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Friday, October 8, 2010

Making Your Romance Steamy Clean

By Heather Justesen

Can you make kisses steamy, and still keep them clean?

This is a big issue in the LDS market, and in clean romances everywhere--and the answer is YES!

The key to a good, clean first kiss that gives your reader a payoff without venturing into murky waters is two-fold, though both techniques work in tandem.

First, you want to focus on the senses--what does the viewpoint character hear, smell, feel, etc?

The second thing you do is draw the kiss out so it increases the tension. If your characters look at each other, their eyes blaze in awareness and he kisses her--all in twenty words--you've not allowed the tension to build. Now, there may be times when you want to keep your kiss lighter, and this might work--and you certainly don't want to try and make every kiss tension-fraught, because, face it, they wouldn't be in real life, so pick and choose your most important kisses--starting with the first one.

Here's an example of a bare-bones first kiss from my book, The Ball's in Her Court:

“It’s her cupboard.” She shrugged, knowing he couldn’t see it. His arms were surprisingly muscular for a desk jockey and his short-sleeved blue shirt emphasized his biceps and the width of his shoulders.

He opened the cupboard and picked the jar of salsa out, turned and placed it on the counter beside her. Denise looked up into his eyes when he placed his other hand on her shoulder.

“You’re a lot of fun when you let yourself be, Denise.”

She couldn’t respond to that as her mouth went dry. The look in his eyes said more than she wanted to see. Why had she thought they could just be buddies, friends? Hoping to bring some sanity back to the moment, she tried to protest, despite not wanting to step back from the situation. “Rich—”

“I’ve never wanted to work for a company besides Donaldson. Not until I met you.” His voice was low, barely more than a whisper.

Denise turned her head away, focusing on the sink. “Rich, we can’t.” The protest sounded weak even to herself. She wanted him to kiss her.

“For just a minute I’m going to forget that you’re strictly off limits.”

His lips slid over hers and she felt herself falling into the kiss. Something inside her had wanted this since the first moment they met, and she couldn’t beat it back. At that moment, she didn’t even want to.

Now here's the full excerpt--what actually ran in the book--with all of the sensory details. See what a difference it makes?

“It’s her cupboard.” She shrugged, knowing he couldn’t see it, or the way she tracked every move he made with her eyes. His arms were surprisingly muscular for a desk jockey and his short-sleeved blue shirt emphasized his biceps and the width of his shoulders.

He opened the cupboard and picked the jar of salsa out, turned and placed it on the counter beside her. Denise looked up into his eyes when he placed his other hand on her shoulder. Her stomach quivered.

“You’re a lot of fun when you let yourself be, Denise.”

She couldn’t respond to that as her mouth went dry. She swallowed, trying to get past the sudden lump in her throat. One of his fingers brushed her neck and she felt goose bumps run down her arm. The look in his eyes said more than she wanted to see. Why had she thought they could just be buddies, friends? The moment stretched out for several seconds as they stood, motionless, neither breaking eye contact as the moment wound around them. Hoping to bring some sanity back to the moment, she tried to protest, despite not wanting to step back from the situation. “Rich—”

“I’ve never wanted to work for a company besides Donaldson. Not until I met you.” His voice was low, barely more than a whisper.

Denise turned her head away, focusing on the sink, but Rich slid his hands up her neck and onto her cheeks, his gentle touch alone enough to have her turn and face him. One thumb brushed across her cheek and the fingers of his other hand slid into her hair. “Rich, we can’t.” The protest sounded weak even to herself. She wanted him to kiss her.

“For just a minute I’m going to forget that you’re strictly off limits.”

When Denise looked up, his face was drawing closer and she wondered if she would breathe again. His lips slid over hers and she felt herself falling into the kiss. Her hands grasped the cotton at the side of his shirt, pulling him closer. His torso was solid beneath her hands and the movement of his fingers on her face and in her hair sent shivers down her spine, into her scalp. Something inside her had wanted this since the first moment they met, fighting against the memories that warned her away. His soul called out to hers and though she fought it, she couldn’t beat it back. At that moment, she didn’t even want to.

The first version was adequate, but not strong enough for a first kiss in a book that has a strong romance plot line. The second one allows time for the tension to build--and there was actually a little more buildup to this tension between them before the excerpt. You don't have to use words like desire and lust (words that are both no-nos in this market) to make your reader to feel that sweet ache of excitement that comes with a new relationship. It's all in the details.

12 comments:

Michael Knudsen said...

That's a great illustration, Heather, of the fine line we have to walk. In my forthcoming novel the male protagonist is not LDS but he falls for a girl who is downright devout. Obviously not a whole lot of kissin' going on until a lot of hurdles are leapt. You show excellent technique in sticking to the emotional/spiritual aspects of romance without forgetting that we are sensory/physcial beings.

Cheri Chesley said...

This is great, Heather! I love your romantic scenes :)

Heather Justesen said...

Thanks Cheri, they're fun to write too!

Michael, it can be a really thin line, but that doesn't make it impossible to find. =)

RaShelle said...

Heather - So even the word "desire" is out in the the LDS market? Wow! That's good to know. Lovely scene. =D

kbrebes said...

Big Difference, Heather! Excellent writing! Thanks for sharing. : )

Renae W. Mackley said...

The two views showing contrast were helpful in getting your point across. Thanks for sharing.

Debbie Davis said...

I loved how you showed the subtle differences and how it made the scene just come to life even more. It was a great illustatration of the contrast that just a few more senses can bring to something. I really am glad that you put this up, I learned alot on how to build more tension and longing. Thanks so much!

Cindy R. Williams said...

Good lesson. Can't wait to use it!

Tina Scott, the writing artist said...

Thanks, Heather. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a romance, and then have the culminating moment brushed over as though we all know what happens there--we all know what a kiss feels like so no need to go into detail. It's all in the detail as you show us so expertly. Thanks again.

Rachelle said...

Great article! I love your romance scenes too. :)

Heather Justesen said...

Thanks ladies, I'm glad the post was helpful. As with any really pivotal scene, it's all about the details.

RaShelle, I haven't actually had anyone *say* the word desire (in this context) was out of bounds, but everything I've learned indicates a scene like this should focus on the emotion being built, not the physical reaction (though, a little shiver of delight is a *good physical response, don't you think?) =)

Julie Wright said...

and as you promised . . . it's steamy clean :)