I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the old writing adage of “Show, don’t tell.” Maybe it’s used by screenwriters more than novelists, but we writers all know that it’s better if we can show what’s going on. Nobody wants to wade through piles of on-the-nose dialogue (my favorite term for blatant telling) to find the story beneath. We can evoke far more emotion with a well-crafted scene that shows what’s going on.
I’d like to apply this principle to another area of writing. To those of you writing anything that involves any kind of love story, I offer the following question: Can you do it without the kissing?
I say this as I’ve noticed that many writers base an entire character’s perception of a relationship on whether or not he or she has kissed so-and-so. (The Hunger Games, I’m looking directly at you.) It’s to the point where characters can’t make up their minds about whom they truly love until they’ve had a kiss first, and then they’re suddenly sure.
That’s pathetic and lazy. Look, if you have a scene with a character who has a bad leg from a war injury, do you do this?
Jim spoke in a haunted tone. “I just can’t do anything with this leg ever since I was injured in the war. That piece of shrapnel hit me and I limp everywhere now. In fact, I have to use crutches.”
Of course not! You show Jim limping around the house, struggling with his crutches. So how is it any different when you begin the romance subplot with a random kiss and then pretend it’s enough to make us believe these characters have fallen in love?
Really, how did authors like Jane Austen survive? Well, it’s simple. She showed us the attraction between the characters and never blatantly told us what was going on. But you got it, and better yet, you believed it.
I know, I know. Now you’re complaining that you can’t possibly do this. You can’t figure out how to show this important story beat in another way. Very well. I have an assignment for you.
Take those characters that can’t figure out they’re in love unless they’re kissing and toss them into a situation where they are physically separated. Put them in separate dungeon cells if you have to. Now figure out what makes them fall in love in that situation. Even if it’s just an exploratory scene that doesn’t belong in the full story, give it a try. You’ll learn things that you can use to deepen the characters and make them far more believable.
Because if you can’t show characters falling in love without blatantly telling with a kiss, you are hurting yourself. Do the believability of your story a favor and remember that showing is better than telling. You can make a far stronger story and characters if you find another way.