One of the things I love about writing is that you never know where it’s going to take you. Or sometimes you do know. You may even have it mapped out as in: write that scene, the one you’ve been putting off? DO IT now. In some cases it’s a rewrite. As much as I like the discipline of a rewrite there are times I have little desire to groom the rawness of earlier draft. Take a scene between lovers? I just want to let them get on with the way they did first time around, full of flaws and awkwardness, on the other hand I don’t want to be mashing their heads together like some authorial version of playing dolls.
The scene? A kiss. Just two people kissing. So, what’s the big deal? Couldn’t you just write ‘…and so they kissed…’ and be done with it? Not really. The kiss in real life may be incidental but in fiction it’s a device. It’s got to push the action on, be a defining moment. You’ve got to get the essence of what that kiss is about, why it needs mentioning at all? A fictional kiss can, in the end, be quite a cerebral thing, an out-of-body experience for the protagonist as much as for the author as the narrative strives to impose the message on the moment and balance it with any kind of natural beauty (or as needs be, repulsion) and integrity, the integrity being? That you believe in that kiss, experience it, involve yourself in the paradigm shift that comes from it. Actually, writing a kiss can leave you quite breathless.
Literary kisses are wonderfully varied because literary characters are necessarily honed to see things a certain way.Take Humbert’s almost forensic kiss with Lolita ‘not daring really to kiss her, I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost piety, tiny sips, nothing salacious.’ or Romeo’s heated plea to Juliet ‘Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.’ Or take Sean O’Reilly’s novel Watermark, a whole erotic world built on an illicit kiss that shuttles his protagonist Veronica on an aching journey of desire, ecstasy and despair ‘I kissed you and you learnt nothing from it. I kissed you for joy and you twisted it into an ugly thing. I kissed you and it should have disappeared in an instant, a beautiful frail thing to hold up to the light but you caught it and pinned it down and wanted to show it off.’
The book I’ve just finished by debut author Janet E. Cameron Cinnamon Toast And The End of the World has a gripping kiss between two male gay teenagers. ‘How did it feel?’ the smooch deprived Stephen Shulevitz asks. ‘Picture a dark empty house in the winter. Then somebody goes walking through the rooms switching on every single light, basement to attic one by one, until it’s so bright you can hardly stand it. It felt like that.’ Respect. Instead of baulking at the challenge Cameron creates a whole night bathed in this kiss because she knows this is necessary for the character (and therefore the story) to develop. Job done. But enough of reading about it, time to do the writing. Who knows where it will take me? But I’m hoping for some breathlessness alongside some retained awkwardness from the previous draft – as in life no kiss is truly perfect, it’s the flaw that makes it sing.
Listen to Sean O’Reilly discussing Watermark on The Parlour Review
More info on Janet E. Cameron’s book on her website