Happy February y'all! I hope everyone's year is going fantastic and you're getting lots of words in. I currently taking a break from Harpy Girls and working on revising my FoxWip!
Today's blog is all about writing kissy scenes. I love me a good make out scene or a spicy sex scene. Writing them though...that took me a while to find comfort with. I'm skipping over all the personal baggage there, but I know I'm not the only one in this world to be raised to be ashamed of my body and, as a femme presenting person, that I should most definitely not be taking any pleasure from my body or other people's bodies. So as you read through my kissy scene journey and consider my tips and tricks, keep that rolling around in the back of your mind. What is your personal relationship and comfort level with intimate physicality and why do you feel that way?
The first kissy scenes I wrote were bad y'all. And not even like teen me writing them bad (those were worse!). I look back at those scenes and I was just trying SO HARD. But I had no clue. There was a lot of mechanics. I was trying to paint a vivid picture of exactly how my two characters were hooking up. I never did full sex scenes, I was and still am a fade to black kind of writer, but I want to write the foreplay, the make outs, and especially the casual intimacy of kisses, touches, and cuddles.
5 manuscripts later I've gotten much better. There's still room for improvement, but I became very intentional about writing these moments and figuring out how to amplify the emotional impact. So here are my FIVE Tips and Tricks for developing your own skill at writing these scenes
1) Know your character! You have to be very aware of what your character wants and what they like and don't like. You need to take the time to think about where their favorite place to be kissed and touched is--both when in a public situation and when they're alone. You need to know why they want this intimacy--what is their purpose for making out or having sex. Is it love? Lust? Loyalty? Manipulation? This all ties back into the emotional arc of the character. You can absolutely have a kissy scene for the sake of having a kissy scene, but if you can make it be a revelation for the character about themselves, FANTASTIC. The more emotionally engaged your protagonist is, the more emotionally engaged your reader will be.
2) Whose gaze? This is a very grey area, but one you absolutely need to be aware of if you're going to write kissy scenes. I'm also going to preface this with the idea that writing should be a safe space for you and you are free to write WHATEVER you want in WHATEVER way you want. But once that writing becomes something the public might consume whether on a small or large scale, you have to take into consideration the morals and general rules of your potential audience. What I'm focusing on here is the AGE of your characters that are involved in these scenes.
Teens make out. Teens have sex. Teens masturbate. Teens watch porn. We need more YA books with healthy physical intimacy rep. But as an author, I also believe we have a responsibility to shift the focus from the erotic elements of that encounter to the emotional ones. Teens are figuring things out. About themselves and about others. Having two teenaged characters in a hot & heavy make out scene means being very intentional about the presentation and the structure of that scene. Again, I am not the purity police! LET YOUR TEEN CHARACTERS HAVE AMAZING AND SATISFYING SEX. But if you think about your own first experiences in the maze of physically intimacy, how long did it take you to feel confident or have a good climax? How nervous were you for your first kiss, your first grope, your first time going all the way? Basically, I'm a firm believer that the actual on page encounters between like 99% of teen characters should be awkward and embarrassing. I think this is a responsibility for authors not only because so many adults read YA books and it becomes a weird place of adults reading sexualized under age characters (🤮🤮🤮 ), but also because TEENS DESERVE GOOD, HEALTHY REP to help them navigate their own experiences!
For example, in Furyborn (one of my all time FAVORITE BOOKS) you have a very erotic make out scene between two characters followed a few chapters later by an even more erotic first time having-sex-scene. It never sat quite right with me because these too doofuses, who had spent a good portion of the book pining over each other and being all nervous over an unintentional hand brush, just had sex like they were professionals and they both lasted a REALLY LONG TIME. And look, sure, it could happen, but most teens don't have that type of nuanced control or knowledge. There are a lot of texts that do phenomenal jobs at the first time sex scene. One of my favorites is The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning. Brauning does a magnificent job of balancing out the passion and heat of the moment with both the POV character and her partner fumbling around and having very honest feelings and thoughts about their bodies and the whole process of having sex. Sex Education, on Netflix also does some great work with *teens* being uncomfortable and having super wrong understandings about sex and their own bodies. I also adore this show because every fucking actor is clearly in their like, 30s and they're playing teens. And obviously everything is overly dramatized for TV, but there are also absolute moments of truth in there. I can't recommend it enough.
On the other hand...if you're writing adult kissy scenes, THE SKY IS THE LIMIT. Make those moments as spicy and erotic as you want!
3) Read! duh! This is always part of the advice for learning to better your writing craft. I'm gonna be honest, I used to avoid grabbing romance books or even admitting that I enjoyed them--because there is so much negative stigma surround them and I was struggling with that inner suppression of being permitted to find those things enjoyable. When I write, I want to do a good job and be accurate and correct and I want the reader to enjoy my prose, so that meant I had to read a lot of sexy kissy scenes. I stumbled into this amazing website (It shut down in 2018 *cry* as the site creator was moving on to other things) that would post a hot and heavy scene from a romance book every two or three weeks with the intension that you would be sucked in and want to buy the book. I read these excerpts religiously, noting what parts appealed to me and which parts didn't and then figuring out why or why not. The excerpts covered everything from sweet to BDSM and there were all sorts of couples. So my advice is to read lots of different spicy scenes and make sure they have a variety of on page sex and physical intimacy.
Figure out what you're comfortable reading and why. Then spin this to what you're uncomfortable writing. I'm comfortable reading pretty much ANYTHING, but writing, not so much. I'm pretty good with touching and kissing in the make out stage, but if my characters are going to have more intimate moments, I remain a fade to black kind of gal.
4) Start building your own reference library! I do this two different ways. First, I collect books from authors who nail (for me!) writing these scenes. Alexis Daria is my all time FAVORITE romance author. Her books are so incredibly steamy and they really highlight communication between the characters who are having this fantastic sex. In You Had Me at Hola, the two characters are actors and are working with an intimacy coordinator and omg if just raised the level of steam SO MUCH. (consent is so fucking sexy #sorrynotsorry). So I highly recommend Daria's Primas of Power series. Laini Taylor is another author that I will read and reread. The steamy scenes in her books take a different angle and relies a lot on what's left unsaid, not to mention she uses this gorgeous lyrical prose to evoke all the feelings and emotions. So those are the types of authors where I keep the books on my shelf with sticky tabs marking pages. For the other half of my *reference* library, I take a pic of the book page or copy it (when I have a copy machine available) and I keep it in a binder. This binder is divided into sections, like Flirting, First Kisses, Pining, Banter, Light Make Out, Heavy Make out, etc etc. I highlight lines and write in the margins, reminding myself specifically what it was that I loved about this moment. Part of writing is learning to emulate your favorite authors and yes, you want to end up with your own style, but mimicking is a great exercise to help learn new things. Keeping a mini reference binder like this and really breaking down what works for you about other people's writing is such a great learning tool (and this applies to all types of scenes and writing, not just kissy scenes!). The binder is a great personal reference and when I need a reminder about how another author wrote a great first kiss scene, I can go back and skim and help get myself focused.
5) The Kama App: This fantastic app is like having an intimacy coach in your pocket. it's $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year. Look, if you were educated in 'Merica, you were probably exposed to the same horribly inaccurate and ineffective sexual education that has scarred millions of people into thinking that any sexual contact will immediately result in pregnancy and/or disease. This app is FANTASTIC and it covers all the topics that should be discussed in an actual sex education class. And it's INCLUSIVE. Which is just *chef's kiss* You can also follow them over on Instagram @Kama.lab for fantastic free content. This app covers EVERYTHING from kissing & touching to much much steamier intimacy. And it has a place where you can ask specific questions and get real answers from the experts. So, if like me you've ever googled something like "how do you [insert intimate physical thing here] and were then inundated with some not so great google results that were overall unhelpful, be sure to check out Kama.
Little demisexual me has learned so much about writing not only good, but realistic intimate scenes. I've learned to focus in on the emotions and the sensations and let the reader figure out mechanics on their own. But hey, YOU DO YOU BOO! Write the scenes you want to read, because there's somebody out there who also wants to read what you're writing. Always write intimacy with care--even when it's in a darker or more serious space. Always keep in mind who your intended audience is, because despite our best intentions, there will be someone out there who misunderstands you. But if you approach it with respect and intent, you'll be providing the readers who need or want that content with words that mean the world.
What other tips do you have? Do you have any suggestions for writers who write intimacy really well? Share in the comments below! If you loved my blog, you can show your appreciation by buying me a tea-fi! (Yes, it's Ko-Fi, but I drink tea, so...)
Until next time, happy writing!