The Almost Kiss -- How to Tease and Tempt Your Readers without Lip Service
After asking me to guest post, Mary suggested I blog on unusual novel settings, since my debut novel is set in revolutionary France. But as I got closer and closer to writing my big, April 6th, get-to-be-on-Seekerville-and-be-cool-for-the-day post, I started thinking about the best part of a novel: KISSING. So I emailed Julie Lessman for a nice, unbiased opinion about my kissing idea, and of course, since it’s Julie Lessman and it involved the word kiss, she said “sounds great!”
I love romance novels and I will unashamedly admit that my favorite part of romance novels is THE KISS. Actually, my favorite part is the three or four kisses, because I feel rather strongly that every romance novel needs at least three kisses to be considered a romance. When I read a novel that’s supposed to be a romance and there’s only one kiss, I feel let down. I mean, what’s the point of a ROMANCE novel when the hero and heroine only kiss once in 300 pages? One kiss per every 100 pages is a much better kiss per pages ratio, to my thinking at least.
There’s only one problem: as the external and internal conflicts of your story progress, your romantic conflict needs to progress as well. So if you use a really good kiss on page 94, what do you do on page 156, when you have that next romantic scene? You could use another kiss, sure. But it’ll need to be different from the first one, lest you cause your readers to roll their eyes and say, “But they already did this once.”
So you’re faced with three choices:
1. You could write “and they kissed until her head was spinning” or some other kiss easily described, single-sentence kiss. These kisses have their places in novels. After all, you don’t want your readers to feel like they’re reading a detailed tongue-sucking novel in which nothing ever happens except, well, tongue sucking.
2. You could put your brain to work and come up with a second original kiss for your novel. (Good for you, if you’re willing to go through all this work for another kiss!)
3. Or you could use an “almost kiss.”
Now that most of you are scrunching your eyebrows and thinking “what’s an almost kiss?” let me explain. It’s when the characters get really close to kissing, but don’t for one reason or another. They hear the wind rushing in the trees, smell the scent of the wild roses they’re standing by, stare at each other’s lips as they inch closer together, but their lips don’t quite meet.
One of the greatest things about an “almost kiss” is that it doesn’t relieve the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. When you have a moment where the characters almost kiss, it teases your reader, giving her more reason to keep reading. In short, it ramps up the tension, rather than ramps it down.
Let me give you a few examples. The first is from Seekerville’s residential kissing expert, Julie Lessman, and the novel she’s currently writing, Love at Any Cost:
He gave her hand a light squeeze. “Well, then, that’s what friends are for.” Gaze fused to hers, he skimmed her knuckles with the pad of his thumb, wanting more than anything to pull her into his arms and whisper his love in her ear. But if he learned anything in law school, it was that timing was key, and Caitlyn McClare was too important, too special—too critical to his happiness—to risk botching it like before. And so he caressed her face with his eyes instead, stroking her cheek, tracing her lips in his mind, loving her vicariously through his thoughts. Until she finally belonged to him. And it was coming. Oh, yes, it was coming …
How about that “almost kiss”? Doesn’t it make you wish they actually would kiss? It creates a perfect romantic moment but it doesn’t relieve the tension between Logan and Cait. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read more of this novel. Because I’m absolutely certain they do kiss eventually. Several times.
Now let’s move on to an excerpt from Heart’s Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes. If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly recommend it. The romantic tension is nearly palpable throughout the entire novel.
Docherty crouched before Phoebe and nudged her chin up.
For a moment, their faces hovered mere inches apart, close enough for her to feel his warm breath on her lips. Close enough for her to see her reflection in his gray eyes.
“You’re looking better.” That odd tenderness had crept into his voice again, a compassion that belonged in a pastor or friend, not the captain of a privateer who had allowed her to be abducted.
Her insides quivered like a plain of quicksand. She straightened but didn’t look away.
Don’t you just want him to lean forward another inch and kiss her? I sure do! This is a great moment early on in the novel, and it ramps up that tension between the hero and heroine. Makes me want to bring out a fan, or better yet, climb into the book and trade places with the heroine!
For our next excerpt I chose what has to be the best “almost kiss” moment I’ve seen during the past year. If you’ve read The Colonel’s Lady by Laura Frantz, you’ll know exactly which moment I’m talking about:
She dared look up at him, the lace of her bodice rising and falling in a breathless rhythm a mere three inches from the gilt buttons of his Continental coat. He was entirely too close…so close she caught a hint of cherry bounce on his breath. Wetting her lips with the tip of her tongue in an agony of anticipation, she felt one firm hand rest against the warm hollow of her waist and the other enfold her fingers in his own.
With more grace than a man of his stature should possess, he began moving her over the flickering floorboards, their shadows an intimate silhouette on the rough wood walls. In moments, every taut fiber of her being began to soften. At long last she was indeed dancing…and she’d never felt less lame in all her life . . .
Slowly he skimmed his knuckles along the soft oval of her cheek before twining his fingers in the richness of her hair, dislodging some of Bella’s carefully placed pins. At his touch a woozy rush of pleasure overcame the last remnants of her reason and she did what she’d dreamed of doing since the first day she’d met him.
Reaching up, she skimmed the glossy sheen of his hair, starting at his temple and sliding toward his broad back till her fingers found his black silk queue ribbon. In a whirl of wonder and yearning, she pulled it loose. Her reward was a flash of brilliant red falling free about his wide shoulders, softening his intensity yet kindling his need of her instantly.
Oh, Lord in heaven, what have I done?
Wow! I love that ribbon scene, and after reading that scene again, there’s simply nothing more to say. That’s an AMAZING “almost kiss.” So are you understanding how these near-kissing moments can enhance a story?
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Being this close to her was a mistake. He couldn’t think, could barely breathe. A longing spread through him until his arms ached to hold her and his chest craved the feel of her slender form pressed against him. He clasped her wrist instead. . .
He would, but she was too near. Her cheeks too flushed, her mouth too soft, her eyes too defenseless.
She stopped tugging on her arm, and like a drowning sailor locking his gaze on shore, his eyes fixed on hers. Rain pounded the ground. Wind whipped through trees and tore at their cloaks. Coldness circled them. But neither moved.
His gaze dipped to her mouth, the taste awaiting him there both explosive and sweet. She shifted subtly forward until her breath tickled his lips.
Father, help me! He dropped her wrist as though her skin singed him and took two steps back.
She shivered. “Why?” she asked, looking up at him through innocent, longing-filled eyes. “Why do you keep trying to kiss me?”
“I’m not trying to kiss you. I’m . . .” What? Trying not to kiss her?
Oh goodness, I sigh every time I read that section. I think it’s one of my favorite moments in Sanctuary for a Lady.
Hopefully after reading several “almost kisses” you understand how to use them to bring tension and variety to the romantic moments in your novel.
So for today, I’m wondering how many “almost kisses” your current novel has in it. If you’re answer is none (and you’re writing a romance novel), then go add one. Or two. Or five. And come back and share your “almost kiss” in the comments below. Three people will be drawn for a giveaway of my debut novel, Sanctuary for a Lady.
A mother of two young boys, Naomi Rawlings spends her days picking up, cleaning, playing and, of course, writing. Her husband pastors a small church in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where her family shares its ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer and bald eagles. Naomi and her family live only three miles from Lake Superior, where the scenery is beautiful and they average 200 inches of snow per winter. Naomi writes bold, dramatic stories containing passionate words and powerful journeys.
You can learn more about Naomi on her website: http://www.naomirawlings.com/
Or her blog Making Home Work