The Anatomy of a Kiss
HELLO SEEKERVILLE! It is sooo fun to back here with you and my Seeker buds!
To those of you who’ve read my books, it’s no surprise I LOVE writing kissing scenes, so I put my heart, soul, and lips (test runs with hubby) into every kiss I write. Some readers have told me they actually use my novels as a handbook for writing love scenes and others have dubbed me, “The Kissing Queen.” Although I have no idea if that’s true, I do guarantee you’ll find more kisses in my books than most CBA romance novels!
Why? Well, I explain it all HERE in a Seekerville blog entitled “Life on the Edge,” but suffice it to say that in a world where the likes of Fifty Shades of Gray is a runaway bestseller, it’s pretty clear that the majority of romance readers are looking for a little more POW in their WOW!
Which isn’t all that easy to do in the Christian market. Because let’s face it, anybody can warm up the pages with blatant bedroom scenes, but it takes skill to heighten the romantic tension in a book with only a look . . . a kiss . . . or even the absence of a kiss.
For me, the real secret to a great kiss and great romantic tension are the emotions surging around it like a romantic riptide that rolls in and out. However, building a scene like that takes time, so for the sake of brevity (which I know nothing about!), check out my examples on my FAVE KISSES tab of my website.
In the meantime, how do you elicit the most sighs with the least amount of body parts and graphic action? Well, I attempted to do so in each of the kissing scenes in this blog by making the most of non-graphic tools and tricks of the trade such as:
-- Incorporation of less graphic parts of the body other than lips (i.e. collarbone, earlobe, nape, etc.)
-- Trigger words/phrases (i.e. eyes sheathing closed, nuzzle, explore, throb, etc.)
-- Trigger scenarios (i.e. accidental closeness, unsuspecting attraction, etc.)
-- Emotional triggers (anger, repentance, challenge, etc.)
So, let’s look at the scenes below, and I’ll tell you how I heightened romantic tension in each one.
NON-GRAPHIC WAYS TO ADD ROMANTIC TENSION
(OR “POW” TO YOUR “WOW, WHAT A KISS!”)
THE KID-FACTOR KISS: Let’s face it—kids are cute and innocent, so when you plop them into the middle of a love scene, their “sweet” can highlight the romantic tension of a kiss in a big way.
In the following scene from A Love Surrendered, where the hero takes the heroine, Annie (whom he’s trying to avoid romantically) and her little sister, Glory, home, I tried to juxtaposition “sweet” (blue-highlighted words like “innocence, little girl, little troublemaker, angel OR actions like kissing on the tip of the nose, peck on the cheek, etc.) against the swoon and sensations of a romance (red-highlighted words like trip of the pulse, eyes sheathing closed, soft, supple, etc.) to create a kissing scene that is hopefully both sweet and salty with romantic tension.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to kiss her too?” Glory spun around, eyes wide with the innocence of a little girl who had no earthly idea what she was asking him to do.
Steven blinked, heat skimming his collar.
“Glory, no—” Annie whispered, turning ten kinds of pale.
“Please?” The little troublemaker stared at him with those wide eyes of an angel.
Heart thudding, he did the only thing he knew to do—he kissed Annie right on the tip of her nose. Clearing his throat, he stepped back. “Well, good-night, ladies.”
“No, silly,” Glory said, “like this . . .” She demonstrated with a sweet little peck on her sister’s lips as if he were too stupid to understand, then tilted her head. “See? It’s easy.”
Too easy, he thought with a trip of his pulse. Way, way too easy . . .
“Stop it, Glory, Steven doesn’t want to—”
“Sure I do,” he whispered, his words shocking him as much as Annie. Gaze holding hers, he slowly leaned in, close enough to see the long sweep of her lashes, the pale gold in eyes so green, he felt like he was in Oz, about to be granted a wish. He heard the soft hitch of her breath when she stopped breathing because it coincided with the halt of air in his own lungs. Cupping her face in his hand, his eyelids sheathed closed at the touch of her lips—soft, supple and just a hint of peppermint from the candy she’d offered him in the car. It was meant to be no more than a peck like Glory had given him, but somehow his mouth wanted to linger and explore . . . He stepped in close, body grazing hers and Glory’s till they were one. A little-girl giggle broke the trance, and Annie’s lips curved beneath his.
“His whiskers are itchy, aren’t they, Annie?” Glory asked, patting his face once again. “Kinda makes you wiggly all over, doesn’t it?”
Annie’s eyes glowed as she caressed her own cheek. “Very wiggly,” she whispered.
THE PET-FACTOR KISS: Like the kid factor above, a pet can also heighten romantic tension as in this scene from A Heart Revealed, where the focus and attention given to the pet suddenly switches to that between the hero and heroine. Again, notice the romantic language/movements (red-highlighted words such as snuggle time, shuttered gaze, tripping of the pulse, etc.) that set the scene for the kiss that correlates with the innocence of pet interaction (blue-highlighted words such as kneading paw, soft scrub of fur, etc.).
Kicking off her shoes, Emma spanned across the covers on her tummy, kneading Lancelot’s paw while she stroked Guinevere’s head, her mind straying to how much her life had changed since Sean had made her his wife.
The bed vibrated with the purrs of her former bedmates, bringing a giggle to her lips. “So, how was your evening, your highness and your majesty?” she said with a soft scrub of their fur. “I know you’re not pleased my husband steals your snuggle time, but remember, once he closes his eyes, he’s gone for the night, so just bide your time . . .”
“Are you conspiring with those cats again, Emma O’Connor?” Sean assessed her with a shuttered gaze, arms folded and hip cocked in the doorway. Sculpted chest bare, he ambled into the room in boxers and blond hair damp from his shower. A slow grin of warning stretched across wide lips as he eased onto the bed to lie beside her. Elbow cocked and head in hand, he massaged Guinevere’s ribcage, warming Emma with a dangerous smile. Leaning close, he grazed her lips, then pulled away, the blue eyes tripping her pulse. “You’re next,” he whispered.
THE ACCIDENTAL KISS: The accidental kiss is a major opportunity for romantic tension when the attraction is there, but the intent isn’t. Until, that is, something as innocent as a kiss on the cheek sets passion ablaze.
In this second-tier love story from Love at Any Cost, an innocent thank-you kiss on the cheek “accidentally” turns into more between the widowed matriarch and her rogue brother-in-law, the ex-fiancé who cheated on her before she married his brother.
Notice the romantic tension in the hero via phrases like heart seized, pulse thudded slow and hard, shallow breathing, etc. And then the acquiescence of the heroine conveyed through actions/phrases like the drop of a blanket, melding into his arms, etc. Also note that romantic tension is always heightened by romantic trigger words like bewitched, spell, explored, nuzzle, throb, etc.
His heart seized when she pressed a kiss to his cheek, and almost by accident, he turned into her silky caress, their lips so close he could smell the hint of hot chocolate they’d enjoyed around the fire. They froze in the same split second of time, and his pulse thudded slow and hard as he waited for her to pull away. Only she didn’t, and heat scorched his body when her shallow breathing warmed his skin.
“Cait,” he whispered, barely believing her lips nearly grazed his. All he could hear was the roar of blood in his ears as he waited, not willing to push for fear she would retreat, but when her eyelids flickered closed, his fate was sealed. “So help me, Cait, I love you,” he rasped, nuzzling her lips before she could retreat. The moment his mouth took hers, he was a man hopelessly lost, bewitched by her spell.
He felt it the moment the winds shifted, pulse skyrocketing when her blanket dropped to the ground and she melded into his arms. His mouth explored with a vengeance, the frenzied beat of her heart throbbing beneath his lips as he grazed the hollow of her throat. He skimmed up to suckle the lobe of her ear, and his heart swelled with joy when a soft moan escaped her lips. Blood pounding in his veins, he wove fingers into her hair to cradle her face. “Marry me, Cait, please . . .”
THE PROGRESSIVE KISS: Okay, I’m sorry, but the progressive kiss is one of my faves because it’s a slow buildup of romantic tension that can culminate in a killer kissing scene. In A Heart Revealed, the hero comforts his best friend after she’s beat up by a thug, unaware of his attraction to her until his comfort escalates into passion neither of them knew they had.
Note the escalation from friendship (cupping her face, his gaze a tender caress, kiss on the forehead, etc.) to outright passion.
“Shh . . . shh . . . it’s okay, Emma . . .” He fanned his fingers through her hair, then cupped her face in his palms, his gaze a tender caress. “I’m here now,” he whispered, kissing her forehead, her temple, her cheek . . .
Her pulse quickened while her weeping stilled to soft, little heaves, and as her eyelids drifted closed, her heart stuttered when he brushed them with his lips.
“I’ll keep you safe, I promise,” he whispered, and a silent moan faded in her throat as his mouth trailed to her temple. “I swear no one will ever hurt you again . . .”
Heat throbbed within as she lost herself in the caress of his hand, her mind dazed while his mouth explored. The soft flesh of her ear, the curve of her throat, her body humming with need as never before. She felt his shallow breaths, warm against her skin, and with a low groan, he cradled her neck to capture her mouth with his own. “Oh, Emma,” he whispered, his voice hoarse against her lips, “I want to be there always, to protect you, cherish you . . .” He deepened his kiss, and she tasted the salt of her tears.
THE STOLEN KISS: Call me old-fashioned, but I love those stolen kisses from wonderful old movies like McLintock or Gone with the Wind, when John Wayne lays one on Maureen O’Hara or Rhett drags Scarlett from the wagon. I do realize kisses like those are not always politically correct in today’s world, where sexual abuse is a sad reality. Please note—in no way do I condone this type of behavior nor are my scenes meant to be perceived as such. They are written in the old-fashioned “Calgon, take me away” style of romance prevalent in the old Hollywood movies and in absolutely every case in my books, the dominant hero is called to task for his behavior and eventually learns from it.
In this scene from my historical Western, For Love of Liberty, the frustrated hero teaches the bossy heroine a lesson she won’t soon forget in classic McLintock style!
He blasted out a sigh and dropped his head, hands perched low on his hips. “Okay, lady, I’m going to ask you one more time, real nice and civil-like …” He peered up beneath hooded eyes, a near smile on his face. “Will you please move out of my way?”
“Nope.” She smiled and shook her head, as if quite confident he was on the thaw. She clutched her hands behind her back like a little girl about to misbehave, green eyes issuing a dare. “And you can’t make me.”
He sighed. Poor, misguided, little rich girl. “Yeah?” He pushed the brim of his hat up. “Watch me.” Hurling his satchel to the floor, he heard the catch of her breath when he struck like lightning with an arm to her waist. Jerking her close, he kissed the daylights out of her while her boots dangled in the air. Unfortunately, the moment he tasted those soft lips parted in surprise, he was struck by a little lightning of her own, electrifying every nerve in his body while his blood simmered to a dangerous boil.
When a telltale mew escaped her throat, he was helpless to contain the low moan that rose deep in his belly. Butting her to the door, he cradled her face in his hands, longing pumping through his veins as he claimed the sweetest lips he’d ever known—and he’d known plenty—completely disarmed by the scent of her skin, the soft flesh of her ear. Sure, he’d dreamed of kissing Liberty O’Shea for as long as he could remember, but he never expected this—a kiss that could surely tame his taste for all other women.
The very thought bucked like a thorn-saddled bull, and with a rush of icy mountain water surging through his veins, he dropped her to the floor like he’d been bit by a rattler. She teetered precariously—along with his heart—eyes glazed and mouth still open in shock. Mustering all the calm he owned—which was a mite low at the moment—he yanked his hat down low and reached for the knob. She bolted away like he was a grizzly fresh up from a nap, and Finn had to stifle a chuckle, tossing her a wink as he opened the door. “Told you.”
THE COAXING KISS: In this scene from A Hope Undaunted, the hero, Luke McGee, is hoping to coax the heroine, Katie O’Connor, into dating him, unaware she has just accepted an engagement ring from her boyfriend Jack. For me, the key to this romantically tense scene is the hero’s slow and confident approach, disarming the heroine with gentle, yet dominant, action.
Glass in hand, she paused at the sink. “Do you want ice?”
His approach was achingly slow as he strolled toward her. With a casual air, he took the glass from her hand and set it on the counter while his warm gaze welded to hers. He moved in close, wedging her against the sink by just the mere threat of his presence. She swallowed hard and craned her neck up, wishing her voice hadn’t fused to her throat.
Massive palms slowly grazed the side of her arms, as if he thought she might be chilled, but the heat they generated made her feel anything but. In fluid motion, they moved to her waist, the gentle caress of his thumbs all but stealing her air. His blue eyes deepened in intensity as he leaned in, and his husky voice made her mouth go dry. “Let’s face it, Katie Rose,” he whispered, “I don’t want ice, I don’t want water, and I definitely don’t want chocolate.”
She caught her breath when his words melted warm in her ear.
“I want you . . .”
And before the air could return to her lungs, his mouth dominated hers with such gentle force, it coaxed a breathless moan from her lips, heating the blood in her veins by several degrees. “Say it, Katie Rose . . . say that you want me as much as I want you.”
She could barely speak for the racing of her pulse, and her breathing was as rapid as his. Powerful arms refused to relent, drawing her close as his lips trailed her throat with an urgency that made her dizzy. “Say it,” he whispered again, “tell me you care for me too.”
THE KISS-AND-MAKE-UP KISS: There is almost nothing I would rather write than a kiss-and-make-up scene following a horrendous fight. There’s just something about those rollercoaster emotions—from anger, to apology, to love—that makes me want to swoon. A good example is this scene from A Hope Undaunted, where we have the subordinate hero Patrick O’Connor attempting to comfort his wife Marcy after a volatile argument.
He lifted her chin with his finger. “We have to present a united front, my love, and you need to learn to say ‘no.’ Or I’m afraid with Gabe, there will be a heavy price to pay.”
She nodded and sniffed again.
With a tight squeeze, he buried his head in her neck before pulling away with a lift of his brow. He stared at her new satin gown, then slowly fanned his hands down the sides of her waist. “And speaking of a price to pay—so you’ve taken to wearing perfume to bed, have you, Mrs. O’Connor?” He bent to caress the curve of her throat while his fingers grazed the strap of her gown. “And a new satin gown, surely not just for sleep.” With a slow sweep of his thumb, the strap slithered from her shoulder. “Oh, I’m afraid this is going to cost you, darlin’.”
He kissed her full on the mouth, and heat shivered through her. “I suppose this isn’t one of those times when I need to say no,” she whispered, her breathing ragged against his jaw.
“No, darlin’, it’s not.” And clutching her close, he fisted the satin gown and moved in to deepen the kiss, his husky words melting into her mouth. “For all the good it would do.”
THE MENTAL KISS: One of the most effective ways to add romantic tension is by an innocent scene that escalates into a moment of attraction so strong, the mental desire for a kiss sparks without one person’s lips ever touching the other’s. In my next book, Love’s Silver Lining, due out May 19th, the hero and heroine teeter on the threshold of a kiss when the hero threatens to toss the heroine in a lake after she pushes him in during a bet gone awry between two friends.
“All right, Nurse Mullaney.” He relaxed his hold, and she waited for him to put her down. “Two bags of peppermint candy, then.”
Her breath silently seeped out. “You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Donovan, but mercy comes at a high price, I suppose.” She wriggled to get free, and he finally let her, his hands slowly guiding her down.
Her heart drummed a traitorous beat as she slid to the ground, their bodies bonded all the way down. The dampness of his clothes bled warm into hers despite the cool of the night, kindling renegade thoughts as shallow and fast as her air. “We need to get back,” she rasped, voice breathless as she tried to step away, wondering where in the devil the boys were.
“Maggie ...” The husky sound of her name on his tongue weakened the tendons at the back of her knees, and she tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let go. “The peppermint candy be dashed,” he whispered, his voice suddenly as ragged as hers. He leaned so close, she could smell mint on his breath, warm against her lips as his mouth hovered over hers. “One kiss is all the payment I need.”
GIVEAWAY: That’s it, so leave a comment, and you’ll be in the draw for your choice of a paperback copy of my writer’s workbook, Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets OR your choice of any of my indie e-books, including my upcoming release, Love’s Silver Lining.
ABOUT JULIE LESSMAN:
Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion with a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.
Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, Heart of San Francisco, and Isle of Hope series, Julie was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered over 18 Romance Writers of America and other awards.
Voted #1 Romance Author in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie’s novels also made Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015, Best of 2014, and “Essential Christian Romance Authors” 2017, as well as Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction. Her independent novel A Light in the Window was an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner.
Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. Contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at www.julielessman.com