Love is in the air— and by love, I mean hormones combined with risk of death.
I recently received this reply to one of my email newsletters:
Quick question, any chance you might be tackling the element of romance in TW [Twilight] and HG [The Hunger Games]? HP [Harry Potter] is obviously too young for it in book one but are there common elements in the other two? Curious on your thoughts.Kind regards,
Excellent idea! Let’s see how The Hunger Games and Twilight write a good YA make-out session that gets readers’ hearts pumping (without grossing them out).
Secret 1: Send the couple to an outdoor, secluded spot.
An outdoor location keeps the make-out scene within the grey area of what’s middle-grade and what’s young adult (as opposed to the bedroom). Besides, our heroines don’t have a lot of supervision so a closed bedroom door isn’t as thrilling.
- Bella and Edward go to a meadow deep within the forest. “Finally I spotted him, still under the dense shade of the canopy at the edge of the hollow . . .” (TW Ch.12).
- Katniss and Peeta go to a cave. “Some of the rocks form small cavelike structures. I set my sights on one about twenty yards above the stream.” (HG Ch.19).
Secret 2: A little bit of goofiness goes a long way.
First kisses are scary! Let your characters crack some jokes to ease their nerves. This adds to the realism and keeps the make-out scene from being too perfect.
- Bella and Edward joke around: “‘So what you’re saying is, I’m your brand of heroin?’ I teased, trying to lighten the mood.” (TW Ch.13).
- Katniss and Peeta have some flirty banter: “[H]e pulls me down for a long kiss. ‘We’re wasting hunting time,’ I say when I finally break away. ‘I wouldn’t call it wasting,’ he says… (HG Ch.23).
Secret 3: Build up to the real deal with a kiss on the hand.
This affectionate gesture shows that the boy is not just “out for one thing.” Plus, it’s got a nice *squeal* factor too.
- Peeta kisses Katniss’s hand: “I reach out to touch his cheek and he catches my hand and presses it against his lips.” (HG Ch.20).
- Edward kisses Bella’s hand: “I caressed his cheek . . .and then so carefully, his flawless lips. His lips parted under my hand. . .” (TW Ch.13).
Secret 4: The first kiss is insufficient. In a totally hot way.
When the YA make-out session finally starts, the first kiss ignites a stirring or spark in our heroines– they want more! Note that the word “tongue” is no where to be found.
- The Hunger Games: “This is the first kiss where I actually feel stirring inside my chest. Warm and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another.” (HG Ch.22).
- Twilight: “What neither of us was prepared for was my response. Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent.” (TW Ch.13).
Secret 5: For tactile details, skip the saliva and think temperature.
- Katniss notes that Peeta’s lips are abnormally hot: “It’s the first time I’ve ever kissed a boy, which should make some sort of impression I guess, but all I can register is how unnaturally hot his lips are from the fever.” (HG Ch.19).
- Bella (constantly) reminds us that Edward’s lips are abnormally cold: “And then his cold, marble lips pressed very softly against mine.” (TW Ch.13).
Secret 6: Keep the passion under control.
The YA make-out session is not a tear-your-clothes-off kind of scene. Instead, it’s tentative and gentle. Here are some key words that come up often: gently, softly, delicately, light, warm, lingering, long, pressed, breathed.
- Katniss and Peeta are never rough with each other: “…I lean over and give Peeta a long, lingering kiss.” (HG Ch.21).
- Edward must keep his passion at bay or he might kill Bella: “[H]e simply bent his face to mine, and brushed his lips slowly along my jaw . . .” (TW Ch.13).
Secret #7: End the make-out session with everyone’s hands way above the belt.
These stories have a lot of middle-grade appeal, so first-base tends to be the limit. (Unlike a more pure romance like The Fault in Our Stars.) Having the boy lovingly touch the heroine’s face shows us how much he cares for her, not just it.
- The Hunger Games: “His hand brushes the loose strands of my hair off my forehead. Unlike the staged kisses and caresses so far, this gesture seems natural and comforting.” (HG Ch.20).
- Twilight: “Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands.” (TW Ch.13).
Why it Works
The make-out scenes in The Hunger Games and Twilight work because they balance affection with passion.
Interestingly, both stories use make-out scenes that seem like one scene but are actually broken up over time– Edward and Bella hike from the meadow and kiss back by the truck; Peeta and Katniss begin in the cave when Peeta is sick and continue when Katniss returns with a gash in her head.
This separation period keeps things from escalating too quickly and keeps it PG13.
The make-out scenes are especially effective because of one extra element working behind the physical kiss: an ulterior motive of sorts.
Edward wants to kiss Bella because he’s attracted to her, but part of him also is struggling not to kill her. Katniss wants to kiss Peeta because she likes him (in spite of herself), but she is also trying to play up the romance for the Panem audience.
Let’s put this “make-out session” scene card in Chapter 14 of the Master Outline and let it serve as a break from all the life-and-death action.
Be on the look out for a follow-up post on the emotional build-up to the first kiss. In the meantime, check out this great article on writing the first kiss from Romance University.
P.S. Maybe YOU should subscribe to my newsletter so we can email ideas back and forth, too. Thanks, Kiera, for the great question!