Show, Don’t… Kiss?

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.

4 thoughts on “Show, Don’t… Kiss?

  1. I’ll be one of the first to jump on the “enough kissing already!” bandwagon. However. I think a lot of important romantic kisses aren’t so much that they’re not sure they love each other until that moment, but they’re not sure the /other/ person loves them. Both characters go about thinking the other one isn’t really that interested and then you have this big “I love you!” “Oh, I love you too!” moment, followed up by a kiss (because we’re all expecting one) and a happily ever after.

    I guess, what I’m trying to say here, is that not all kisses are cheating. Plenty of times then can be the effect, rather than the cause, or a romantic subplot.

    1. There are places to use a kiss in a story. But I’d recommend working to avoid it, just because of its overuse.

      Of course, it also depends on the characters. If you’re dealing with a pair of modern American conservative Christians who kissed dating goodbye, it’s highly unlikely that the moment you described will occur. Or if it does, you’ve just hit another point of conflict to run with…

  2. I definitely agree with this in general, though I don’t mind a romantic kiss in books, just as a way for them to express their feelings to each other, rather than a way to say “Oh, btw, I’m in love with you!” I think it’s cheesy to use that as an “omg” moment, but if used right, it can show more passion between characters, and get the reader more emotionally invested. If I use kisses, that’s what for, and I usually try not to do long, involved, neverending romantic makeout scenes. 😛 Just “they kissed.” 🙂

  3. Great post! My sister and I were watching Tale of Two Cities the musical last night and it was all hum de hum Charles Darnay can’t make up his mind to ask Lucie to marry him, blah de blah and then he just dashed across the stage and kissed her. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so cheated when watching a musical before. I was expecting a really sweet song something along the lines of “Something Good” or “Shall we Dance” but nope they skipped right to the kissing part. I felt like the little kid in The Princess Bride.

    “Is this a kissing book?”

    I do however like a good romantic scene if it’s done right. Like Jennifer Frietage’s Shadow Things or Little Women.

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