First time Visiting Professor Staci Troilo joins us today to explain what’s behind the kiss and outlines elements that enhance the importance of this intimate moment.
[One randomly chosen commenter will win an e-book copy of Staci’s book, Bleeding Heart.]
Welcome to RU, Staci!
Kiss. It’s a four-letter word, but certainly not a naughty one. Not always, anyway.
Little children spell it in sing-songy rhymes about their friends sitting in trees. Teenagers spin bottles at parties in the hopes of getting one with their latest crush. Adults buy them in bags and pull the little Hershey flags to open the foil wrapper…
Wait. That’s not right. (Well, not entirely.)
I mean the romantic kiss.
I’ve read that ancient lovers thought the act of kissing united souls, because they believed breath carried a person’s spirit.
Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips. — Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound
It’s a beautiful quote, isn’t it? Doesn’t even have the word “kiss” in it, but it’s evocative. Memorable. Moving.
Believe what you want about the exchange of souls. Kissing is an intimate act because it involves so many of the senses—all five traditional ones and some of the plethora of others. (Didn’t know there were more than five senses? Sorry, but that’s a whole different post.)
Kissing and the Five Traditional Senses
- Smell. Standing this close to someone provides the opportunity to perceive scents typically unnoticed from a distance. A waft of cologne. The smell of laundry detergent on a shirt. The fresh scent of shampoo. Characters will come to associate these scents with not only their partner, but with this loving and intimate act.
- Sight. When people kiss, they are physically closer to their partner than in typical situations. Before they close their eyes, they’ll see any number of things that they wouldn’t—couldn’t—notice from across the room. Snowflakes on her lashes. Flecks of gold in his whiskey-colored irises. Freckles dotting the bridge of her nose. This intimate knowledge begins to bring the couple closer.
- Sound. Again, the proximity makes a difference. Does he notice his partner’s breathing quicken, or that sharp intake of breath before their lips touch? Maybe she hears her pulse pounding in her ears. These subtle noises aren’t experienced by anyone but the two of them.
- Taste. Without being too graphic, the physical act of an intimate kiss involves the tongue. Does she notice the caramelized notes of the bourbon he drank? Does he perceive the sweetness of the truffle he fed her? (Yep, I’m back on chocolate again. But I digress…)
- Touch. I’m not talking about the mechanics of the mouth-to-mouth contact, although that does merit consideration. In most romantic kisses, not only the mouths but also the bodies come together. He lifts her chin with his finger—notices the skin is soft, silken. She trails her fingers up his arm—his muscles are hard, taut; they tremble beneath her hand.
The details characters register through those five senses are all shared experiences that work synergistically to deepen the characters’ connection and give a heightened importance to their relationship. As for the non-traditional senses? Things like the passage of time and awareness of body position also factor into the intimacy of the act. (But again, researchers can’t even decide how many additional senses there are, so I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on these. Just know they’re there and they can make for compelling additions to your descriptions.)
So why are the senses—however many there are—so important?
Because when a writer creates a kissing scene, the senses make it feel real to the reader. It’s not about the mechanics of the encounter—and make no mistake, writing a kissing scene isn’t as easy as it sounds—it’s about what the character experiences, which is ultimately what the reader experiences.
But are the senses enough?
Sadly, no. You did the hard part and wrote the kiss. You dug deeper and included sensory descriptions to make it more real, more memorable, more relatable for the reader. What more is there? The emotional response, of course.
The Meaning Behind the Kiss
Just as it’s true that every scene of a novel needs to advance the plot, it’s true that every action a character takes needs to advance his or her character arc. In the case of a kiss, it needs to advance the relationship arc.
Adding any sexual act just for gratuitous inclusion or to fill up pages is a disservice to your characters and your readers. An embrace, a touch, a kiss, or sex—when added to the story—needs to impact the characters on an emotional level.
The kiss is perhaps the most important of these acts, because it is unique in how characters react to it.
- Characters can touch, and if the recipient rejects the advance, the actor can pretend the intent was misconstrued. “I didn’t mean to let my fingers entwine with yours. It just kind of happened accidentally when we both reached for the bonbons.” (Yes, chocolate again.) There may be some initial embarrassment, but it’s a recoverable situation.
- A kiss is the first contact that can’t be played off as a platonic interaction. There is definite intent and desire involved with a kiss. But it happens so early in a relationship that there are still many questions about the future. Is this going to lead anywhere physical? Anywhere emotional? Are they both equally invested, or is one going to back out before the other? What does it mean?
- Past the kiss, moving on to more personal physical contact through consummation itself, the characters know there is intent and desire on both of their parts. It’s slightly less risky from the emotional-risk perspective.
So, back to the intent behind the kiss. It’s not enough to write the kiss or the sensory descriptions that go with it. To really get into the characters’ heads, we need to know their thoughts and feelings about it.
The most satisfying kiss in fiction will:
- give enough information about the physical act without getting bogged down in the minutia of it;
- bring in sensory details so the reader can get immersed in it;
- include character reactions so the plot advances.
Take, for example, the second—and long-awaited—kiss between Franki and Gianni in my novel, Bleeding Heart.
No preamble, no gentle teasing or tasting like there had been in the museum café. Her mouth opened in a gasp of surprise, and he took advantage, delving his tongue between her parted lips and exploring what was hers to offer. She didn’t hesitate. She dropped her bag and raked her free hand down the soft leather of his jacket before settling her fingers on the firm muscles of his backside and met him fully in the kiss, closing her eyes and opening herself fully to the experience.
The column was rough and cold against her back, but all she cared about was the velvet heat of the moment. She pulled him toward her, fusing their bodies together as she sucked on his tongue, tasting coffee and mint. His hand tangled in her hair, and he pulled it free, stroking his fingers along her jaw as he sought to pull her face closer. Her skin tingled under his touch, igniting her blood just like in her fantasy.
Franki had been waiting a long time for this second kiss. She’d built it up in her mind, fretted over whether it would ever happen and, if it did, what it would mean. And when it finally did occur, she experienced it first as the physical act, then with her senses, and finally through her emotional reaction—it was as good as she’d dreamt it would be. And yes, this kiss does advance the plot, but I don’t want to give too much away.
So “kiss” is a four-letter word that can be naughty or nice. (Maybe it’s naughty and nice.) The best kisses aren’t foil-wrapped confections, but rather intimate moments between two consenting partners who experience them on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Each intimate moment will then advance the relationship and/or the plot.
And if chocolate is involved, well, that’s just a bonus.
So, what do you look for in a kiss between your characters? Is the act enough, or do you want more internalization and reaction? Do you have a favorite author, book, or scene to point to as an example of the quintessential kiss? Leave a comment for a chance to win an e-book copy of Bleeding Heart.
After her father’s murder, Francesca discovers she is the secret legacy of the Medici, prophesied to return Italy to its former glory. She is also now also targeted for assassination.
Ignorant of her enemy’s identity and desperate to be free from her ancestral burden, she is forced under the protection of Gianni, a warrior destined to defend her no matter the cost.
Their worlds collide in passion and violence, and Francesca struggles to trust her guardian even as she battles her attraction to him. Ultimately, Gianni will have to conquer both her escalating fears and his personal demons in order to save her.
Bio: Staci Troilo has always loved fiction, ever since her parents read her fairy tales when she was a young girl. Today, her interests are much more eclectic. She loves getting lost in sci-fi battles, fantasy realms, horror worlds, suspenseful intrigues, and romantic entanglements.
As goes her reading, so goes her writing. She can’t pick a single genre to focus on, so she doesn’t even try. She’s proud to say she’s a multi-genre author.
When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with family and friends, possibly cooking for them, or maybe enjoying an afternoon in the pool. To learn more about her, visit her website or connect with her via the following links:
- Happy Valentine’s Day! (With offerings other than chocolate…)
- The Devil’s in the Details – by Staci Troilo
- Writing Night Scenes with Rayne Hall
- Writing Creepy Scenes by Rayne Hall