My thanks to The Indelibles for hosting this blogfest. Anyone who knows me knows I love a good blogfest.
And everyone likes a good kissing scene. The moment when the main character finally gets lip-to-lip with his or her objet de désir is the culmination of untold hours of longing, fantasy, and anticipated passion.
But have you ever stopped to analyze why the liplock moment has such a joyous impact on readers? If the writer has done his or her job skillfully, the reader has been aching for that kiss every bit as much as the main character has. A kiss means nothing if the author hasn’t built a mountain of emotional and sexual longing and ruthlessly driven the characters up its craggy, perilous face. The kiss is just a moment spent at the peak of that mountain. The build-up is what makes that kiss so desired and so joyously received.
Remember back in high school when you had an enormous crush on [insert your high school crush here], and you knew he liked you too. Every moment together was spent in delicious anticipation of that first touch, that first move, that first admission of undying devotion, that possibility of happily-ever-after. Every glance heightened your awareness of him, every word from his lips was golden prose. He became a god in your eyes, and he looked at you like you were a goddess. And that first kiss – your heart pounded so hard and fast he could feel it against his chest and you were afraid to breathe because if you did, he would maybe disappear and you would find yourself back in algebra class, lost in a fantasy and even more hopelessly lost in math because you weren’t paying attention. That first kiss was the victorious moment when you reached the summit of your mountain of longing and gained your heart’s desire.
It meant everything, because all events leading up to this kiss had guaranteed that it would be the sweetest moment yet experienced in your young life.
It meant everything, because now you knew you meant everything to him.
In my novel The Secret Dreams of Sarah-Jane Quinn, I created a build-up not only between Sarah and her object of desire, Coleridge “Collie” Tate, but between Sarah and Collie’s rival, Gus Haldemann. I did this because not only does love and longing come with anticipation, but it sometimes comes with a lot of confusion too. By the time I’m done with them, my readers aren’t sure who they like better: Collie or Gus. Sarah isn’t sure, either.
I used passages like the one below to drive her toward absolute confusion and uncertainty, because key to the whole plot is Sarah stepping out of her comfort zone, out of self-imposed emotional solitude, to boldly take what she truly wants.
He smiles, and some of the weariness falls from his expression. Gretchen, you fool! I think with a vehemence that surprises me. I don’t know what it is about certain women that makes them go for the guy who treats them like dog shit and shaft the perfectly handsome, sexy, charming man like this one. I vowed long ago, after the prom date incident with my sister, that I would never go for the asshole, and so far I’ve kept that promise to myself. It’s meant not dating very often, but at least it’s saved me all the drama and heartache.
“So if there’s anything I can do to help,” and he flicks a glance at Collie, “just let me know.”
I look over my shoulder at Collie. He’s got his tie off again and is leaning over the cubicle wall between us, doing something with the discarded length of silk on my side of the wall.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help that one,” I remark dryly, turning back.
Gus takes a step closer, tantalizing my nose with some faint but heavenly musky scent. Another random thought crosses my mind: a man who knows how to wear cologne. Don’t ask; I don’t know. My mind throws these odd things out every now and then. Twenty years from now I might not even remember Gus’s name, but I will remember that he had impeccable manners and smelled delightful.
“How about I stand really close to you while I talk to you? Maybe that will help.”
I chuckle. “I doubt he’d even notice.”
“Well, it may help my situation, but I doubt it will do wonders for yours.”
He draws in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, adding enticing cinnamon to the musk cologne. Damn, five more minutes of this and I may just forget Collie’s name. The difference between men and boys, my mind babbles.
And consistently, throughout the story, Gus puts himself in Sarah’s line of vision, offering the promise of the one thing she is unable to resist: the chance to be someone’s first thought, first consideration, first priority, for the first time in her life. This constant awareness of his presence builds in Sarah a deep, burning desire for him (and a conflict regarding whether she wants him or Collie more), until finally Gus tips the balance in his favor in this scene (the peak of the mountain I’ve pushed them up):
I take a step out the door and on crazy impulse pivot on my heel, bracing a hand against the jamb to keep my balance. The words tumble out of my mouth like a wild horse making a break for freedom.
“May I ask you something?”
His posture shifts subtly; he’s guarded now. “Certainly.”
“The birthday card you gave me…what did you mean?”
“Exactly what the card said. I always say exactly what I mean, Sarah.”
I bite my lip, frowning. “Why?”
Now he frowns. “Why do I always say what I mean?”
God, this is uncomfortable ground. I feel hopelessly naïve. What the hell am I doing, opening this door? Hadn’t I closed it, slammed the bolt home, shut him on the other side of it?
“That’s not what I meant. I just—I don’t understand why a man like you would even bother with—” I stop abruptly, my face flaming a la Stewart. Undercurrents in his silence make me fear that I’ve misunderstood his intentions.
“Someone like you?” he finishes thoughtfully. He comes a couple steps closer but stops when I fidget uneasily. “How do you picture yourself, Sarah?”
I lift one shoulder in a shrug, dropping my eyes. “A girl who had an unhappy childhood and is hopelessly socially inept.”
Gus closes his eyes for a moment, breathing in sharply through his nose as though my response has made him angry. He seems to be carefully considering his words.
“That isn’t how I see you.”
I force the words out, still unable to look at him. “Then what…?”
His voice lowers, his tone taking on that intimate quality that makes me quiver inside. “I see a beautiful young woman with an intelligent mind, a quick wit, and a personality that makes her damn near impossible to forget.”
He closes the distance between us despite the keep-your-distance signals I’ve been sending and hooks a finger under my chin, forcing my head up, waiting to continue until I look at him. His grey eyes are the color of summer storm clouds, dark with emotion.
“What are you really asking, Sarah?”
“I don’t know… I shouldn’t have said anything. I have to go. Goodnight.” Non-confrontationists—unite!
I head for the elevators at a speed just controlled enough to not be called running, but before I can jab the call button I hear him jogging to catch up with me. Oh God, I don’t want to talk about this, can’t he see that?
I almost push the button—really, I almost do. I’m terribly embarrassed; why did I even broach the subject? What in the hell is wrong with me? Playing with fire, Lauren had said, and she’s right, only it’s not just matches I’m fiddling with but a friggin’ wildfire that I can’t control. What made me think I could move in this circle, that this man would ever be anything but more than I can handle?
But my hand falls away from the button and I wait like a paralyzed rabbit cornered by a hungry predator. All I can do is stand here and dread the killing blow.
He slows his pace as he approaches, but he doesn’t stop outside my personal space. One arm slides around me, his hand pressing against the small of my back to keep me anchored to him; the other cups the back of my head, fingers twining into my hair. With the ease of experience, his lips find mine with no awkward bumping or searching. This is not a kiss like he gave me the day Frannie’s baby was born. This is the kiss of a man who desires a woman—desires her tremendously.
His scent—musk, heady and intoxicating. His lips—warm and pliant, coaxing my uninhibited response. His mouth—moist and flavored with cinnamon, eliciting dark visions of consuming passion. His heart hammers a frantic rhythm against my chest, matching mine; our breath comes ragged and desperate. He gathers me closer, bringing me up on tiptoe to bridge our difference in height, the full-frontal contact electrifying and exhilarating. Beneath my hands, the muscles of his shoulders seem impossibly strong.
When he breaks the kiss I feel a piercing loss on some elemental level of which I’ve never before been aware. His hands frame my face and he stares down into my eyes, his own wide and full of emotions I don’t have the experience to name. His voice shakes when he speaks.
“If he can kiss you like that and make you forget me, then you belong with him.”
It seems to take an eternity to find my voice, and it trembles like his and I can’t force it louder than a whisper. “And if he can’t?”
You’ll notice that not only is there more build-up before the actual kiss, but there is promise of more to come. Up to this point, Gus has made sure that Sarah equates deep emotion with his sexual desire for her. He also makes sure she knows that this does not have to be a one-time event, that he has something to offer her that, in his estimation, his rival cannot give her. Even as he stands on this peak, he is looking at the taller mountain next to him (a permanent relationship with Sarah) and gauging not only his ability to scale its heights to the summit, but his ability to take her with him as he does so.
Now go forth and fearlessly, ruthlessly, reach your summits. Write boldly, my friends.
Congratulations, you made it all the way to the bottom of this post. I am going to assume that you read your way down here and didn’t just scroll.
I’m offering a FREE print edition of The Secret Dreams of Sarah-Jane Quinn to one lucky commenter who can tell me why Gus Haldemann always smells like cinnamon. I don’t care if it’s a wild guess in the dark. I don’t even care if it’s the right answer. Extra points for creativity. The winner will be chosen by the completely unscientific manner of me reading the comments aloud to my family and a general consensus on the one we like best. So go be creative already!
(Or if you don’t want the book, I can offer a chapter critique instead. I’m actually pretty good at those.)