Deb Raney

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her eighteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, ACFW Book of the Year, and the Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deborah is a two-time Christy Award finalist, and her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books are the Clayburn Novels from Howard/Simon & Schuster. Deb serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Ken, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas.

Preludes to a Kiss

How can a great love story be written without so much as a kiss? I didn’t realize I’d accomplished such a thing until CFOM’s esteemed editor, Michelle, pointed it out and asked if I’d write a how-to article about it.

As I’ve pondered this, I’ve come to a conclusion: A kiss (or even a love scene) is simply icing on the cake. A kiss is not the ultimate goal of a love relationship, and of itself, a kiss is meaningless—or worse. Instead, a kiss is the visual evidence of what has already taken place in the hearts of two people who have grown to love each other.

So how can a writer of love stories make the reader feel the satisfaction of that kiss without the hero and heroine’s lips ever touching on the page?

Not that there’s anything wrong with writing a kiss. And in truth, most of my books do include a kiss or two (or even something steamier if my hero and heroine happen to be married). In fact, in Over the Waters, the romance novel that got Michelle all riled up because it didn’t contain so much as a kiss, I ended up writing an epilogue for the mass market edition that wraps up the story with a couple of very sweet kisses. But were those kisses necessary to the reader’s satisfaction with the book? My reviews for that book would say probably not. And I still contend that those kisses in the epilogue would have been worthless without everything that preceded them in the novel.

And that’s the secret. What came before? These are the preludes to a kiss that render the kiss itself unnecessary, though nice:

Longing Looks. Long before the hero and heroine have spoken a word to each other, they communicate with their eyes. Across a crowded room, appreciative looks speak fathoms. Sharing an umbrella in the rain they play tag with furtive glances. The eyes have it, and attraction is mutual and obvious.

Stolen Touches. Once the couple begins to fall in love, any excuse will do: his hand to the small of her back as he guides her through a doorway; shoulder to shoulder on a narrow park bench; a lingering handshake; a wisp of hair brushed away from the cheek. And as love becomes bolder, trembling fingers entwined, and the tender stroke of a thumb. A bit of mustard wiped sensuously from a lip. A sleepy head heavy upon a shoulder, an embrace filled with longing, even a featherlight kiss atop of the head of an unknowing lover.

Sensuous Scents. People falling in love are all about smelling good. Not simply because they desire to smell good for each other and thus douse themselves with cologne and perfume, but also because once you start to love someone, you begin to perceive everything about him/her as good––including his/her scent. So the peppermint gum that smells merely tolerable on the breath of the stranger beside you on the bus causes you to swoon when it is on the breath of the one you love. Even a ham sandwich becomes myrrh in the possession of the object of your affection. Remind your reader how delicious your hero and heroine smell to each other and you’ll have them thinking about kissing whether or not it happens.

Words––Spoken, Whispered, Barely Breathed. Often the words that draw a couple together in the beginning of a novel are words of conflict. Necessary in a novel, if not so much in real life. But the words that render a kiss superfluous are tender words. They may be eloquent and profound, or they may just as easily be simple and straightforward. They may even be unspoken, but profoundly understood. The tenor of a lover’s voice is truly musical to the ears of the object of his love.

Actions That Speak Louder than Words. When a heroine performs an act of kindness or gives a gift that requires much thought or great sacrifice, she may as well have laid a juicy kiss on the hero. And likewise, when a hero gives something to a woman that requires self-sacrifice or real effort on his part, that selfless love says far more than any kiss ever could.

I still love to read––or write––a fabulous kissing scene, but what a challenge to make the reader feel that my hero has kissed my heroine soundly when, in truth, my characters’ lips have met only in their dreams.

Clayborn Novels