Just recently I’ve gone through the process of choosing an excerpt from my next release What a Duke Dares for my website. And as so often has happened, I’ve chosen the first kiss scene.
I don’t think this penchant for initial smooches as pivotal encounters is accidental, although I will admit that I love a great kiss, whether in a book or a movie. So today I thought I’d talk about the importance of the first kiss in a romance novel and how to make the most of this essential scene.
Every romance novel works through a series of turning points. They include first meeting (sometimes if the characters are previously acquainted, this is the first time the readers see them together), first kiss, love scene(s) – although not necessarily if you’re writing a sweeter story – black moment, happily ever after. Each of these essential elements ramps up the tension, reveals character, advances plot. Apart from the ending where if you’ve kept the reader on tenterhooks about the resolution, the sigh of satisfaction as she closes the book on our blissfully happy couple will be doubly pleasurable.
For most romance novels, a major turning point is the first kiss. In some ways, I think the first kiss is even more significant than the first love scene. A kiss is a declaration of intentions in a way a love scene isn’t, if you know what I mean. In most stories, by the time they’re in bed (or wherever the love scene takes place), they pretty much know what’s happening between them. But the first kiss offers the chance for some delicious uncertainty about where this relationship is going. They still think they might have the chance to walk away unaffected. Ha!
Often in a romance, the hero and heroine are fighting their attraction – and if you’ve got a good meaty conflict keeping them apart, they have excellent reasons not to tumble into the other person’s arms at the first come-hither wink. But the point inevitably comes where attraction outweighs all caution and commonsense, and voila, we have that marvelous moment of the first kiss.
A good first kiss changes everything. Perhaps afterwards, the hero and heroine find themselves determined to overcome whatever is keeping them apart. In my books, what that first kiss does is to terrify my poor characters – after that magical moment, they know that they’re in the grip of something that isn’t going to go away, no matter how they struggle to escape. Whatever the issues between the characters, the first kiss should produce major change.
It all sounds very significant, doesn’t it?
Actually I think it is!
The first kiss is also the moment when the characters get a taste of how powerful their physical interactions promise to be. Again, this will change everything and point toward consummation, whether in the pages of the book or, in sweeter romances, after the characters get together at the end.
When I talk about writing love scenes, I always say to people that a love scene needs to advance plot. It should never be there just for the sake of filling up a few pages with some salacious activity. If you can cut a love scene without radically changing your story, it shouldn’t be there.
The same goes for a first kiss. It should deepen conflict and reveal character, and also change how the characters interact with one another. The first kiss isn’t an excuse to bring your plot to a screaming halt while you give us some lush physical description. Lush physical description is always welcome, but the kiss needs to reflect the characters’ emotional development and the growth of the romantic arc. Remember the first kiss is a turning point.
On the subject of physical description, don’t forget that this is also a deeply significant emotional moment in your characters’ lives. Just as when you’re writing a love scene, don’t forget the emotional dimension of what’s happening. That’s what will have a lasting effect on your hero and heroine – and on your reader.
So let us know how your hero and heroine are feeling. Nervous. Afraid. Angry. Passionate. Reluctant. Eager. Dominant. Vengeful. Conflicted. Loving. Loathing. Confused. Pretty much pick an emotion and it’s got potential to color a first kiss. And if they start out feeling one way, how do they feel afterwards? There should be a major change.
The other thing I’ll say about a first kiss scene is don’t rush it. Go deep to show us both the emotional and physical effects. Readers really look forward to this important moment. They’re fully aware of its significance in the development of the romance.
Take your time, use the scene to develop plot, character and conflict. Give us some nice physical descriptions. Oh, and enjoy it! This is a place where you can really put your characters through the wringer. A great first kiss is not to be sneezed at!
This article first appeared on the Romance University blog on 11th July 2014