compared to getting fictional characters to kiss, it was pretty easy.

It’s possible that the reader would never see all the problems in the kiss that I did, though the Bad Sex awards are there to ensure that writers who care about such things are very careful how they write love scenes.

I have cleverly solved the problem of my hero and heroine’s coyness in my latest novel in progress. He kisses her in the first sentence, before they’ve even been introduced.  Having learned my lesson, there were no horses involved in the making of that kiss…

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